Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 2
(... continue from part 1) 

Lecture Seventy-third 
Jonah 1:4 
But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a 
mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. 
    Jonah declares here how he had been, as it were, by force 
brought back by the Lord, when he tried to flee away from his 
presence. He then says that a tempest arose in the sea; but he at 
the same time tells us, that this tempest did not arise by chance, 
as ungodly men are wont to say, who ascribe everything that happens 
to fortune. God, he says, sent a strong wind on the sea. Some give 
this renderings "God raised up," deriving the verb from "natal"; but 
others derive it more correctly from "tul", and we shall presently 
meet with the same word in the fifth verse. Now as to what took 
place, he says that there was so great a tempest, that the ship was 
not far from being broken. When he says, 'The ship thought to be 
broken' the expression corresponds with the idiom of our language, 
la navire cuidoit perir. But some take the ship for the passengers 
or the sailors; but this is strained; and we know that our common 
language agrees in many of its phrases with the Hebrew. 
    Jonah then meant, that a tempest arose, not by chance, but by 
the certain purpose of God, so that being overtaken on the sea, he 
acknowledged that he had been deceived when he thought that he could 
flee away from God's presence by passing over the sea. Though indeed 
the Prophet speaks here only of one tempest, we may yet hence 
generally gather, that no storms, nor any changes in the air, which 
produce rain or stir up tempests on the sea, happen by chance, but 
that heaven and earth are so regulated by a Divine power, that 
nothing takes place without being foreseen and decreed. But if any 
one objects, and says that it does not harmonize with reason, that, 
for the fault of one man, so many suffered shipwreck, or were tossed 
here and there by the storm: the ready answer to this is, - that 
though God had a regard only, in a special manner, to the case of 
Jonah, yet there were hidden reasons why he night justly involve 
others in the same danger. It is probable that many were then 
sailing; it was not one ship only that was on that sea, since there 
were so many harbors and so many islands. But though the Lord may 
involve many men in the same punishment, when he especially intends 
to pursue only one man, yet there is never wanting a reason why he 
might not call before his tribunal any one of us, even such as 
appear the most innocent. And the Lord works wonderfully, while 
ruling over men. It would be therefore preposterous to measure his 
operations by our wisdom; for God can so punish one man, as to 
humble some at the same time, and to chastise others for their 
various sins, and also to try their patience. Thus then is the mouth 
of ungodly men stopped, that they may not clamour against God, when 
he so executes his judgments as not to comport with the judgment of 
our flesh. But this point I shall presently discuss more at large: 
there are indeed everywhere in Scripture, instances in which God 
inflicted punishment on a whole people, when yet one man only had 
sinned. But when some murmur and plead that they are innocent, there 
is ever to be found a reason why God cannot be viewed as dealing 
cruelly with them; nay, were he pleased, he might justly treat them 
with much greater severity: in a word, though God may appear to deal 
severely with men, he yet really spares them, and treats them with 
indulgence. Let us now proceed - 
Jonah 1:5 
Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and 
cast forth the wares that [were] in the ship into the sea, to 
lighten [it] of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the 
ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep. 
    This narrative, in which Jonah relates in order so many 
circumstances, is not without its use; for, as we shall presently 
see, he intended to set forth his own insensibility, and to lay it 
before us as painted before our eyes: and the comparison, which is 
implied in the circumstances, greatly illustrates the supine and 
almost brutal security of Jonah. 
    He says first that the mariners were afraid, and then, that 
each cried, that is, to his god and that they cast out into the sea 
the lading of the ship. As then they were all so concerned, was it 
not marvelous that Jonah, on whose account the sea was stormy, was 
asleep? Others were busy, they ran here and there in the ship, and 
spoiled themselves of their goods, that they might reach the shore 
in safety: they indeed chose to strip themselves of all they had 
rather than to perish; they also cried to their gods. Jonah cared 
for nothing, nay, he lay asleep: but whence came such a carelessness 
as this, except that he was not only become torpid, but that he 
seemed also to have been deprived of all reason and common feeling? 
There is no doubt then but that Jonah, in order to show this to have 
been the case, has here enumerated so many circumstances. 
