Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 1 
(... continue from part: Introductory)  
Chapter 1.  
Lecture Seventy-second.  
Jonah 1:1,2  
Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,  
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their  
wickedness is come up before me.  
    As I have before observed, Jonah seems here indirectly to  
intimate, that he had been previously called to the office of a  
teacher; for it is the same as though he had said, that he framed  
this history as a part of his ordinary function. The word of God  
then was not for the first time communicated to Jonah, when he was  
sent to Nineveh; but it pleased God, when he was already a Prophet,  
to employ him among other nations. It might have been then, that he  
was sent to Nineveh, that the Lord, being wearied with the obstinacy  
of his own people, might afford an example of pious docility on the  
part of a heathen and uncircumcised nation, in order to render the  
Israelites more inexcusable. They made a profession of true  
religion, they boasted that they were a holy people; circumcision  
was also to them a symbol and a pledge of God's covenant; yet they  
despised all the Prophets, so that their teaching among them was  
wholly useless. It is then probable that this Prophet was taken away  
from them, that the Ninevites by their example might increase the  
sin of Israel, for in three days they turned to God, after Jonah had  
preached to them: but among the Israelites and their kindred he had,  
during a long time, effected nothing, when yet his authority had  
been sufficiently ratified, and thus, as we have already said, in  
their favor: for Jonah had predicted, that the kingdom of Israel  
would as yet stand; and however much they deserved to perish, yet  
the Lord fulfilled what he had promised by the mouth at his servant.  
They ought then to have embraced his doctrine, not only because it  
was divine, but especially because the Lord had been pleased to show  
his love to them.  
    I do not indeed doubt, but that the ingratitude of the people  
was in this manner arraigned, since the Ninevites repented at the  
preaching of Jonah, and that for a short time, while the Israelites  
ever hardened themselves in their obstinacy. And hence some have  
refinedly expounded that passage in Matth. 12:, 'This perverse  
generation seeketh a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it,  
except the sign of Jonah the Prophet,' as though this intimated,  
that the Gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles, inasmuch as  
Jonah was taken away from his own nation, and was given as a teacher  
to foreign and heathen nations. They therefore suppose, that we are  
to understand this as a prophecy respecting the future call of the  
Gentiles, as though Christ had said, that he would hereafter go to  
the Gentiles, after having found the wickedness of the chosen people  
past recovery. But as Christ expressly applies this comparison, we  
ought not to draw his words here and there. He indeed confines the  
similitude to one particular thing, that is, "As Jonah had been  
three days in the whale's bowels, so also he would be three days in  
the bowels of the earth;" as though he had said, that in this he  
would be like to Jonah, for he would be a Prophet brought to life  
again. And this was said designedly by Christ, because he saw that  
he was despised by the Jews, and that his labors were in vain:  
"Since ye now hear me not, and regard me as nothing, know that I  
shall be hereafter a new Prophet, even after my resurrection; so at  
length I shall begin to speak more effectually both to the Jews and  
to the Gentiles, as Jonah converted Nineveh, after having returned  
again to life." This then is the simple meaning of the passage.  
Hence Jonah was not a type of Christ, because he was sent away unto  
the Gentiles, but because he returned to life again, after having  
for some time exercised his office as a Prophet among the people of  
Israel. They then who say that his going forth was a token of the  
call of the Gentiles, adduce indeed what is plausible, but it seems  
to be supported by no solid reason; for it was in fact an  
extraordinary thing. God, then, had not as yet openly showed what he  
would do at the coming of Christ. When Naaman the Syrian was  
converted to the faith, (2 Kings 5: 15,) and a few others, God  
changed nothing in his ordinary proceedings: for there ever existed  
the special call of the race of Abraham, and religion was ever  
confined within the ancient limits; and it remained ever true, that  
God had not done to other nations as he had to the Jews, for he had  
revealed to them his judgments, (Pa 147: 20.) It was therefore God's  
will that the adoption of the race of Abraham should continue  
unaltered to the conning of Christ, so that the Jews might excel all  
other nations, and differ from them through a gratuitous privilege,  
as the holy and elect people of God.  
