Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 3
(... continue from part 2) 

Lecture Seventy-fourth. 
    We said in yesterday's lecture, that it was a proof of extreme 
fear, that the sailors and the rest cast lots; for this is not 
usually done, except men see themselves to be destitute of judgment 
and counsel. 
    But it must at the same time be observed, that through error 
they cast lots: for they did not know, that if God intended to 
punish each of them, they were worthy even of heavier punishment. 
They would not indeed have thrown the blame on one man, if each had 
well considered what he deserved before God. When a calamity 
happens, it is the duty of every one to examine himself and his 
whole life before God: then every one, from the first to the last, 
must confess that he bears a just judgment. But when all demand 
together who is guilty before God, they thus exonerate themselves, 
as though they were innocent. And it is an evil that prevails at 
this day in the world, that every one is disposed to cast the blame 
on others and all would have themselves to be innocent before God; 
not that they can clear themselves of every fault, but they 
extenuate their sins, as though God could not justly pursue them 
with so much severity. As for instance, when any one perceives that 
he had in various ways done wrong, he will indeed confess in words 
that he is a sinner; but were any person to enumerate and bring 
forward each of his sins he would say, "This is a light offense, 
that is a venal sin; and the Lord deals not with us with so much 
strict justice, that he means to bring on us instantly extreme 
punishment." When there is a slight offense, it is immediately 
referred to by every one. Thus acted the sailors, of whom Jonah now 
speaks. Had any one asked, whether they were wholly without fault, 
every one, no doubt, would have confessed that he was a sinner 
before God; but yet they cast lots as though one only was exposed to 
God's judgment. How so? because they did not think that their own 
sins deserved so heavy a punishment. How much soever they might have 
offended, - and this they really felt and were convinced of, - they 
yet did not make so much of their sins as to think that they 
deserved any such judgment. This then is the reason why they come to 
the lot; it was, because every one seemed to himself to be blameless 
when he came to examine himself. 
    This passage, then, shows what is even well known by common 
experience, - that men, though they know themselves to be guilty 
before God, yet extenuate their sins and promise themselves pardon, 
as though they could make an agreement with God, that he should not 
treat them with strict justice, but deal with them indulgently. 
Hence, then, is the hope of impunity, because we make light offenses 
of the most grievous sins. Thus we find under the Papacy, that 
various modes are devised, by which they absolve themselves before 
God and wipe away their stains: the sprinkling of holy water 
cleanses almost all sins; except a man be either an adulterer, or a 
murderer, or a sorcerer, or ten times perjured, he hardly thinks 
himself to be guilty of any crime. Then the expiations which they 
use, avail, as they think, to obliterate all iniquities. Whence is 
this error? Even because they consider God to be like themselves, 
and think not their sins to be so great abominations before God. But 
this is no new thing; for we see what happened in the time of Jonah; 
and from profane histories also we may learn, that this error 
possessed everywhere the minds of all. They had then daily 
expiations, as the Papists have their masses, their pilgrimages, 
their sprinklings of holy water, and similar playthings: but as 
under the Papacy there are reserved cases, so also in former times, 
when any one had killed a father or mother, when any one had 
committed incest, he stood in need of some extraordinary expiation; 
and if there was any one of great renown on the earth, they applied 
to him, that he might find out some new kind of expiation. An 
example of this error is set before us here, when they said, "let us 
cast lots". For except they thought that one only was guilty, and 
not and every one would have publicly confessed his sins, and would 
then have acknowledged that such was the mass of them as to be 
enough to fill heaven and earth; but this they did not. One man must 
have been the offender; but no one came forward with such a 
confession: hence they cast lots. 
    It may now be inquired, whether this mode of seeking out the 
truth was lawful; as they knew not through whose fault the tempest 
arose, was it right to have recourse to lots? Some have been too 
superstitious in condemning lots; for they have plainly said, that 
all lots are wicked. Hence has come the name, lot-drawers; and they 
have thought that lot-drawers differ nothing from magicians and 
enchanters. This has proceeded from ignorance, for we know that the 
casting of lots has been sometimes allowed. And Solomon certainly 
speaks, as of a common rule, when he says of lots being cast into 
the bosom, and of the issue being from Jehovah (Prov. 16: 33.) 
Solomon speaks not there of the arts of magic but says that when 
lots are cast, the event is not by chance but by God s providence. 
And when Matthias was chosen in the place of Judas, it was done by 
lot, (Acts 1: 26.) Did the Apostles use this mode presumptuously? 
