on Jonah 3 :10
And Gods saw their works - They repented, and brought forth fruits meet for repentance; works which showed that they did most earnestly repent. He therefore changed his purpose, and the city was saved. The purpose was: If the Ninevites do not return from their evil ways, and the violence that is in their hands, within forty days, I will destroy the city. The Ninevites did return, etc., and therefore escaped the threatened judgment. Thus we see that the threatening was conditional.
on Jonah 3 :10
And God saw their works - o "He did not then first see them; He did not then first see their sackcloth when they covered themselves with it. He had seen them long before He sent the prophet there, while Israel was slaying the prophets who announced to them the captivity which hung over them. He knew certainly, that if He were to send the prophets far off to the Gentiles with such an announcement, they would hear and repent." God saw them, looked upon them, approved them, accepted the Ninevites not for time only, but, as many as persevered, for eternity. It was no common repentance. It was the penitence, which our Lord sets forth as the pattern of true repentance before His coming Matthew 12:41. "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold a greater than Jonah is here."
They believed in the one God, before unknown to them; they humbled themselves; they were not ashamed to repent publicly; they used great strictness with themselves; but, what Scripture chiefly dwells upon, their repentance was not only in profession, in belief, in outward act, but in the fruit of genuine works of repentance, a changed life out of a changed heart. "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way." Their whole way and course of life was evil; they broke off, not the one or other sin only, but all "their" whole "evil way" . "The Ninevites, when about to perish, appoint them a first; in their bodies they chasten their souls with the scourge of humility; they put on hair-cloth for raiment, for ointment they sprinkle themselves with ashes; and, prostrate on the ground, they lick the dust. They publish their guilt with groans and lay open their secret misdeeds. Every age and sex alike applies itself to offices of mourning; all ornament was laid aside; food was refused to the suckling, and the age, as yet unstained by sins of its own, bare the weight of those of others; the mute animals lacked their own food. One cry of unlike natures was heard along the city walls; along all the houses echoed the piteous lament of the mourners; the earth bore the groans of the penitents; heaven itself echoed with their voice. That was fulfilled (Ecclesiasticus 35:17); The prayer of the humble pierceth the clouds." "The Ninevites were converted to the fear of God, and laying aside the evil of their former life, betook themselves through repentance to virtue and righteousness, with a course of penitence so faithful, that they changed the sentence already pronounced on them by God." "As soon as prayer took possession of them, it both made them righteous, and immediately corrected the city which had been habituated to live with profligacy and wickedness and lawlessness. More powerful was prayer than the long usage of sin. It filled that city with heavenly laws, and brought along with it temperance, lovingkindness, gentleness and care of the poor. For without these it cannot abide to dwell in the soul. Had any then entered Nineveh, who knew it well before, he would not have known the city; so suddenly had it sprung back from life most foul to godliness."
And God repented of the evil - This was no real change in God; rather, the object of His threatening was, that He might not do what He threatened. God's threatenings are conditional, "unless they repent," as are His promises, "if they endure to the end" Matthew 10:22. God said afterward by Jeremiah, Jeremiah 18:7-8. At what "instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concern ing a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down and to destroy it, if that nation, against whom I had pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them."
"As God is unchangeable in nature, so is He unchangeable in will. For no one can turn back His thoughts. For though some seem to have turned back His thoughts by their deprecations, yet this was His inward thought, that they should be able by their deprecations to turn back His sentence, and that they should receive from Him whereby to avail with Him. When then outwardly His sentence seemeth to be changed, inwardly His counsel is unchanged, because He inwardly ordereth each thing unchangeably, whatsoever is done outwardly with change." "It is said that He repented, because He changed that which He seemed about to do, to destroy them. In God all things are disposed and fixed, nor doth He anything out of any sudden counsel, which He knew not in all eternity that He should do; but, amid the movements of His creature in time, which He governeth marvelously, He, not moved in time, as by a sudden will, is said to do what He disposed by well-ordered causes in the immutability of His most secret counsel whereby things which come to knowledge, each in its time, He both doth when they are present, and already did when they were future." "God is subject to no dolor of repentance, nor is He deceived in anything, so as to wish to correct wherein He erred. But as man, when he repenteth willeth to change what he has done, so when thou hearest that God repenteth, look for the change. God, although He calleth it 'repenting,' doth it otherwise than thou. Thou doest it, because thou hast erred; He, because He avengeth or freeth. He changed the kingdom of Saul when He "repented."
