It is a joy and privilege once again to be able to bring the Word of God to all of you. This morning we begin a new series of messages on the Names of God. What benefit is there in doing a study of names? Well, names are important, as they often have special meaning in them or is attached to them. When a child is born, his parents would take pains to choose a name carefully for the child – this is sometimes a name that embodies all the hopes that the child’s parents may have for him. For instance, girls are sometimes given names like Grace, Joy, and Faith in the hope that they may grow in the virtue after which they are named. Some would choose to name their child or themselves after someone that they admire or love, or after a Bible character whom they hope to emulate, like David, Daniel, Paul, or John. Proverbs 22:1 tells us that ‘A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches’ A person’s name is of great importance to him, because it is distinctly his very own possession and it is the means by which he is known to others and is addressed by others. In the same way, the names of God are the means by which He is known to us and addressed by us. God has revealed Himself to us not only through His Word and through the works He has done, but also through the many names by which He designates Himself. These names of God represent all that he is to us. That is why we are commanded not to take God’s name in vain. If you were to look at the flyer announcing the 8 am messages for this quarter, you would see the names of God in their original Hebrew form as given in the Old Testament. These include names like El Olam, El Roi, El Elyon, El Shaddai, Jehovah-Shammah, Jehovah Sabaoth. Each of these names reveal something different about God – a particular virtue or attribute that He has. There are of course, many more names and designations of God found in the Bible, but the 13 names that we will be focussing our thoughts on this quarter are the more prominent ones. It is hoped that through this study we will all be brought into a better understanding of God and into a closer walk with Him. The first name of God that we are going to consider this morning is El Olam. This name means ‘eternal God’ or ‘everlasting God’. It was first used in Genesis 21:33 ‘And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.’ (Genesis 21:33). It is also found in Isaiah 40:28 and Romans 16:26. This name brings out one of the most exalted and awe-inspiring attributes of God – the fact that He is eternal.
I. The Meanings of This Name A. God is Eternal One of the best passages that teaches us about the eternal God, El Olam, is Psalm 90:1-2. Let us listen once again to the words of this passage ‘Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.’ According to this, God has been in existence right from eternity past and will continue to exist right into eternity future. There is no beginning and no end to God. In fact He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, the God who was, who is and who is to come (Revelation 1:4,8; 4:8). Some people may ask, ‘What was there before God existed?’ The answer is that God has always been there. There was never a time where God was not there. And God alone stands apart from the relentless flow of time. In fact He is the author of time. Our God is not like us, who are creatures bound by time. We have to rush and hurry to keep an appointment. Unlike us, God does not need to sit and wait patiently in line to get something done, or to know the outcome of the process of time. And that is all because He is not bound to time, nor is He limited by it. Just look at v.4 of the psalm: ‘For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.’ To all mortal beings like us, a thousand years is a very, very long time, in fact an agonizingly long time. Even 10 years seems so long to us. But to God, a thousand years is no different from a day. One clue we can have from this psalm to this kind of perception of time is found in the phrase in v.4 – ‘as a watch in the night’ The word ‘watch’ here is actually a unit of time. The ancient Jews divided the 12 hours of night time into 3 watches, and each watch is 4 hours long. If one is awake those four hours may seem to be a long time.
But when one is asleep, those four hours will seem to be just a moment of time. Last night I went to bed at 10:30 pm. The next thing I knew is that I woke up this morning and looked at my watch and it was already 4:30 am. 6 hours, (or 1.5 watches) had slipped by just like that! This gives us just a little glimpse of what time is like to the Lord, but we must confess that we can never fully comprehend the eternal nature of God. It is entirely beyond our ability to understand completely.
B. God is Unchangeable
Now, closely related to the truth that God is eternal, is the truth that God is unchangeable or immutable. He is always the same forever and ever! This truth is also revealed in God’s name, El Olam, The Everlatins God. He never grows old with the passing of time. In contrast, the Word of God in Psalm 102:26,27 says concerning all creation, ‘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: But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end.’
