God Is Changeable
Studying Exodus 32-34 recently (the record of the golden calf incident and its aftermath), it became clear to me how un-God-like God is at times. He is strikingly changeable, emotional, and downright human on occasions. — Jamie Kiley
Something struck me as horribly wrong as I read those words from Jamie Kiley the other day. I saw what she was saying. She mentioned that in the story of the golden calf that God burns with anger and wants to destroy the Israelites, but four verses later he supposedly “changes His mind” in response to the pleas of Moses.
Jamie mentions that in chapter 33 God tells Moses to go into the promised land, “but says he will not go along, ‘because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way.'” In 33:5, “God indicates His uncertainty about what to do with his people, telling them to ‘put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what I shall do with you.'”
She concludes that “God appears strikingly mutable.” Jamie believes that God “changes his mind, regrets past actions, is subject to anger, and argues with his people.” Obviously, her statement that “these might not fit neatly into our western conceptions of God” is dead on. From the looks of things, God doesn’t always have it all together.
But in one paragraph of Jamie’s post, I believe she dismisses a very important hermeneutical error. When we read passages of Scripture, such as these in Exodus, we have to understand the big picture. We really need a bird’s eye view to properly interpret the text. Jamie says that “we should not dismiss it on the basis of what we ‘know’ God to be like.”
I disagree. It’s true that we should not dismiss it, but we must understand that Scripture does not contradict itself. If Scripture has said that God is immutable (unchanging), then he cannot be mutable (changing) in another passage.
I believe in this context that God is sovereign. He is not changing his mind. He knows all along what he is doing. Notice in 32:14 that God is only threatening, not making a sworn decree. Gotquestions.org answered the question “does God change his mind” by answering that:
“The Scriptures that describe God apparently “changing His mind” are human attempts to explain the actions of God. God was going to do something, but instead did something else. To us, that sounds like a change. But to God, who is omniscient and sovereign, it is not a change. God always knew what He was going to do.”
So when Jamie quotes Terry Muck as saying “Too often, it seems to me, despite our biblical literacy, we think of how God ought to be rather than how he has actually portrayed himself,” we can answer very clearly: God does not change. We must think of God how he has portrayed himself – not how man portrays him.
It’s dangerous to simply stop and “consider” these things by just reading one blog post and not evaluating the context. I want to put this out there: we need to know how to read our Bibles and not stop with reading a blog post or article. Otherwise, we’ll come across a passage and believe that God is somehow changeable and very human-like. Before we know it we’re crossing the line for bad hermeneutics to heresy. We cannot allow that to happen. Learn how to properly interpret the text.