John Calvin, Commentary on Joel  
Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets by John Calvin.  
Now first translated from the original Latin, by the Rev. John Owen,  
vicar of Thrussington, Leicestershire.  
Volume Second. Joel, Amos, Obadiah  
W. M. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1950, Michigan.  
Printed in the United States of America.  
Table of Contents  
Translator's Preface  
The Commentaries of John Calvin on the Prophet Joel  
Calvin's Preface to Joel  
Commentaries on the Prophet Joel  
Translator's Preface  
This volume contains the Writings of three Prophets. Joel exercised  
his office among the Jews; Amos, though a native of Judea, was yet  
appointed a Prophet of The Ten Tribes; and Obadia's prophecy refers  
only to Edom.  
    The great master of Hebrew criticism, Bishop Lowth, speaking,  
in his twenty-first Prelection, of Joel, says, that though he  
differs much in style from Hosea, he is yet "equally poetical." He  
represents him as "elegant, clear, diffuse, and flowing, and also  
very sublime, severe, and fervid." Admitting the perspicuity of his  
diction, and the clearness of his arrangements, he yet confesses  
that the matter which he handles is sometimes obscure, especially  
towards the end of his Prophecy.  
    With regard to the style of Amos, the Bishop differs widely  
from Jerome, who has characterized the Prophet as "unskilful in  
speech, but not in knowledge," (imperitum sermone, set non in  
scientia.) Lowth, on the contrary, regarded him as "not a whit  
behind the very chiefest Prophets, being in elevation of sentiment  
and nobleness of mind almost equal to the very firsts and hardly  
inferior to any of them in splendor of diction and elegance of  
    Of Obadia, nothing more is said by the Bishop than that he left  
but a small monument of his genius, and that a considerable portion  
of that is contained in the prophecy of Jeremiah. Of his composition  
Dr Henderson says, "Its principal features are animation,  
regularity, and perspicuity."  
    There is especially one subject in connection with the present  
Volume, which seems to require particular notice - The  
interpretation of those prophecies which speak of the future  
restoration of the Jews to their own land. Calvin viewed some  
passages, as having been already accomplished in their return from  
Babylon, which in the estimation of others are yet to be fulfilled;  
while he interpreted those which evidently refer to what is future,  
in such a way as clearly shows that he did not consider that the  
Jews are to be restored again to their own country. That justice may  
be done to him, we must know and bear in mind the principles by  
which he was guided: for it is not to be supposed, that one so  
versed in Scripture, who had studied it with so much labour, and  
manifested, as it is commonly admitted, so much penetration and  
discernment as an expounder, would have taken such a view of this  
subject on slight grounds, without adopting a rule of  
interpretation, which, according to what he thought, was  
countenanced by Scriptural examples.  
    It must first be observed, that Calvin, in common with others,  
regarded the history as well erg the institutions of the people of  
Israel, as in great measure typical of things under the Gospel.  
Their temporal evils and blessings, their temporal oppressions and  
deliverances, were intended to set forth the spiritual state and  
condition of the Christian Church. The free choice of the people by  
God, their Egyptian bondage, their passage through the wilderness  
and their possession of the land of Canaan, were events symbolical  
of things connected with that spiritual community afterwards formed  
by the preaching of the Gospel; and of the same character was the  
subsequent captivity of that people in Babylon, and their  
restoration afterwards to their own land.  
    The next thing to be noticed is, that Promises of Blessings  
made to the people of Israel had in some instances a twofold  
meaning, and had reference to two things - the one temporal and the  
other spiritual. The restoration, for instance, from Babylon, was a  
prelude of the restoration or redemption by Christ. It was not only  
typical, but a kind of an initiative process, which was to be  
completed, though in a sublimer sense, by the Savior of man. The  
first was a restoration from temporal evils; the second was still a  
restoration, but from evils of a spiritual kind. The performance of  
the promise, in one case, was the commencement of a restorative  
work, which was to be completed in the other: the temporal  
restoration was eventually succeeded by that which is spiritual.  
