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Was God’s announcement to the Ninevites unfulfilled, since He changed His mind?:

KJV 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.

  • @ Ruminator: thanks for the wording corrections. – Saro Fedele Nov 11 '18 at 16:14
  • The Book of Jonah consists of more than one verse. In particular, 3:4 is a repetition of 1:2, where the destruction is conditioned by the city's wickedness. – Lucian Nov 17 '18 at 14:25
  • @Lucian. Thanks for the clarification regarding the lenghth of the Jonah's book. However, what you say ("the distruction - of Nineveh - is conditioned by the city's wickedness") in what manner answer to the question at issue? – Saro Fedele Nov 17 '18 at 14:42
  • In the same manner in which 4 answers the question 2 + 2. – Lucian Nov 17 '18 at 14:49
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There are numerous examples in Scripture of unfulfilled prophecy or even reversed prophecy.

  • Ex 3:8, 15:17, 23:23 – God promised to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites who left Egypt. But the adverse report by the spies caused them to rebel, so God said, “not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home.” (Num 14:30) God even called this, “my breach of promise” (Num 14:34 KJV).
  • 2 Kings 20:1 – Hezekiah’s sickness resulted in a prophecy from Isaiah that he would not recover. However, in 2 Kings 20:2-6 Hezekiah pleads with the Lord who decides to reverse the prophecy and adds another 15 years to his life.
  • Jonah 3:3, 4 – Jonah prophesied that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days. Yet when the people repented, the prophecy was reversed (Jonah 3:5-10).
  • 1 Kings 21:20–26 – Elijah prophesied that Ahab would be destroyed. But when he repented the outcome was reversed (1 Kings 21:27, 28).
  • 2 Sam 7:16, 16, Ps 132:11 – God promised David (and confirmed it to Solomon in 2 Chron 7:18) that his throne would last forever. That David’s royal throne was destroyed about 500 years later, in 586 BC, is a historical fact. However, the prophecy was no less certain because it, as with all such prophecies was conditional as recorded in 1 Kings 6:11, 12, 8:25, Ps 132:12, 2 Chron 7:17, 18.
  • In Jer 17:4, God’s anger is kindled against wicked Judah and will burn forever. Later in the same chapter (v25) He promises to love them forever.
  • Perhaps the most famous (and in some circles the most contentious) example of conditional prophecy are those to the chosen nation of Israel including:
    • their status as the chosen people, Ex 19:5,6; Deut 28:9,
    • a great nation, Deut 28:1 ,7, 9, 10, 13
    • a holy nation, Deut 7:9-14; 28:1-14; 30:16,19
    • the land, Deut 8:1, 7-9; 30:19, 20
    • the “forever” Davidic line of kings, l Kings 2:3, 4; 8:25, 9:4,5; l Chron 28:4-9; 2 Chron 6:16; 7:17-22
    • blessing to the nations, Eze 36:23, 33-36; 37:23, 28, etc.

Again, it is a sad fact of History that all these prophecies ceased to be fulfilled around the time of Jesus who was the “seed” of David and the blessing to the nations. Some, such as the Davidic line of Kings ceased in 586 BC when the last Jewish King was captured.

The general principle of conditional prophecy is explicitly stated in Jer 18:7-10 and illustrated in the dual prophecy of the permanence (Jer 17:24 – 26) or eternal destruction (Jer 17:27) of Jerusalem. The outcome is dependent not only on the sure word of the prophet but also the fidelity of the people. The prophecy of Jonah obeyed this general Bible principle. The people repented and so Nineveh was not destroyed.

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First of all, we have to take into account that Lord IEUE speaks with humans according the forma mentis of them. Hardly we were able to understand high spiritual truths if God used the language spoken in the heavenly realm (1 Cor 13:1). Technically, this God’s way to proceed with men is expressed in the Bible with a lot of anthropomorfisms (either in single words, or in various expressions). In other words, very often in the Bible (and only for our sake) IEUE God are getting Himself inside in man’s part, to make understandable His way of doing things. So, we sometimes read about God ‘is regretting’ (from the MT root נחם) to have made (or, to have thought) this or that thing. A well-known occasion of anthropomorphic way to speak is reported in Gen 6:7, where we read: “And Jehovah saith, ‘I wipe away man whom I have prepared from off the face of the ground, from man unto beast, unto creeping thing, and unto fowl of the heavens, for I have repented [נחם] that I have made them.’” (Young)

Some have troubles to understand this God’s way to speak, sometimes mixing up it for a non-anthropomorphic way to speak, that is, take it for the face value. But, doing so, these ones put the Bible in contradiction, because (we’ll see this fact onwards) the Word of God says that He ‘regrets’, but, in the same manner, also that He ‘does not regret’.