No, the Holy Spirit presided over this election. There is then no 
doubt but that God approved of that casting of lots. So also Joshua 
had recourse to the lot when the cause of God's displeasure was 
unknown, though it was evident that God was angry with the people. 
Joshua, being perplexed by what was unknown, did cast lots; and so 
Achan was discovered and his sacrilege. That lot no one will dare 
condemn. Then what I have said is clear enough, that those have been 
too superstitious who have condemned all casting of lots without 
exception. But we must yet remember that lots are not to be used 
indiscriminately. It is a part of the civil law, that when a common 
inheritance is divided, it is allowed to cast lots: as it belongs 
not to this or that person to choose, each must take the part which 
the lot determines. So again it is lawful to cast lot in great 
undertakings, when men are anywhere sent: and when there is a 
division of labour, to prevent jealousy when one wishes to choose a 
certain part for himself, the lot will remove all contentions. A lot 
of this kind is allowed both by the word of God, and by civil laws. 
But when any one adopts the lot without any reason, he is no doubt 
superstitious, and differs not much from the magician or the 
enchanter. As for instance, when one intends to go a journey, or to 
take anything in hand, if he throws into his hat a white and a black 
lot, and says, "I will see whether my going out today will be 
prosperous;" now this is of the devil; for Satan by such arts 
deludes wretched men. If then any one makes use of the lot without 
any just reason, he is, as I have said without excuse. 
    But as to the other lots, such as we have now noticed, they 
ought not to be viewed as precedents. For though Joshua used the lot 
to bring to light the cause for which God was angry with his people, 
it is not yet right for us to imitate what he did; for Joshua was no 
doubt led by some peculiar influence to adopt this measure. So also 
as to Saul, when he cast lots, and his son Jonathan was discovered 
as the one who had tasted honey, it was an especial example. The 
same thing must be also said of the lot mentioned here; for as the 
sailors were trembling, and knew not the cause why the tempest 
arose, and the fear of shipwreck seized them, they had recourse to 
the lot. Were we continually to imitate such examples, such a 
liberty would not certainly be pleasing, to God, nor consistent with 
his word. We must therefore bear in mind, that there were some 
peculiar influences, whenever God's servants used the lot in 
doubtful and extreme cases. This then is shortly the answer to the 
question - Was it lawful for the sailors to cast lots, that they 
might find out the person on account of whom they were in so much 
danger? I now proceed to what follows - 
Jonah 1:8-10 
8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause 
this evil [is] upon us; What [is] thine occupation? and whence 
comest thou? what [is] thy country? and of what people [art] thou? 
9 And he said unto them, I [am] an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the 
God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry [land]. 
10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast 
thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of 
the LORD, because he had told them. 
    After the lot fell on Jonah, they doubted not but that he was 
the guilty person, any more than if he had been a hundred times 
proved to be so: for why did they cast lots, except that they were 
persuaded that all doubt could thus be removed, and that what was 
hid could thus be brought to the light? As then this persuasion was 
fixed in their minds, that the truth was elicited, and was in a 
manner drawn out of darkness by the lot, they now inquire of Jonah 
what he had done: for they took this as allowed, that they had to 
endure the tempest on his account, and also, that he, by some 
detestable crime, had merited such a vengeance at Gods hand. We 
hence see that they cast lots, because they fully believed that they 
could not otherwise find out the crime on account of which they 
suffered, and also, that lots were directed by the hidden purpose of 
God: for how could a certain judgment be found by lot, except God 
directed it according to his own purpose, and overruled what seemed 
to be especially fortuitous? These principles then were held as 
certain in a manner by men who were heathens, - that God can draw 
out the truth, and bring it to the light, - and also, that he 
presides over lots, however fortuitous they may be thought to be. 
    This was the reason why they now asked what Jonah had done. 
"Tell us, then, why has this evil happened to us, what is thy work?" 
&c. By work here I do not mean what is wrong, but a kind of life, 
or, as they say, a manner of living. They then asked how Jonah had 
hitherto employed himself, and what sort of life he followed. For it 
afterwards follows, "Tell us, whence comest thou, what is thy 
country, and from what people art thou?" They made inquiries, no 
doubt, on each particular in due order; but Jonah here briefly 
records the questions. 
