The Repentance of God, Part 1

Jonah 3:9-10 – Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

According to verse 9 in Jonah, the one who is hopeful of God’s repentance is the King of Nineveh. This is not coming from a prophet of God, though the prophets do affirm this truth elsewhere. The King of Nineveh is defending a view of God that is compatible with the prophet Jeremiah.

In fact, let us read Jeremiah 18: 7-10:

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.

These verses provide a framework for the Biblical view of God’s repentance. This is the clearest passage in the Bible about the relationship of God with nations and kingdoms.

I want to come back to this point, but first I want to lay groundwork for the Biblical position of divine repentance.

First, let me first explain that the idea of “repentance” has a two-fold significance. The Greek word for repentance is the word metanoia and the Hebrew word here used is nacham {naw-kham’}. Both ideas are identical. They speak of turning from one thing to another. It can also be translated as to be “moved to compassion or moved to pity.” When we speak of human repentance, we are speaking of turning from sin. This is not what we are talking about when we speak of divine repentance, because God cannot sin. What we are talking about is a change of mind. However you parse the word “repentance or relent,” we are still left with the Biblical idea that God changed His mind.

Secondly, let me defend the Biblical view of God’s sovereignty, because that ought to be first and foremost in our minds when we consider the question of God relenting.

You cannot read the Bible, no matter what tradition you come from, and deny the sovereignty of God in some sense. I want to emphasize the sovereignty of God in every sense. To echo one of my heroes Abraham Kuyper: “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!'”

The Bible simply affirms this truth.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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