Wednesday, November 2, 2016


Certainly, but there are verses that would lead us to doubt God’s promises, for example, His promise to Nineveh of their impending destruction:

·       Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:1-4)

From this, it sounds as if Nineveh was absolutely doomed to destruction in 40 days! However, we later find that this prophecy had not been fulfilled:

  • When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

Is this a contradiction? It seems like it is until we read about the conditional quality of some of God’s promises, as He had revealed to Jeremiah:

  • “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.” (Jeremiah 18:7-8)

Some will charge that this is simply an example of Jeremiah contradicting Jonah. However, if we understand Scripture in context, we see that even Jonah understood the conditionality of God’s promise about Nineveh:

  • "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:1-2)

Jonah had so hated Nineveh that he would have been glad to deliver a message of Nineveh’s unconditional destruction. However, Jonah knew that his God is one who relents, and therefore, he fled, refusing to preach a message that might lead to Nineveh’s repentance.

Interestingly, Nineveh also understood the conditionality of God’s promise. Therefore, they repented.

Any statement has to be understood in context. This is also true of Biblical interpretation. I often say, “I love chocolate.” While this is true, it doesn’t mean that I always love chocolate. I do not love chocolate after I have already ODed on sugar. Also, I don’t love to eat it when I am nauseous.

Do these exceptions mean that my original statement was wrong? No! It just means that my statement has to be understood within the context of the entirety human experience with its many nuances. No one would call me a “liar” for saying that “I love chocolate” if I decline it when I am nauseous. Instead, they understand that it is perfectly okay to state a generalization without stating each exception to the rule.

Does this mean that all of God’s promises are conditional rather than unconditional verities? Jesus promised that He will return. Does the case of Jonah suggest that Jesus might relent on this promise because of other circumstances? Not at all!

Why not? Let’s examine God’s promise to Nineveh. Actually, it was a warning to repent. If Nineveh’s destruction was actually an unconditional prophecy, God wouldn’t have sent Jonah to warn Nineveh, and Nineveh wouldn’t have repented. In fact, God had explicitly explained as much to Jeremiah:

  • “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.” (Jeremiah 18:7-8)

Perhaps another example might be helpful. King Hezekiah had been a good king. And yet, because of his success and wealth, he became proud and had distanced himself from God. Therefore, God struck him down with a fatal disease and sent the Prophet Isaiah to him:

·       Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” (Isaiah 38:1)

Although this sounds like a written-in-stone promise, it was actually a warning, and the king understand it as a warning and repentantly petitioned God:

·       Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, and said, “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city. Isaiah 38:2-6 (ESV)

Despite God having said that Hezekiah would not recover, he did. Is this a contradiction? Certainly not! Hezekiah repented of his sins and God relented from what He had warned.

Although repentance might not seem explicit in the above, Hezekiah’s repentant spirit is obvious in his subsequent prayer of thanksgiving (Isaiah 38:10-20).

He too understood the “promise” of his impending death as a warning and cried out to his Lord. In contrast, Jesus’ promise of His return and of our heavenly, eternal blessedness is not warning but an ironclad promise.

Well, what if we rebel? We will not! Why not? He will not allow that to happen. Just look at His promise through Jeremiah:

·       And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. Jeremiah 32:38-41)

Just look at all the times where God says I will! Yes, there are conditions. For one thing, Israel must not turn away from their God. However, He guarantees that He will fulfill the conditions for our everlasting salvation. Praise be His glorious Name for ever and ever!

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