    I now come to his answer, "He said to them, I am an Hebrew; and 
I fear Jehovah the God of heaven, Who has created the sea and the 
dry land." Here Jonah seemed as yet to evade, yea, to disown his 
crime, for he professed himself to be the worshipper of the true 
God. Who would not have said, but that he wished here to escape by a 
subterfuge, as he set up his own piety to cover the crime 
before-mentioned? But all things are not here in the first verse 
related; for shortly after, it follows, that the sailors knew of 
Jonah's flight; and that he had himself told them, that he had 
disobeyed God's call and command. There is then no doubt but that 
Jonah honestly confessed his own sin, though he does not say so. But 
we know, that it is a mode of speaking common among the Hebrews to 
add in the last place what had been first said; and grammarians say, 
that it is "husteron proteron", (last first,) when anything is left 
out in its proper place and then added as an explanation. When 
therefore Jonah says that he was an Hebrew, and worshipper of the 
true God, - this tended to aggravate his fault or crime rather than 
to excuse it: for had he said only, that he was conscious of having 
done wrong in disobeying God, his crime would not have appeared so 
atrocious; but when he begins by sayings that known to him was the 
true God, the framer of heaven and earth, the God of Israel, who had 
made himself known by a law given and published, - when Jonah made 
this introduction, he thereby removed from himself all pretenses as 
to ignorance and misconception. He had been educated in the law, and 
had, from childhood, been taught who the true God was. He could not 
then have fallen through ignorance; and further, he did not, as the 
others, worship fictitious gods; he was an Israelite. As then he had 
been brought up in true religion, his sin was the more atrocious, 
inasmuch as he had fallen away from God, having despised his 
command, and, as it were, shaken off the yoke, and had become a 
    We now then perceive the reason why Jonah called himself here 
an Hebrew, and testified that he was the worshipper of the true God. 
First, by saying that he was an Hebrew, he distinguished the God of 
Abraham from the idols of the Gentiles: for the religion of the 
chosen people was well known in all places, though disapproved by 
universal consent; at the same time, the Cilicians and other 
Asiatics, and also the Grecians, and the Syrians in another quarter, 
- all these knew what the Israelites gloried in, - that the true God 
had appeared to their father Abraham, and then made with him a 
gratuitous covenant, and also had given the law by Moses; - all this 
was sufficiently known by report. Hence Jonah says now, that he was 
an Hebrew, as though he had said, that he had no concern with any 
fictitious god, but with the God of Abraham, who had formerly 
appeared to the holy Fathers, and who had also given a perpetual 
testimony of his will by Moses. We see then how emphatically he 
declared, that he was an Hebrew: secondly, he adds, I fear Jehovah 
the God of heaven. By the word fear is meant worship: for it is not 
to be taken here as often in other places, that is, in its strict 
meaning; but fear is to be understood for worship: "I am not given", 
he says, "to various superstitions, but I have been taught in true 
religion; God has made himself known to me from my childhood: I 
therefore do not worship any idol, as almost all other people, who 
invent gods for themselves; but I worship God, the creator of heaven 
and earth." He calls him the God of heaven, that is, who dwells 
alone as God in heaven. While the others thought heaven to be filled 
with a great number of gods, Jonah here sets up against them the one 
true God, as though he said, "Invent according to your own fancy 
innumerable gods, there is yet but one, who possesses the highest 
authority in heaven; for it is he who made the sea and the dry 
    We now then apprehend what Jonah meant by these words: he shows 
here that it was no wonder that God pursued him with so much 
severity; for he had not committed a slight offense, but a fatal 
sin. We now see how much Jonah had profited since the Lord had begun 
severely to deal with him: for inasmuch as he was asleep yea, and 
insensible in his sin, he would have never repented had it not been 
for this violent remedy. But when the Lord roused him by his 
severity, he then not only confessed that he was guilty, or owned 
his guilt in a formal manner, (defunctorie - as ridding one's self 
of a business, carelessly;) but also willingly testified, as we see, 
before men who were heathens, that he was the guilty man, who had 
forsaken the true God, in whose worship he had been well instructed. 
This was the fruit of true penitence, and it was also the fruit of 
the chastisement which God had inflicted on him. If then we wish God 
to approve of our repentance, let us not seek evasions, as for the 
most part is the case; nor let us extenuate our sins, but by a free 
confession testify before the whole world what we have deserved. 
