Text: James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
When studying the immutability of God, one passage that often causes some difficulty is Exodus 32:7-14. In this passage, we find the statement that "the LORD repented". This has caused many to argue that God can change. However, a careful study of this passage will reveal that not only is it in harmony with the immutability of God, but it also adds to the proof that God does not change. Furthermore, it provides an important lesson for us concerning our position before God.
I. Some Consistencies
A. Two Views
In order for us to better understand the text we are to study, consider the two alternative views which could be conceived:
First of all, we might notice that in verse 10 God became angry and later in verse 14 He repented. The word translated "repented" in this passage means "to be sorry, to regret". We might conclude then that God changed from being calm and contented, to anger, and then to being sorry.
Another way to look at this passage is to consider the position of Israel with respect to God. Prior to the time of this passage, Israel had been in a state of favor before God. Then we see them pass into a state of rejection and finally, they become objects of His mercy and grace. Thus we might conclude that what changed was Israel's position before God.
Now which of these views are correct, or are both correct? Before we try to answer this question, let us first look outside of our text and notice some of God's absolutes.
One can scarcely turn the pages of the Bible without noticing that God is always consistent in His reactions to sin and righteousness. The very first sin (Genesis 3:14-19) was dealt with by a severe judgment in which even God's wonderful creation was cursed. In the very last book of the Bible, we find that things are no different: Sin results in punishment (Revelation 21:8).
What about believers and their sin? No, these sins did not go unpunished either; they were judged on the cross (Isaiah 53:5). God is not like man, who is most inconsistent in his dealings with sin. One day a man punishes his child for doing wrong, and the next day the same wrong goes without even a scolding.
What about righteousness? How does God treat those who are upright? They are the subjects of God's mercy, grace, and blessings. Noah was a just man and was delivered from the judgement by flood. David was a man that honored God and therefore God blessed David and caused him to prosper. This reward has its ultimate end in the believer's eternal life with God as a result of the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
This consistency in God's reactions to sin and to righteousness can perhaps best be seen in His offer to His people in Deuteronomy 30:15-19: " See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil". Sin would be dealt with by a curse and righteousness would be rewarded with blessing. Galatians 6:7 is an absolute with God, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
How does God react to pride and humility? God never changes in His response to pride for it is an abomination to Him (Proverbs 16:5). Consequently, God stands far away from the proud (Psalm 138:6) and causes them to eventually be brought low (Isaiah 2:12). In contrast, God regards the humble (Psalm 138:6) and draws nigh to them (Isaiah 57:15). A great illustration of this absolute with God can be seen in His dealing with the wicked King Ahab in 1 Kings 21:29. Ahab's humility bought mercy and brought a delay in the judgement of God.
Does God always answer prayer? Remember that Jesus promised, If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it (John 14:14). However, we know from experience and Scripture (2 Corinthians 12:8) that God does not say yes to every prayer. There are two basic reasons why some prayers are unanswered.
First, there can be something wrong with the requester such as known sin (Psalm 66:18).
Second, there can be something wrong with the request - God will not answer prayer that is contrary to His will (James 4:3). We can assuredly say though that God always answers the prayer of the righteous when it is in accordance with His will. In contrast, lack of prayer (disregard) always results in this: ye have not, because ye ask not (James 4:2).
In Exodus 32:1-6, the children of Israel sinned and broke the 2nd commandment. For this God was ready to swiftly deliver judgement and completely annihilate them. So, did God change? Absolutely not! God acted in the way that He always does with respect to sin. In fact, if God hadn't gotten angry, we could have accused Him of changing. If we measured the height of a child one year and then measured them again a year later, we would find that the measurements would differ. Could we claim that the ruler used to take the measurement had changed? Of course not. The ruler remained the same, but the child's height changed. Likewise, it was the position of the children of Israel that changed, and not God.
In verse 11, Moses showed humility in his plea to God to spare the children of Israel. Not only that, but in his supplication, he reminded God of His promise to Abraham and His purpose for Israel. God had already prophesied that the twelve tribes of Israel would inherit Canaan (Genesis 50:24). Thus it seems clear that God's will was not to destroy them, but they needed an intercessor (just as we do - Christ). So, did God change when the Bible says that He repented? Absolutely not! Once again, God was acting in a way that was perfectly consistent with His nature.
II. Some Considerations
As we consider the consistent, immutable response of God to our actions, let's make some application to our lives.
If you want to live a soap opera life just live contrary to the word of God, but if you want peace, happiness and blessings, then follow after righteousness. Like the children of Israel, God has set before us the choice of life and good, or death and evil.
God has set the way of salvation and this can never change: " He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already "(John 3:18). Once we have trusted Christ as our Savior, eternal life is ours and can never be taken away. Likewise, those that reject Christ will not enter into heaven. No one is going to slip through the cracks or get in from another way. Those that enter heaven are promised eternal happiness and this can never change. Sadly, those that go to the lake of fire are promised eternal pain and torment, and this too, will never change.
We ought to be thankful that God does not change. It is our ground of assurance that He will answer prayer. Who would pray to God if He were like a chameleon that changed depending on the surroundings? Because God is immutable, we can have confidence that our petitions will always be heard.
Perhaps the greatest measurement of spirituality is how much like Christ we are. Since Jesus is immutable (Hebrews 13:8), we ought to strive to be consistent in our actions. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:58, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (see also Hebrews 10:23).
Our position before God may change as a result of our actions, but He remains ever the same. So, choose" life, that both thou and thy seed may live."