The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is generally credited as having made the observation that “the only constant in life is change.” Regardless of whether we are comfortable with the concept or not, change and life are inextricably tied together. No matter how finely one may try to split units of time, whether by year, hour, minute, second, microsecond, or picosecond, one time interval will inevitably give way to the next time interval, and with it, by definition, bring change.
For those who have chosen to consecrate their lives to God, there is no greater goal in life than to please and obey God. An important aspect to pleasing God is seeking to understand His will, so that one will be in a better position of obeying that will. One important way to understand His will is to first understand His laws, and to follow through with obeying them. The book of Genesis records the fact that God designed and created the very universe. This means He defined and set forth the laws that govern that universe. One of the most fundamental laws governing the universe is time.
Consecrated followers of God are well-used to considering time. The phrase “spend your time” highlights our relationship with time as a resource. Every passing moment of time represents a resource that is depleted that much more, and consecrated followers of God understand the responsibility to ensure that this resource is spent, as much as possible, in service to God. Time and change are tightly coupled in a fundamental cause and effect relationship. One moment of time passing causes, by the very nature of its passing, change. Thus, change itself is an integral part of God’s ordering of His creation, and as such, demands the attention and respect of those who seek to obey Him. Like many other aspects of altering one’s mind and heart to fundamentally trust in God and His will, accepting change is not always an easy thing to do. The old, human heart and mind often desire for affairs to remain the same, especially when times seem good. Thus, change can often bring with it foreboding, reluctance, and even fear.
In this three-part study, the concept of change will be considered; in particular, in its relationship to those who are seeking to live lives consecrated to God. This article presents part one of this series and focuses, appropriately enough, on our great Heavenly Father, and what the scriptures tell us about Him, His grand plan for His creation, and His relationship with change.
God: Forever and Unchanging
Given that mankind’s only experience with existence is so dependent on time, it is impossible for anyone to accurately and completely imagine an existence without time, and thus without change. In a similar fashion, it is impossible for mankind to truly and fully understand God. He exists on a higher plane of existence than mankind, and thus beyond the ability of our physical senses to see and discern. However, God’s followers also understand that He has chosen to reveal everything about Himself that mankind needs to know, at least for the present time, through the Bible. Thus, to understand God’s relationship with time and change, the surest method of gaining such an understanding is through an examination of the Scriptures.
The last book of the Old Testament is the book of Malachi. This book records a vision given to Malachi, and as recorded in Malachi 1:1, the words were primarily meant for the people of Israel. However, all of mankind, both Jew and Gentile can find many important meanings and messages in this book. In chapter three, specifically, God, through His vision to Malachi, gives the following important piece of information about Himself:
Malachi 3:6 For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
These words were intended as a comfort to Israel, and, through extension, words of comfort to all of God’s followers throughout the ages. These words are also in harmony with the previously examined thoughts of how, beyond all our comprehension, God is above even the fundamental law of time itself. However, this thought, that God never changes, can, at least on the surface, be difficult to understand. Even a casual familiarity with the content of the Bible reveals very different interactions between God and mankind during the times recorded in the Old Testament versus the New Testament. Moreover, when comparing how the Bible describes the interactions between God and mankind with life and experience in the present time, there seems to be a significant difference. If God, by His own words, never changes, how can one reasonably explain these seemingly fundamental differences in mankind’s experiences with God?
The answer to this question is extremely simple, and equally as wonderful. As with the words from Malachi, consider first, God’s own answer to this question:
Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
In these words, God provides another reassurance to His creation. If God intends something to be accomplished, all can have complete and utter confidence that that thing, His will, will be accomplished. There is no questioning, exceptions or conditions attached to this statement. If God plans something, there is no other possible outcome than that plan will be executed exactly as He intends. Not only will His plans be executed as He intends, but God’s words also assure us that it will result in overwhelming good to its target. Hence, all are assured that God’s plan for mankind will result in the “prospering” of mankind.
Combining the words from Malachi with the words from Isaiah answer the previously proposed question in an exceedingly beautiful yet simple way. It is not God that changes; nor is it God’s plan for mankind that changes. God’s own words on the matter provide an exceedingly clear and equally unbreakable promise on this matter. This means His plan for mankind is executing exactly as He planned, and will result in exactly as He intends. Yet, as the generations of mankind live through the execution of that plan, mankind experiences the perception of change as God’s plan progresses. The outcome of that plan does not change, nor does the Great Architect of that plan change; yet, like any plan that has phases, the target of the plan will experience change as each phase transitions to the next. In the case of God’s plan for mankind, the target of that plan is mankind itself. Thus, when examining the differences between the interactions between God and mankind throughout the Old Testament, compared to the New Testament, and further compared to the present day, mankind should expect to experience change as God’s certain plan moves forward. Change, therefore, is fundamentally tied with perception.
