Was Jonah a false prophet?

The Bible warns against false prophets.

The prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, “How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?”—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.  (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and deliver a message to them.

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 3:3,4)

The people of Nineveh responded.

And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.  (Jonah 3:5)

God responded to their repentance.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.  (Jonah 3:10)

Jonah said Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days and it didn’t happen.  Does this mean that Jonah was a false prophet who should have been killed?    Before answering that we need to look at something else God said about prophecy.

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,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.  (Jeremiah 18:7,8)

The purpose of prophesying judgment was to warn people so they would turn from their sins and do what was right.  If a prophesied judgment would take place regardless of how the people responded their would be no point in warning them.  The command in Deuteronomy refers to a specific kind of prophecy.  When a prophet predicted something that would happen far in the future he would also prove that he was a prophet by making a prediction that would come true in the immediate future.  The fulfillment of that prediction was a sign that the long term prediction would also be fulfilled.

An example of this kind of prophecy is found in the account of a prophet who spoke to Jeroboam.  Jeroboam led a rebellion of the ten northern tribes against Rehoboam the son of Solomon.  He was afraid that if his subjects went to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices they would be won back to loyalty to Rehoboam.  To prevent this he set up golden calves at Bethel and Dan and commanded his subjects to go there to worship.  God sent a man of God to turn him from his rebellion.

And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the Lord to Bethel. Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make offerings. And the man cried against the altar by the word of the LORD and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’”  (1 Kings 13:1,2)

This prophecy wouldn’t be fulfilled for about 300 years so he made another prophecy to establish that God has really sent him.

And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign that the LORD has spoken: ‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.’”

And when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar at Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.”

And his hand, which he stretched out against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself.  The altar also was torn down, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign that the man of God had given by the word of the LORD.  (1 Kings 13:3-5)

If this sign had not come true Jeroboam would have been justified in concluding that the man was not sent by God and ignoring what he had said.  In fact it would have been his duty to kill him.

Because it did come true, proving that the man of God was a true prophet, Jeroboam should have destroyed the golden calves and commanded his people to resume going to Jerusalem to worship.  If he had done this the prophecy that Josiah would defile the altar would not have been fulfilled.  Unfortunately he didn’t obey.

Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah.  And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things.  (2 Kings 23:15,16)

Jonah was a true prophet.  His words didn’t come true because the people to whom he addressed them repented.

Posted on May 15, 2020, in Bible study, prophecy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Was Jonah a false prophet?.

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