When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. (Jonah 3:10)
The Bible makes clear that God is unchanging. At the same time, the book of Jonah affirms that He can and does change His attitude towards people and His way of dealing with them. How are we to make sense of this apparent contradiction?
We see this tension elsewhere in Scripture. In His dealings with King Saul, for instance, God said, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments” (1 Samuel 15:11). But a few verses later we’re told, “The Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret” (v 29). It seems that God regrets His decision, but then we are told that He doesn’t have regret.
Yet there is no ultimate inconsistency between these two modes of expression. When God is said to have regret or change His mind, the descriptive language is an accommodation to our finite human perspective. It appears that there has been a change in God, but what has actually changed is our human conduct. Simply put, Saul was no longer the man he had once been. He had become persistently disobedient, and God responded to that changed circumstance in a way that was entirely consistent with His character. Similarly, in response to Jonah’s preaching, the Ninevites changed their conduct—this time, in the opposite direction: they turned away from evil. God is consistently against sin and favorable towards repentance and faith; His character does not change. His warnings are intended to alert the wayward and bring them to repentance—and if repentance occurs, then God responds accordingly.
Devotional material is taken from Truth For Life Daily Devotional by Alistair Begg. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company. Used by Truth For Life with written permission.