Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 5
(... continue from part 4) 
Chapter 2. 
Jonah 2:1,2 
Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly, 
And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he 
heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, [and] thou heardest my 
    When Jonah says that he "prayed from the bowels of the fish", 
he shows first with what courage of mind he was endued. He had then 
put on a new heart; for when he was at liberty he thought that he 
could in a manner escape from God, he became a fugitive from the 
Lord: but now while inclosed within narrow bounds, he begins to 
pray, and of his own accord sets himself in God's presence. 
    This is a change worthy of being noticed: and hence we may 
learn how much it profits us to be drawn back often as it were by 
cords, or to be held tied up with fetters because when we are free 
we go astray here and there beyond all limits. Jonah, when he was at 
liberty, became, as we have seen, wanton; but now finding himself 
restrained by the mighty hand of God, he receives a new mind, and 
prays from the bowels of the fish. But how was it that he directed 
his petitions then to God, by whose hand he saw that he was so 
heavily pressed? For God most rigidly handled him; Jonah was in a 
manner doomed to eternal ruin; the bowels of the fish, as we shall 
hereafter see, were indeed to him as it were hell or the grave. But 
in this state of despair Jonah even gathered courage, and was able 
to retake himself directly to God. It was a wonderful and almost 
incredible example of faith. Let us then learn to weigh well what is 
here said; for when the Lord heavily afflicts us, it is then a 
legitimate and seasonable time for prayer. But we know that the 
greater part despond, and do not usually offer their prayers freely 
to God, except their minds be in a calm state; and yet God then 
especially invites us to himself when we are reduced to extremities. 
Let this, then, which Jonah declares of himself, come to our minds, 
- that he cried to God from hell itself: and, at the same time, he 
assures us that his prayer proceeded from true faith; for he does 
not simply say that he prayed to Jehovah, but he adds that he was 
his God; and he speaks with a serious and deeply-reflective mind. 
Though Jonah then was not only like one dead, but also on the 
confines of perdition, he yet believed that God would be merciful if 
he fled to him. We hence see that Jonah prayed not at random, as 
hypocrites are wont to take God's name in their mouths when they are 
in distress, but he prayed in earnest; for he was persuaded that God 
would be propitious to him. 
    But we must remember that his prayer was not composed in the 
words which are here related; but Jonah, while in the bowels of the 
fish, dwelt on these thoughts in his mind. Hence he relates in this 
song how he thought and felt; and we shall see that he was then in a 
state of distraction, as our minds must necessarily be tossed here 
and there by temptations. For the servants of God do not gain the 
victory without great struggle. We must fight, and indeed 
strenuously, that we may conquer. Jonah then in this song shows that 
he was agitated with great trouble and hard contests: yet this 
conviction was firmly fixed in his heart, - that God was to be 
sought, and would not be sought in vain, as he is ever ready to 
bring help to his people whenever they cry to him. 
    Then he says, "I cried, when I had trouble, to Jehovah, and he 
answered me". Jonah no doubt relates now, after having come forth 
from the bowels of the fish, what had happened to him, and he gives 
thanks to the Lord. This verse then contains two parts, - that Jonah 
in his trouble fled to God, - and the latter part contains 
thanksgiving for having been miraculously delivered beyond what 
flesh could have thought. "I cried, he says, in my distress, to 
Jehovah; I cried out from the bowels of hell, thou hast heard my 
voice". Jonah, as we shall hereafter see, directed his prayers to 
God not without great struggle; he contended with many difficulties; 
but however great the impediments in his way, he still persevered 
and ceased not from praying. He now tells us that he had not prayed 
in vain; and, that he might amplify the grace of God, he says, from 
the bowels of the grave. He mentioned distress in the first clause; 
but here he more clearly expresses how remarkable and extraordinary 
had been the kindness of God, that he came forth safe from the 
bowels of the fish, which were like the bowels of the grave. 
