Jonah 3:10
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.
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(10) And God repented.—See Note, Genesis 6:6.

And he did it not.—As we are entirely ignorant of the nature of the threatened destruction, so are we also of the mode in which it was averted. Possibly some inscription throwing light on the book of Jonah may yet be discovered.

Jonah 3:10. And God saw their works — He not only heard their good words, by which they professed repentance, but saw their good works, by which they brought forth fruits meet for repentance. He saw that they turned from their evil way — And that was what he looked for and required. If he had not seen that, their fasting and sackcloth would have been as nothing in his account. Observe, reader, God takes notice of every instance of the reformation of sinners, even of those instances which fall not under the observation of the world. He sees who turn from their evil ways and who do not; and meets those with favour that meet him in a sincere conversion. When men repent of the evil of sin committed by them, he repents of the evil of judgment pronounced against them. Thus he spared Nineveh, and did not the evil which he said he would do against it. Here were no sacrifices offered to God, that we read of, to make atonement for sin; but the sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, such as the Ninevites now had, is what he will not despise: on the contrary, it is what he will give encouragement to, and put honour upon.

3:5-10 There was a wonder of Divine grace in the repentance and reformation of Nineveh. It condemns the men of the gospel generation, Mt 12:41. A very small degree of light may convince men that humbling themselves before God, confessing their sins with prayer, and turning from sin, are means of escaping wrath and obtaining mercy. The people followed the example of the king. It became a national act, and it was necessary it should be so, when it was to prevent a national ruin. Let even the brute creatures' cries and moans for want of food remind their owners to cry to God. In prayer we must cry mightily, with fixedness of thought, firmness of faith, and devout affections. It concerns us in prayer to stir up all that is within us. It is not enough to fast for sin, but we must fast from sin; and, in order to the success of our prayers, we must no more regard iniquity in our hearts, Ps 66:18. The work of a fast-day is not done with the day. The Ninevites hoped that God would turn from his fierce anger; and that thus their ruin would be prevented. They could not be so confident of finding mercy upon their repentance, as we may be, who have the death and merits of Christ, to which we may trust for pardon upon repentance. They dared not presume, but they did not despair. Hope of mercy is the great encouragement to repentance and reformation. Let us boldly cast ourselves down at the footstool of free grace, and God will look upon us with compassion. God sees who turn from their evil ways, and who do not. Thus he spared Nineveh. We read of no sacrifices offered to God to make atonement for sin; but a broken and a contrite heart, such as the Ninevites then had, he will not despise.And God saw their works - o "He did not then first see them; He did not then first see their sackcloth when they covered themselves with it. He had seen them long before He sent the prophet there, while Israel was slaying the prophets who announced to them the captivity which hung over them. He knew certainly, that if He were to send the prophets far off to the Gentiles with such an announcement, they would hear and repent." God saw them, looked upon them, approved them, accepted the Ninevites not for time only, but, as many as persevered, for eternity. It was no common repentance. It was the penitence, which our Lord sets forth as the pattern of true repentance before His coming Matthew 12:41. "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold a greater than Jonah is here."

They believed in the one God, before unknown to them; they humbled themselves; they were not ashamed to repent publicly; they used great strictness with themselves; but, what Scripture chiefly dwells upon, their repentance was not only in profession, in belief, in outward act, but in the fruit of genuine works of repentance, a changed life out of a changed heart. "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way." Their whole way and course of life was evil; they broke off, not the one or other sin only, but all "their" whole "evil way" . "The Ninevites, when about to perish, appoint them a first; in their bodies they chasten their souls with the scourge of humility; they put on hair-cloth for raiment, for ointment they sprinkle themselves with ashes; and, prostrate on the ground, they lick the dust. They publish their guilt with groans and lay open their secret misdeeds. Every age and sex alike applies itself to offices of mourning; all ornament was laid aside; food was refused to the suckling, and the age, as yet unstained by sins of its own, bare the weight of those of others; the mute animals lacked their own food. One cry of unlike natures was heard along the city walls; along all the houses echoed the piteous lament of the mourners; the earth bore the groans of the penitents; heaven itself echoed with their voice. That was fulfilled (Ecclesiasticus 35:17); The prayer of the humble pierceth the clouds." "The Ninevites were converted to the fear of God, and laying aside the evil of their former life, betook themselves through repentance to virtue and righteousness, with a course of penitence so faithful, that they changed the sentence already pronounced on them by God." "As soon as prayer took possession of them, it both made them righteous, and immediately corrected the city which had been habituated to live with profligacy and wickedness and lawlessness. More powerful was prayer than the long usage of sin. It filled that city with heavenly laws, and brought along with it temperance, lovingkindness, gentleness and care of the poor. For without these it cannot abide to dwell in the soul. Had any then entered Nineveh, who knew it well before, he would not have known the city; so suddenly had it sprung back from life most foul to godliness."

