Studies in Jonah: Lesson 8
Jonah 3:9-10 and Jonah 4
Does God ever change His mind? What does it mean when the Scripture says that God repented of what He would do to the Ninevites? (see Jonah 3:9-10; Jonah 4:2) Is it possible to harmonize the many statements in God’s Word concerning His unchangeableness and immutability with the statement in Jonah that, “God repented and changed His mind?” There is also another similar passage in Genesis 6:5-6:
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.”
First of all, let me clearly and emphatically state that I believe what the Bible teaches about the absolute sovereignty and immutability of God, and that these attributes are essential to His deity. So then, God is never sorry for anything He does. Neither does He change His mind or plans; they are eternal.
Nineveh was not saved, because God changed His mind. They were saved, because they changed their minds and repented. It was God’s desire that Nineveh should repent and be saved. He loved them so much. He sent His message to them, and praise God, they responded and were saved.
After Jonah preached his message, he sat around for the 40 days to see what would happen. Jonah was a prophet with a message from God, but he had no love in his heart. He hated the Ninevites for their cruelty and he would have rather seen them destroyed, than saved. When they repented, their annihilation was prevented. Jonah was displeased and very angry. (See Jonah 4:1) He complained to God saying, “That’s just what I figured would happen in the first place. That’s why I refused to go. That’s why I fled to Tarshish.” (See Jonah 4:2)
Although Jonah was disobedient, he had a deep insight into the character of God. Jonah 4:2 says, “I know that Thou art a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and when sinners turn to Thee and meet Thy conditions, Thou dost revoke the sentence of evil against them.”
God is gracious: He had the welfare of man at heart and passionately desired to lift him out of his sin. God is merciful, pointing us to the love of God poured out on a sinner who repents of his sin. God is slow to anger. It is not God’s first wish to punish the sinner. He endures much at the hands of man before His anger breaks loose. God’s heart shows that He is a God of great kindness. God’s love follows after the sinner seeking to draw Him back. These divine attributes are fully explained in Jonah 4:3 through Jonah’s statements, “Take my life” and “Let me die.” One is surprised that God did not answer Jonah’s prayer on the spot.
The conclusion of the story is very interesting. Jonah left the city and built himself a booth in which to sit and await its destruction. In Jonah 4:6, God prepared a gourd; this gave added protection from the sun. In Jonah 4:7, God prepared a worm, which struck the roots and destroyed the plant. Both the preparation and the destruction were acts of God. Next, in Jonah 4:8, God prepared a vehement east wind. This wind carried a searing hot temperature and caused Jonah to wish for death.
What is the meaning of all this?
One of the lessons that Jonah must be taught deals with the value of the human soul. Jonah must learn the relative value of the temporal and the eternal, along with the material and the spiritual. Jonah was so pre-occupied with his own comfort, the booth and the gourd, that he forgot the plight of poor lost souls in Nineveh. Jonah was more concerned about the gourd than the souls in Nineveh. The value of a human soul: Jonah had pity on the gourd. God said to him, “Should I not have pity and save Nineveh?” Matthew 16:26 says, “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?” A man’s soul is more valuable to him than the wealth of the whole world.
Anyone who has witnessed a deathbed scene understands that man has a physical body and also a soul and spirit. At one moment the person is alive, the next he is gone. While his body is still there, the life principle has departed. The Bible teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 that man is a tri-partite being. Animals have a body and a soul, but no spirit. The soul distinguishes a living person from a dead one. The spirit is what distinguishes a man from an animal.
[Explain the difference between the body, the soul, and the spirit] The spirit makes it possible for man to commune or have fellowship with God. The soul is the seat of the emotions and passions. The body is the vehicle through which a person expresses himself. Man’s body dies, but man’s soul lives forever. It lives in one of two places, Heaven or Hell. [Lord Roseburry said to Prime Minister Gladstone, “Take care of your soul.”]
Genesis 2:7 “God breathed into man, and man became a living soul.”
Matthew 11:28-29 “Come unto Me, and you shall find rest to your soul.”
Matthew 16:26 “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Luke 12:20 says, “This night thy soul shall be required of thee.”
The sequel to the repentance of Nineveh is very distressing. The prophet Nahum covers the events in his book. The descendants of the repentant Ninevites forgot God, and returned to their cruel ways. They afflicted Israel. 100 years later the averted judgment of God fell on them. They were totally destroyed. Proverbs 29:1 says, “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck.”
Luke 13:1-5 reveals this through the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices. This is also shown in the eighteen who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them. The Lord said to those who stood around Him, “You think that these were sinners above all sinners. I tell you, that except you repent, you shall all likewise perish. Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.” Proverbs 27:1 tell us to, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow.”