Jonah and the “Underbelly” of Election

December 17, 2013

by Ron F. Hale

With strong confidence in the authority of the Bible, most missiologists show signs of having never lost their concern for seeing people come to faith in Christ or their passion for world evangelization. For most, their theology doesn’t seem to have “hang-ups” that would hold-up offering the Gospel to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

One professor of missions wrote 27 words that I immediately highlighted in yellow. He penned:

The prophets never tire of reminding Israel that her election is not a privilege which she may selfishly keep for herself; election is a call to service.[i]

This brings me to the Old Testament prophet Jonah. He found himself in the belly of a great fish—why?

Jonah’s knuckle-headed view of Israel’s election had soured into an “us versus them” heart-set that made him speculate what was wrong with God! Later, Jonah saw the salvation of the Ninevites as obnoxious, and he scolded the Lord (Jonah 4: 1–4) concerning his gracious offer to the pagans.

While singing his “God has done me wrong” song, the pouting prophet prays for his life to be taken from him. A lesser deity would have thrown a holy hissy-fit and quickly obliged him, but not the One True God.

Christopher Wright asserts, “… the mission of God is to bless all nations on earth … Israel in the Old Testament was not chosen over against the rest of the nations, but for the sake of the rest of the nations.”[ii]

Jonah willfully chose to run from his calling, but he could not outrun the consequences of his choice. Soon we find Jonah in the gastric gorge of a great fish displaying the sorry underbelly of his distorted chosenness.

Dr. Johannes Verkuyl does an excellent job in showing the significance of the Old Testament in forming a Biblical foundation for our worldwide mission mandate, and in doing so, he shows how God’s own people have sought to sabotage His efforts. Verkuyl shares eight scenes from the life of Jonah. The following eight vignettes serve as examples of how God’s chosen people have resisted God’s work of reaching out to other nations (Genesis 12:1–4):

  1. Jonah receives his commission to go to Nineveh. The Septuagint translation of Jonah uses the word porettomai in 1:2–3 and again in 3:2–3, the very same verb used by Jesus in His Great Commission. Of all places, Jonah was to go to the very center of totalitarianism, brutality, and warlike attitudes; for God wanted to see Nineveh repent!
  2. The second scene is God sending a mighty storm (1:4­­–16). The wind obeys Yahweh’s command but not the prophet. As the Gentile sailors search for a clue to calm the sea, Jonah confesses and asks to be thrown overboard. When the prophet is finally pitched, the storm ceases and the Gentiles break forth in praise to Yahweh. Their praise and fear of God surpasses that of the saboteur of God’s worldwide mission.
  3. A large-mouth fish under the instruction of Yahweh swallows the saboteur (1:17), and the fish dives for the deep.
  4. The fourth scene (2:1­–10) has Jonah in the underbelly of a great fish panting promises from psalms and praying for rescue. Finally, the prophet is puked ashore with a “fishy” notion that his rebellion is futile. Soaked in saltwater and covered in seaweed, Jonah is a testimony of God’s patience, mercy, and grace.
  5. God repeats his order (3:1–4) to the man whose very life affirms the truth of what he confessed in the belly of the fish, “Salvation is from Yahweh.” God’s message of impending judgment is coming, and repentance must be proclaimed to the pagans. “Turn or burn” was the basic truth to be delivered.
  6. The sixth scene (3:5–10) is an amazing story of a spiritual awakening and the heathen becoming holy. From the king to his kingdom—they collectively repent and cry out to God. God sees how they responded, and the left hand of God’s wrath is replaced by his right hand of blessing and freedom.
  7. The seventh scene (4:1–4) shows that the greatest hurdle to overcome in discharging the missionary mandate was not the sailors, nor the fish, nor Nineveh’s king and citizenry, but rather Jonah himself—the recalcitrant and narrow-minded church. He cannot stand to think of the Gentiles as part of salvation history.

This was Jonah’s sin, the sin of a missionary whose heart is not in it; for God is treating those outside his covenant the same as he is those within.

  1. In the last scene (4:5–11 KJV), one can see God still working to teach His thick-skulled missionary His lessons. He did not catch the point of the storm, the sailors, the fish, and Nineveh’s conversion because he did not want to. Now God uses one last object lesson, the gourd and the worrisome worm. The plant dies and the prophet is peeved. Jonah showed more emotion over the gourd than over the Gentiles and their salvation.[iii]

If there is a missionary in the book of Jonah, it is Yahweh! For He shows that His love is not limited, and His offer of salvation is well meant.

In writing about God’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12:1–4, John R. W. Stott recorded, “Nor must we suppose that God chose Abraham and his descendents because he had lost interest in other peoples or given them up. Election is not a synonym for elitism (emphasis added).[iv]

Jonah’s elitist snobbery displayed the profane underbelly of election gone astray. If he were God, Jonah would not have saved the Ninevites. Do you have a list of people or groups unworthy of God’s salvation?

Jonah balked at the idea “the chosen are chosen for the sake of the unchosen.”[v]

© Ron F. Hale, November 27, 2013

[i] Johannes Verkuyl, “The Biblical Foundation for the Worldwide Mission Mandate” in, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, ed. Ralph D. Winter (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981, 1992), A-52. Verkuyl is the retired Professor and Head of the Department of Missiology and Evangelism at the Free University of Amsterdam.