And God repented of the evil - This was no real change in God; rather, the object of His threatening was, that He might not do what He threatened. God's threatenings are conditional, "unless they repent," as are His promises, "if they endure to the end" Matthew 10:22. God said afterward by Jeremiah, Jeremiah 18:7-8. At what "instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concern ing a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down and to destroy it, if that nation, against whom I had pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them."

"As God is unchangeable in nature, so is He unchangeable in will. For no one can turn back His thoughts. For though some seem to have turned back His thoughts by their deprecations, yet this was His inward thought, that they should be able by their deprecations to turn back His sentence, and that they should receive from Him whereby to avail with Him. When then outwardly His sentence seemeth to be changed, inwardly His counsel is unchanged, because He inwardly ordereth each thing unchangeably, whatsoever is done outwardly with change." "It is said that He repented, because He changed that which He seemed about to do, to destroy them. In God all things are disposed and fixed, nor doth He anything out of any sudden counsel, which He knew not in all eternity that He should do; but, amid the movements of His creature in time, which He governeth marvelously, He, not moved in time, as by a sudden will, is said to do what He disposed by well-ordered causes in the immutability of His most secret counsel whereby things which come to knowledge, each in its time, He both doth when they are present, and already did when they were future." "God is subject to no dolor of repentance, nor is He deceived in anything, so as to wish to correct wherein He erred. But as man, when he repenteth willeth to change what he has done, so when thou hearest that God repenteth, look for the change. God, although He calleth it 'repenting,' doth it otherwise than thou. Thou doest it, because thou hast erred; He, because He avengeth or freeth. He changed the kingdom of Saul when He "repented."

And in the very place, where Scripture saith, "He repenteth," it is said a little after, "He is not a man that He should repent." When then He changes His works through His unchangeable counsels, He is said to repent, on account of the change, not of the counsel, but of the act." Augustine thinks that God, by using this language of Himself, which all would feel to be inadequate to His Majesty, meant to teach us that all language is inadequate to His Excellences. "We say these things of God, because we do not find anything better to say. I say, 'God is just,' because in man's words I find nothing' better, for He is beyond justice. It is said in Scripture, "God is just and loveth justice." But in Scripture it is said, that "God repenteth," 'God is ignorant.' Who would not start back at this? Yet to that end Scripture condescendeth healthfully to those words from which thou shrinkest, that thou shouldest not think that what thou deemest great is said worthily of Him. If thou ask, 'what then is said worthily of God? one may perhaps answer, that 'He is just.' Another more gifted would say, that this word too is surpassed by His Excellence, and that this too is said, not worthily of Him, although suitably according to man's capacity: so that, when he would prove out of Scripture that it is written, "God is just," he may be answered rightly, that the same Scriptures say that "God repenteth;" so, that, as he does not take that in its ordinary meaning, as men are accustomed to repent, so also when He is said to be just, this does not correspond to His supereminence, although Scripture said this also well, that, through these words such as they are, we may be brought to that which is unutterable." "Why predictest Thou," asks Chrysostom, "the terrible things which Thou art about to do? That I may not do what I predict. Wherefore also He threatened hell, that He may not bring to hell. Let words terrify you that ye may be freed from the auguish of deeds." "Men threaten punishment and inflict it. Not so God; but contrariwise, He both predicts and delays, and terrifies with words, and leaves nothing undone, that He may not bring what He threatens. So He did with the Ninevites. He bends His bow, and brandishes His sword, and prepares His spear, and inflicts not the blow. Were not the prophet's words bow and spear and sharp sword, when he said, "yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed?" But He discharged not the shaft, for it was prepared, not to be shot, but to be laid up."

"When we read in the Scriptures or hear in Churches the word of God, what do we hear but Christ? "And behold a greater than Jonas is here." If they repented at the cry of one unknown servant, of what punishment shall not we be worthy, if, when the Lord preacheth, whom we have known through so many benefits heaped upon us, we repent not? To them one day sufficed; to us shall so many months and years not suffice? To them the overthrow of the city was preached, and 40 days were granted for repentance: to us eternal torments are threatened, and we have not half an hour's life certain."