In v.1 of our psalm we observe Moses testifying to the same truth -God ever remains the same. Moses says that God had been the dwelling place of the Israelites in all generations. The word ‘all’ here means every single one, without exception. Every generation beginning with the ancient forefathers of Israel like Adam, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who had trusted in God, had never failed to find their dwelling place in Him. Although they all lived in different times and in different circumstances, they all shared one thing in common – every one of them had a relationship with the same God, and found in Him the same faithfulness, the same love, the same power to save and deliver them, and the same holiness that tolerates no sin. And isn’t it amazing that we who believe in Christ today can testify the very same things concerning the Lord, in our own experience?
Hundreds and thousands of years have passed by; billions and billions of changes have taken place in this world, but God has not changed even one little bit. He remains and will ever remain the same: ready to demonstrate the same love, faithfulness and grace to those who will seek after Him and abide in Him. And because He is a God who always remains the same, He is absolutely dependable and reliable. How wonderful it is for us to know that God is eternal and unchangeable, that He is El Olam to us!
II. The Misunderstandings of This Teaching
A. Static Inactivity
However, this teaching about God has sometimes been misunderstood. Some writers have committed the error of deducing that being eternal and unchangeable means being in a perpetual state of static inactivity, a state of timeless mental and spiritual immobility. E.g. A Catholic Schoolman named Thomas Aquinas (based on Aristotelian philosophy) made the statement that ‘In God there is no potentiality but all is actuality.’ All His acts are one single timeless act. This reduces God’s chronological acts to illusions or paradoxes.
And it would also imply, as the Catholic Schoolmen wrongly concluded, that God cannot have any feelings at all, since feelings imply some susceptibility to be affected or influenced by external things. Now, if God has no feelings, then He has no love! That is not what the Bible teaches about God at all.
We need to understand that God’s unchangeable nature is not static but dynamic. One striking example of this is the three states of Christ: His preincarnate state, His incarnate state and His exalted state. He purposed from eternity to undergo the experiences of suffering and death on the cross. Hebrews 5:8,9 even tells us that ‘He learned obedience’ not to add more information to His perfect knowledge, but to make the experience actual and bring about the accomplishment of His eternal purpose.
B. Process Theology
While men like Thomas Aquinas have taken the doctrine of God’s eternal and unchangeable nature to an extreme, there are some that have gone to the other extreme, denying that God is unchangeable and unlimited by time. This recent teaching is called ‘Process theology.’
According to this brand of theology, ‘There are limits on Divine power, as God has to work with what is given and is unable to exclusively determine the outcome at any given moment. God is the supreme, but not the exclusive factor, influencing the process or forward movement of reality. Process theologians say that this is not a limitation God has chosen to place upon Himself in order to allow us to have some freedom. God’s limitation and our freedom are simply facts that are givens in the process of reality, that neither God nor we asked for, but just find to be part of our situation.
Consequently, according to them, God has no master plan that is slowly but surely being put into effect. The future is genuinely open, and neither God nor we nor anything else, can know with definiteness what tomorrow will be like. But God, nevertheless, is always at work seeking to create greater beauty.’ Creative Transformation [Spring 1995] by William Stegall. Centre for Process Studies in CA. C. Robert Mesle.
This idea of God in Process Theology contradicts what the Scriptures say about God. For instance in Isaiah 46,9,10 God Himself says ‘I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’ As we had seen earlier, God stands apart from the flow of time, since He created time. His eternal nature transcends all time.
C. Misunderstanding God’s ‘Repentance’
Now apart from Process Theology there is another teaching that contradicts the unchangeableness of God. There are some who teach that God cannot be unchangeable since there are verses in the Bible that says that God repented of doing something. Now, first it must be pointed out that there are Bible passages that specifically mention that ‘God is not a man, that he should repent.’ (1 Samuel 15:28,29). But at the same time, there are also verses that seem to speak of God repenting of doing something.
Many of them can be explained as instances of the use of the figure of speech known as ‘anthropomorphism.’ For example, In the prophecy of Amos the exhortations that God gave through Amos are interspersed with visions, some of which foretell disasters. At the beginning of ch.7 two almost totally destructive judgements are seen. In verses 1-3 Amos has a vision of the wiping out of the entire produce of the land by a plague of locusts. He pleads and according to v.3, ‘The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD.’ This is followed by a vision of destruction of the sea and land by fire. Again Amos pleads (v.5) ‘Again the Lord repented. V.6 ‘The LORD repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord GOD.’ The teaching of these two visions is not that God changes His mind, but that such disasters would be a just, deserving punishment, though at that time, God is merciful. This understanding of these verses is confirmed by the fact that the prophecy of Amos as a whole consistently assumes that there is a perfect and immutable plan of God, issuing in an everlasting kingdom of blessedness.
