(Jeremiah 18:7-10) Why Does God Say He Will Repent of Doing Evil?

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“At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.” (Jeremiah 18:7-10)

First of all, let’s consider some other passages which clearly tell us that God cannot do anything evil:

“For You are not a God desiring wickedness, Evil does not inhabit You.” (Psalm 5:4, Literal Standard Version) 

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:13-17)

Here in James, we clearly see that “God cannot be tempted with evil.” He never acts out in an evil manner, because with God there “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” He always does good. James also brings out the point that it is sin itself which destroys the sinner. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” It is not God who kills the sinner. Why? Because God never does anything that is evil.

Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate. The LORD redeemeth the soul of His servants: and none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.” (Psalm 34:21, 22)

It is evil which slays the wicked, but God always heals and redeems. Jesus brought this concept out in Mark chapter 3 while dealing with the Pharisees on whether or not it was lawful to heal upon the Sabbath day. The Pharisees argued against it because of their own man-made restrictions that they have added, forbidding anyone to heal upon the Sabbath. Jesus knew they were always trying to trip Him up on matters of the Law in order for them to have an excuse to kill Him for breaking the Law. Jesus asked them, “‘Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill?’ But they held their peace.” (Verse 4). Jesus goes ahead to perform the “good” work of healing the man, while “the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.” (Verse 6).

It is very important here for our study to see how Jesus defines “evil.” He said, “to do good” means to “save life”, while “to do evil” is “to kill.” Jesus is rebuking the act of killing, calling it an evil act, even when it is connected with breaking a law. Why this is so important is the fact that, from a surface reading, Jesus seems to be contradicting His Father who said He would repent from the evil that He thought to do unto the people if they repented from their evil. However, we know that Jesus always acts and speaks like His Father; for He is “the brightness of His (the Father’s) glory (character), and the express image of His person.” (Hebrews 1:3).

“Philip saith unto Him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works.” (John 14:8-10)

Jesus never did anything different from His Father. Everything Jesus spoke and did was the Father working in and through Him by grace through faith. God was displaying His true character through His only begotten Son, therefore, the Father always acts Christ-like. He always does good (saves life) and never does evil (kills). In fact, Jesus tells us that "there is none good but one, that is, God." (Matthew 19:17). In Matthew chapter 7 Jesus warns us to "beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." (Verse 15). He tells us "by their fruits (characteristics) ye shall know them." (Verse 20). He describes this method by saying, "every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." (Verses 17, 18). Therefore, since God alone is "good" then He "cannot bring forth evil fruit (characteristics)." 

It is Never Good to do Anything Evil

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good … If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9, 20, 21)

“The person who repays good with evil will never see evil leave his home.” (Proverbs 17:13)

“See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all … Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15, 21, 22)

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)

God Hates Evil Acts

“The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13)

We see here that pride, arrogancy and a froward (perverse) mouth are evil characteristics which are not characteristics of God. The meaning of God’s hatred here is that everything about Him is the very opposite of evil. God is always, “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” (Exodus 34:6). There is no evil in Him. His whole being repels evil. Jesus said, “for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.” (John 14:30). Hating (despising) evil, by living according to all of God’s commandments, statutes and judgments is the natural result of the Spirit of Jesus dwelling in us.

Evil Characteristics Defile a Person

“And He (Jesus) said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7:20-23)

Do you really think God possesses evil thoughts?

God Wants to Deliver Us From Evil

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil …” (Matthew 6:13)

“Ye that love the LORD, hate evil: He preserveth the souls of his saints; He delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 97:10)

“The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul.” (Psalm 121:7)

“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:18)

So, what do we do with our verse in question? Well, it all matters on HOW you read it. Take notice of what God said: “If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” Since God doesn’t possess evil and doesn’t perform evil deeds, what evil is He talking about? Or better yet, WHOSE evil is He talking about? Is God speaking in the causative sense, or in the permissive sense? Will He cause this evil, or simply permit it to happen?

In Exodus 20:3 God said, “for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.” This means that God will permit a chain of circumstances to play out from generation to generation. The iniquities of our forefathers will have a snowball effect if that iniquity is not repented of throughout the generations. God repenting of the evil that He had thought to do unto them means He would interfere and stop the NATURAL result of “their evil” from destroying them if they repent and “turn from their evil.”

“Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. (Proverbs 3:7-8)

It was THEIR evil which was going to destroy them, and God would have permitted it to happen if they continued to reject His love and mercy. He will never interfere to force anyone into obedience but will tearfully give the evildoer over to their own selfish desires. Notice how David describes how the nations fall:

“The nations are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken. The LORD is known by the judgment which He executes: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.” (Psalm 9:15, 16)

Can you see how it is the wickedness of the nations that cause the destruction? David defines this as God’s judgment because God’s judgment is to permit the wicked to condemn and destroy themselves according to their own judgment. Amos wrote: “Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate.” (Amos 5:15). When we compare this to Jesus’ words, we see that God’s justice is to “hate evil” (killing) and to “love good” (saving life). God’s justice is never about killing or causing any harm to His enemies. His judgment is to permit the wicked to be “snared in the work of his own hand.” God says: “he that sinneth against Me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate Me love death.” (Proverbs 8:36).

“The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them … The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way aright, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their lust … By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked … The merciful man does good for his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh … As righteousness leads to life, so he who pursues evil pursues it to his own death.” (Proverbs 11:3, 5, 6, 11, 17, 19)

I certainly hope this helps you understand God’s character a little better. He is a gracious, loving Father who only desires for you to be in health and will never do you any harm even while you are rebelling against Him. Scripture says: “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” (Romans 13:10).

“Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:26, 27)