Harold S. Paisley
Question: I have been puzzled in the record of 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." Another scripture plainly states "God is not a man that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent" (Num. 23:19). How can these divine statements be reconciled?
Answer: In seeking to present light on this seeming enigma, it is important to consider that on account of human limitations, God often clothes His thoughts in language that can be understood by His creatures. When we read that "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent," the words can only express the fact that God never repents because He has done anything He should not have done or has said anything He should not have said. In this He is altogether unlike ourselves. We repent, or should repent, when we have done or thought anything that is incompatible with our dignified position as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. But God can never act wrongly, neither can He speak a wrong word. This is clearly stated in Numbers 23:19. However in His attitude towards mankind, God reserves the sovereign right of changing His mind which is the definition of the verb "to repent." God is love as well as light. He has declared "the soul that sinneth it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4), yet any soul turning in repentance toward God will be saved from righteous judgment and obtain mercy from God.
This is illustrated in the history of the wicked inhabitants of Nineveh who when warned of the terrible judgment coming upon them on account of their sins, turned in repentance, from the
greatest to the least. The manifestation of this unequaled response to Gods righteous claims moved the heart of God to mercy. When these ungodly people of Nineveh turned to God, God turned to them and reversed His righteous judgment to undeserved blessing.
The explanation to the apparent difficulty between the two scriptures in the question are therefore seen to harmonize which characterizes all divine utterances. The words of Jeremiah 18:7-10 are also of great value in our understanding of Gods ways in mercy. "...If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.. .If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.