Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Did God Repent?: Jonah 3:10 and the Immutability of God - Part 2

Did God Repent?: Jonah 3:10 and the Immutability of God - Part 1
Did God Repent?: Jonah 3:10 and the Immutability of God - Part 2


In a previous post, I raised the question of how we can defend the doctrine of God's immutability in light of a difficult verse like Jonah 3:10 which suggests, as the KJV translates, that God repented (that is, changed His mind) and did not destroy the Ninevites? God's immutability was briefly defended and the assertion was made that in fact Jonah 3 defends the doctrine of immutability rather than contradicting it.

To begin, compare Jonah 1:1-2 with 3:1-2.

1:1-2
The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

3:1-2
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”

The language is purposefully similar and at times verbatim which is more clear in the Hebrew were the writer purposefully uses the same language. The point for the writer in chapter 3 is to emphasize that by God's grace, Jonah has been given an undeserved second chance. The experience in the sea with the sinking, the fish, and the psalm of thanksgiving and repentance is a real picture to Jonah that if God can find him, this runaway prophet, at the bottom of the sea, then surely grace extends even to the Ninevites. 

The main difference at the beginning of both chapter 1 and 3 is not really found in the first two verses of each respected chapter, but in the third verse. Jonah 1:3 beings with but Jonah whereas 3:3 begins with so Jonah. The message that God commissioned Jonah to give the Ninevites remained the same. Because of their gross (great) wickedness God was going to destroy the city. In his sermon to the Ninevites in 3:4, Jonah borrows language from Sodom and Gomorrah to illustrate just how serious God was and how bad the damage was going to be. In sin, God was going to judge. 

But the difference is in Jonah's response, not God's message. Jonah famously flees in chapter 1 and finds himself condemned by God. God condemns and judges sin. As a result, God orchestrates a massive storm upon Jonah and has him cast into the sea. Jonah writes in his psalm in chapter 2 that he assumed he was going to die. 

In chapter 3, however, Jonah obeys God. Preachers have described the first three chapters of Jonah this way:
  • Chapter 1 - Jonah runs from God
  • Chapter 2 - Jonah runs to God
  • Chapter 3 - Jonah runs with God
Still others have said
  • Chapter 1 - Jonah as a Pouting Prophet
  • Chapter 2 - Jonah as a Praying Prophet
  • Chapter 3 - Jonahs as a Preaching Prophet
It is Jonah who has changed from rebellion to repentance to obedience. Neither God nor His message ever changed. In Jonah 1:2 God tells Jonah to preach against the city of Ninevah and in 3:4 he does just that proclaiming calamity upon unrepentant sin. Nothing changed.

The real miracle of Jonah is not the fish, but how God changes hearts from the sailors in chapter 1 to the prophet in chapter 2 to the city in chapter 3. Almost immediately, at least in the narrative, Ninevah heeds Jonah's warning and repents by both believing and repenting (3:5). As a sign of their repentance, the entire city (along with their animals) wear sackcloth and ashes. The King's proclamation ends with the hope that maybe, just maybe, God will see the sincerity of their hearts and save the city from his burning anger (3:9). 

Their repentance is similar to that of the sailors who made a sacrifice to the LORD (chapter 1) and to Jonah's who prayed even from the fish's belly (chapter 2). In both instances, God turned from wrath to grace. Would we not expect to find the same for the Ninevites? We do. As God did for all of the other characters of the story and as He continues to do for all sinners today, God's wrath is replaced with God's grace upon repentence

Nothing about God changes here. God is a God who condemns unrighteousness and injustice and grace to the humbled sinner. Thus Jonah is not a story about a God who changes, but an immutable God that saves.


For more:
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 5 
The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Introduction (Part 1)
The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Scriptural Foundation (Part 2)
The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Scriptural Challenges (Part 3)
The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Theological Challenges (Part 4)
The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Practical Implications (Part 5) 
The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Theological Applications (Part 6)
The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Theodicy & God's Sovereignty (Part 7)
Does God Suffer?: Aquinas on Divine Impassibility
Repost | Will the Two Become One?: Emergents Turn to Process Theology
Jim Wallis & Open Theology 
"Process Theology"
Sermon Podcast - April 26, 2010 - The Immutability of God
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