If, then, God does not change, and neither is it possible for His plans and purposes to change, a reasonable next question may be, is it possible to see progression of His plan throughout mankind? As the execution of God’s plan progresses throughout the recorded verses of the Bible, significant changes in God’s interactions with mankind will be seen. Some of these changes are significant enough to suggest the beginning of a new age in that plan, where an age is defined as a period of time marked by common, defined characteristics. However, these changes will also be shown to be in full harmony with God’s plan for His creation, and from this perspective, emphasize how God and His character do not change.
God’s Interactions with Mankind: The World that Was
The book of Genesis opens with an account of God’s creation of the universe. Although this part of the creative act only covers the first two chapters of Genesis, these brief words cover the many billions of years in which all of the celestial bodies and all the laws that govern them were established. The Bible is, perhaps, brief in its covering of this period of time; however, the Bible is meant to be an instrument for mankind to know the God that created them. From this perspective, it seems logical that the Bible would not dwell on the period of time when mankind did not exist. In His infinite wisdom, God provides enough background knowledge in these two chapters for mankind to aptly credit their Creator with the creation of all things, but does not provide detail that in all likelihood would not be well understood by the majority of mankind throughout the ages.
As chapter two continues, the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, is recorded. Although the details of the interactions between God and these two first people are somewhat sparse, it is clear, however, that they shared a special type of bond with their Creator. Chapter two details the commandments that God gave to Adam, regarding the naming of the other products of His creation. Genesis 2:16-17 also chronicle a command that God gave to Adam, and through extension, later Eve, to not eat the fruit of a certain tree. After disobeying God’s commandment, Genesis 3:8 records that “the voice of God” was “walking” in the garden, and came upon Adam and Eve, who were hiding in fear after their act of disobedience. These accounts imply that Adam and Eve enjoyed a relatively direct relationship with their Creator.
After their act of disobedience, the promised punishment falls upon Adam and Eve, and through them, to all of their descendants, including us, today, as recorded in Genesis 4:17-19. Although God’s ultimate plan for mankind was not clear at the time, it is important to note that even before He proclaimed this punishment on Adam and Eve, He first made the following condemnation to the Adversary, who facilitated Adam and Eve’s disobedience:
Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
As a result of their disobedience, Adam and Eve’s right to life was lost, and they were ejected from the state of perfection that God had created them in. Although the meaning of God’s words in Genesis 3:15 were not well understood by mankind at the time, and even down through the subsequent ages, these words, through the benefit of His grace, have become more understood in the fullness of time. Through these words, God gave the first recorded reassurance that although mankind was soon to experience a fundamental change in his condition, God’s intention for mankind is nonetheless a hopeful one, and will ultimately work out for the “prospering” of His creation.
After the account of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, Genesis chapters four through twelve record only three significant events regarding God and mankind. First, in Genesis chapter four, the tragic events regarding Cain and his brother Abel are recorded. Second, God’s interactions with Noah, and the recounting of the great flood are recorded. Third, the events of the Tower of Babel are recorded in chapter eleven. The other chapters are significant in that they record a history of the generations of mankind, dating back to Adam. The sparseness of details regarding God’s interactions with His creation, despite the many generations, and thus centuries, that this time period covers, is significant in itself. God’s followers understand that He has overruled matters such that the Bible itself contains everything necessary for His followers to understand His plan and to please Him. From this perspective, it seems reasonable to conclude that even if there were interactions between God and His creation during this time, God does not consider them as necessary for His creation to understand.
To summarize, then, this first age of God’s plan saw the creation of mankind. During the beginning of this time, mankind shared a wonderfully direct relationship with their Creator. However, through Adam and Eve's disobedience, mankind's experiences in their lives and with God fundamentally changed. Mankind now experienced hardship, sickness and death as a result of their disobedience. They no longer enjoyed the direct relationship with God that Adam and Eve had experienced in the paradise that God had created for them. However, as vaguely understood as it may have been at the time, God also delivered a promise that His ultimate intention for mankind, had not changed, and that the period of punishment would not be forever.