[ii] Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity, 2006), pp.99, 100.

[iii] Johannes Verkuyl, “The Biblical Foundation for the Worldwide Mission Mandate” in, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, ed. Ralph D. Winter (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981, 1992), A-54-57. While all the ideas and material is from the work of Dr. Verkuyl, I did express some of his thoughts through my writings, as well as quoting him verbatim. I encourage you to read his entire chapter and obtain the entire collection of essays, for it is a mission’s masterpiece.

[iv] John R. W. Stott, “The Living God is a Missionary God” in, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, ed. Ralph D. Winter (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981, 1992), A10-11.

[v] Dr. Eric Hankins shared this thought based on the work of C.S. Lewis in his message entitled: Chosen for the Unchosen, Sept. 22, 2013, FBC Oxford, MS.

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Rick Patrick

The more I ponder our missiology, the more convinced I am that God would have us practice an “indiscriminate evangelism” in which we seek to share Jesus with all people everywhere. Whenever we target specific groups on any basis whatsoever—even the basis of whether or not others in their culture have heard of Jesus—we expose the very same underbelly as Jonah by removing our target from all the other groups.

As Eric Hankins posted the other day: “A select portion of every nation isn’t sitting around waiting for us to help them discover their election. Every person on the planet is waiting for Spirit-empowered followers of Christ to flood the whole earth with the proclamation of God’s Salvation in Christ, a proclamation that is the only thing that can save.”

When we choose to evangelize one group at the expense of another group that we practically ignore, we expose this underbelly of deciding ourselves the people we think God wants us to reach. Indiscriminate evangelism allows His Holy Spirit to work through us in reaching ALL people groups—even those whose neighbors may have already heard.

Thank you for reminding us that our election is not a privilege and our missionary mandate is not exclusive to any group, but extends to every person in every people group in all the world.

    Ron F. Hale

    When he was old, John L. Nevius was able to teach and train the three young missionary couples taking the Gospel in Korea. The Nevius Method of missionary work was employed and what has taken place in Korea has been a modern missions miracle! The largest Christian churches in the world are now in Korea and they are probably the second largest “sending” force in the world.

    His first principle is: widespread itinerant personal evangelism by the missionary.

    Although Korea was a homogeneous nation – the Gospel broke though “class” barriers as the “home” of every believer was to become a mission station to reach their sphere of relationships.

    I would employ the “wide” strategy, while still having some specializing in the study of specific groups; why — to better evangelize these “harder to reach” groups. Thanks Rick!

      Norm Miller

      A few today espouse a mission that seeks to touch, at minimum, one person from every tribe and tongue (ethne), and then would call the Great Commission fulfilled. If Nevius had subscribed to such tunnel vision, one wonders what South Korea would look like today. Since God has chosen his children to participate in his saving work, why would we not want to make as wide a swath as possible? Just imagine helping to harvest a field of wheat, and then bringing a single stalk to the farmer and announcing your job is complete. Would he not turn us back toward that field and remark that it is ripe unto harvest — still!

        Ron F. Hale

        Good point about the single stalk — I like to break-down the Great Commission this way: we are to take the Gospel into every Land, Language, Lifestyle, and Level of Society.

        For instance in the Land we call Kenya — there are 42 Language groups. If a missionary reaches a man from one tribe in Kenya, there remains lost people with 41 other tongues and tribes. Therefore, we can’t look at the Great Commission through the prism of “geo-political” areas. This doesn’t even consider class/caste systems with each language group., etc.

        I smell a new article brewing.

          Norm Miller

          A quick look at the word ethnos, and I find its first meaning to be general, not ethnically specific. Even so, the general principle behind reaching “pas ethnos,” in my view, is not one of every kind, but as many as possible of all kinds. That said, I am one-of-a-kind. And for those who may want to press ethnos to mean specific tribes or people groups, then what is the deciding factor that makes that group a group, mere ethnicity? If so, then I would posit that there is no other ethnicity on the planet like my siblings, whose ethnicity is a unique blend of my parents’ genetic/ethnic make-up and history. That said, then there is little support, if any, to say that, if we reach one person in a language and/or cultural group we need to move on. I think the Great Commission is far more about saturation than it is descriminatory selection.

    Tim Rogers

    Rick, it is something we all need to remember. It seems that many today want to target evangelize. I understand that many CEO’s will not listen to redneck like me. But, if I begin targeting only rednecks to share the gospel and not even share it with a CEO just because he/she is not a redneck then I am falling into the “underbelly” of election that Brother Ron writes about.

Bob Hadley

Election is not a synonym for elitism. Very well done Ron. Very well done.

Tim Rogers


What an excellent analysis. Thank you for drawing our attention once again to the biblical example of our election being to service. I am just honored to know you scholars as you nuance the more intellectual arguments.

Ron F. Hale

Thanks Bob and Tim … I appreciate your kind words and wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a 2014 that brings lots of blessings!


“Jonah’s elitist snobbery displayed the profane underbelly of election gone astray.”

You’ve just described a popular movement spreading like wildfire in SBC ranks. “Election is not a synonym for elitism” … nor is arrogance a spiritual gift.

Good article, Ron. I wish you and yours a Very Merry Christmas. As the Angel of the Lord proclaimed so long ago “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to ALL people.”

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