    Those who adopt the contrary opinion say, that the Ninevites  
were converted to the Lord without circumcision. This is true; but I  
know not whether that was a true and legitimate conversion, which is  
hereafter mentioned; and of this, the Lord being willing, I shall  
again speak more fully: but it seems more probable, that they were  
induced by the reproofs and threatening of the Prophet, suppliantly  
to deprecate the impending wrath of God: hence God once forgave  
them; what took place afterwards does not clearly appear. It is  
certainly not probable that the whole city was converted to the  
Lord: for soon after that city became exceedingly hostile both to  
the Israelites and the Jews; and the Church of God was by the  
Ninevites continually harassed with slaughters. Since it was so,  
there is certainly no reason to think, that they had really and from  
the heart repented. But I put off a full discussion of this subject  
until we come to another passage. Let us go on now with our text.  
    "Arise, go to Nineveh, to that great city". Nineveh is called a  
great city, and not without reason; for it was in circumference, as  
heathen writers say, 400 stadia: and we shall see that Jonah was  
three whole days in going through the squares and streets of the  
city. It hence follows, that it was a very large city, and this all  
allow. Profane writers call it Ninus, and say that it is a name  
derived from its founder; for it was Ninus, the son of Betas, who  
built it. But more correct is their opinion, who think that "Ninweh"  
is a Hebrew word: and hence what Herodotus and Diodorus, and others  
of the same class, say, is certainly fabulous, both as to the origin  
of the city and as to the whole progress of the kingdom, and their  
legends can easily be disproved by testimonies from holy Scripture.  
It is at the same time admitted by all, that Nineveh was a very  
large and a well fortified city. Babylon was afterwards built by  
Semiramis, who had been the wife of Betas: after her husband's death  
she wished to show that she also excelled in mind and industry, and  
that she had wisdom above her sex. But with regard to the founder of  
Nineveh, it is certain that the city was first built by Asshur:  
whether it was enlarged by Ninus, I know not: this, then, I leave as  
uncertain; for I wish not to contend about what is doubtful. But it  
is certain, from what Moses has said, that the founder of this city  
was Asshur, (Gen. 10: 11.)  
    As to the largeness of the city, even if profane writers had  
not said a word, the testimony of Jonah ought to be sufficient to  
us. Now, since he is bidden to go and proceed to Nineveh, the Lord  
gives him some hope of success. He indeed wrought effectually by the  
hand of his servant, Nahum; who, though he continued at home, yet  
prophesied against the Ninevites; but with a different view, and for  
another end. For as the people were then miserably distressed, and  
saw the kingdom or monarchy of Assyria in a flourishing state, they  
must have despaired, had not some solace been afforded them. Hence  
Nahum showed that God would be a judge against the Ninevites; that  
though he for a time favoured and spared them, there was yet  
impending over them the dreadful judgment of which he speaks. Nahum,  
then, was not given as a teacher to the Ninevites, but was only a  
proclaimer, that the Jews might strengthen their faith by this  
comfort - that they were not wholly rejected by the Lord, as he  
would some time avenge their wrongs. The case with Jonah was  
different: for he was sent to the city itself, to exhort the  
Ninevites to repent. Now the Lord, by speaking expressly of the  
largeness of the city, intended thus to prepare him with firmness,  
lest he should be frightened by the splendor, wealth, and power of  
that city: for we know how difficult it is to take in hand great and  
arduous undertakings, especially when we feel ourselves destitute of  
strength. When we have to do with many and powerful adversaries, we  
are not only debilitated, but our courage wholly vanishes away.  
Lest, then, the greatness of Nineveh should fill Jonah with terror,  
he is here prepared and armed with firmness. "Go then to Nineveh,  
and let not the power of that monarchy prevent thee to fulfill what  
I command thee; which is, to show to the Ninevites their sins, and  
to denounce on them destruction, if they repent not."  
    We now then understand why Nineveh was called a great city: for  
had it not been for the reason just stated, it would not have been  
necessary that this should have been said to Jonah. The Israelites,  
I doubt not, knew well that it was a large city, and also possessed  
of strength and of a large number of men: but the Lord intended to  
set before his servant what might have been a hindrance to him in  
the discharge of his office; Go then to this great city. In short,  
God designed in this way to try Jonah, whether he would prefer his  
command to all the hindrances of this world. And it is a genuine  
proof of obedience when we simply obey God, however numerous the  
obstacles which may meet us and may be suggested to our minds, and  
though no escape may appear to us; yea, when we follow God, as it  
were with closed eyes, wherever he may lead us, and doubt not but  
that he will add strength to us, and stretch forth also his hand,  
whenever need may require, to remove all our difficulties. It was  
then the Lord's purpose to deal thus with Jonah; as though he had  
said to him, "remember who I am, and be content with my authority;  
for I have ready at hand all resources; when any thing stands in  
your way, rely on my power, and execute what I command thee." This  
is the import of the passage. Whenever then God demands any service  
from us, and we at the same time see that what the discharge of our  
duty demands is either difficult or apparently impossible, let this  
come to our minds, - that there is not anything in the whole world  
which ought not to give way to God's command: we shall then gather  
courage and confidence, nor will anything be able to call us away  
from our duty and a right course, though the whole world were  
fighting against God.  