    But the most material point in interpreting the Prophecies is  
The Language which is Used: rightly to understand this language  
forms the main difficulty. There are Promises which, as admitted by  
Calvin, look beyond the restoration from Babylon; and they are  
couched in terms, which, if taken literally, most evidently show  
that there is to be a second restoration. What is there, it may be  
asked, which can justify a departure from the letter of the  
promises? This is the chief question, on which the whole matter  
depends. Calvin evidently thought that the literal sense cannot be  
taken, as that would be inconsistent with the general character of  
the ancient prophecies; for he considered that many of the  
prophecies, which relate to the Church of the New Testament, were  
conveyed in a language suitable to the institutions then existing,  
and in consistency with the notions which then prevailed, as to  
religion and divine worship. Hence the Temple, Mount Sion,  
sacrifices, offerings, the priests, as well as the restoration of  
the people to their own land, and their perpetual establishment in  
it, are often spoken of in those very promises which incontestably  
refer to the Gospel dispensation. Now, if in some cases, as  
confessed by most, if not by all, the language is not to be taken  
literally, but as representing the success, the extension and the  
blessings of the Gospel, why should it be taken literally in other  
similar cases? The possession of the land of Canaan was to the  
people of Israel one of their chief blessings, and was a signal  
token of the divine favor. Banishment from it was not only a  
temporal loss, but involved also the loss of all their religious  
privileges. Nothing, therefore, could have conveyed to their minds a  
higher idea of redemption than the promise of restoration to their  
own land, and a perpetual possession of it.  
    The foregoing seem to have been the views by which Calvin was  
guided in his interpretation: and the Editor must be allowed to  
express his concurrence, though he is fully aware, that there have  
been, and that there are still, many celebrated men of a contrary  
    There is another idea which Calvin suggests, in connection with  
this subject. He regarded The Promises made in some instances by the  
Prophets as to the future prosperity of the people of Israel, and  
the perpetuity of their institutions and privileges, as Conditional,  
even when no condition is expressed. Instances of the same kind are  
to be found in the writings of Moses and of the earlier Prophets.  
Promises of perpetuity are made, (as for instance, respecting the  
priesthood,) and often unaccompanied by any conditions; and yet they  
were conditional, as the event proved, and in accordance with the  
tenor of the covenant under which the Israelites lived. The same  
view may also be taken of such promises as are found in the later  
Prophets, that is, such as bear on them a national stamp: they were  
announced unconditionally; but as they included blessings which  
belonged to the people as subjects of the Mosaic covenant, they were  
necessarily conditional, dependent as to their accomplishment on  
their obedience. Hence Jeremiah, who had himself announced promises  
of this kind, says, that the time would come when God would  
establish another covenant; and for this reason, because the people  
of Israel had broken the former covenant.  
    The Editor feels it to be his duty to say generally of Calvin's  
Expositions that the more maturely he considers them, after having  
compared them with those of others, both modern and ancient, the  
more satisfied he is with them, and the more he admires the  
acuteness and solid judgment they display. Perhaps no individual,  
possessing his high qualifications, natural, acquired, and  
spiritual, has ever, either in ancient or modern times, exercised  
himself so much in the study of the Holy Scriptures, and produced  
Comments so original and so valuable.  
    What is remarkable in Calvin as an Expositor is his unvarying  
attention to the context. This was his polar star, which enabled him  
to steer clear and safe through many intricacies and ambiguities no  
to the meaning of particular words, and even of sentences. His first  
object seems to have been to ascertain the general drift of a  
passage or of a chapter; and his next, to harmonize its several  
parts. There are many words which have various meanings, and the  
surest way of ascertaining their meaning in any given sentence, is  
to inquire what comports with the context. There is indeed no other  
way by which we can make a choice, when a word admits of different  
senses. Probably no Commentator has ever paid so much attention to  
this canon of interpretation as Calvin did. The ground on which he  
almost at all times rejects a sense given by others to words or to  
sentences is, that it does not suit the place, or, to adopt an  
expression he frequently uses, that it does not square (non Quadrat)  
with the passage.  