    It then follows, that the men feared with great fear, and said, 
"Why hast thou done this? for they knew treat he had fled from the 
presence of Jehovah, for he had told them". And this is not 
unimportant - that the sailors feared with great fear: for Jonah 
means that they were not only moved by what he said, but also 
terrified, so that they gave to the true God his glory. We indeed 
know that superstitious men almost trifle with their own idols. They 
often entertain, it is true, strange fears, but afterwards they 
flatter themselves, and in a manner cajole their own hearts, so that 
they can pleasantly and sweetly smile at their own fancies. But 
Jonah, by saying here that they feared with great fear, means that 
they were so smitten, that they really perceived that the God of 
Israel was a righteous judge, and that he was not such as other 
nations fancied him to be, but that he was capable of affording 
dreadful examples whenever he intended to execute his vengeance. We 
hence see what Jonah means, when he speaks of great fear. At the 
same time, two things ought to be noticed, - that they feared, 
because it was easy for them to conclude from the Prophet's words, 
that the God of Israel was the only creator of heaven and earth, - 
and then, that it was a great fear, which, as I have said, must be 
considered as serious dread, since the fear which the unbelieving 
have soon vanishes. 
    But with regard to the reproof which the sailors and other 
passengers gave to Jonah, the Lord returned to him this as a reward 
which he had deserved. He had fled from the presence of God; he had 
thus, as we have said taken away from God his supreme power: for 
what becomes of God's authority when any one of us rejects his 
commands and flees away from his presence? Since Jonah then sought 
to shun God, he was now placed before men. There were present 
heathens, and even barbarians, who rebuked him for his sin, who were 
his censors and judges. And the same thing we see happening often. 
For they who do not willingly obey God and his word, afterwards 
abandon themselves to many flagrant sins, and their baseness becomes 
evident to all. As, then, they cannot bear God to be their Master 
and Teacher, they are constrained to bear innumerable censors; for 
they are branded by the reproaches of the vulgar, they are pointed 
at every where by the finger, at length they are conducted to the 
gallows, and the executioner becomes their chief teacher. The case 
was similar, as we see, with Jonah: the pilot had before reproved 
his torpor, when he said, "Do thou also call on thy God; what 
meanest thou, 0 sleeper? thou liest down here like a log of wood, 
and yet thou sees us perplexed and in extreme danger." As, then, the 
pilot first so sharply inveighed against Jonah, and then all 
reproved him with one mouth, we certainly find that he was made 
subject to the condemnation of all, because he tried to deprive God 
of his supreme power. If at any time the same thing should happen to 
us, if God should subject us to the reproaches of men when we seek 
to avoid his judgment, let us not wonder. But as Jonah here calmly 
answers, and raises no clamour, and shows no bitterness, so let 
every one of us, in the true spirit of meekness, acknowledge our own 
sins; when charged with them, were even children our condemners, or 
were even the most contemptible of the people to rise up against us, 
let us patiently bear all this; and let us know that these kinds of 
censors befall us through the providence of God. It now follows - 
Jonah 1:11,12 
Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea 
may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. 
And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; 
so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this 
great tempest [is] upon you. 
    The sailors asked counsel of Jonah; and hence it appears that 
they were touched with so much fear as not to dare to do any thing 
to him. We hence see how much they had improved almost in an 
instant, since they spared an Israelite, because they acknowledged 
that among that people the true God was worshipped, the supreme King 
of heaven and earth: for, without a doubt, it was this fear that 
restrained them from throwing Jonah immediately into the sea. For 
since it was certain that through his fault God was displeased with 
them all, why was it that they did not save themselves by such an 
expiation? That they then delayed in so great a danger, and dared 
not to lay hold instantly on Jonah, was an evident proof that they 
were restrained, as I have said, by the fear of God. 
    They therefore inquire what was to be done, "What shall we do 
to thee, that the sea may be still to us? for the sea was going", 
&c. By going Jonah means, that the sea was turbulent: for the sea is 
said to rest when it is calm, but when it is turbulent, then it is 
going, and has various movements and tossings. The sea, then, was 
going and very tempestuous. We hence see that God was not satisfied 
with the disgrace of Jonah, but he purposed to punish his offense 
still more. It was necessary that Jonah should be led to the 
punishment which he deserved, though afterwards, he was miraculously 
delivered from death, as we shall see in its proper place. 