As Genesis chapter twelve opens, an important sequence of events begins to unfold, which heralded a new and significant change in God’s dealings with mankind, as well as a further revealing of God’s unchanging ultimate will regarding mankind. These changes will be seen to be significant enough to make the end of one age and the beginning of another.
God’s Interactions with Mankind: The Patriarchal Age
In Genesis chapters twelve through twenty-four, God begins to directly interact with a man named Abram, who was later renamed to Abraham. Abraham's renaming itself brings an interesting side thought about change as it pertains to God’s plan. Changing one’s full name is not a rare occurrence, but it is, at least, uncommon. A name is one of the most fundamental methods of establishing a person’s identity. In changing Abram’s name to Abraham, God asked Abraham to trust Him with this change to a very personal and important aspect of his life. Abraham’s name change is a concrete example of how serving God can sometimes require His followers to adapt to even the most personal of changes.
Genesis chapter twelve records that God chose Abraham to deal with, because of Abraham’s great faith in God. Although not a perfect man, Abraham submitted to a number of tests, each of which required either a great change to the established life of himself and his family, or at least presented Abraham with the possibility of such a change. Genesis chapter 12 opens with God instructing Abraham to uproot not only himself, but his entire household and move everything to a new land. Abraham responded to this request for a great change to his life and to the lives of those for whom he was responsible with promptness and faithfulness. As a result of performing this act of change, God blessed Abraham with a promise to give the land to Abraham (Genesis 12:7). This is the first iteration of God’s promise to Abraham, but would not be the last.
Later, God informed Abraham that despite the advanced age of himself and his wife Sarah, they were soon to be blessed with a child (Genesis 18). This brought another change to Abraham’s life, this one being unexpected and exceedingly joyous. However, in Genesis chapter 22, God informs Abraham that he is to take his son Isaac out to a mountain and offer him in sacrifice to God. This request was certainly seen by Abraham as a change in the dealings he had had with God up to this point. Until now, God had blessed Abraham, but this request carried with it the thought of an unthinkable change – life without the son who was seen as a blessing from God. Although God stopped Abraham from completing the sacrifice, Abraham, through his faith in God, was prepared to change the entire course of his life. As a result of Abraham’s faithfulness, God repeated His promise to Abraham, this time adding details that, in the fullness of time, would reveal a wonderful and exceedingly grand destiny for not only Abraham’s descendants, but all the families of the earth:
Genesis 22:16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
Genesis 22:17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
Genesis 22:18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
After Abraham’s death, God began dealing specially with Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 24-26), followed in turn by Isaac’s son Jacob (Genesis 27-50). Like his grandfather, God also saw fit to change Jacob’s name as well. Genesis 35:10 records that God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. God repeated the promise that He originally made to Abraham to both Isaac and Jacob/Israel (Genesis 26:2-5, 28:13-15), sometimes adding different details or wordings, but always keeping the same core meaning.
On a grander scale, God’s interactions with mankind had fundamentally changed beginning with his interactions with Abraham, and continuing with Isaac and Jacob. God had begun dealing with mankind specifically through His interactions with these faithful ones, who were also the heads of their families. Through this change, God’s plan for mankind entered into a new age, sometimes referred to as the Patriarchal Age. This age would continue until the death of Jacob (or Israel, as God renamed him), when God would begin dealing with mankind in a completely different fashion. This change would close out the Patriarchal Age, and usher in the next age of God's plan. However, as exemplified in God's promises to the patriarchs, His plan for blessing mankind remains constant.
God’s Interactions with Mankind: The Jewish Age
After the death of Jacob/Israel, a new phase of God’s plan began, bringing with it a corresponding change in the manner in which God chose to interact with mankind. Through his servant Moses, God asked the gathered descendants of Jacob/Israel, who at this time had grown to be quite a large number, if they would choose to follow God:
Exodus 19:5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
Exodus 19:6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
Exodus 19:7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.
Exodus 19:8 And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.
By accepting God’s invitation, the descendants of Jacob/Israel, who would soon form a nation named Israel, entered into a covenant relationship with God. For the next several centuries, as chronicled in the remainder of the Old Testament, God’s dealings with mankind would be limited to dealing with this one set of people. This marked a change from the previous phase in God’s plan, where He dealt specifically with the leaders, or patriarchs, of Abraham’s family and descendants. However, when viewed in terms of the promise God made to Abraham, and later repeated to Isaac and Jacob/Israel, God’s plan and promise remained unchanging. God had promised to bless Abraham’s descendants. By making these descendants His favored people, God kept His promise. Note also that God’s promise did not include any limitations; meaning that Israel would remain a chosen people of God from that point forward, into the present day, and even into the future.