And He did it not - God willed rather that His prophecy should seem to fail, than that repentance should fail of its fruit. But it did not indeed fail, for the condition lay expressed in the threat. "Prophecy," says Aquinas in reference to these cases, "cannot contain anything untrue." For "prophecy is a certain knowledge impressed on the understanding of the prophets by revelation of God, by means of certain teaching. But truth of knowledge is the same in the Teacher and the taught, because the knowledge of the learner is a likeness of the knowledge of the Teacher. And in this way, Jerome saith that 'prophecy is a sort of sign of divine foreknowledge.' The truth then of the prophetic knowledge and utterance must be the same as that of the divine knowledge, in which there can be no error. But although in the Divine Intellect, the two-fold knowledge (of things as they are in themselves, and as they are in their causes,) is always united, it is not always united in the prophetic revelation, because the impression made by the Agent is not always adequate to His power. Whence, sometimes, the prophetic revelation is a sort of impressed likeness of the Divine Foreknowledge, as it beholds the future contingent things in themselves, and these always take place as they are prophesied: as, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive."

But sometimes the prophetic revelation is an impressed likeness of Divine Foreknowledge, as it knows the order of causes to effects; and then at times the event is other than is foretold, and yet there is nothing untrue in the prophecy. For the meaning of the prophecy is, that the disposition of the inferior causes, whether in nature or in human acts, is such, that such an effect would follow" (as in regard to Hezekiah and Nineveh), "which order of the cause to the effect is sometimes hindered by other things supervening. "The will of God," he says again, "being the first, universal Cause, does not exclude intermediate causes, by virtue of which certain effects are produced. And since all intermediate causes are not adequate to the power of the First Cause, there are many things in the power, knowledge, and will of God, which are not contained in the order of the inferior causes, as the resurrection of Lazarus. Whence one, looking to the inferior causes, might say, 'Lazarus will not rise again:' whereas, looking to the First Divine Cause, he could say, 'Lazarus will rise again.' And each of these God willeth, namely, that a thing should take place according to the inferior cause: which shall not take place, according to the superior cause, and conversely. So that God sometimes pronounces that a thing shall be, as far as it is contained in the order of inferior causes (as according to the disposition of nature or deserts), which yet doth not take place, because it is otherwise in the superior Divine Cause. As when He foretold Hezekiah Isaiah 38:1, "Set thy house in order, for thou, shalt die and not live;" which yet did not take place, because from eternity it was otherwise in the knowledge and will of God which is unchangeable. Whence Gregory saith , 'though God changeth the thing, His counsel He doth not change.' When then He saith, "I will repent," Jeremiah 18:8. it is understood as said metaphorically, for men, when they fulfill not what they threatened, seem to repent."

10. God repented of the evil—When the message was sent to them, they were so ripe for judgment that a purpose of destruction to take effect in forty days was the only word God's righteous abhorrence of sin admitted of as to them. But when they repented, the position in which they stood towards God's righteousness was altered. So God's mode of dealing with them must alter accordingly, if God is not to be inconsistent with His own immutable character of dealing with men according to their works and state of heart, taking vengeance at last on the hardened impenitent, and delighting to show mercy on the penitent. Compare Abraham's reasoning, Ge 18:25; Eze 18:21-25; Jer 18:7-10. What was really a change in them and in God's corresponding dealings is, in condescension to human conceptions, represented as a change in God (compare Ex 32:14), who, in His essential righteousness and mercy, changeth not (Nu 23:19; 1Sa 15:29; Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17). The reason why the announcement of destruction was made absolute, and not dependent on Nineveh's continued impenitence, was that this form was the only one calculated to rouse them; and at the same time it was a truthful representation of God's purpose towards Nineveh under its existing state, and of Nineveh's due. When that state ceased, a new relation of Nineveh to God, not contemplated in the message, came in, and room was made for the word to take effect, "the curse causeless shall not come" [Fairbairn]. Prophecy is not merely for the sake of proving God's omniscience by the verification of predictions of the future, but is mainly designed to vindicate God's justice and mercy in dealing with the impenitent and penitent respectively (Ro 11:22). The Bible ever assigns the first place to the eternal principles of righteousness, rooted in the character of God, subordinating to them all divine arrangements. God's sparing Nineveh, when in the jaws of destruction, on the first dawn of repentance encourages the timid penitent, and shows beforehand that Israel's doom, soon after accomplished, is to be ascribed, not to unwillingness to forgive on God's part, but to their own obstinate impenitence. God saw; not only with naked and single intuition, hut he saw and approved, was singularly well pleased with that he saw.