    He says that the "mariners were afraid". We indeed know that 
sailors are not usually frightened by small or common storms; for 
they are a hardy race of men, and they are the less afraid, because 
they daily see various commotions in the air. When, therefore, he 
says that the sailors were afraid, we hence gather that it was not a 
moderate tempest, for such does not thus terrify men accustomed by 
long expert once to all sorts of storms: they, then, who had been 
previously hardened, were disquieted with fear. He afterwards adds, 
that they cried, each of them to his god. Jonah certainly ought not 
to have slept so soundly, but that he might rouse himself at almost 
any moment, for he carried in his heart his own executioner, as he 
knew that he was a fugitive: for we have said before, that it was 
not a slight offense for Jonah to withdraw himself from the presence 
of God; he despised his call, and, as far as he could, cast off the 
yoke, so as not to obey God. Seeing, then, that Jonah was ill at 
ease with himself, ought he not to have trembled, even while asleep? 
But while others cried to their false gods, he either despised, or 
at least neglected the true God, to whom he knew he was disobedient, 
and against whom he rebelled. This is the point of the comparison, 
or of the antithesis. But we at the same time see, how in dangers 
men are constrained to call on God. Though, indeed, there is a 
certain impression by nature on the hearts of men as to God, so that 
every one, willing or unwilling, is conscious that there is some 
Supreme Being; we yet by our wickedness smother this light, which 
ought to shine within us. We indeed gladly cast away all cares and 
anxieties; for we wish to live at ease, and tranquillity is the 
chief good of men. Hence it comes, that all desire to live without 
fear and without care; and hence we all naturally seek quietness. 
Yet this quietness generates contempt. Hence then it is, that hardly 
any religion appears in the world, when God leaves us in an 
undisturbed condition. Fear constrains us, however unwilling, to 
come to God. False indeed is what is said, that fear is the cause of 
religion, and that it was the first reason why men thought that 
there were gods: this notion is indeed wholly inconsistent with 
common sense and experience. But religion, which has become nearly 
extinct, or at least covered over in the hearts of men, is stirred 
up by dangers. Of this Jonah gives a remarkable instance, when he 
says that the sailors cried, each of them to his god. We know how 
barbarous is this race of men; they are disposed to shake off every 
sense of religion; they indeed drive away every fear, and deride God 
himself as long as they may. Hence that they cried to God, it was no 
doubt what necessity forced them to do. And here we may learn, how 
useful it is for us to be disquieted by fear; for while we are safe, 
torpidity, as it is well known, soon creeps over us. Since, then, 
hardly any one of himself comes to God, we have need of goads; and 
God sharply pricks us, when he brings any danger, so as to constrain 
us to tremble. But in this way, as I have already said, he 
stimulates us; for we see that all would go astray, and even perish 
in their thoughtlessness, were he not to draw them back, even 
against their own will. 
    But Jonah does not simply say, that each cried to God, but he 
adds, "to his own god". As, then, this passage teaches, that men are 
constrained by necessity to seek God, we also, on the other hand, it 
shows, that men go astray in seeking God, except they are directed 
by celestial truth, and also by the Spirit of God. There is then 
some right desire in men, but it goes astray; for none will keep the 
right way except the Lord directs them, as it has been said, both by 
his word and his Spirit. Both these particulars we learn from the 
words of the Prophet: The sailors feared; men hardy and almost 
iron-hearted, who, like the Cyclops, despised God, - these, he says, 
were afraid; and they also cried to God; but they did not cry by the 
guidance of faith; hence it was, that every one cried to his own 
    When we read this, let it first come to our minds that there is 
no hope until God constrains us, as it were, by force; but we ought 
to anticipate extreme necessity by seeking him willingly. For what 
did it avail the sailors and other passengers, to call once on God? 
