The ones the prophet speaks of here are the infants of the great, but godless city of Nineveh. They were those lives which had yet to reach an age of conscious discernment. This is truly a wonderful passage that shows us so much about the heart of our loving God.
No doubt some of the Reformed tradition would say that the salvation of children depended on the faith of the parent. They teach that it comes as a result of a covenant between the child’s family and God. Yet they only have to look into the last chapter of Jonah’s little book to see that God Himself sets forth a simple but powerful rebuttal to their theological theory.
The parents of these children are bad – all of them. The fathers are bad. The mothers are bad. They are idolaters in their worship and wicked in their hearts. They have demonstrated none of the fruits that would evidence those who know and love God. Yet the little ones of these godless parents are said to be dear to the heart of the Heavenly Father. So much so that He cannot utterly destroy the city in which they live.
He “cannot” is the appropriate understanding from the verse. There is a magnificent, divine and self-imposed limitation on the power and wrath of God. It is the divine limit that comes from His infinite love. Thus, His power will not pass the boundaries of His heart.
Surely all of the voices of the universe shouted and pressed for the death and destruction of Nineveh. All that is, except one. The Law demanded it; justice cried for it; morality pressed for it; fairness called for it. However, there was one thing that stood against the destruction of the infants of Nineveh and that was the love of God. It was one, single, solitary voice – one crying in the wilderness.
Love found no support from the voice of policy or prudence or public opinion. It stood alone and didn’t even offer a reason for its rebuttal. Love didn’t say, “Let’s not destroy these infants for they might be good some day; they might be great someday; they might become believers someday.” It was the lone voice in the wilderness that cried out with pity and opened the arms of God.
I know that there will no doubt be those who will disagree with my interpretation of Jonah’s account. Some will no doubt point to this verse or another, making logical arguments for why this verse doesn’t really mean what I take it to mean. For those who would disagree, have you ever stopped to consider that in the heart of God there is such a thing as compassion for its own sake? That’s something that we are prone to forget.
I tend to seek reasons for the pity of God that’s beyond my pain. I have often cried as the saints of old, “For your servant David’s sake.” Maybe you resemble that remark and have often uttered a similar sentiment. But why should you have to look so far? Simply take your place with the infants of Nineveh in the open, loving arms of Jesus! You must learn that there is a place in both God and man where compassion is its own argument.
How would you plead for pity on the infants of Nineveh? Would you say, “Don’t you remember your covenant with David?” But wait a minute, they aren’t the descendants of David. Would you cry, “For their father, Abraham’s sake?” But again, they are not of the seed of Abraham. Would you beg mercy based on the piety of their parents? Obviously not. Their parents were pagans who deserved to die. No, you don’t have to look nearly that far. God’s heart doesn’t move on borrowed wings. The connections of its pity come not from without. They come rather from deep within His heavenly heart. His pity is independent of Abraham or Moses or David.
His divine pity can be found much closer than many realize. You don’t have to look beyond the swaddling clothes or manger or the infant’s helpless cry. All of the compounded guilt of wicked Nineveh cannot reach the height of those arguments.
These infants of Nineveh are outside of the pale. Israel doesn’t know them. The church doesn’t own them. Society doesn’t need them. Yet in the Father’s heart the helpless cry of these little ones outweighs them all. It is their poverty that prevails, their wailing that wins, their rags that rule, their destitution that dominates, their troubles that triumph. They conquer the heart of God with just a helpless cry. So, remember, when you cry out to your Father, the only thing that you need is just that – your need.