My Jonah lesson today was called “The Repenting God.” It was about how many times in scripture God declares judgment on a person or a people, but then gives them a chance to repent, and then relents when they do.
Some translations use the word “repent” when they translate this concept, but that really isn’t the best word. Priscilla explains it this way:
When the word “repent” is used in reference to God, it does not have the same implication as it does when man repents. A human being repenting normally suggests that he or she has sinned and needs to turn from wickedness. In the Hebrew “the word most frequently employed to indicate man’s repentance is shub, meaning ‘to turn’ from sin to God.” This was the word used for what the citizens of Nineveh did.
Since we know God is free from sin, the idea of His repenting seems contradictory until we discover a different word primarily used for God’s repentance. The word is nacham and means “to be moved to pity.” When scripture speaks of God repenting, it doesn’t imply that He’s done something wrong or made a mistake but just that He’s chosen a compassionate response as a result of another’s decision.
I grew up with the KJV, and it used the word “repented” a lot for these situations. That always kind of rubbed me wrong, because “repent” was something a sinner did. This was the first time I had heard about these different words and translations. It makes it much easier to understand now. I’m so glad people continue to study the original texts and translate them into more accurate and useful versions!
The verse that she led off this day of study with was Jeremiah 18:8. Here it is in the KJV:
8If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
And here it is in the New American Standard Version:
8if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.
To me, that makes a HUGE difference in reading the passage. The KJV makes it sound like God was going to do evil, which we know is impossible. The second version makes the situation much clearer.