It is indeed probable that, shortly after, they relapsed into their 
former ungodly indifference; after having been freed from their 
danger, they probably despised God, and all religion was regarded by 
them with contempt. And so it commonly happens as to ungodly men, 
who never obey God except when they are constrained. Let therefore 
every one of us offer himself willingly to God, even now when we are 
in no danger, and enjoy full quietness. For if we think, that any 
pretext for thoughtlessness, or for error, or for ignorance, will 
serve as an excuse, we are greatly deceived; for no excuse can be 
admitted, since experience teaches us, that there is naturally 
implanted in all some knowledge of God, and that these truths are 
engraven on our hearts, that God governs our life, - that he alone 
can remove us by death, - that it is his peculiar office to aid and 
help us. For how was it that these sailors cried? Had they any new 
teacher who preached to them about religion, and who regularly 
taught them that God was the deliverer of mankind? By no means: but 
these truths, as I have said, had been by nature impressed on their 
hearts. While the sea was tranquil, none of them called on their 
god; but danger roused them from their drowsiness. But it is hence 
sufficiently evident, that whatever excuses they may pretend, who 
ascribe not to God his glory, they are all frivolous; for there is 
no need of any law, there is no need of any Scripture, in short, 
there is no need of any teaching, to enable men to know, that this 
life is in the hand of God, that deliverance is to be sought from 
him alone, and that nothing, as we have said, ought to be looked for 
from any other quarter: for invocation proves that men have this 
conviction respecting God; and invocation comes from nothing else 
but from some hidden instinct, and indeed from the guidance and 
teaching of nature. This is one thing. 
    But let us also learn from this passage, that when God is 
sought by us, we ought not to trust to our own understanding; for we 
shall in that case immediately go astray. God then must be 
supplicated to guide us by his word, otherwise every one will fall 
off into his own superstitions; as we here see, that each cried to 
his own god. The Prophet also reminds us that multiplicity of gods 
is no modern invention; for mankind, since the fall of Adam, have 
ever been prone to falsehood and vanity. We know how much corruption 
must occupy our minds, when every one invents for himself hideous 
and monstrous things. Since it is so, there is no wonder that 
superstitions have ever prevailed in the world; for the wit of man 
is the workshop of all errors. And hence also we may learn what I 
have lately touched upon, - that nothing is worse for us than to 
follow the impulses of our flesh; for every one of himself advances 
in the way of error, even without being pushed on by another; and at 
the same time, as is commonly the case, men draw on one another. 
    He now adds, that the "wares were cast out", that is, the 
lading of the ship; and we know that this is the last resource in 
shipwrecks; for men, to save their lives, will deprive themselves 
willingly of all their goods. We hence see how precious is life to 
man; for he will not hesitate to strip himself of all he has, that 
he may not lose his life. We indeed shun want, and many seek death 
because extreme poverty is intolerable to them; but when they come 
to some great danger, men ever prefer their life to all their 
possessions; for what are the good things of this world, but certain 
additions to our life? But Jonah tells us for another purpose that 
the ship was lightened, even for this, - that we may know that the 
tempest was no ordinary commotion, but that the sailors, 
apprehensive of approaching death, adopted this as the last 
    Another clause follows: "Jonah had gone down into the sides, or 
the side, of the ship". Jonah no doubt sought a retreat before the 
storm arose. As soon then as they sailed from the harbor, Jonah 
withdrew to some remote corner, that he might sleep there. But this 
was no excusable insensibility on his part, as he knew that he was a 
fugitive from the presence of God: he ought then to have been 
agitated by unceasing terrors; nay, he ought to have been to himself 
the taxer of anxiety. But it often so happens, that when any one has 
sought hiding-places, he brings on himself a stupor almost brutal; 
he thinks of nothing, he cares for nothing, he is anxious for 
nothing. Such then was the insensibility which possessed the soul of 
Jonah, when he went down to some recess in the ship, that he might 
there indulge himself in sleep. Since it thus happened to the holy 
Prophet, who of us ought not to fear for himself? Let us hence learn 
to remind ourselves often of God's tribunal; and when our minds are 
seized with torpor, let us learn to stimulate and examine ourselves, 
lest God's judgment overwhelm us while asleep. For what prevented 
ruin from wholly swallowing up Jonah, except the mercy of God, who 
pitied his servant, and watched for his safety even while he was 
asleep? Had not the Lord then exercised such care over Jonah, he 
must have perished. 
    We hence see that the Lord often cares for his people when they 
care not for themselves, and that he watches while they are asleep: 
but this ought not to serve to nourish our self-indulgence; for 
every one of us is already more indulgent to himself than he ought 
to be: but, on the contrary, this example of Jonah, whom we see to 
have been so near destruction, ought to excite and urge us, that 
when any of us has gone astray from his calling he may not lie 
secure in that state, but, on the contrary, run back immediately to 
God. And if God be not able to draw us back to himself without some 
violent means, let us at least follow in this respect the example of 
Jonah, which we shall in its own place notice. It follows - 
Jonah 1:6 
So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, 
O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think 
upon us, that we perish not. 
