When I preached my sermon “Stand in the place where you live” on Jonah 3 a few weeks ago for the conclusion of our missions week, I didn’t really touch on something that has caused some confusion and perhaps heresy along the way. Since the prophets section in the Christian bible make up a decent, but largely mysterious part of the bible, I figured it might be worth revisiting a verse in Jonah:
“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.”
There are a few questions which arise from this passage which will may help us understand the overall purpose of prophesy, and in turn the prophetic books, and ultimately the New Testament as well.
1.) Is Jonah a false prophet because what he said didn’t come true? Because Moses reminded the people in Deuteronomy 18:22 that a false prophet’s prophesy would not come true. That’s one way you could tell he wasn’t from the Lord. But prophesy isn’t primarily for prediction but for covenant mediation. If the prophet prophesies disaster, destruction, or death, it is usually out of God’s love, calling the people to repent. If they repent, then the disaster, destruction, or death could be averted, prolonged, or dismissed.
As I was reading Jeremiah 18 this morning, I was reminded of one of this truth. A potter was doing his thing and making pots and made some different than others. By way of analogy, God said based upon the level of the repentance of the people, the ultimate Potter would determine how he should shape the pots (outcome). Even if the destruction of the city were prophesied, God could reverse that. And he often gave multiple chances for repentance and restoration. And if the success of the city were prophesied, and then they continued dwelling in sin, then it could be destroyed. That’s why Nineveh was destroyed and you have what I call the “sequel” of Jonah: Nahum. This is about the prophesy of destruction of Nineveh.
Why? They didn’t continue in repentance but turned away from repentance/faith and fell into their previous sins of injustice and cruelty, among others.
The take away from seeing prophesy as covenant mediation and not primarily prediction is that you spend less time trying to match current events with OT prophesy and more time actually examining your own heart or the heart of your church and regularly repenting. Even when personal or corporate disaster seems certain, who knows, perhaps God would relent and bring about a change or revival? Some cal this the “Who Knows Principle?” David’s son’s life was not spared, but Hezekiah’s life was prolonged even after direct, seemingly concrete prophesy of death.
Or when times are smooth sailing (church is doing well, family life is great, Bucs are back on top, etc….), we might not get lulled to sleep and neglect regular repentance like Nineveh and Jerusalem.
There are other questions like, “Does God really change his mind but not character?” and will be addressed another day. Definitely not a Friday.