Most of us can quote the passages that say God is the same yesterday, today and forever. We believe in His immutability and consider a constant comfort. While everything else in the world perpetually changes, He is our One Thing that is always the same. God never changes.
But does the fact that His character never changes apply to His decisions as well? And if it doesn’t, if God can change His mind, then doesn’t that imply that He can and does make mistakes? If He makes mistakes, then what is the basis of our eternal hope?
These are some of the questions we talked about this week at BIG WORD. I’ll not review the answers to every question in the homework. If I skip over something you thought was important, or an area that you questioned, bring it up in the comments section. Let’s absolutely discuss it!
In 1 Samuel 13–15 we covered a lot of ground, most of which is introductory for the chapters to follow. We met Jonathan for the first time and saw an interesting relationship between him and his father, King Saul. We also saw the end of Saul’s relationship with Samuel. This came after yet another failure on the part of Israel’s first king, a biggie.
Saul was told to wait in Gilgal, a city with a significant history, for Samuel before launching another attack on the Philistines. Saul waited seven days and, seeing his army quickly diminish, decided to take matters into his own hands. By so doing he sinned. How?
- He offered a sacrifice to God without the authority to do so. Only priests could offer sacrifices. Not only was Saul not a priest, he wasn’t even from the right tribe! This was a bad thing.
- He didn’t wait for Samuel as instructed.
- He didn’t seek God’s direction before acting. He acted out of fear, not faith. Furthermore, he sought God as a good luck charm and not a Sovereign Power. (We talked a lot about Lucky Charms Faith in chapters 4–7.)
Samuel confronted Saul, but it didn’t make any difference. Saul continued to align himself with men (14:52) rather than God. He perpetually made terrible decisions, even sentencing his son, heir to his throne, to the death simply for eating some honey (14:43-44). After the people rescue Jonathan, their valiant champion, from Saul’s hand, Saul presses on toward the last straw.
In chapter 15 God commanded Saul to annihilate the Amalekites. (See the homework for the background and reasons.) Saul didn’t obey fully. Worse: he lied about it! In dramatic fashion, Samuel, a very, very old man at this point, took Saul’s sword and deftly beheaded Agag, king of the Amalekites, thereby completed the job God ordered Saul to do. He assures Saul that this is it. His kingdom will not endure; God will take it from him and give it to his neighbor. Samuel and Saul never spoke again.
Let’s get back to our initial question. God appointed Saul as king. Then he takes it from him while claiming to “regret” making him king in the first place. Can God change His mind?
Now, one could argue that Saul’s kingdom was granted conditionally. We all read Samuel’s sermons on the importance of obeying God and keeping His laws (chapters 10 and 12). Maybe that was an understood “if you obey …” coronation.
Looking back at Genesis 49:8–10, one could also say Saul never even had a chance. Any kingdom that would be for the nation of Israel had to come from Judah. Saul was a Benjaminite. He didn’t qualify. God anointed him king simply to offer a ready contrast between what they wanted (Saul) and what He wanted (David).
Another argument is that God never changes His character, but that He can change His mind when it is for our good. I’m sure Saul never thought this “change of mind” was good. It wasn’t for him, though one could argue it was a just punishment for his disobedience. God’s change, however, was very, very good for Israel. Removing Saul from the throne made room for David, a king who not only ruled the nation well, but led with passionate abandon for God. He set the standard for intimate communion with our Creator and Eternal King.
If you would like to study this question a bit more, I recommend God Behaving Badly. Written by David T. Lamb, this book tackles a number of seemingly contradictory truths about God. One entire chapter is devoted to this question: Is God rigid or flexible? In other words, can He change? Can He change His mind?
One last thing I’ll leave with you:
“Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as he does in obedience? Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice; paying attention is better than the fat of rams.” ~ 1 Samuel 15:22 (NET)
Just as God didn’t want Saul offering empty sacrifices, He doesn’t want us being “Christian” just on the outside. He wants us to seek Him and follow Him fully, from the inside out. It doesn’t matter what we do, if the deepest parts of us miss the point of who He is. Seek Him first and foremost. He’ll take care of the rest.
Your Turn: Of the characters we studied this week — Samuel, Saul, Jonathan –, which is most like you? What does God’s immutability mean to you?