"She'ol", derived from corruption, is called the grave by the 
Hebrews, and the Latin translator has almost everywhere rendered it 
hell, (infernum;) and "she'ol" is also sometimes taken for hell, 
that is, the state of the reprobate, because they know that they are 
condemned by God: it is, however, taken more frequently for the 
grave; and I am disposed to retain this sense, - that the fish was 
like the grave. But he means that he was so shut up in the grave, 
that there was no escape open to him. 
    What are the bowels of the grave? Even the inside or the recess 
of the grave itself. When Jonah was in this state, he says, that he 
was heard by the Lord. It may be proper to repeat again what I have 
already slightly touched, - that Jonah was not so oppressed, though 
under the heaviest trial, but that his petitions came forth to God. 
He prayed as it were from hell, and not simply prayed, for he, at 
the same time, sets forth his vehemence and ardor by saying, that he 
cried and cried aloud. Distress, no doubt, extorted from Jonah these 
urgent entreaties. However this might have been, he did not howl, as 
the unbelieving are wont to do, who feel their own evils and 
bitterly complain; and yet they pour forth vain howlings. Jonah here 
shows himself to be different from them by saying, that he cried and 
cried aloud to God. It now follows - 
Jonah 2:3 
For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and 
the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed 
over me. 
    In this verse are set forth his difficulties: for Jonah, for 
the sake of amplifying, refers to his condition. It was a great 
thing that he cried to God from the bowels of the fish; but it was 
far more difficult for him to raise up his mind in prayer, when he 
knew or thought God to be angry with him: for had he been thrown 
into extreme evils, he might yet call upon God; but as it came to 
his mind that all the evil he suffered was inflicted by God, because 
he tried to shun his call, how was it possible for him to penetrate 
into heaven when such an obstacle stood in his way? We hence see the 
design of these words, "But thou hadst cast me into the gulf, into 
the heart of the sea; the flood surrounded me, all thy billows and 
waves passed over me. 
    In short, Jonah shows here what dreadful temptations presented 
themselves to him while he was endeavoring to offer up prayers. It 
came first to his mind that God was his most inveterate enemy. For 
Jonah did not then think of the sailors and the rest who had cast 
him into the sea; but his mind was fixed on God: this is the reason 
why he says, "THOU, Lord, hadst cast me into the deep, into the 
heart of the sea"; and then, "THY billows, THY weaves." He does not 
here regard the nature of the sea; but he bestows, as I have already 
said, all his thoughts on God, and acknowledges that he had to do 
with him; as though he said, "Thou Lord, in pursuing me, drivest me 
away; but to thee do I come: thou showest by dreadful proofs that 
thou art offended with me, but yet I seek thee; so far is it that 
these terrors drive me to a distance from thee, that now, being 
subdued as it were by thy goads, I come willingly to thee; for 
nowhere else is there for me any hope of deliverance." We now then 
see how much avails the contrast, when Jonah sets the terrible 
punishment which he endured in opposition to his prayer. Let us now 
proceed - 
Jonah 2:4 
Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again 
toward thy holy temple. 
    In the first clause of this verse Jonah confirms again what I 
have said, - that when he sought to pray, not only the door was 
closed against him, but there were mountains, as it were, 
intervening, so that he could not breathe a prayer to God: for he 
did not so much think of the state in which he was; nay, but he 
chiefly considered his own case, how he had provoked the wrath of 
God. Hence he says, "I have said, I am cast away from the sight of 
thine eyes". Some give this frigid exposition, that he had been only 
expelled from his own country, that he might not behold the temple. 
But I have no doubt but that Jonah tells us here that he suffered 
extreme agonies, as though every hope of pardon had been cut off 
from him: "What! shall I yet hope that God will be propitious? It is 
not to be hoped." This then is the casting away of which he speaks: 
for it is said that God casts us away, when he allows us no access 
to him. Hence Jonah thought that he was wholly alienated from God. 
