Although the book of Jonah is known primarily for its fantastic tale of a rebellious prophet who is swallowed by a fish, it has another distinction that it shares with only two other books of the Bible. This distinction is that the book ends with a question. Only the books of Nahum and Jeremiah also end with open-ended questions.
Not only that, the specific question that concludes the book of Jonah is kind of a strange one. God asks Jonah, "And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?" (Jonah 4.11) The confusing part of the question is the last four words: "and also much cattle." It makes sense that God would certainly care about and pity the great city of Nineveh and the 120,000 inhabitants that he had made in his own image. But why is God so concerned about the cattle? Does God want to save the cattle? Certainly cattle can't repent of their sin, nor do they have immortal souls to save. This is one of the few places in scripture where God is concerned with not just the human beings in the picture, but also animals.
This question - and particularly God's regard for cattle - has puzzled Bible scholars for some time. But I don't think this verse is too tricky to understand when we consider the scope of the plan of redemption that God has in mind for the world - including cattle. God's rescue plan includes not just people, but also the world which he has made, including everything in it and on it. God is in the process of redeeming the world, including cattle!
A year or two after my wife and I were married we adopted a stray kitten that a neighbor friend had found. It was just a tiny little thing that was discovered sleeping on the engine block of a car, huddled up for warmth during the winter. We took this kitten in and named her Martha. We still have her, but she has gotten old, and you can start to tell her age. She's moving slowly, she has a bit of a limp, and she's becoming thin. It's becoming more and more apparent that she probably doesn't have a lot of time left.
Does God care about my cat's life? Much to the chagrin of dog lovers, the answer is, "Yes!" Cats - and all animals, all living things - die because we live in a fallen world were sin affects every living thing. God did not create cats to get old and thin, and to limp and die. God created all things good and perfect, and he is in the process of redeeming the world to recreate it the way that it was.
So does God care about the cattle in Nineveh? You better believe he does. Not because he's a member of PETA or because he's a vegetarian, but because God created cattle to be good - not to die under his judgment. And God is redeeming the world because he cares about all of his creation.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together int he pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8.19-23)
God is in the process of redeeming the world and everything in it: cats, dogs, cattle, the ground, human beings, etc. The heart of God is to redeem the world, including cattle - and cats! As his people, we long for the day when we will experience the redemption of our bodies and of this world, and we will live forever with our cats.