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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Does God Know Everything?

Don Stewart :: Did God Change His Mind as to What He Was to Do with the People of Nineveh?

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Did God Change His Mind as to What He Was to Do with the People of Nineveh?

Does God Know Everything? – Question 27

In the Book of Jonah, we have a situation where God was going to destroy the people of Nineveh. However, the people repented of their sins and God had mercy on them. The Bible says the following about God’s response to these people.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10 NIV)

How are we to understand this episode? Do they not clearly speak of God changing His mind concerning what He said that He was going to do? Does this mean that our actions can make God change His mind?

Option 1: God’s Mind Was Changed

Many who hold to the open view of God believe that this is an example of the mind of God actually being changed. When the people of Nineveh repented of their sins, God repented of what He was about to do. Hence we have a case of God changing what He was about to do. He reacted to their repentance by changing His threatened destruction of the city.

Option 2: God Did Not Change What He Had Planned to Do

The people of Nineveh prayed to God and asked His forgiveness. God heard their prayer and granted mercy to them. The traditional understanding of this passage is that He did not change His mind for He knew all along they would repent of their sins. Yet from a human point of view this was unknown to anyone. The people had not been assured that God would stop judgment if they repented but Jonah had an idea that this might happen. When the prophet realized that Nineveh would not be destroyed, he prayed to the Lord and acknowledged His graciousness. We read,

And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jonah 4:2 ESV)

Jonah knew well that the Lord was a gracious God. He was afraid that the people of Nineveh would repent and that God would spare them. This is exactly what happened.

The seeming changing of God’s mind in this situation makes people wonder if God is wavering in His word. But this is not the case. The Scripture represents God’s attitude with respect to the situation as it was at that particular moment. God always knew what He was going to do. The description of how He responded is for our benefit. God does not change His mind.

Summary – Question 27
Did God Change His Mind as to What He Was to Do with the People of Nineveh?

In the Book of Jonah there is the account of the people of Nineveh repenting at the preaching of Jonah. In response to the repentance of the people the Bible says that God repented of what He was about to do to the people.

This has been used as a classic example of God changing His mind with reference to people humbling themselves and asking His forgiveness. It is also believed that God’s plans change because of the actions of humans. The conclusion is that the future is not set. It can change based upon the behavior of humans.

Yet this is not the only way to look at this passage. For one thing, there was no message of repentance in Jonah’s preaching. None! He said that the city of Nineveh was to be destroyed. Period. No hope was offered, no forgiveness was extended. On their own, the people of Nineveh humbled themselves and asked God’s forgiveness. From a human perspective God changed His mind and did not destroy Nineveh. Yet we should not assume that God actually altered His plan. Since He exhaustively knows the future, He knew that they would repent. Therefore, the message of Nineveh’s destruction was not something which God decreed would happen.

Did Hezekiah Convince God to Allow Him to Live Fifteen Extra Years? ← Prior Section
In His Prayer in Gethsemane, Did Jesus Believe It Was Possible to Bypass the Cross? Next Section →
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