    It now follows, "Cry against her; for ascended has their  
wickedness before my presence". Cry, he says, against her: it was an  
unpleasant undertaking to cry out against her immediately at the  
beginning. We indeed know that men take pride in their power: and as  
there was then but one monarchy in the world, the seat of which was  
at Nineveh, a teacher could hardly expect to obtain a patient  
hearing, though he excelled in gracefulness of manner, and had  
acquired reputation, and brought an agreeable message. But Jonah was  
a foreigner, one unknown, and destitute of authority; and still  
more, he was immediately to denounce destruction on the Ninevites,  
to cry aloud, to reprove, to make a vehement proclamation, to  
threaten. How difficult was all this? We hence see how hard a  
command it was when God charged his Prophet to cry against Nineveh.  
    It is now added, "For their wickedness has ascended to me". By  
this clause God strengthens his servant Jonah; as though he said,  
"Thou wilt not, as an individual, have to contend with them, but I  
constitute thee as my herald, to summon them to my tribunal." And no  
doubt it must have served much to animate Jonah, that he had not to  
deal with the Ninevites as an individual, but as the messenger of  
God: and it might also have had an influence on their minds, to  
know, that though no mortal inflicted punishment for their crimes,  
they yet could not escape the vengeance of God. This then is the  
reason why the Lord here declares that he would be the judge of  
Nineveh. And at the same time he reminds us, that though the  
Ninevites felicitated themselves, and also gained the plaudits of  
the whole world on account of their power, yet all this was of no  
moment, because their wickedness and iniquity had ascended into  
heaven. When therefore we are reproved, there is no reason that we  
should turn our eyes here and there towards men; we ought instantly  
to present ourselves to the scrutiny of God; nay, we ought ourselves  
to take in hand that voluntary examination which God requires. By so  
doing, we shall not feed our vices by foolishly deceiving ourselves,  
as hypocrites do, who ever look around them to the right hand and to  
the left, and never raise up their thoughts to heaven. Let us go on  
Jonah 1:3  
But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the  
LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish:  
so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them  
unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.  
    Jonah now relates how he sought hiding-places, that he might  
withdraw himself from the service of God; not that he deceived  
himself with such a gross notion, as that he would be no longer  
under the power of God, after having passed over the sea; but he  
intended to shun, as it were, the light of the present life, by  
proceeding to a foreign country. He was, no doubt, not only in a  
disturbed state of mind, when he formed such a purpose, but was  
utterly confused.  
    It may be asked, why Jonah thus avoided the command of God. The  
Jews, indulging in frigid trifles in divine things, say that he  
feared lest, when he came to Nineveh, he should be deprived of the  
prophetic spirit, as though he were not in the same danger by  
passing over the sea: this is very frivolous and puerile. And  
further, they blend things of no weight, when reasons sufficiently  
important present themselves to us.  
    It was first a new and unusual thing for Prophets to be drawn  
away from the chosen people, and sent to heathen nations. When Peter  
was sent to Cornelius, (Acts 10: 17,) though he had been instructed  
as to the future call of the Gentiles, he yet doubted, he hesitated  
until he was driven as it were forcibly by a vision. What then must  
have come to the mind of Jonah? If only on account of one man the  
mind of Peter was disquieted, so as to think it an illusion, when he  
was sent a teacher to Cornelius, what must Jonah have thought, when  
he was sent to a city so populous? Hence novelty, doubtless, must  
have violently shaken the courage of the holy Prophet, and induced  
him to retake himself elsewhere, as one destitute of understanding.  
