“Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:9
Who Knows – “Hebrew prophecy was not meant to come true.” Before your head explodes, think more deeply about what Kauffman suggests. The startling fact of Hebrew prophecy is that most of it is contingent upon the choices of men. Time and again God delivers a warning of imminent disaster, but each time the disaster can be averted by the return of men to the Lord. The prophecy is only true insofar as it is God’s intention, but the possibility always exists that men may come to their senses, repent and find that God’s forewarning does not come to pass. “Who knows” what may ultimately transpire? The answer is, “No one.” What happens next depends on the choices of men and God.
Mi-yodea says the king of Nineveh. “Who knows.” Anything is possible with a God who is capable of changing His mind. Maybe He will relent (the actual Hebrew word – yashoov – means “to turn back”). Maybe His actions will reflect our actions. If we repent, perhaps God will too.
The operative verb in the phrase, “Who knows?” is yada, the verb with the widest possible umbrella of meanings surrounding knowing. From sexual intimacy to facts about the heavens, yada covers it all. It is the appropriate expression of the king of Nineveh. In whatever way, by whatever means, in whatever possible scenario, someone might know if God will repent. Actually, Jonah knows. That’s why he didn’t want to preach God’s message in Nineveh in the first place. Jonah knows that God will repent and spare Nineveh. Jonah knows that God will change His mind and alter the prophecy. With the proper actions of men, the prophecy was never intended to come true.
Imagine if Jonah had gone to Nineveh and proclaimed that God is immutable, impassible and infallibly omniscient. God never changes. There is no use repenting, the fate of Nineveh is sealed in the inscrutable will of God. God knows before the world began that Nineveh would sin and would be punished. Under this scenario, the king’s question is farcical. There is only One who knows, and He doesn’t change His mind.
Before you get wrapped up in the philosophical and theological implications of doctrines developed long after Jonah’s journey to Nineveh, ask yourself this simple question: Does God relent? What kind of God would He be if the actions of men made no difference at all to the will of the Creator? Maybe, instead of theological constructions, we should just read the obvious story in the text. I for one am very glad that God repents. Are you?
Topical Index: who knows, me-yodea, prophecy, Jonah 3:9
 Walter Kauffman, in the introduction to Martin Buber, I and Thou, p. 29.
PS – I sent out an email yesterday (Tuesday November 2) that linked to an audio recording of my testimony, which I gave while in Adelaide Australia a few weeks ago. The link to the audio was broken. It’s since been fixed. If you’d like to listen to it, click here.