Jonah 3:9-10 (New International Version)
“Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Verse 3:9 opens with the words mi-yod’a: “Who knows?” The king of Nineveh admits that he doesn’t know for certain if God will be affected by the repentance of the people, but he is sure that it is more than worth the effort if there is even the slightest chance that God will spare Nineveh.
There are five places in Jonah’s story where the author uses the word shub: “to turn back.” The first is in 1:13 when the sailors try to turn the ship to the shore. The other three occur rapid-fire in 3:8-10. In verse 8, the king decrees acts of repentance (“turning around”). Then, in 9, the king expresses hope that God will see their actions and “turn back” to compassion and “turn from” anger.
And then, in verse 10, God witnesses the people “turn from” their evil ways. When God sees this, God “relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”
The Message translates it as “changed his mind,” and the King James Version as “repented.” But neither of these really does justice to the beauty of the Hebrew word used here: naham. When God sees the depth of the Ninevites’ regret, God is “moved to compassion.”*
God is not changeable, flighty, or capricious. God always wants us to choose what is right and good and healthy, and will give us every opportunity to do so. And God is moved to compassion when we get it right. God rejoices for us. God rejoices with us.
What does it mean to you that we worship a God who responds to our decisions?
* Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon.