Book of Jonah: Themes Associated with Mission

Here we will be analyzing a couple of important themes in The Book of Jonah which gives us a better understanding of Yahweh’s mission motto as well as certain characteristics of Yahweh. In the Book we have mention about the divine attributes, especially of divine compassion and love in response to people’s plea. This divine compassion and love Yahweh shows to all peoples. This in turn calls on Israel who is the chosen nation of Yahweh all the more to reach out to other nations as the chosen representative of Yahweh and thereby bringing salvation to other peoples. This mission nature of Israel is here represented through the mission call to the person of Prophet Jonah. Hence we can say the themes associated with Mission in the Book of Prophet Jonah are:-

1. Salvation Belongs to Yahweh
2. Yahweh Responds to People’s Plea
3. The Confession of Divine Attributes
4. Divine Compassion and Love

Plan-of-Salvation

1. Salvation Belongs to Yahweh

Salvation belongs to Yahweh’ is the logo of a missionary’s banner. In every chapter of the Book of Jonah, God’s deliverance reaches an individual or group without regard to election or merit.[1] In first chapter, divine deliverance reaches the pagan sailors. In second chapter, Jonah though unrepentant, is delivered from drowning by means of a great fish. In third chapter, the Ninevites who believed God and repented are spared. In chapter Four, Yahweh works to deliver Jonah from his evil[2] (Jon 4,6). Mission is about God’s gift of deliverance or salvation for all people.

2. Yahweh Responds to People’s Plea

The narrative shows that the sincere plea to Yahweh is heard, no matter the ethnic or religious affiliation of the person praying.[3] This has implications for dialogue, an aspect of mission. Prayer belongs in the fourth form of dialogue.[4] Mission is not only proclamation, for the dialogue of prayer may be a way of mission. In his address to the Roman Curia after the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi in 1986, Pope John Paul II affirmed that “every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person,”[5] Christian and otherwise. Since prayer is usually made according to faith traditions, it follows that the Holy Spirit is present and active in the religious life of the members of other religious traditions. Because the activity of the Holy Spirit is ordained toward Christ, in whom is centred the one plan of salvation for all humankind, mission seeks to gather all these gifts and bring them together under Christ as head (Cf.Eph 1,10).

3. The Confession of Divine Attributes

The fundamental aspect of mission in the narrative of Jonah occurs in the confession of the divine attributes in Jon 4,2: “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil.”

Hannun (gracious) is used to Yahweh alone in the Hebrew Bible and is often paired with rahum. The root hnn refers to favour manifested by the aspect of the face or the eyes of a superior toward an inferior, especially when the favour transcends the usual limits of law or custom.[6]Rahum (merciful, compassionate)[7] derives from rehem (womb) and refers to the tenderness that a mother feels for her child. Slow to anger is literally “long in breath,” and derives from the observation that an angry person snorts and breathes hard and short. The word hesed,[8] translated as “steadfast love,” actually has no English equivalent. It represents the mutual bonds of loyalty and faithfulness of people who have given or received unexpected acts of kindness. All these qualities point to relationship between Yahweh and people based on grace and not on merit. They are usually invoked in relation to Yahweh’s covenant with Israel. It is because Yahweh is a God of this nature that Yahwe gifted Israel with the covenant in the first place. Now they are invoked also in relation to pagan Ninevites. The grace and compassion of Yahweh, as unmerited gift, are universal.[9] They impel Yahweh to enter into relationship with people and to persevere in it despite their infidelity. In the words of Psalm 145,8: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”

4. Divine Compassion and Love

Mission is rooted in divine compassion and love. Yahweh originally made this confession of God-self in Exodus 34,6[10] as the basis for forgiving the sin of the golden calf (Ex 32) and renewing the broken covenant of Sinai. To evoke this confession now in relation to the Ninevites means that the nations also live from the mercy of God as much as Israel itself.[11] Mission proclaims the compassion and love of God for all people.[12] The verse that follows Exodus 34,6, that is, Exodus 34,7 came up against the development of doctrine during the exile and needed to be modified or understood properly.[13] Because by the time of Ezekiel 18,2 and Jeremiah 31,29-30, Israel no longer accepted the notion of inherited guilt. Further, the experience of exile and the realization of how profoundly Israel depended on the free grace of Yahweh called for the substitution of ‘yet letting nothing go unchecked’ with ‘ready to relent from punishing.’ In the final analysis, God’s word to Jonah and the word of mission may be phrased in the words of Ezekiel 18,32: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says Lord God; so turn, and live.”[14]


[1] Cf. J. M. Sasson, Jonah: A New Translation with Introduction, Commentary and Interpretation, AB, Vol. 24B, Doubleday and Company, Inc., New York, (1990), 28.

[2] Cf. P. Trible, The Book of Jonah: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections, NIB, Vol. VII, Abingdon Press, Nashville, (1996), 521.

[3] Cf. P. Trible, The Book of Jonah: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections, NIB, Vol. VII, Abingdon Press, Nashville, (1996), 490.

[4] Cf. Cited 08 September 2011 online: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_19051991_dialogue-and-proclamatio_en.html John Paul II, Dialogue and Proclamation, no. 42. Dialogue of life, dialogue of action, dialogue of theological exchange, and dialogue of spiritual experience.

[6] Cf. D. N. Freedman and J. R. Lundblom, “hannan,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren, (eds.), Vol. 5, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, (1974), 22-36, 24.

[7] Cf. T. B. Dozeman, “Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Yahweh’s Gracious and Compassionate Character,” JBL, Vol. 108, no. 2, The Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, (1989), 207-223, 218.

[8] Cf. C. F. Whitley, “The Semantic Range of Hesed,” Biblica, Vol. 62, Fasc. 4, Institut Biblique Pontifical, Rome, (1981), 519-526.

[9] Cf. T. B. Dozeman, “Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Yahweh’s Gracious and Compassionate Character,” JBL, Vol. 108, no. 2, The Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, (1989), 207-223, 213-223.

[10] Cf. T. B. Dozeman, “Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Yahweh’s Gracious and Compassionate Character,” JBL, Vol. 108, no. 2, The Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, (1989), 207-223.

[11] Cf. T. B. Dozeman, “Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Yahweh’s Gracious and Compassionate Character,” JBL, Vol. 108, no. 2, The Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, (1989), 207-223, 213-223.

[12] Cf. J. Barton and J. Muddiman (eds.), The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, New York, (2007), 594.

[13] J. C. Okoye, Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, (2006), 88.

[14] Cf. P. Sprinkle, “Law and Life: Leviticus 18, 5 in the Literary Framework of Ezekiel,” JSOT, Vol. 31, no. 3, SAGE Publications, London, (2007), 275-293, 277-279.

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