    Jonah then answers, "Take me, and throw me into the sea, and it 
will be still to you". It may be asked whether Jonah ought to have 
of his own accord offered himself to die; for it seemed to be an 
evidence of desperation. He might, indeed, have surrendered himself 
to their will; but here he did, as it were, stimulate them, "Throw 
me into the sea," he says; "for ye cannot otherwise pacify God than 
by punishing me." He seemed like a man in despair, when he would 
thus advance to death of his own accord. But Jonah no doubt knew 
that he was doomed to punishment by God. It is uncertain whether he 
then entertained a hope of deliverance, that is, whether he 
confidently relied at this time on the grace of God. But, however it 
may have been, we may yet conclude, that he gave himself up to 
death, because he knew and was fully persuaded that he was in a 
manner summoned by the evident voice of God. And thus there is no 
doubt but that he patiently submitted to the judgment which the Lord 
had allotted to him. Take me, then, and throw me into the sea. 
    Then he adds, "The sea will be to you still". Here Jonah not 
only declares that God would be pacified by his death, because the 
lot had fallen upon him, but he also acknowledges that his death 
would suffice as an expiation, so that the tempest would subside: 
and then the reason follows - "I know, he says, that on my account 
is this great tempest come upon you". When he says that he knew 
this, he could not refer to the lot, for that knowledge was common 
to them all. But Jonah speaks here by the prophetic spirit: and he 
no doubt confirms what I have before referred to, - that the God of 
Israel was the supreme and only King of heaven and earth. This 
certainty of knowledge, then, of which Jonah speaks, must be 
referred to his own consciences and to the teaching of that religion 
in which he had been instructed. 
    And now we may learn from these words a most useful 
instruction: Jonah does not here expostulate with God, nor 
contumeliously complain that God punished him too severely, but he 
willingly bears his charged guilt and his punishment, as he did 
before when he said, "I am the worshipper of the true God." How 
could he confess the true God, whose great displeasure he was then 
experiencing? But Jonah, we see, was so subdued, that he failed not 
to ascribe to God his just honor; though death was before his eyes, 
though God's wrath was burning, we yet see, that he gave to God, as 
we have said, the honor due to him. So the same thing is repeated in 
this place, "Behold, he says, I know that on my account has this 
great tempest happened". He who takes to himself all the blame, does 
not certainly murmur against God. It is then a true confession of 
repentance, when we acknowledge God, and willingly testify before 
men that he is just, though, according to the judgment of our flesh, 
he may deal violently with us. When however we give to him the 
praise due to his justice, we then really show our penitence; for 
unless God's wrath brings us down to this humble state of mind, we 
shall be always full of bitterness; and, however silent we may be 
for a time, our heart will be still perverse and rebellious. This 
humility, then, always follows repentance, - the sinner prostrates 
himself before God, and willingly admits his own sin, and tries not 
to escape by subterfuges. 
    And it was no wonder that Jonah thus humbled himself; for we 
see that the sailors did the same: when they said that lots were to 
be cast, they added at the same time, "Come ye and let us cast lots, 
that we may know why this evil has happened to us." They did not 
accuse God, but constituted him the Judge; and thus they 
acknowledged that he inflicted a just punishment. And yet every one 
thought himself to have been innocent; for however conscience might 
have bitten them, still no one considered himself to have been 
guilty of so great a wickedness as to subject him to God's 
vengeance. Though, then, the sailors thought themselves exempt from 
any great sin, they yet did not contend with God, but allowed him to 
be their Judge. Since then they, who were so barbarous, confined 
themselves within these bounds of modesty, it was no wonder that 
Jonah, especially when he was roused and began to feel his guilt, 
and was also powerfully restrained by God's hand, - it was no wonder 
that he now confessed that he was guilty before God, and that he 
justly suffered a punishment so heavy and severe. We ought then to 
take special notice of this, - that he knew that on his account the 
storm happened or that the sea was so tempestuous against them all. 
The rest we defer until tomorrow. 
Grant, Almighty God that as thou urgest us daily to repentance and 
each of us is also stung with the consciousness of his own sins, - 0 
grant, that we may not grow stupid in our vices, nor deceive 
ourselves with empty flatteries, but that each of us may, on the 
contrary carefully examine his own life and then with one mouth and 
heart confess that we are all guilty not only of light offenses, but 
of such as deserve eternal death, and that no other relief remains 
for us but thine infinite mercy and that we may so seek to become 
partakers of that grace which has been once offered to us by thy 
Son, and is daily offered to us by his Gospel, that, relying on him 
as our Mediator, we may not cease to entertain hope even in the 
midst of thousand deaths, until we be gathered into that blessed 
life, which has been procured for us by the blood of thy only Son. 

Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 3
(continued in part 4...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-05: cvjon-03.txt