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 to them…
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that be had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. Merciful character of God vindicated. "He retaineth not anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy;" "I said, I will confess my transgression unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin;" "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
I. THE CAUSE OF THE CHANGE. "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way." He not only heard their professions, but saw from their acts that these were real; they believed God - believed that on account of their sins his "fierce anger" rested on them, and they showed their faith by their works; and the particular kind of works was their turning from their evil way - not resorting to matters of will worship, such as self-mutilation or making children pass through the fire, not stretching forth hands or making many prayers, but abandoning the sin that had offended God; not giving money to build or ornament temples or buy God's favour, but tearing the idol from their hearts - turning from their evil way. The real test of repentance is giving up sin - favourite sin, pleasant sin - sins of sensuality and indulgence and display; giving them up as acts, and trying to give them up as objects of desire; seeking to have the heart cleansed as well as the hands; to have the natural love of them subdued by the thought that they excite against us the fierce wrath of God; and in our case, under the light of the gospel, by all the considerations derived from the cross of Christ, and God's display of love and grace in him. Was the repentance of Nineveh complete, inward, spiritual? This is not said, nor is it necessary to believe it was. Probably it did not last long. It was repentance, however, according to their light and circumstances - the expression of deep national concern for sins that had come up before God, and against which God had sent his prophet to testify. It was an acknowledgment of the God of Jonah as the God of the whole earth - a submission of themselves to him - such submission as would have saved Egypt and Pharaoh, had it been made, in Moses' time, with accompanying tokens of sorrow and sincerity. Higher quality of repentance is demanded from an individual than from a nation; fellowship of reconciled God with the individual is much more intimate and spiritual than with the nation; such fellowship is impossible, save in case of regenerate hearts; in "repentance unto life" there must be genuine hating of what God hates, and loving what he loves.
II. THE CHANGE ON THE PART OF GOD. "God repented of the evil, that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not." It is frequently objected that this implies fickleness on the part of God, as if he were mutable - as if he were a son of man that he should repent. But fickleness or mutability implies change of action while circumstances remain the same; immutability demands change of action when circumstances change. Immutability is tested by principles on which one acts rather than on the outward actions one performs; hence there is no fickleness on part of God in opposite actions, as when he placed man in Paradise and afterwards drove him forth. When God said by Jonah, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed," he meant that Nineveh - Nineveh if it continued the same, black with guilt, impenitent, unreformed. He did not mean that another Nineveh would be destroyed - Nineveh fasting, penitent, transformed. At the end of forty days old Nineveh did not exist; the corruption that would have drawn down the Divine judgment was removed - in a sense that old Nineveh was destroyed - it had passed away. Consequently, the denunciation ceased to be applicable; the doom threatened was not inflicted. This was the whole amount of the change on the part of God. The phrase, "God repented," is an anthropomorphism; God acted as man would have done if he had repented - regarded it no longer as a case for infliction of judgment. God's denunciations of judgment are directed rather against states of mind and conduct than particular places or communities - implying, usually, a chance of repentance, In some cases the time for repentance had passed, and denunciation of doom became absolute - as in the case of our Lord weeping over Jerusalem. In rejecting him they had filled up the measure of their iniquities. Their house was left desolate. "We are ever to guard against assigning human imperfection to God. But we are equally to guard against assigning to him such a character or nature as would render living, intelligible, friendly intercourse between him and his people impossible. But impossible utterly all such intercourse may be, if I may not speak to God in the same forms and phrases and feelings in which I would offer a request, or state my case to a fellow man, though of course retaining unreserved submission and unlimited adoration of the Mighty One of Israel. My adoration unbounded; my surrender of myself to God unreservedly; - these are tributes to the searchless glory of his Godhead which I may not withhold, and yet profess to worship him. Nevertheless, with these I must be allowed, in condescension to my weakness, to ask God to be 'attentive to the voice of my supplications;' to 'behold and visit me;' to 'stretch out his hand' for my help; to 'shine upon me with the light of his countenance;' to 'awake; ' to 'arise;' to 'draw near; 'to' come and dwell with me.' All these expressions and requests are after the manner of men. I must be allowed to spread out my sorrow and my trial before him, precisely as if my design and expectation were to work on his feelings, and move and induce him in his pity to deliver me" (Martin).
III. NINEVAH IS SPARED. Picture the city as the fortieth day approached; when it dawned; afterwards, when it passed away and Nineveh remained. Picture universal relief and joy - old and young - congratulations - life appearing before them with a new brightness - the day breaks, and the shadows flee away. Symbol of what may be realized when the anger of God due to sin is averted: "In that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, throe anger is turned away, and thou comfortest me" (Isaiah 12:1). "What, then, must we expect will be the sweet surprise and transport of the departed soul on his first entrance into glory; when translated of a sudden from this material world to the world of spirits; from among men into the immediate presence of God? What must be his sensations, delight, and astonishment, when first conducted into the presence of the Saviour reigning on the throne of heaven? What will be his feelings when he sees around the throne a company which no man can number, all arrayed in white robes, and wearing brilliant crowns that never fade; all in transport of joy, singing of redeeming love, and celebrating the praises of the Lamb that was slain, and their voices like the sound of many waters? When the soul first joins this company, and reviews the dangers it has escaped in the world below, its love will kindle into a burning flame, and its song will be eternal." - W.G.B.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.