A God Who Relents
Lord, You call me beyond myself; send me beyond my imagination; empower me beyond my skill. How great You are!
Read Jonah 3
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“Grace means giving, forgiving, unchanging, unmotivated, unconditional love. Before we were ready, deserving, worthy, Christ died for us” (Lloyd John Ogilvie). This is the love the Ninevites received. It is the love available to us as well.
In this chapter we read that, at the repentance of the Ninevites, God relented concerning the punishment he had threatened to bring upon them. The King James Version reads “God repented” of the evil he had planned (10). The word used here means “to be sorry.” Thus, Jonah portrays God as one who is sorry for the threat he had made against Nineveh. Genesis 6 employs the same word when it tells us that God regretted he had made human beings (Gen. 6:7). It may be difficult to think of God as one who repents, is sorry or changes his mind. Yet the God of the book of Jonah is not the “unmoved mover” of the philosophers.
The Bible assigns human emotions to God, which conveys something about God’s relationship to the creation rather than about God’s essential nature. God is not a human being writ large. Nor is God like other gods, such as those of the Greek pantheon. As the Jewish writer Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, “Zeus is passionately interested in pretty female deities and becomes inflamed with rage against those who incite his jealousy. The God of Israel is passionately interested in widows and orphans.” In the Bible, the highest, deepest and most profound feelings are attributed to God. Moved by the human condition, God acts appropriately in joy, anguish or sorrow toward the people he has made.
The God who appoints and provides also interacts with the created world. In Jonah’s story, when the people (and animals!) respond as God intended, God is pleased to forgive their sin. It is good news that the God who proclaims judgment also relents when people turn to do what is right.
Which do you think is easier: to seek God’s forgiveness or to offer forgiveness? Why? Would it be easier to forgive if, like God, you knew when an offender was truly repentant?
Mighty God, I bow before You, the loving, forgiving God. You amaze me in so many ways.