This is a big problem from Jonah’s perspective because if you flip back to the OT and ask, “Okay, what’s the test to know if prophet is true or false?” You might go to Deuteronomy 18:22 that says, “22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”
The overarching theme of the OT when it comes to “prophets of God,” is that you can’t be 99.9% right. It’s all or nothing, otherwise you’d be stoned to death. (And we’ll see more on this next week with Jonah’s displeased disposition toward God’s mercy in Chapter 4).
The problem we don’t want to run into, is misinterpreting Jonah 3:10 so we need to understand it in the context of the rest of Jonah.
As we see from the “40 days,” that Jonah said destruction was coming (that 5 word sermon) was a summary statement of his preaching, not the totality. We know this at a minimum because of the response of Nineveh to Jonah’s sermon.
-Nineveh knew “which sin,” they were being judged for.
-Nineveh knew, “which God,” “YHWH,” they were answering to
-Nineveh knew “how to repent,” with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. What’s happened is that over the course of most of the 40 days leading to the “day of judgment,” Jonah was preaching (reluctantly) the Gospel to the people, otherwise there’s no way this foreign pagan nation would’ve known how to respond or who to respond to.
What was happening in Jonah 3:4 is the same exact thing that has happened through the course of the Old and New Testaments: It was God threatening with conditioning.
It was God’s wrath draped in mercy.
Jeremiah 18:7-10 portrays this a little more clearly for us saying, “7If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.”
A student of the Bible and OT prophecy clearly understands that these “un-stated,” statements can always be known by the “stated statements,” of the OT. The whole time God was telling the people of Nineveh through Jonah, “If you continue to do this I’m going to destroy you, and if you stop I won’t.”
This wasn’t prophetic judgment from Jonah as much as this was a prophetic warning. So we can easily conclude, “No! Jonah was NOT a false prophet.”