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Jonah 4:6-11 God cared about animals in Nineveh, too

The picture of God’s concern for animals as well as humans, such a key part of the Flood story, was revisited in other parts of Scripture. In a fascinating short story, the prophet Jonah grudgingly warned Nineveh (capital of Assyria) of impending judgment, and was angry when God spared the repentant city. At the end of the story, God asked the furious prophet if it was not right that God should pity 120,000 people “and also many animals.”

  • The Hebrew Scriptures often said God is merciful and compassionate (e.g. Exodus 34:6-7, Deuteronomy 4:31, Psalm 78:38, 86:15, 103:8,111:4). But the CEB Study Bible notes, “For Jonah this quality isn’t a virtue.” Assyria was Israel’s feared enemy, and the prophet Nahum proclaimed God’s judgment against Nineveh (cf. Nahum 1:1-3). Are there people you’d rather God didn’t show mercy toward? Does Jonah’s story challenge those feelings, or do you think it simply doesn’t apply to today’s enmities?
  • In Jonah 3:8, the king of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s preaching, saying, “Let humans and animals alike put on mourning clothes, and let them call upon God forcefully!” (An intriguing mental image: the animals wearing “mourning clothes”!) God noticed, telling Jonah that he pitied the city’s human and animal inhabitants. To what extent does this suggest that individuals, companies and governments should consider how their actions affect humans and animals alike?

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