Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Jonah 3:10 true repentance

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, December 8, 2018

10 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.

The verb “had compassion” is a study of four of the seven Hebrew verb stems. We learn something about compassion if we remind ourselves what those stems are, and why this word occurs in four of them and not in the others. They are:

1, The Qal. This simple stem is how you say a word in an ordinary way, such as “I gave.” The verb naham “have compassion” doesn’t occur in this simple, ordinary stem. It is neither a simple nor an ordinary act.

2, The Nifal. This is a passive or reflexive way of saying something, such as “I was given (something).” Although it can be passive (“Isaac was comforted,” Genesis 24:67), the verb naham “have compassion” in this stem can also mean “be sorry” or “be compassionate.” This is the form of the word we have here in Jonah 3:10. It internalizes the thought of the verb in this case: “God felt compassion.”

3, The Piel. This intensive stem has many nuances of meaning, and it can shade a word so that it is a continual act (“I gave, and I kept on giving”), or an act done many times (“I gave to each and every one of them”). It might emphasize the aim or conclusion of the act. When naham occurs in the Piel stem, it usually means “to comfort, to console,” which is the aim of the person having compassion.

4, The Pual. This is usually the passive of the Piel stem, so with naham it would mean “to be consoled.”

5, The Hifil. This is a form of a verb that shows the cause of an act, such as, “I caused (someone) to give.” Compassion is not forced, and naham does not occur in the Hifil stem.

6, The Hofal. Like the Pual, the Hofal is another passive form, looking at the Hifil verb from the point of view of the one who was caused, coerced, or forced, as in, “I was forced to give.” Naham does not occur in the Hofal stem.

7. The Hithpael. This interesting reciprocal form or stem shows a back-and-forth movement in a verb, and when naham occurs in this stem, it can be similar to the Piel meaning (Deuteronomy 32:36), or it can mean “to ease (console) oneself,” or “to change one’s mind.” This is the form of the word we have in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.” For God to refrain from what he threatens when man changes and repents is not God changing in mind, but God expressing his compassion in a

God saw the change of heart in the people of Nineveh. Their repentance was not a sham. It was also not penitence, which is an act hoping to deserve or earn forgiveness. It was truly repentant. The people were sorry for their sins and threw themselves at God’s mercy. They let go of their sinful ways and turned to God alone for his compassion. That’s why he didn’t carry on with his punishment—not because he changed, but because they did, through the preaching of his holy word. This is what God can accomplish in us through his word.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.



Browse Devotion Archive