    Jonah relates here how he was reproved by the pilot or master 
of the ship, inasmuch as he alone slept, while all the rest were in 
anxiety and fear. "What meanest thou, fast sleeper?" The pilot no 
doubt upbraids Jonah for his sleepiness, and reproves him for being 
almost void of all thought and reflection. "What meanest thou, 
sleeper", he says; "when thou sees all the rest smitten with alarm, 
how canst thou sleep? Is not this unnatural? Rise, then, and call on 
thy God." 
    We see that where there is no rule of faith a liberty is 
commonly taken, so that every one goes astray here and there. Whence 
was it, that the pilot said to Jonah, Call on thy God, and that he 
did not confine him to any certain rule? Because it had been 
customary in all ages for men to be satisfied with some general 
apprehension of God; and then every one according to his own fancy 
formed a god for himself: nor could it have been otherwise, as I 
have said, while men were not restrained by any sacred bond. All 
agree as to this truth, that there is some God, and also that no 
dead idol can do anything, but that the world is governed by the 
providence and power of God, and further, that safety is to be 
sought from him. All this, has been received by the common consent 
of all; but when we come to particulars, then every one is in the 
dark; how God is to be sought they know not. Hence every one takes 
his own liberty: "For the sake of appeasing God I will then try 
this; this shall be my mode of securing his favor; the Lord will 
regard this service acceptable; in this way shall all my iniquity be 
expiated, that I may obtain favor with God." Thus each invents for 
themselves some tortuous way to come to God; and then every one 
forms a god peculiar to himself. There can therefore be no stability 
nor consistency in men, unless they are joined together by some 
bond, even by some certain rule of religion, so that they may not 
vacillate, and not be in doubt as to what is right to be done, but 
be assured and certainly persuaded, that there is but one true God, 
and know what sort of God he is, and then understand the way by 
which he is to be sought. 
    We then learn from this passage, that there is an awful license 
taken in fictitious religions, and that all who are carried away by 
their fancy are involved in a labyrinth, so that men do nothing but 
weary and torment themselves in vain, when they seek God without 
understanding the right way. They indeed run with all their might, 
but they go farther and farther from God. But that they, at the same 
time, form in their minds an idea of some God, and that they agree 
on this great principle, is sufficiently evident from the second 
clause of this verse, "If so be that God will be Propitious to us." 
Here the pilot confines not his discourse to the God of Jonah, but 
speaks simply of a God; for though the world by their differences 
divide God, and Jonah worshipped a God different from the rest, and, 
in short, there was almost an endless number of gods among the 
passengers, yet the pilot says, If so be that God, &c.: now then he 
acknowledges some Supreme God, though each of them had his own god. 
We hence see that what I have said is most true, - that this general 
truth has ever been received with the consent of all, - that the 
world is preserved by the providence of God, and hence that the life 
and safety of men are in his hand. But as they are very far removed 
from God, and not only creep slowly, but are also more inclined to 
turn to the earth than to look up to heaven, and are uncertain and 
ever change, so they seek gods which are nigh to them, and when they 
find none, they hesitate not to invent them. 
    We have elsewhere seen that the Holy Spirit uses this form of 
speaking, "If so be", when no doubt, but difficulty alone is 
intended. It is however probable, that the pilot in this case was 
perplexed and doubtful, as it is usual with ungodly men, and that he 
could determine nothing certain as to any help from God; and as his 
mind was thus doubtful, he says, that every means of relief were to 
be tried. And here, as in a mirror, we may see how miserable is the 
condition of all those who call not on God in pure faith: they 
indeed cry to God, for the impulse of nature thus leads them; but 
they know not whether they will obtain any thing by their cries: 
they repeat their prayers; but they know not whether they pass off 
into air or really come to God. The pilot owns, that his mind was 
thus doubtful, If so be that God will be propitious to us, call thou 
also on thy God. Had he been so surely convinced, as to call on the 
true God, he would have certainly found it to have been no doubtful 
relief. However, that nothing might be left untried, he exhorted 
Jonah, that if he had a God, to call upon him. We hence see, that 
there are strange windings, when we do not understand the right way. 