Their works: works, not words, are sure signs of what men are humbling themselves to the dust, extraordinary fasting, and crying unto God, these were some of their works; but God saw more than these external, professing works.

They turned from their evil way: see Jonah 3:8: they did heartily, presently, and universally turn from the ways of impiety against God, of injustice against man, from the ways of luxury and pride, from all their violence against man; without this all the rest had been not worth the observing, nor would God have regarded it. God repented: this is spoken as before, Jonah 3:9, (and as his seeing is attributed to him,) after the manner of man, and must be applied unto our unchangeable God so as may not reflect any blemish upon his truth, constancy, or immutability. Though he is said to repent, it is not as man doth, who may, through frailty of his nature, lie; but our God is not a man, or as the son of man, that he should change or lie.

Of the evil of punishment,

that he had said, threatened by Jonah’s mouth,

that he would do unto them; to sinning Ninevites, who did rightly conjecture that it was possible this dreadful message might be a minatory warning and might be big of a merciful condition of pardon if they repented, and there was no other way to make the discovery of this but that they took. For he will not deal with penitent sinners as with impenitent; though his justice would not have spared unrepenting citizens, his mercy is so great he will not destroy repenting sinners.

And God saw their words, that they turned from their evil way,.... Not their outward works, in putting on sackcloth and ashes, and fasting; but their inward works, their faith in him, and repentance towards him; and which were attended with fruits and works meet for repentance, in that they forsook their former course of life, and refrained from it; and these he saw not barely with his eye of omniscience, as he sees all persons and things, good and bad, but so as to like them, approve of them, and accept them, in which sense the word is used, Genesis 1:4; and so the repentance of these men is spoken of with commendation by Christ, and as what would rise up in judgment, and condemn the men of that generation, Matthew 12:41;

and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them, and he did it not; this is spoken after the manner of men, as Aben Ezra observes; and is to be understood, not of any such affection in God as repentance; but of an effect done by him, which carries in it a show of repentance, or resembles what is done by men when they repent; then they change their course and conduct; so, the Lord, though he never changes his will, nor repents of or revokes his decrees, or alters his purposes; yet he sometimes wills a change, and makes an alteration in the dispensations of his providence, according to his unchangeable will. God, in this case, did not repent of his decrees concerning the Ninevites, but of what he had said or threatened respecting the overthrow of Nineveh, in case of their impenitence; it was his will that they should be told of their sin and danger, and by this means be brought to repentance, and the wrath threatened them be averted; so that here was a change, not of his mind and will concerning them, but of his outward dispensations towards them; see Jeremiah 18:7.

And God saw their {h} works, that they turned from their evil way; and {i} God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

(h) That is, the fruits of their repentance, which proceeded from faith, which God had planted by the ministry of his Prophet.

(i) Read Geneva Jer 18:8

10. that they turned from their evil way] “See what removed that inevitable wrath. Did fasting and sackcloth alone? No, but the change of the whole life. How does this appear? From the prophet’s word itself. For he who spake of the wrath of God and of their fast, himself mentions the reconciliation and its cause. And God saw their works. What works? that they fasted? that they put on sackcloth? He passes by these and says, that everyone turned from his evil ways; and God repented of the evil which He had said that He would do unto them. Seest thou that not the fast plucked them from the peril, but the change of life made God propitious to these heathen? I say this, not that we should dishonour, but that we may honour fasting. For the honour of a fast is not in abstinence from food, but in avoidance of sin. So that he who limiteth fasting to the abstinence from food only, he it is who above all dishonoureth it. Fastest thou? Show it me by thy works.” St Chrysostom, On the Statues, Hom. iii. 4, quoted by Pusey.

God repented] When we regard the relations of Almighty God to men and His dealings with them from the divine side, so far as it is revealed to us and we are able to comprehend it, then they are all foreseen and planned and executed in accordance with His perfect foreknowledge. Then there is no place for repentance, no room for change. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” But when we alter our stand-point, and regard them from the human side, when from the pure heights of contemplation we come down to the busy field of action, free scope is given in the aspect in which God then presents Himself to us for human effort and prayer and feeling, then His purpose waits upon our will. Both of these sides are freely and fearlessly set forth in Holy Scripture. On the one side, “God is not a man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should repent” (Numbers 23:19). With Him “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). On the other side we read, “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart” (Genesis 6:6); “God repented of the evil that He had said that He would do unto them, and He did it not.” Both views are equally true, and they are in perfect harmony with each other, but Holy Scripture never attempts to harmonise them, nor is it wise for us to attempt to do so; we cannot look upon both sides of the shield at once.

he did it not] It is obvious that this statement, and indeed the whole account of the repentance of the Ninevites, is to be taken within the limits which the history itself prescribes. There is nothing here to contradict the subsequent relapse of the Ninevites into sin, their filling up the measures of their iniquities, and the consequent overthrow of their city and extinction of their national life. But none of these things are here in view, the present fills the whole picture, and fills it grandly. They are sinners. They are threatened. They repent. They are saved.