Again, doubt might have had an influence on him: for how could he  
have hoped that a people, who were notorious for their  
licentiousness, would be converted? He had indeed before an  
experience of the hardness of the chosen people. He had been  
faithfully engaged in his office, he had omitted nothing to confirm  
the worship of God and true religion among the people of Israel: but  
he had effected but little; and yet the Jews had been called from  
the womb. What then could he hope, when the Lord removed him to  
Nineveh? for unbridled licentiousness ruled there; there was also  
there extreme blindness, they had no knowledge of divine worship; in  
a word, they were sunk in extreme darkness, and the devil in every  
way reigned there. Doubt then must have broken down the spirit of  
Jonah, so that he disobeyed the command of God. Still further, the  
weakness of the flesh must have hindered him from following his  
legitimate call: "What then? even this, - I must go to the chief  
city of that monarchy, which at this day treads under its feet the  
whole earth; I must go there, a man obscure and despised; and then I  
must proclaim a message that will excite the greatest hatred, and  
instantly kindle the minds of men into rage; and what must I say to  
the Ninevites? 'Ye are wicked men, God can no longer endure your  
impiety; there is, therefore, a dreadful vengeance near at hand.'  
How shall I be received?" Jonah then, being still surrounded by the  
infirmities of the flesh, must have given way to fear, which  
dislodged the love of obedience.  
    And I have no doubt, in my own mind, but that Jonah discussed  
these things within himself, for he was not a log of wood. And  
doubtless it was not to no purpose, as I have already said, that he  
mentions that the city was great. God indeed sought to remove what  
might prove an hindrance, but Jonah, on the other hand, reasoned  
thus, - "I see that I am to have a fierce contest; nay, that such a  
number of people will fall on me, enough to overwhelm me a hundred  
times, as the Lord has not in vain foretold me that the city is  
great." And though he might have had some hope, if they had been  
chastised, that they would give God his due honor; yet he confesses,  
that this hindrance came to his mind, which prevented him to proceed  
in the course of his calling. Hence doubt, as well as the fear of  
the flesh made Jonah to stumble, and novelty also, as I have already  
said, must have perplexed him; so that he preferred to go down, as  
it were, to the grave, than to undertake an office which apparently  
had no reason in its favor. For why were the Prophets sent, except  
to effect something by their labour, and to bring forth some fruit?  
but of this Jonah had no hope. Some authority was also allowed the  
Prophets, at least they were allowed the liberty of teaching; but  
Jonah thought that all entrance was closed up against him: and still  
more, Jonah thought that he was opposing the covenant of the Lord,  
who had chosen one people only; and he also thought that he was, as  
it were, fixed to his own land, when he was appointed a Teacher in  
his own country; he therefore could not remove elsewhere without  
feeling a great repugnance.  
    I hence think, that Jonah disobeyed the command of God, partly  
because the weakness of the flesh was an hindrance, partly because  
of the novelty of the message, and partly because he despaired of  
fruit, or of success to his teaching.  
    But he doubtless grievously transgressed: for the first rule,  
as to all our actions, is to follow the call of God. Though one may  
excel in heroic virtues, yet all his virtues are mere fumes, which  
shine before the eyes of men, except the object be to obey God. The  
call of God then, as I have said, holds the first place as to the  
conduct of men; and unless we lay this foundation, we do like him  
who would build a house in the air. Disordered then will be the  
whole course of our life, except God presides over and guides us,  
and raises up over us, as it were, his own banners. As then Jonah  
subverted the first and the only firm foundation of a right conduct,  
what could have remained for him? There is then no reason for us to  
extenuate his fault, for he could not have sinned more grievously  
than by forsaking God, in having refused to obey his call: it was,  
as it were to shake off the yoke; and this he confesses himself.  
    They therefore very childishly write who wish to be his  
apologists, since he twice condemns himself - "Jonah rose up to flee  
from the presence of Jehovah - to go unto Tarshish from the presence  
of Jehovah". Why does he the second time repeat, from the presence  
of Jehovah? He meant, no doubt, to express here more distinctly his  
fault: and the repetition is indeed very emphatical: and it also  
proves clearly that it was not a slight offense, when Jonah retook  
himself elsewhere when he was sent to Nineveh. He could not indeed  
have departed from the Lord, for God fills heaven and earth; and, as  
I have said already, he was not fascinated by so gross an error as  
to think, that when he became a fugitive, he was beyond the reach of  
God's hand. What then is to flee from the face of Jehovah, except it  
be that which he here confesses, that he fled from the presence of  
God, as though he wished, like runaway servants, to reject the  
government of God? Since then Jonah was carried away by this violent  
temptation, there is no reason why we should now try, by some vain  
and frivolous pretenses, to excuse his sin. This is one thing.  
