Repentance, Human and Divine
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 to them…

Jonah's prediction, we say, was not fulfilled. But was it not, in a very true sense? The city was not overthrown in one sense, but it was in another. A moral revolution took place, but it was a revolution. Nineveh was overthrown by the preaching of Jonah, as long afterwards the world was said to be turned upside down by that of the apostles. This, of course, was not what Jonah had in mind. It was not that the city was destroyed, in Jonah's sense. The inhabitants repented, and by so doing occasioned God Himself to repent of His purpose in relation to them. There is, then, such a thing as repentance, not only on the part of human beings, but also on that of the Divine Being.


1. It was a sincere repentance. "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way." This settles the matter. It was impossible for them to deceive God. There is in our fallen nature a tendency to the hateful sin of hypocrisy, and there are two kinds of hypocrisy — the hypocrisy which affects holiness; and the hypocrisy which affects penitence. The latter is the more artful, as it is the more heinous.

2. It was occasioned by their faith ill God. "The people of Nineveh believed in God." Faith in God is certain to produce repentance. A man cannot repent without repenting of his unbelief in God, and in God's Son.

3. It was universal. They seem to have turned every one from his evil way. It is probable that the case of Nineveh is unique in this respect. It was an earnest of the universal repentance of mankind.

4. It was exceedingly prompt. There was a necessity for promptitude, seeing that a time-limit had been fixed. Delay in such a case meant destruction.

5. It originated at the summit of society, and spread downwards to its base. But the repentance of the Ninevites, sincere and effectual as it was, did not prevent their descendants from doing all manner of evil, and incurring the destruction of their city.

II. REPENTANCE AS ASCRIBED TO GOD. There is a doctrinal difficulty here. Some passages of Scripture attribute repentance to the Most High, and some other passages deny that He ever does repent. Truth may sometimes be formulated most conveniently by a paradox. God may be said to be, "unchangeably changeable." Illustrate from the thermometer or from the tides. As often as a change bakes place in a human being from loyalty to disloyalty, or vice versa, a corresponding change in God occurs in relation to that person. This change takes place in the Most High, not because He is changeable, but because He is unchangeable. See Jeremiah 18:7-10. That gives the changeless principle of God's government, and it explains all the changes in His attitude towards nations and persons. God has Often changed in the manner thus described, and that for the simple and sufficient reason that He is unchangeable. If there is one who knows only too well that he is regarded by the Supreme Being with deserved displeasure, let such an one know that a change on his part towards God will result in a corresponding change on God's part towards himself.

(Samuel Clift Burn.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. God relented of the disaster which he said he would do to them, and he didn't do it.

Repentance Applied to God
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