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 god. 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 resource. 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. Prayer. 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 .