The book of Jonah closes by telling us that in the city of Nineveh there were six score thousand people who could not discern their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle.
Does God take care for oxen?
Yes, He does; and that is the reason why the book of Jonah ends by informing us that there were also “much cattle” in Nineveh. Had Nineveh been destroyed, the cattle therein would have perished; but God showed mercy on the men and on the poor brute creation too.
One of the most charming of truths shines before us on every page of this foolishly discredited story, and that is the care of God.
First, God took care of the disobedient prophet by saving him miraculously from a watery grave.
Second, God took care of the mariners in whose ship the prophet sailed as a passenger. “The sea ceased from her raging,” and the shipwreck was averted.
Third, God took care of the inhabitants of Nineveh when they repented of their wicked ways on the preaching of Jonah, and He destroyed them not.
And, fourth, God took care of the cattle. God acted in beautiful considerateness in each case.
He ever does; but one point in the deeply interesting book of Jonah is the precious fact of God’s care for His creatures. This care penetrates the whole of His creation. The man who has not apprehended the care and pity of God is dull indeed.
See how the consciousness of this weighed with Jonah all through. “I knew,” said he, “that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil” (Jonah 4:2).
Before leaving his country, on his prophetic errand, he knew that God was of “great kindness.” He knew the tender heart of God, and had the premonition that his announcement and judgment would, somehow, be nullified by the grace of God, and he himself stultified in the presence of those whose doom he had come to foretell.
Poor Jonah! He is a sorry servant who cares more for his own paltry reputation than he does for the life and welfare of others.
But if Jonah cared not for the souls of the Ninevites, God did; and, as the prophet prophesied, God wrought repentance in the heart of the people, from the king downwards; and thus Nineveh was spared; and also “much cattle.”
The very oxen escaped the doom which overhung the human beings of Assyria’s mighty and wicked metropolis.
God was slow of anger, slow to strike. Forty days were the truce, and then destruction; the mill ground slowly; the messenger of coming judgment moved slowly, too, and falteringly; he preached his eight telling words, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” half-heartedly.
He began to enter a day’s journey into the city. Enough! His first call sufficed. One day was more than necessary. The people “believed God.” The dead bones began to move. God’s “great kindness” withheld the stroke.
Jonah was credited before the people, discredited in the region of his own pride and self-esteem.
Destruction did not come. God spared the city, its men and cattle; but Jonah was “displeased and very angry.”
But the gourd which sprang up to shelter Jonah’s unworthy head was but a further proof of the care of God, even where that care was least deserved and God’s “great kindness” might have been least expected.