The fact that no reference has been discovered amongst extant Assyrian monuments to the mission of Jonah and its results may be reasonably accounted for. The Assyrian records of this particular period are singularly meagre in comparison of those of the immediately preceding and succeeding reigns. The subject-matter of this event in the national history is not such as the monuments are wont to record. Wars and victories and material works chiefly occupy them. Moral reformation is foreign to their theme. The marvellous manner in which recent discoveries have come in confirmation of the statements of Holy Scripture leave it open to us, however, to believe that some such confirmation of the history of Jonah may yet reach us from secular sources.

Verse 10. - § 4. God accepts this repentance, and the threatened destruction is averted. God saw their works. There is no notice in the inscriptions of this "repentance," or of any change in the polytheistic worship of the Ninevites. But the existing records of this period are singularly meagre, and show a state of calamity and depression, of internal commotions and famine. Nor is it usual in the monumental history to find mention of any events but wars and the execution of material works; moral reformations are not recorded. God repented of the evil (Exodus 32:14). This is an anthropopathical mode of speaking; God acted as if, taking man's view of the transaction, he repented. The sentence was conditional, as Jonah well knew (Jonah 4:2), in accordance with the great principle laid down in Jeremiah 18:7, etc., viz. that if a nation against which sentence is pronounced turn from its evil way, the sentence shall not be executed. God does not change, but he threatens that man may change (see note on Amos 7:3; and observe the same principle applied to individuals, Ezekiel 33:8, 13-16). He did it not. The evil day was postponed. This partial repentance, though it was not permanent and made little lasting impression on the national life, showed that there was some element of good in these Assyrians, and that they were not yet ripe for destruction. It has been considered to be a proof of the unhistorical character of the Book of Jonah that no mention of any of the incidents is made in the Books of Kings and Chronicles; but there is nothing strange in this. Those records never touch external politics except as closely connected with Israel's fortunes; and, derived as they were from national annals, it would have been unnatural for them to have narrated events happening so far away, and not likely to be introduced in the documents on which their history was founded.

Jonah 3:10But however deep the penitential mourning of Nineveh might be, and however sincere the repentance of the people, when they acted according to the king's command; the repentance was not a lasting one, or permanent in its effects. Nor did it evince a thorough conversion to God, but was merely a powerful incitement to conversion, a waking up out of the careless security of their life of sin, an endeavour to forsake their evil ways which did not last very long. The statement in Jonah 3:10, that "God saw their doing, that they turned from their evil ways; and He repented of the evil that He had said that He would do to them, and did it not" (cf. Exodus 32:14), can be reconciled with this without difficulty. The repentance of the Ninevites, even if it did not last, showed, at any rate, a susceptibility on the part of the heathen for the word of God, and their willingness to turn and forsake their evil and ungodly ways; so that God, according to His compassion, could extend His grace to them in consequence. God always acts in this way. He not only forgives the converted man, who lays aside his sin, and walks in newness of life; but He has mercy also upon the penitent who confesses and mourns over his sin, and is willing to amend. The Lord also directed Jonah to preach repentance to Nineveh; not that this capital of the heathen world might be converted at once to faith in the living God, and its inhabitants be received into the covenant of grace which He had made with Israel, but simply to give His people Israel a practical proof that He was the God of the heathen also, and could prepare for Himself even among them a people of His possession. Moreover, the readiness, with which the Ninevites hearkened to the word of God that was proclaimed to them and repented, showed that with all the depth to which they were sunken in idolatry and vice they were at that time not yet ripe for the judgment of extermination. The punishment was therefore deferred by the long-suffering of God, until this great heathen city, in its further development into a God-opposing imperial power, seeking to subjugate all nations, and make itself the mistress of the earth, had filled up the measure of its sins, and had become ripe for that destruction which the prophet Nahum predicted, and the Median king Cyaxares inflicted upon it in alliance with Nabopolassar of Babylonia.
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