Were any to object and say, that then his faith must have been 
extinct; the obvious answer is, - that in the struggle of faith 
there are internal conflicts; one thought is suggested, and then 
another of an opposite character meets it; there would indeed be no 
trial of our faith, except there were such internal conflicts; for 
when, with appeased minds, we can feel assured that God is 
propitious to us, what is the trial of faith? But when the flesh 
tells us that God is opposed to us, and that there is no more hope 
of pardon, faith at length sets up its shield, and repels this onset 
of temptation, and entertains hope of pardon: whenever God for a 
time appears implacable, then faith indeed is tried. Such then was 
the condition of Jonah; for, according to the judgment of the flesh, 
he thought that he was utterly cast away by God, so that he came to 
him in vain. Jonah, then, having not yet put off flesh and blood, 
could not immediately lay hold on the grace of God, but difficulties 
met him in his course. 
    The latter clause is differently explained by interpreters. 
Some take it negatively, "I shall no more look towards the temple of 
thy holiness:" but the words admit not of this explanation. "'Ach" 
means in Hebrew, truly, nevertheless; and it means also, certainly; 
and sometimes it is taken dubitatively, perhaps. The greater part of 
expounders render the clause thus, "But I shall see the temple of 
thy holiness;" as though Jonah here reproved his own distrust, which 
he had just expressed, as the case is with the faithful, who 
immediately check themselves, when they are tempted to entertain any 
doubt: "What! dost thou then cast away hope, when yet God will be 
reconciled to thee if thou wilt come to him?" Hence interpreters 
think that it is a sort of correction, as though Jonah here changed 
his mind, and retracted what he had previously taken up, as a false 
principle derived from the judgment of the flesh. He had said then 
that he had been cast away from the presence of the Lord; but now, 
according to these expositors, he repels that temptation, "But I 
shall see thy holy temple; though I seem now to be rejected by thee, 
thou wilt at last receive me into favor." We may, however, explain 
this clause, consistently with the former, in this way, At least, 
or, but, I would again see, &c., as an expression of a wish. The 
future then may be taken for the optative mood, as we know that the 
Hebrews are wont thus to use the future tense, either when they pray 
or express a wish. This meaning then best agrees with the passage, 
that Jonah as yet doubtingly prays, At least, or, but, I would 
again, O Lord, see the temple of thy holiness. But since the former 
explanation which I have mentioned is probable, I do not contend for 
this. However this may be, we find that Jonah did not wholly 
despair, though the judgment of the flesh would drive him to 
despair; for he immediately turned his address to God. For they who 
murmur against God, on the contrary, speak in the third person, 
turning themselves, as it were, away from him: but Jonah here sets 
God before his eyes, I have been cast away, he says, from the sight 
of thine eyes. He does not remonstrate here with God, but shows that 
he was seeking God still, though he thought that he was cast far 
    Then he adds, "I would at least see again the temple of thy 
holiness". And by speaking of the temple, he no doubt set the temple 
before him as an encouragement to his faith. As then he had been 
cast away, he gathers everything that might avail to raise up and 
confirm his hope. He had indeed been circumcised, he had been a 
worshipper of God from his childhood, he had been educated in the 
Law, he had exercised himself in offering sacrifices: under the name 
of temple he now includes briefly all these things. We hence see 
that he thus encouraged himself to entertain good hope in his 
extreme necessity. And this is a useful admonition; for when every 
access to God seems closed up against us, nothing is more useful 
than to recall to mind, that he has adopted us from our very 
infancy, that he has also testified his favor by many tokens, 
especially that he has called us by his Gospel into a fellowship 
with his only-begotten Son, who is life and salvation; and then, 
that he has confirmed his favor both by Baptism and the Supper. 
When, therefore, these things come to our minds, we may be able by 
faith to break through all impediments. Let us go on - 
Jonah 2:5,6 
The waters compassed me about, [even] to the soul: the depth closed 
me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 
I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars 
[was] about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from 
corruption, O LORD my God. 
    Here in many words Jonah relates how many things had happened 
to him, which were calculated to overwhelm his mind with terror and 
to drive him far from God, and to take away every desire for prayer. 
But we must ever bear in mind what we have already stated, - that he 
had to do with God: and this ought to be well considered by us. The 
case was the same with David, when he says in Ps. 39, 'Thou hast yet 
done it;' for, after having complained of his enemies, he turned his 
mind to God: "What then do I? what do I gain by these complaints? 
for men alone do not vex me; thou, God, he says, hast done this." So 
it was with Jonah; he ever set before him the wrath of God, for he 
knew that such a calamity had not happened to him but on account of 
his sins. 