    It has been often thought that more difficulty attends the  
Hebrew language than other languages, owing to the variety of  
meaning which belongs to some of its words. But this variety exists  
quite as much, and indeed much more, in many other languages, and  
even in our own. What enables us in numberless instances to  
ascertain the meaning of a word, and even often of a sentence, is  
what stands connected with it, that is, the context. It is what goes  
before and comes after, not only in a sentence, but often in a long  
passage, that explains the precise meaning of many words. To  
transfer the meaning of a word from one passage to another, and to  
say that because it has a certain meaning in one place, it must have  
the same in another, (except the word has but one meaning,) is  
certainly not the way to explain Scripture or any other writing. The  
best expositor in this respect is no doubt the context.  
    It is well known that these Lectures were delivered extempore,  
and were taken down by some of those who heard them; and we have  
them now as thus taken down, and afterwards corrected by Calvin.  
This circumstance accounts for the occasional defect of order and  
for occasional repetitions. But these drawbacks seem to have been  
more than compensated by the freshness and vigor, the life and  
animation which these spontaneous effusion of his mind exhibit. In  
none of his other writings, as it appears to the Editor, has Calvin  
shone forth with so much lustre as an able, clear, plain, and  
animated an Expounder, as in these Lectures. There is a flow and  
energy to be found in them not equaled in those productions which he  
composed in private, and finished with more careful attention to  
order and style. When the mind is well stored and the memory  
retentive, as was the case in no ordinary degree with Calvin, a  
public auditory has usually the effect of calling into action all  
the powers of the mind; and, as frequently in the present instance,  
the consequence is, that the finest and the most striking thoughts  
are elicited, and are expressed in a language the most energetic,  
calculated to produce the deepest impressions.  
November, 1846.  
The Commentaries of John Calvin on the Prophet Joel  
Calvin's Preface to Joel  
I proceed now to explain The Prophet Joel. The time in which he  
prophesied is uncertain. Some of the Jews imagine that he exercised  
his office in the time of Joram, king of Israel, because a dreadful  
famine then prevailed through the whole land, as it appears evident  
from sacred history; and as the Prophet record a famine, they  
suppose that his ministry must be referred to that time. Some think,  
that he taught under Manasseh, but they bring no reason for this  
opinion; it is, therefore, a mere conjecture. Others think that he  
performed his office as a teacher not only under one king, but that  
he taught, at the same time with Isaiah, under several kings.  
    But as there is no certainty, it is better to leave the time in  
which he taught undecided; and, as we shall see, this is of no great  
importance. Not to know the time of Hosea would be to readers a  
great loss for there are many parts which could not be explained  
without a knowledge of history; but as to Joel there is, as I have  
said, less need of this; for the import of his doctrine is evident,  
though his time be obscure and uncertain. But we may conclude that  
he taught at Jerusalem, or at least in the kingdom of Judah. As  
Hosea was appointed a Prophet to the kingdom of Israel, so Joel had  
another appointment; for he was to labour especially among the Jews  
and not among the Ten Tribes: this deserves to be particularly  
    Now the sum of the Book is this: At the beginning, he reproves  
the stupidity of the people, who, when severely smitten by God, did  
not feel their evils, but on the contrary grew hardened under them:  
this is one thing. Then he threatens far more grievous evils; as the  
people became so insensible under all their punishments, that they  
were not humbled, the Prophet declares that there were evils at hand  
much worse than those they had hitherto experienced: this is the  
second thing. Thirdly, he exhorts the people to repentance, and  
shows that there was required no common evidence of repentance; for  
they had not lightly offended God, but by their perverseness  
provoked him to bring on them utter ruin: since, then, their  
obstinacy had been so great, he bids them to come as suppliants with  
tears, with sackcloth, with mourning, with ashes, that they might  
obtain mercy; for they were unworthy of being regarded by the Lord,  
except they thus submissively humbled themselves: this is the third  
subject. The fourth part of the Book is taken up with promises; for  
he prophesies of the Kingdom of Christ, and shows, that though now  
all things seemed full of despair, yet God had not forgotten the  
covenant he made with the fathers; and that therefore Christ would  
come to gather the scattered remnants, yea, and to restore to life  
his people, though they were now lost and dead.  
    This is the sum and substance. But we shall see, as we proceed,  
that the chapters have been absurdly and foolishly divided. He thus  
begins - 
Calvin, Commentary on Joel 
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