However, the special status that they accepted also brought with it special responsibilities. The first and foremost of these responsibilities was to stay faithful to God and love Him and Him alone above all else. Throughout the generations recorded in the Old Testament, Israel repeatedly strayed away from God to the extent of worshiping false gods and idols. (Exodus 32, Judges 6:1-6, Judges 8:34-35, and Ezekiel 14 as examples). Even though God sent special messengers, called prophets, to the people of Israel, to warn them when they strayed away from God, these prophets were, many times, ignored. God often punished Israel with periods of disfavor. When these periods of disfavor were over, God’s favor always returned to His chosen people.
When viewed from a certain perspective, Israel’s history has been one of constant change. When they accepted God’s invitation to become His chosen nation, they were little more than a group of downtrodden people who had just escaped long decades of captivity. After accepting God’s invitation, their status changed such that they prospered and became one of the greatest nations on earth (see, for example, the descriptions of Israel under the reign of Solomon, in I Kings 4-6). Through disobedience, however, they subsequently were subject to many negative changes, including captivity, wars, destruction of their homes and temples, and finally, a long period of disfavor during which they were no longer even a nation in any sense, but a scattered people. This period of time in God’s plan, when God dealt with the nation of Israel as His special people, is sometimes referred to as the Jewish Age.
The cycle of favor and disfavor that Israel experienced during the Jewish Age exemplifies how mankind experiences change during the execution of God's plan. Additionally, the Jewish Age marked the widening of God's dealings with mankind. Instead of dealing with a small group of patriarchs, God now broadened His dealings to include all of Israel's descendants. These changes are in-line with the unalterable promises that God delivered to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As the scope of God's dealings began to broaden and change, the scope of these promises, likewise, began to become clearer as well.
One last major change in God’s interactions with mankind was yet to come, however. This event was so momentous that it marked the changeover between the Jewish Age, and the next age in God’s plan for mankind. Throughout the latter half of the Old Testament, God had promised, through the words of His prophets, that a Messiah would come to the people of Israel (Daniel 9:24-25, Isaiah 9:6-7, and Zechariah 9:9, for examples). Christians are blessed with the understanding that this Messiah did indeed come to Israel in the form of Jesus. His life and subsequent death would bring about another set of fundamental changes to mankind regarding their interactions with God. These changes would be so important as to close the Jewish age and begin the next age in God’s plan, referred to as the Gospel Age.
God’s Interactions with Mankind: The Gospel Age
During his ministry on earth, Jesus searched among the people of Israel for those who had developed sufficient hearts and minds after living under God’s law as His special people:
Matthew 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Note that this statement is not meant to imply that Jesus and his eventual sacrifice only is relevant to the descendants of Israel. As will be covered in part two of this study, which focuses on the relationship between Jesus and change, Jesus’s sacrifice has a wonderful and profound meaning to all people; past, present and future. However, during Jesus’s first advent specifically, he searched only among the descendants of Israel, in accordance with God’s will.
In Romans chapters 9-11, Paul discusses how Jesus did not find a sufficient number from the descendants of Israel who had developed a sufficient love for God, in heart and in mind, to be worthy of the reward of being members of Christ’s true Church; sometimes referred to as “the bride of Christ class” and other times as “the spiritual seed of Israel.” In Acts chapter ten, the call to serve God was opened beyond the descendants of Israel to all people. This was a significant change, from both the perspective of the Jewish people and the non-Jewish, or Gentile, people alike. If not for this change, many, even today, would not have the opportunity to consecrate their lives to God and be eligible for the reward promised to those who do so faithfully. The relationship between change and those seeking membership in the true Church will be covered in part three of this study.
The Gospel Age, the phase of God’s plan following the Jewish Age, then, roughly covers the time period in human history from the time of Jesus to roughly present times. Certainly, the change of allowing Gentile people the opportunity to serve God was a significant change that happened at the beginning of this age. However, from another perspective, the Gospel Age also marks another significant change.
Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals a marked difference in the manner in which God communicated with people during the Old Testament (namely, the aforementioned Patriarchal Age and Jewish Age) and today. This has caused some, throughout the centuries, to discount the accuracy of the Bible. It has caused others to classify the Bible as a series of symbolic passages, not meant to be taken literally. While the Bible does contain symbolism and pictures, most followers of God consider the Bible to be historically accurate. However, even these will admit that there appears to be a difference between the Biblical accounts and today. The Bible recounts miracles, such as the parting of the Red Sea, Moses’s burning bush, the three men protected from the furnace, and Jonah and the fish, to name a few. However, when compared against the observations in today’s world, the absence of such overt miracles seems obvious.
As has been noted several times, although the goal of God’s plan for mankind remains as constant and unchanging as God Himself, each distinct age in God’s plan brings changes in the ways in which God deals with mankind. In addition to the great change of permitting both Jew and Gentile to answer God’s calling, the Gospel Age also brought about another great change. Those in the Gospel Age who are seeking to live lives consecrated to God are taught that God places a very high premium on faith. In his teachings, Jesus indicated that understanding the word of God was, during the centuries that it would take to develop his “Little Flock”, would be limited to those who were granted, through God’s grace, the ability to understand (Matthew 13:13-17). This class is being tested, throughout the course of the age, on their faith (II Corinthians 5:7). Jesus makes a makes a strong statement regarding the importance of faith in those who seek to follow God:
John 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul makes some very powerful observations about the importance of faith:
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Consider for a moment the reaction of mankind if a miracle such as the parting of the Red Sea happened today. Picture it being captured on video and shared across the Internet. Consider the impact it would have if it was experienced by hundreds of eye witnesses, all of whom could be interviewed and questioned to confirm their reliability. This might seem wonderful at first. How many of mankind would doubtlessly return to God after being convinced of such a miracle!
However, weigh this vision against the purpose of the Gospel Age, and Jesus’s words, and later Paul’s words, on the importance of faith. Once something is witnessed and experienced beyond all possibility of doubt, faith becomes irrelevant. It is replaced by simple proven fact. The purpose of the Gospel Age is to allow the development and selection of a select group of faithful overcomers to become Jesus’s bride, or church, class (Ephesians 2:1-8, Romans 12). Although followers of God’s plan fully anticipate the world to return to God at a specified point in the future, the development of this class requires, by God’s judgement, faith. If faith is “the evidence of things unseen,” as Paul states in Hebrews 11:1, then such overt spectacles of miracle would be counter-productive to God’s plan, and are thus not a part of the current age.
Thus, in the Gospel Age, God's plan continues to execute. As with each preceding age, the Gospel Age has a very specific purpose. The scope of God's dealings with mankind now extended beyond only the descendants of Israel to any of mankind who would answer His call to service. In order to develop and test the faith of this class, this age also marked less overtly recognized miracles as are recorded in the Old and New Testaments. However, God's promise, made to mankind through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, remained the same, and through the events of the age, even more of the glorious scope of this promise was, through God's grace, understood.
In Conclusion: Change – A Matter of Perspective
The execution of God’s plan for mankind is inextricably tied to change. Without change, mankind could not learn the lessons of free will and choosing good over evil. Without change, God would not have delivered the most important promise that mankind ever received to the faithful Abraham, his son and grandson. Without change, the descendants of Abraham would not have been able to accept the invitation to become God’s chosen people. Without change, Israel would not have been able to learn the lesson of the importance of faithfulness to God. Without change, the Gentile people would not have had the opportunity to answer God’s calling as well, to a higher reward than was ever offered before. Without change, those seeking to become members of the true church would not have the opportunity to prove their intentions through the demonstration of their faith.
By His own words, God does not change. His will does not change, either. God has promised to bless Israel and further, to bless all the families of the earth. God has also promised a grand reward beyond the ability to truly imagine to those who honor their commitments of living a life that puts Him and His will first. Faith in God and in His ability to overrule matters to serve His purpose is thus intricately linked to the ability to understand and appreciate the importance of change as a necessary enabler to the completion of His glorious plan.
In part two of this study regarding change, our Lord Jesus will be examined, with respect to how change is exemplified both in his life and in his teachings. Lastly, part three of this study will reflect on change as it applies to those who are striving to live lives consecrated to God and thus become members of His “little flock” of overcomers.
Change can be uncomfortable. It can difficult or it can be wonderful. Change is evident in the smallest, most mundane tasks in life to the grand scale of the execution of God’s plan across the ages. As with all things, however, trusting God and His will remains a constant source of comfort and guidance for those who know and love Him.
Psalm 102:24 I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations.
Psalm 102:25 Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
Psalm 102:26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
Psalm 102:27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.