So, What is the better way to distinguish this two different factors (in-a-manner-of-speaking vs face value [literal rendering]), in this specific case, as regards the ‘regretting’ of God?

At least a couple of TaNaKh passages, in which God himself expresses something of His way of doing things, could make light on this matter.

Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither a son of man, that he should repent [נחם]. Shall he say and not do? and shall he speak and not make it good?” (Darby)

1 Samuel 15:29 “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret [נחם], for he is not a man, that he should have regret [נחם]” (English Standard Version)

In these passages, clearly outside the anthropomorphic way to speak, that is, speaking ‘literally’, God says he does not regret, at all.

Our (men’s) regrets are based on limitations of ours, regarding knowledge of facts, reduced life experience, wisdom, insight, and so on. Obviously, the Creator had none limitations of that kind, then, he cannot have ‘regret’.

However, when God choose to speak about Him in a anthropomorphic way, ‘I regret’, what He intends to convey us? Simply, that He has changed His mind. But, one moment!, ‘to regret’ and ‘to change own mind’ are not synonyms? Not necessarily. The pivotal point is the reason that triggers the change of mind. We have said the reason of the God’s change of mind cannot be linked with some limitations of Him, regarding knowledge of facts, reduced life experience, wisdom, insight, and so on (like is typical of men, instead). The reasons that triggers the God’s change of mind are basically:

1) the particular situation can be managed in a number of ways, all equivalents one another, where God express simply an opinion (= one of possible solutions); 2) the particular situation was created by God to specifically test an individual (for an example, Exo 32:10, 14); 3) the ‘opposite party’ (compared to God), has changed his behaviour-commitment towards IEUE.

As regards the third point cited above, John W. Haley wrote (bold is mine): “In every such case, the change is in man, rather than in God. For example, God has promised blessing to the righteous and threatened the wicked with punishment. Suppose a righteous man should turn and become wicked. He is no longer the man whom God promised to bless. He occupies a different relation toward God. The promise was made to an entirely different character. […] Yet all this while, there is no change in God. His attitude towards sin and sinners, on the one hand, and toward goodness and the good on the other, is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. It is precisely because God is immutable, that his relation to men, and his treatment of them vary with the changes in their character and conduct. In a word, he changes because he is unchangeable.” (a)

To return to the point on Jonah 3:10, we have to remember that God said (to the prophet Jeremiah) “I repent of the evil that I thought to do unto it” (JPS), that is, upon a nation, or “I repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit it” (ibid.) all depending upon the reaction of the nation to his prior dealings with it (Jer 18:5-10).

Somebody can ask why the Bible (in the Jonah’s declaration of conviction to Nineveh) makes no mention to a conditional conviction, that is, ‘This is what will happen to you if you don’t repent…’. To somebody it seems, instead, a clean prophetic conviction, without way to escape it.

Somebody is right… it seems

Actually: - why God warned the Ninevites 40 days before the ‘overthrown’ of the city, if it was irreversible? - if He judged all the Ninevites as irretrievable sinners, why he gave them 40 days? To do what?

Alexander McLaren makes it in this way (bold is mine): “The great truth involved is one that is too often lost sight of in dealing with prophecy; namely, that all God’s promises and threatenings are conditional. Jeremiah learned that lesson in the house of the potter, and we need to keep it well in mind. God threatens, precisely in order that He may not have to perform His threatenings. Jonah was sent to Nineveh to cry, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,’ in order that it might not be overthrown. What would have been the use of proclaiming the decree, if it had been irreversible? There is an implied ‘if’ in all God’s words. ‘Except ye repent’ underlies the most absolute threatenings of evil. ‘If we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end,’ is presupposed in the brightest and broadest promises of good.” (b)

John Gill: “[…] within forty days, or at the end of forty days, as the Targum; not exceeding such a space, which was granted for their repentance, which is implied, though not expressed; and must be understood with this proviso, except it repented, for otherwise why is any time fixed? and why have they warning given them, or the prophet sent to them?” (c)