Men would rather run here and there, a hundred times, through earth 
and heaven, than come to God, except where his word shines. How so? 
because when they make the attempt, an insane impulse drives them in 
different ways; and thus they are led here and there: "It may be, 
that this may be useful to me; as that way has not succeeded, I will 
try another." God then thus punishes all the unbelieving, who obey 
not his word; for to the right way they do not keep: He indeed shows 
how great a madness it is, when men give loose reins to their 
imaginations, and do not submit to celestial truth. 
    As to the words, interpreters translate them in different ways. 
Some say, "If so be that God will think of us;" others "If so be 
that God will favor us." "Ashat" is properly to shine; but when put 
as here in the conjugation Hithpael, it means to render one's self 
clear or bright: and it is a metaphor very common in Scriptures that 
the face of God is cloudy or dark, when he is not propitious to us; 
and again, God is said to make bright his face and to appear serene 
to us, when he really shows himself kind and gracious to us. As then 
this mode of speaking altogether suits this place, I wonder that 
some seek extraneous interpretations. 
    He afterwards adds, "Lest we perish". Here the pilot clearly 
owns, that he thought the life of man to be in the power of God; for 
he concluded, that they must perish unless the Lord brought aid. 
Imprinted then in the minds of all is this notion or "prolepsis", 
that is, preconception, that when God is angry or adverse, we are 
miserable, and that near destruction impends over us; and another 
conviction is found to be in the hearts of men, - that as soon as 
the Lord looks on us, his favor and goodwill brings to us immediate 
safety. The Holy Spirit does not speak here, but a heathen, and we 
know too how great is the impiety of sailors, and yet he declares 
this by the impulse of nature, and there is here no feigning; for 
God, as I have already said, extorts by necessity a confession from 
the unbelieving, which they would gladly avoid. 
    Now what excuse can we have, if we think our safety to be in 
our own hands, if we depend not wholly on God, and if we neglect him 
in prosperity, as though we could be safe without his help? These 
words then, spoken by the sailor, ought to be weighed by us, 'If so 
be that God's face may appear bright to us, and that we perish not.' 
It now follows - 
Jonah 1:7 
And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, 
that we may know for whose cause this evil [is] upon us. So they 
cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. 
    Jonah did not without reason mention this, - that the 
passengers consulted together about casting lots; for we hence 
learn, that it was no ordinary tempest: it appeared then to be a 
token of God's wrath. For, if strong wind arose, it would not have 
been so strange, for such had been often the case; and if a tempest 
followed, it would not have been a thing unusual. It must then have 
been something more dreadful, as it filled men's minds with alarms 
so that they were conscious that God was present as an avenger: and 
we know, that it is not common with ungodly men to recognize the 
vengeance of Gods except in extreme dangers; but when God executes 
punishment on sins in an unusual manner, then men begin to 
acknowledge God's vengeance. 
    This very thing, Jonah now bears witness to, "They said then 
each to his friend, Come, let us cast lots". Was it not an 
accustomed thing for them to cast lots whenever a tempest arose? By 
no means. They had recourse, no doubt, to this expedient, because 
they knew, that God had not raised up that tempest without some very 
great and very serious cause. This is one thing: but I cannot now 
pursue the subjects, I must therefore defer it until tomorrow. 
Grant, Almighty God, that though we are here disquieted in the midst 
of so many tossings, we may yet learn with tranquil minds to recumb 
on thy grace and promise, by which thou testifiest that thou wilt be 
ever near us, and not wait until by a strong hand thou drawest us to 
thyself, but that we may be, on the contrary, ever attentive to thy 
providence: may we know that our life not only depends on a thread, 
but also vanishes like the smoke, unless thou protectest it, so that 
we may recumb wholly on thy power; and may we also, while in a 
cheerful and quiet state, so call on thee, that relying on thy 
protection we may live in safety, and at the same time be careful, 
lest torpor, which draws away our minds and thoughts from meditating 
on the divine life, should creep over us, but may we, on the 
contrary, so earnestly seek thee, morning and evening, and at all 
times, that we may through life advance towards the mark thou hast 
set before us, until we at length reach that heavenly kingdom, which 
Christ thy Son has obtained for us by his own blood. Amen 

Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 2
(continued in part 3...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-05: cvjon-02.txt