We have seen Jonah, the Hebrew prophet of the Almighty God, run away from his call from God only to be turned around to do what God called him to do. Jonah reluctantly brings the great city of Nineveh to its knees in repentance and saves the people from destruction. Angry, he goes off into a desert place still thinking that the destruction may come. While he waits God causes a giant vine to protect Jonah from the burning sun. Then as quickly as the vine came into being, it is destroyed by a worm that God sends followed by a scorching wind. In his discomfort Jonah becomes angry again and wishes he were dead.
But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."
But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"
Jonah 4:9-11 (New International Version)
God asks a simple, straightforward question and Jonah gives his emotional response. Then comes God's very simple and basic lesson for Jonah. The vine that first miraculously appeared to shade Jonah and then was eaten by a worm was in essence something rather petty. Jonah did not plant the vine or cultivate it to grow as it did, the vine merely grew overnight and died as quickly as it had grown. The fact that the vine's shade had provided comfort to Jonah made him upset when this vine died since now he would be uncomfortable without the shade it had given him.
God points out the relative insignificance of this vine and this event from His perspective and how it all relates to the world. Jonah's caring about this lowly vine is from a very selfish point of view. Jonah only cares about the destruction of the vine because of the discomfort its loss brought to him. The vine is only a temporal soulless plant in the desert and its loss will not affect anyone in the broader scope of things.
On the other hand, the destruction of a large population of people and even their animals is something significant to God, as it should also be to Jonah. The prophet should have a greater understanding of God's character and an unwavering sense of duty to answer God's call without question. If Jonah should be so caring about a mere vine, does it not make sense that God would be caring about the children of His creation. The message that God wanted Jonah to impart to the people of Nineveh and to all who would hear the story of Nineveh is that God cares for all of us. He does not want to destroy us for being sinful, but he wants us to have a chance to recognize our sinfulness and repent for it. Jonah, as well as all of us, should be rejoicing and thanking God for his mercy upon all of us.
"But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
Ezekiel 18:21-23 (New International Version)