Joseph Benson: “The threat is express; but there was a reserve with God on condition of repentance. And it must be observed, that in most of the threatenings of God there is a condition expressed or understood. This is the general rule for interpreting all such denunciations, as has been observed in the note on Jer 18:8, unless where God makes an express declaration that the iniquity of the people against whom he denounces his judgments is full, and that he will not spare them […].” (d)

I hope it is clear that Lord IEUE, doesn’t repent, like men do. But He is happy to change His mind, when see men to change his way of life, making a full conversion to Him.

Say unto them: As I live, saith the Lord GOD [יהוה = IEUE], I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (JPS) (Ezekiel 33:11)

References: (a) An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, 1874 (orig. edit.), 1977, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A., page 65; (b) Exposition of Holy Scriptures, on Jonah 3:4; c) Exposition of The Bible, on Jonah 3:4. (d) Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, on Jonah 3:4.

  • Who is lord IEUE? I agree that pronunciation Jehova is not the "right" way for יהוה (although the most common), but how did you got IEUE? – A. Meshu Nov 11 '18 at 19:11
  • 'IEUE' is the natural reading of the Tetragrammaton, without the so-called vocalization of the Masoretes. – Saro Fedele Nov 11 '18 at 19:39
  • I understood that, just interesting on what you rely on. There are lot of ways to read and pronounce יהוה so why this way is the right one? Just from curiosity because it is the first time i see this. – A. Meshu Nov 11 '18 at 19:47
  • Regrettably, this site isn't the more apt place to expatiate on the difference between the Hebrew reading before the Masoretes era and after them (I hope will open a StackExchange site on 'Semitic Languages'). I'm able to say here that, on the prevalent basis of the way of reading Hebrew of several ancient scholars, like Josephus, Origen, Jerome, Moshe Sephardi, Gioacchino da Fiore, Roger Bacon, and many others, we may read the TaNaKh without the diacritical points introduced by the Masoretes. E. g. Moshe Sephardi and Gioacchino da Fiore transliterated the Tetragrammaton exactly as 'IEUE'. – Saro Fedele Nov 11 '18 at 21:02
  • Whitout questioning this honor people, it seems that this pronunciation is not accurate. Hebrew words build with roots that have meaning. If we look at the root of יהוה (by the way the diacritics/Niqud is for אדני or אלהים and never for יהוה since it forbidden) and a clue of this root mention on Exodus 3 14 "אהיה אשר אהיה" i think more accurate to pronounce Yawe. Anyway thank you for the explanation. – A. Meshu Nov 11 '18 at 21:39
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The massage Jonah was to deliver was not a prophecy it was a Judgment massage because of the badness of the Assyrians:-

Jonah 1:1, 2 “The word of Jehovah came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying: 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh the great city, and proclaim judgment against her, for their wickedness has come to my attention.”

Which he did after a few interesting events.

Jonah 3:3-4 “So Jonah got up and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of Jehovah. Now Nineveh was a very large city—a walking distance of three days. 4 Then Jonah entered the city, and walking a day’s journey, he was proclaiming: “In just 40 days more, Nineveh will be overthrown.””

How did the Assyrians of Nineveh respond to God’s warning to them via Jonah?

Jonah 3:7-9 “Furthermore, he issued a proclamation throughout Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No man or beast, herd or flock, should eat anything at all. They should not take food, nor should they drink any water. 8 Let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast; and let them call out earnestly to God and turn from their evil ways and from the violence they practice. 9 Who knows whether the true God may reconsider what he intends to do and turn from his burning anger, so that we may not perish?”

In fact Jesus saw their repentance and mentioned it:-

Matthew 12:41 “Men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it, because they repented at what Jonah preached.”

Luke 11:32 “The men of Nineveh will rise in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it, because they repented at what Jonah preached.”

They repented of their wicked was and God forgave them:-

Jonah 4:11 “Should I not also feel sorry for Nineveh the great city, in which there are more than 120,000 men who do not even know right from wrong, as well as their many animals?”

This shows Jehovah’s great mercy and love for them as he saw that they changed for the better when they heard his message via Jonah and forgave them. This shows also he will do the same today for repentant ones.

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