In Jonah chapter 3 we have the account of the prophet Jonah preaching to the wicked inhabitants of Nineveh. We have his message stated simply in verse 4, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (KJV). We then read that “the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (verse 5). In other words, they REPENTED of their wicked ways. In verse 9 we learn that they hoped God’s judgment could be averted, for they said “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger that we perish not?” Their repentance was not in vain, for verse 10 tells us, “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of THE EVIL, that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not.”

Your question deals with the words, “God repented of THE EVIL, that he had said he would do unto them.” What was “the evil” that Jonah preached unto them? We saw the answer in verse 4, “Nineveh shall be overthrown.” So, “the evil” spoken of is “God’s righteous judgment upon sinful men.” This is seen clearly when we look at other translations of this verse. The NKJV says, “God relented from the DISASTER that He had said He would bring upon them.” The NASB states, “Then God relented concerning the CALAMITY which He had declared He would bring upon them.”

What may confuse people is that the same word is used in connection with SIN when describing the actions of the people of Nineveh, for we read of them (in the same verse), “they turned from their EVIL way.” This is translated as “WICKED way” in the NASB. It is indeed the same word in the Hebrew language, but that word can mean different things depending on the context. Again, we have seen that it means “disaster” or “calamity” when speaking of God’s righteous “act of judgment” upon Nineveh and yet the same word refers to “acts of wickedness” when speaking of the inhabitants of Nineveh.

Before we close, we need to emphasize that when “God does evil,” it NEVER speaks of AN IMMORAL ACT. It is usually an “act of judgment upon sinners” (as we have seen from Jonah chapter 3). When “God does evil” (by punishing sinners) He is acting consistently with His holy hatred of sin. He is RIGHTEOUS when He acts in this way. I would encourage the reader to read Deuteronomy 28:15-68 where we see God pronouncing CURSES upon the children of Israel if they were to disobey Him. Verse 15 says, “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that ALL THESE CURSES will come upon you and overtake you.” The following verses go into great detail describing all the EVIL that God would bring upon them and the rest of the Old Testament bears witness to the truth of God’s Word. He warned them that He would judge them; they disobeyed Him anyway; and His curses fell upon them. (313.5) (DO)