Invite a friend to North Richland Hills Baptist Church on Sundays in September as we begin a series on Jonah: The Stubborn Evangelist.
In reading through the book of Jonah recently, I encountered a problematic passage: “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 3:9). For my friends who are still using the King James Version, the text reads, “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” (emphasis added). The circumstances surrounding the Scripture is fairly straightforward. God has commanded Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, a town several hundred miles northwest of Jonah’s homeland. Jonah’s message is only five words in the original language but eight words in our English translations: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4b)! Remarkably, the citizens of Nineveh leave aside their violent ways for the time being and turn from their sin. Jonah’s message transformed the people of this city in ways that few could have predicted.
Yet, many people wonder if God changed His mind? The answer is simply no. God has never changed His mind and He never will. God is perfect in every aspect. If He were to change, He would have to change for either the better or for the worse. Neither are possible for God for it is impossible for God to improve on perfection. God doesn’t change as He is consistently constant for all of time (1 Samuel 15:29; Isaiah 46:9-11).
Yet, many serious students of the Bible would disagree. They would point to the instance where God added fifteen years to the Old Testament king of Israel, Hezekiah. Here the prophet Isaiah tells Hezekiah a message from none other than God Himself: “Set your house in order, for you shall die…” (Isaiah 38:1). After the king prays, God instructs Isaiah to tell Hezekiah that the king has additional fifteen years to live. Others would also to point to God’s conversation with Moses in Exodus 32:9-14. Here God informs Moses that He is fed up with His people, Israel. God was planning on venting His wrath on His people and starting over with a new nation. Yet, Moses prays and successfully “persuades” God to alter His plan. In both of these instances, modern day people conclude that God has changed His mind.
God makes promises and keeps promises. He delayed in judging Nineveh because His threat to judge proved successful for a period of time (Nineveh was conquered in 612 BC). In fact, had God desired to reign fire and brimstone on the city, He would have done so without warning. Instead, God sent Jonah into the city because He is a merciful God who is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6-7; Jonah 4:2-4). Had the citizens of Nineveh not stopped their violent ways, God would have indeed sent judgment.
God works out every detail of life according to His intricate plan. At times, His plan includes the prayer of Hezekiah to achieve God’s larger purpose where Hezekiah’s life is extended another fifteen years. Or, God’s plan includes the “reminder” of Moses of the situation at hand. In both cases, prayer was a part of God’s plan that changed the events of history. The prayers of believers today are an essential part of God’s ordering of the universe.
God plans the details of history just as He plans the very prayers from His people that change history. No, God has never changed His mind and He never will.