by David Tavender
A reader has written to us, making the point that, “Our God is ONE God, He has always had ONE plan, and dealt with us according to His ONE plan”. Challenging the dispensational approach which we advocate, the same reader also writes, “One of the problems that I see in this whole method of interpretation, it would seem [God] did not really have a fixed and firm plan … He didn’t quite get it right the first time so He had to change tack, thus another dispensation, and another, and another”.
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In a very real sense, I heartily agree with the sentence: “Our God is ONE God, He has always had ONE plan, and dealt with us according to His ONE plan”. The story of redemption is the underlying theme of the Bible, and indeed, of God’s plans for mankind—Jew or Gentile. Sin separates us from Him, and it is only through God’s love and grace that anyone at all can be reconciled to Him.
However, despite the unchanging fact that the Lord’s love and grace has abounded to mankind since the days of Adam, I believe it is evident that God has actually instituted a number of changes in His dealings with people in the process of carrying out His will.
From Genesis 3 to 11, there were no “nations” as such—just families of people—and God dealt with them in that way. In Genesis 12, Abram (later known as Abraham) was called out of Ur to father a nation—“I will make of thee a great nation” (Genesis 12:2)—which would become Israel. The Lord then said, “(through Abram) shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Here, the Lord placed a distinction between Abram’s descendants (more specifically, Israel) and the other nations. In other words He began dealing with mankind differently to how He had previously done. In addition, in the Old Testament, Israel are specifically shown to be, and instructed to keep, separate from the other nations …
Leviticus 20:2,24,26—“thou shalt say to the children of Israel … I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people … And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.”
Deuteronomy 14:2—“For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.”
Deuteronomy 28:1—“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth.”
Despite the fact that God instituted these laws separating Israel above the other nations, there has been a change in His dealings with mankind since those laws were put in place, for there is now “neither Greek nor Jew” (Colossians 3:11). God instituted that “law” as well, even though it goes against what He declared to be law previously. There is no contradiction or indecisiveness on God’s part here, for the situation of “neither Greek nor Jew” was in God’s mind well before Israel came into existence; even, in fact, “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4)! Yet it clearly suited Him to carry out His will via such methods – at one point, dealing via Israel; at another point, dealing with mankind regardless of nationality, as is the case today.
Furthermore, consider Leviticus 1, where God instructed His people concerning burnt offerings, and the method of bringing such offerings. Of course, such offerings are inappropriate today because the conditions God has placed in force have changed – “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people” (Hebrews 9:28). This is not to say that God made a mistake the first time around, or couldn’t foresee that His Son would do away with the need for such sacrifices, but that this was how He chose to carry out His will. It did not affect God’s grace, yet the methods of dealing were different. It is obviously within His will to have instituted such a change, along with the other changes in His dealings with mankind.
It is clear that each of these changes in the conditions were set in force by the one God. And yet, the particular ways in which He has dealt with people throughout the ages differ. Let us not be fooled, however, into thinking that God was caught by surprise when Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3) or when Israel refused repeatedly to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah (Matthew 13:57,58; Luke 23:20-23; Acts 4:16-18; Acts 28:23-28). Despite the unchanging nature of His grace, it is evident that the Lord alters some of the particular conditions, laws and practices in His dealings with people as He sees fit to fulfil His purposes throughout the ages.