And in the very place, where Scripture saith, "He repenteth," it is said a little after, "He is not a man that He should repent." When then He changes His works through His unchangeable counsels, He is said to repent, on account of the change, not of the counsel, but of the act." Augustine thinks that God, by using this language of Himself, which all would feel to be inadequate to His Majesty, meant to teach us that all language is inadequate to His Excellences. "We say these things of God, because we do not find anything better to say. I say, 'God is just,' because in man's words I find nothing' better, for He is beyond justice. It is said in Scripture, "God is just and loveth justice." But in Scripture it is said, that "God repenteth," 'God is ignorant.' Who would not start back at this? Yet to that end Scripture condescendeth healthfully to those words from which thou shrinkest, that thou shouldest not think that what thou deemest great is said worthily of Him. If thou ask, 'what then is said worthily of God? one may perhaps answer, that 'He is just.' Another more gifted would say, that this word too is surpassed by His Excellence, and that this too is said, not worthily of Him, although suitably according to man's capacity: so that, when he would prove out of Scripture that it is written, "God is just," he may be answered rightly, that the same Scriptures say that "God repenteth;" so, that, as he does not take that in its ordinary meaning, as men are accustomed to repent, so also when He is said to be just, this does not correspond to His supereminence, although Scripture said this also well, that, through these words such as they are, we may be brought to that which is unutterable." "Why predictest Thou," asks Chrysostom, "the terrible things which Thou art about to do? That I may not do what I predict. Wherefore also He threatened hell, that He may not bring to hell. Let words terrify you that ye may be freed from the auguish of deeds." "Men threaten punishment and inflict it. Not so God; but contrariwise, He both predicts and delays, and terrifies with words, and leaves nothing undone, that He may not bring what He threatens. So He did with the Ninevites. He bends His bow, and brandishes His sword, and prepares His spear, and inflicts not the blow. Were not the prophet's words bow and spear and sharp sword, when he said, "yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed?" But He discharged not the shaft, for it was prepared, not to be shot, but to be laid up."
"When we read in the Scriptures or hear in Churches the word of God, what do we hear but Christ? "And behold a greater than Jonas is here." If they repented at the cry of one unknown servant, of what punishment shall not we be worthy, if, when the Lord preacheth, whom we have known through so many benefits heaped upon us, we repent not? To them one day sufficed; to us shall so many months and years not suffice? To them the overthrow of the city was preached, and 40 days were granted for repentance: to us eternal torments are threatened, and we have not half an hour's life certain."
And He did it not - God willed rather that His prophecy should seem to fail, than that repentance should fail of its fruit. But it did not indeed fail, for the condition lay expressed in the threat. "Prophecy," says Aquinas in reference to these cases, "cannot contain anything untrue." For "prophecy is a certain knowledge impressed on the understanding of the prophets by revelation of God, by means of certain teaching. But truth of knowledge is the same in the Teacher and the taught, because the knowledge of the learner is a likeness of the knowledge of the Teacher. And in this way, Jerome saith that 'prophecy is a sort of sign of divine foreknowledge.' The truth then of the prophetic knowledge and utterance must be the same as that of the divine knowledge, in which there can be no error. But although in the Divine Intellect, the two-fold knowledge (of things as they are in themselves, and as they are in their causes,) is always united, it is not always united in the prophetic revelation, because the impression made by the Agent is not always adequate to His power. Whence, sometimes, the prophetic revelation is a sort of impressed likeness of the Divine Foreknowledge, as it beholds the future contingent things in themselves, and these always take place as they are prophesied: as, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive."
But sometimes the prophetic revelation is an impressed likeness of Divine Foreknowledge, as it knows the order of causes to effects; and then at times the event is other than is foretold, and yet there is nothing untrue in the prophecy. For the meaning of the prophecy is, that the disposition of the inferior causes, whether in nature or in human acts, is such, that such an effect would follow" (as in regard to Hezekiah and Nineveh), "which order of the cause to the effect is sometimes hindered by other things supervening. "The will of God," he says again, "being the first, universal Cause, does not exclude intermediate causes, by virtue of which certain effects are produced. And since all intermediate causes are not adequate to the power of the First Cause, there are many things in the power, knowledge, and will of God, which are not contained in the order of the inferior causes, as the resurrection of Lazarus. Whence one, looking to the inferior causes, might say, 'Lazarus will not rise again:' whereas, looking to the First Divine Cause, he could say, 'Lazarus will rise again.' And each of these God willeth, namely, that a thing should take place according to the inferior cause: which shall not take place, according to the superior cause, and conversely. So that God sometimes pronounces that a thing shall be, as far as it is contained in the order of inferior causes (as according to the disposition of nature or deserts), which yet doth not take place, because it is otherwise in the superior Divine Cause. As when He foretold Hezekiah Isaiah 38:1, "Set thy house in order, for thou, shalt die and not live;" which yet did not take place, because from eternity it was otherwise in the knowledge and will of God which is unchangeable. Whence Gregory saith , 'though God changeth the thing, His counsel He doth not change.' When then He saith, "I will repent," Jeremiah 18:8. it is understood as said metaphorically, for men, when they fulfill not what they threatened, seem to repent."
on Jonah 3 :10