03 March, 2016

In Jonah 4:11, is there not a Gracious Disposition of God in Sparing Nineveh and its Much Cattle? (Rev. J. McCollum)

“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?” (Jonah 4:11 KJV).

[The following is an extract from a an article originally published in the Standard Bearer, 1 Nov, 1955, vol. 32] 

Firstly, the text speaks of the Lord "sparing" Nineveh, its inhabitants and its cattle. This act of God, whereby He "spares" the city, in and of itself, does not indicate that God is gracious, in the sense of blessing, unto salvation. For, if sparing Nineveh means blessing the city unto salvation, then all the city would be saved, and a ground for universal atonement would be found in the text. Every last Ninevite then, would be saved. This interpretation is inconsistent with the current teaching of Holy Writ.

Secondly, if the text is to be understood to mean that sparing Nineveh, its inhabitants, and its cattle signifies grace unto salvation, then the question follows, "are cattle saved; do cattle need grace?" The answer, obviously is "no."

On the other hand, what does "sparing" Nineveh mean? The Lord "sparing" Nineveh is this: the Lord takes pity on the city; He is compassionate to it; He is indulgent towards it. The word "sparing" indicates an anthropomorphism. God repents of the evil which He said that He would do unto them (Jonah 3:10). That God spares the city in the sense of preserving it unto His purpose, is the idea of the text.

But, let it be understood: to ask the question, "Is God gracious, in the sense of blessing," is not to get an answer to a really significant question. It is only when we ask "In sparing Nineveh, to whom is God gracious," that we ask a very pointed inquiry. Before we turn to an answer, let us examine a parallel situation in the Bible record.
God has revealed to Abraham that He would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah on account of their grievous sins (Gen. 18:16-33). Abraham, in deep humility, and in love for the election of grace, pleaded for the righteous in Christ, living in the city; pleading for fifty; later for ten. God, in answer to Abraham's prayer for mercy, promised not to destroy the cities for the sake of the righteous in the city, even if there be only ten. Note here, that God promised that He would spare these cities for the sake of the righteous elect, in Christ, in the cities. Therefore, the conclusion is certainly reasonable—that the Lord, through the mouth of His prophet, spares Nineveh, its inhabitants, and its much cattle means that the Lord spares the city for the righteous, in Christ, in its population. That is, the elect, in Nineveh, are the reason for the city being spared.


In conclusion, it may be said that God spares Nineveh because of its elect remnant, and the cattle, because it belongs to the sphere of the creation which God has made, in order to fulfill His Counsel concerning the salvation of His Church, in Christ.

Rev. Angus Stewart of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church has also published an article on Jonah 4:10-11 from the perspective of God's covenant with believers and their infant seed:

There is also a fine sermon series going through the book of Jonah available to listen online:

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