Sometimes we who are parents have to do the same thing with our children. We lovingly threaten them when they disobey us by saying, ‘I will punish you in a short while’ and then the child stopped being naughty and was not punished. The threat has worked. So to the child it may seem like we have changed our mind. Actually we had not changed at all – because we already knew what we were going to do beforehand, depending on the response of the child. And so these intances of God’s repentance are like that. It seems that He has changed His mind, but actually He has only changed His mode of dealing with man, because He is always does all things in a manner that is consistent with His own unchanging character.
Even in our own lives, it sometimes seems that God changes His mind and gives conflicting directions. God may direct us to do something and we think that it implies that He wants us to be doing that permanently, as our life vocation, only to discover in the end that He wanted us to go on to something else. His purpose may be: to test us, or to prepare us, or even to discipline us. And His purpose is always consistent with all that He is – our eternal and unchageable Heavenly Father, the One who is called El Olam.
Now that we have studied the meanings of this wonderful name of God, as well as the things that have resulted from misunderstanding its teaching, it would be good for us to consider:
III. The Merits of Knowing These Things
A. It Gives Us Firm Grounds For Hope
What are the merits or benefits of knowing that our God is eternal and unchangeable? One of them is the great encouragement and comfort that it brings to us. Let us look at Hebrews 6:17-19 which says, ‘Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;’ You can see here how the unchanging nature of God and promises of God become our grounds for having strong hope in God.
And this has important implications on the security of our salvation. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith (17.2) ‘This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.’
Because our God is eternal and unchangeable, He is our firm foundation, who is utterly reliable and dependable. If God is not El Olam, but a god who is inconsistent and always changing what hope or security of salvation can we have? And how can we be fully assured that He will deal with us the same way that he dealt with those who lived in the times of the Old and New Testaments?
B. It Makes Our Study of God in the Scriptures Worthwhile
Now, this brings out another benefit of knowing this doctrine. There would be no use at all in studying God’s character and works in His Word, if He is a changeable God, because by this present time He would no longer be the same God that He was before. The Bible would be totally outdated and irrelevant to us. But it is precisely because God never changes that it is worth all our time and effort to learn about Him from the Scriptures. As we study the Bible we know that this God whom we relate to today is the same God who was known by Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Paul. He has not changed at all. He is none other than El Olam, the One who has remained absolutely consistent and unchanged from ages past!
And that is just so comforting to know, especially when we live in an environment that is changing all the time and deal with people who also change.
C. It Helps Us To Cope With Life In A World of Change
Dearly beloved, have you ever wished that some things in your life do not have to change? Especially when things are going very well for you? Although change does add variety and interest to life, it also brings stress! It is stressful to live with the change after change in life, especially in a changing world. Change tends to bring a sense of uncertainty and insecurity. But in the midst of all that, we who know the Lord have the firm assurance that we have One with us who does not change ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.’ (Hebrews 13:8). The Lord Jesus is our mainstay in life, providing all the constancy and stability that we need to cope with change.
Have you ever wished that certain people do not change? Especially those whom you love? In the past few weeks I have had the opportunity on separate occasions to counsel two married women who were very deeply distressed because their husbands have changed for the worse over time. They are no longer the same husbands that they married 8-10 years ago. When you feel downcast because people who are close to you have changed, please remember this: the Lord never changes. He who loved you before still loves you with the same unchanging love. His love and goodness never fade. They never lose their original shine and brightness! As James 1:17 puts it, ‘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.’
Thus we have seen in this first message on the Names of God how good it is to know God by His name El Olam – the name that speaks to us of his eternal and unchanging nature. It gives us firm grounds for our hope of salvation. It makes our study of God from the Scriptures worthwhile so that all the messages on the names of God this quarter will be relevant to us. And it helps us to cope with life in a world of change. May we always look to our eternal, unchanging God.
Also read this.