    With regard to the word "Tharsis", or Tharsisa, I doubt not but  
that it means Cilicia. There are those who think that it is the city  
Tarsus; but they are mistaken, for it is the name of a country. They  
are also mistaken who translate it, Sea; for Jonah intended not only  
to go to sea, but also to pass over into Cilicia, which is opposite  
to the Syrian Sea. But the Jews called that the Sea of Tarshish, as  
it appears from many passages, because there was very frequent  
sailing to that place. As then that transmarine country was more  
known to them than any other, and as they carried there their  
merchandise, and in their turn purchased their goods, they called  
that the Sea of Tarshish, as it is well known, as being near it.  
    Jonah then intended to flee into Cilicia, when the Lord would  
have sent him to Nineveh. It is said that he rose up to flee, and  
then, that he went down to Joppa, that he found there a ship, which  
was passing over to Tarshish, that he paid the fare, that he went  
down into the ship, to go with them into Cilicia: now by all those  
expressions Jonah intimates that he was wholly fixed in his purpose,  
and that it was necessary that he should have been brought back by a  
strong hand; for he was touched by no repentance during his journey.  
Many things may indeed come to our minds when the call of God  
appears to us too burdensome. There is none of us, when service is  
to be performed to God, who does not roll this and that in his mind:  
"What will be the issue? how wilt thou reach the place where thou  
expectest to be? See what dangers await thee." For Satan always  
comes forth, whenever we resolve to obey God; but we are to struggle  
in this case, and then repel what we see to be contrary to our  
calling. But Jonah shows that he was obstinately fixed in his  
purpose of fleeing: for he not only intended to go into Tarshish,  
but he actually went down to the city Joppa, which was nigh to  
Judea; and, therefore some think that Tarshish was Africa; but this  
is strained. Others divine it to be Thunetus or Carthage, as though  
indeed these cities were built at that time; but men are very bold  
in dreaming. But what need of giving a new meaning to this word  
against the most common usage of Scriptures when it is evident  
enough that Tarshish is Cilicia?  
    Now, when Jonah went down to Joppa, it was evident that he  
intended immediately to migrate from the land of Judah, and to pass  
over the sea: but by saying that he paid the fare, that he went down  
into the ship, that he might go, - by this gradual progress, he sets  
before us, as I have said, more fully his own perverseness; so that  
he admits that he not only resolutely purposed to reject the call of  
God, but that he also confirmed himself in it: and though there were  
many things to be done, which might have sometimes forced him to  
stand still, he yet constantly followed where his perverse and blind  
impulse led him. There is no doubts then, but that Jonah, in these  
distinct words sets himself forth as a fugitive, not only by one  
act, but by many acts.  
    Now, as to his flight, we must bear in mind what I have before  
said - that all flee away from the presence of God, who do not  
willingly obey his commandments; not that they can depart farther  
from him, but they seek, as far as they can, to confine God within  
narrow limits, and to exempt themselves from being subject to his  
power. No one indeed openly confesses this; yet the fact itself  
shows, that no one withdraws himself from obedience to God's  
commands without seeking to diminish and, as it were, to take from  
him his power, so that he may no longer rule. Whosoever, then, do  
not willingly subject themselves to God, it is the same as though  
they would turn their backs on him and reject his authority that  
they may no more be under his power and dominion.  
    It is deserving of notice, that as Jonah represents himself as  
guilty before the whole world, so he intended by his example to show  
how great and detestable a sin it is, not to submit to the commands  
of God, and not to undertake whatever he enjoins, but to evade his  
authority. That he might then enhance the atrocity of his sin, he  
shows by his own example that we cannot rebel against God, without  
seeking, under some pretence or another to thrust him from his  
throne, and, at the same time, to confine him within certain limits  
that he may not include heaven and earth within his empire.  
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not sent a Jonah to us, when  
alienated from every hope of salvation, but hast given thy Son to be  
our Teacher, clearly to show to us the way of salvation, and not  
only to call us to repentance by threatening and terrors, but also  
kindly to allure us to the hope of eternal life, and to be a pledge  
of thy paternal love, - O grant, that we may not reject so  
remarkable a favor offered to us, but willingly and from the heart  
obey thee; and though the condition which thou settest before us in  
thy Gospel may seem hard, and though the bearing of the cross is  
bitter to our flesh, yet may we never shun to obey thee, but present  
ourselves to thee as a sacrifice; and having overcome all the  
hindrances of this world, may we thus proceed in the course of our  
holy calling, until we be at length gathered into thy celestial  
kingdom, under the guidance of Christ thy Son, our Lord. Amen. 
Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 1 
(continued in part 2...) 
file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-05: cvjon-01.txt