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…
The dealings of God with men have ever been characterised by judgment and mercy. God always deals with man according to his works; but the moral character of those works is determined by the state of the heart, and by the motives from which they spring. God deals with man according to his works. To the penitent God shows mercy; to the obedient, favour; to the rebellious and impenitent, judgment. The conduct of God towards the repentant Ninevites was in accordance with these general principles of His moral government.
I. GOD'S REPENTANCE. Repentance in man is change of mind and purpose, issuing in change of conduct; but repentance in God is only change of operation or administration, according as man's conduct agrees with, or violates, the requirements of the Divine law. With the Ninevites God was justly angry. Their aggravated sins cried aloud for vengeance, and He determined to destroy them; but when they turned away from their sins He graciously withheld His avenging hand. This change in God's dealings, or threatened dealings, with the Ninevites, was not a change of principle or a change of mind, but simply a change of dispensation, arising out of their altered circumstances. Repentance in man always produces a corresponding change in God's administrations towards him. (Jeremiah 18:7-10.) This gives to the denunciations of God a conditional character. Some times the condition is expressed in the terms of the threatening, and sometimes it is understood. It is as much a principle of God's gracious government to suspend the execution of a threatened punishment on man's sincere repentance as it is to execute it in the case of obstinate and continued sin. Erroneous notions have been adopted with respect to the immutability of God. God is unchangeable in His being, perfections, and principles of moral government. But in His actual dispensations with man He deals with him according to the state of his heart and life.
II. THE EFFECTS OF GOD'S REPENTANCE ON JONAH. Such an act of grace and forbearance On the part of God ought to have excited the devout thankfulness of the prophet. But Jonah heard of the reprieve and pardon not only without joy, but with angry displeasure. The reason of his inhuman displeasure was a fear for his own fame. Jonah's unreasonable anger will account for his unseemly and censurable prayer.
III. GOD'S REPROOF OF JONAH, AND VINDICATION OF HIMSELF. God's dealings with Jonah place His own character in the most gracious and amiable light, and in the most affecting contrast with that of the prophet. Jonah appears to have been a man of strong passions, and easily excited. Means had been found, in connection with the booth, the gourd, and the worm, to arouse conviction in Jonah's mind, and now God proceeds to make more direct application. He approaches Jonah with mild and dispassionate language — "Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?" How great the patience that bore with Jonah's petulance! "Thou hast had pity on the gourd; and should not I spare Nineveh?" Whether this appeal of God had any salutary effect on Jonah's mind, and led to any improvement in his conduct or not, is wholly unknown. We lose sight of Jonah under circumstances extremely disadvantageous to him. He drops out of history in a bad temper; and we have little to recall him to our remembrance but his sin, his punishment, and his petulance.
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.