The book of Jonah reveals the great mercy of God through its record about Jonah and God’s dealings with him because of his unwillingness to deliver His message to the wicked city of Nineveh. Jonah was unwilling to deliver God’s message because He knew the merciful character of God and did not want the Ninehevites to receive mercy (Jon. 4:1-3). By subjecting Jonah to great affliction, God finally brought him to willingness to deliver that message to them. After Jonah did so, God dealt with him about his ungodly lack of compassion.
In the final scene of the book, God rebukes Jonah for his displeasure at His sparing the Ninevehites. He first points out how Jonah had pity on a plant when it perished, even though he had not labored for it or made it to grow (4:9-10). In the final words of the book, He then rebukes him by saying, “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jon. 4:11).
This great verse reveals the heart of God in a wonderful way. Through a rhetorical question that expects a positive answer, God made known that He should spare a vast multitude of people in that wicked city who in some manner did not know which hand was which. To me, this statement provides a basis for believing that babies, small children, and people who are severely mentally handicapped go to heaven when they die.
Interestingly, God does not stop with his statement about the people that He wanted to spare in Nineveh. His final words reveal that He held that He also should have spared the abundant cattle that were in the city.
Why did God inform Jonah of this fact? He apparently wanted to make known to Jonah (and to us) that His great mercy extended even to animals that would have perished.
Jonah’s message brought about the repentance of the Ninehevites (Lk. 11:32), a repentance that resulted in the sparing of many helpless people and animals. Christ has commissioned His people to proclaim repentance and remission of sins to all nations (Lk. 24:47). We know that He commissioned that message because God desires that no one would perish (2 Pet. 3:9). From what we know about God’s dealings with the Ninehevites, should we understand that Christ also intends that the proper reception by all nations of His commissioned message would be a means of providing divine mercy in some manner to many animals?