Did God Change His Mind?
Question: What does "God repented" mean in Jonah 3:10? How can God repent?
Answer: Jonah 3:10 (KJV) says, "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; and he did it not." Jonah preached to the people of Ninevah, saying that God would bring judgment upon them in 40 days. When the Ninevites repented, God halted the judgment.
Does that mean that God changed His mind? No, because 1 Samuel 15:29 says, "Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind." Why then, does the verse say "God repented"?
When man repents, he changes his will. When God repents, He wills a change. The New American Standard Version gives a better translation of Jonah 3:10: "When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them and He did not do it."
The Lord had told Jonah, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you" (Jonah 3:2). We know what Jonah preached: "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4). However, the Bible doesn't disclose the entire message that God told Jonah to proclaim. Normally when God told His prophets that judgment was coming, He told them if the people receiving judgment would repent, He would stop the judgment.
For example, God told the prophet Jeremiah, "At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. (Jeremiah 18:7-8)
It's likely that God gave this same message to Jonah. However, Jonah probably only preached that God would soon judge Ninevah-and didn't tell them that God would relent if they would repent. Jonah went through the streets of Niveveh crying out, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4). When they repented of their evil deeds, Jonah became extremely upset (Jonah 4:1). He wanted God to judge them, but the Lord had other plans. He relented of the judgment that He was going to bring upon Ninevah because they repented of their sins.