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“AND God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”

A sister living in Cobleskill, N.Y., has asked us to give our views on the above. This Scripture, like some others elsewhere in the Scripture, has seemed on casual reading to refute the idea of God knowing beforehand what is to come to pass. However, the Bible from first to last is one harmonious whole, and no one part of it contradicts some other part. If it seems to us to do so, the contradiction is owing to our inability to understand, and not because there is any lack of unity in the word itself. The word declares that God is of one mind, that he changes not, indeed, that with him there is not the least shadow of turning. It will not do, therefore, for any man to explain the Scriptures as to imply that God does change his mind, or that he ever turns from his purpose. God commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against that city. Jonah thought not to go, and so set sail for Tarshish. In this was he thwarting God's purpose? No, for the farther away from Nineveh he thought he was getting, the nearer he was unwittingly coming to that fish which God had prepared to carry him straight to Nineveh to obey God's command. To men, and even to Jonah, perhaps, it may have seemed that he was contradicting God, but no so, all of Jonah's steps, as well as those of all men, were included in God's divine arrangement. God knew beforehand exactly what Jonah would do, and God knew beforehand exactly what the Ninevites would do at the preaching of Jonah. The word that Jonah preached was, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” At the preaching of Jonah the people of Nineveh believed God and proclaimed a feast. They put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least. Even the king arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him and covered him with sackcloth and sat in ashes. Here we see repentance on the part of the Ninevites, in that they turned away from their wickedness, and appeared to fast and sorrow for what they had done. In Jonah himself, though he had but lately tried to go against God, there was no sympathy for the Ninevites in their repentance, and he still thought that God ought to destroy them. When he saw that God did not destroy them, as he had understood God to say he would do, Jonah was very angry. There is less mercy with our fellow-man than with God. God is infinitely more charitable toward the shortcomings of his people than man can be. No wonder that David said he would rather fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men. When it says that God repented of evil, it means that it seemed to Jonah that God had repented, or had turned away from doing what he said he would do. As a matter of fact, a day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a day does not always signify in God's dealing with men twenty-four hours as it does with us. History shows that the city of Nineveh was destroyed just forty years after the time of Jonah's preaching, therefore the Lord meant forty days to be forty years. Jonah, however, evidently had his own idea as to what God meant, and became angry when the things did not turn out as he thought they ought to. This reminds us of the time when Hezekiah was sick and the Lord sent him word by the prophet that he should die and not live. Hezekiah thought the Lord meant that he was to die immediately. But the Lord had not said when he was to die. He told him simply to set his house in order, for he should die and not live. How was Hezekiah to set his house in order if the Lord had meant that he was to die at once? Evidently Hezekiah did not think about this, but construed the message of the Lord to mean that he was to die right away, hence he prayed to the Lord to spare his life. The Lord sent the prophet again to tell to him, I have added fifteen years to his days. Notice that the Lord had added nothing to Hezekiah's life really, but added fifteen years to what Hezekiah thought was his term of life. In this the Lord changed his mind not at all, but the Lord changed Hezekiah's mind in answer to his prayer, and showed him that death was not as near, by fifteen years, as Hezekiah thought it was. The Lord is certainly not to blame for the false conceptions that men place upon his word. If Jonah thought forty days to means days of twenty-four hours each, as men reckon days, whose fault was that? The Lord intended to destroy the city in forty years evidently, for it was overthrown in that time. The Lord meant a day to be one year. This is not at all strange, since God dwells in infinity, and what seems like years to us are but as moments or days to him. God did not change in his purpose, although Jonah thought he had. It seemed to Jonah that God had changed his mind, that he had bidden him preach against that city and then had failed to make his word good. This was not true, but God did not do what Jonah thought he ought to do, and this is not strange, since God has nowhere and at no time guaranteed or promised to fulfill all our ideas of him. But even if God had changed his mind, and had really turned away from doing the evil that he said he would do, who was Jonah to say that God had not a perfect right to do it? This, God showed Jonah in the gourd which grew up and covered Jonah. When God destroyed this gourd Jonah was very angry because God had destroyed it. Why should Jonah be vexed at the withering of the gourd, when he evidently would not have cared had all Nineveh been destroyed. Now, if Jonah thought the gourd ought to have been spared, why should God not spare Nineveh if he pleased? This was a demonstration to Jonah that he had better put his hand over his mouth and keep silence than to enter into judgment with God. God had not changed his purpose in the least with regard to Nineveh, as was proved forty years later, when the city actually was overthrown. But even had God determined not do as Jonah thought he would, who was Jonah, or who is any man, to say that God has not a perfect right to do as it pleases him? - L

Elder H.H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Vol. 87, No. 12 – June 15, 1919