    He therefore says that he was by waters beset, and then, that 
he was surrounded by the deep; but at length he adds, that God made 
his life to ascend, &c. All these circumstances tend to show that 
Jonah could not have raised up his mind to God except through an 
extraordinary miracle, as his life was in so many ways oppressed. 
When he says that he was "beset with waters even to the soul", I 
understand it to have been to the peril of his life; for other 
explanations seem frigid and strained. And the Hebrews says that to 
be pressed to the soul, is to be in danger of one's life; as the 
Latins, meaning the same thing, say that the heart, or the inside, 
or the bowels, are wounded. So also in this place the same thing is 
meant, 'The waters beset me even to the soul,' and then, 'the abyss 
surrounds me.' Some render "suf", sedge; others sea-weed; others 
bulrush: but the sense amounts to the same thing. No doubt "suf" is 
a species of sedge; and some think that the Red Sea was thus called, 
because it is full of sedges or bulrushes. They think also that 
bulrushes are thus called, because they soon putrefy. But what Jonah 
means is certain and that is, that weed enveloped his head, or that 
weed grew around his head: but to refer this to the head of the 
fish, as some do, is improper: Jonah speaks metaphorically when he 
says that he was entangled in the sedge, inasmuch as there is no 
hope when any one is rolled in the sedge at the bottom of the sea. 
How, indeed, can he escape from drowning who is thus held, as it 
were, tied up? It is then to be understood metaphorically; for Jonah 
meant that he was so sunk that he could not swim, except through the 
ineffable power of God. 
    According to the same sense he says, "I descended to the roots 
of the mountains". But he speaks of promontories, which were nigh 
the sea; as though he had said, that he was not cast into the midst 
of the sea, but that he had so sunk as to be fixed in the deep under 
the roots of mountains. All these things have the same designs which 
was to show that no deliverance could be hoped for, except God 
stretched forth his hand from heaven, and indeed in a manner new and 
    He says that the earth with its bars was around him. He means 
by this kind of speaking, that he was so shut up, as if the whole 
earth had been like a door. We know what sort of bars are those of 
the earth, when we ascribe bars to it: for when any door is fastened 
with bolts, we know how small a portion it is. But when we suppose 
the earth itself to be like a door, what kind of things must the 
bolts be? It is the same thing then as though Jonah had said, that 
he was so hindered from the vital light, as if the earth had been 
set against him to prevent his coming forth to behold the sun: the 
earth, then, was set against me, and that for ever. 
    He afterwards comes to thanksgiving, "And thou Jehovah, my God, 
hast made my life to ascend from the grave". Jonah, after having 
given a long description, for the purpose of showing that he was not 
once put to death, but that he had been overwhelmed with many and 
various deaths, now adds his gratitude to the Lord for having 
delivered him, Thou, he says, hast made my life to ascend from the 
grave, O Jehovah. He again confirms what I have once said, - that he 
did not pour forth empty prayers, but that he prayed with an earnest 
feeling, and in faith: for he would not have called him his God, 
except he was persuaded of his paternal love, so as to be able to 
expect from him a certain salvation. Thou, then, Jehovah, my God, he 
says; he does not say, "Thou hast delivered me," but, "Thou hast 
brought forth my life from the grave." Then Jonah, brought to life 
again, testifies here that he was not only delivered by God's aid 
from the greatest danger, but that he had, by a certain kind of 
resurrection, been raised from the dead. This is the meaning of this 
mode of speaking, when he says that his life had been brought forth 
from the grave, or from corruption itself. It follows - 
Jonah 2:7 
When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer 
came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. 
    Here Jonah comprehends in one verse what he had previously 
said, - that he had been distressed with the heaviest troubles, but 
that he had not yet been so cast down in his mind, as that he had no 
prospect of God's favor to encourage him to pray. He indeed first 
confesses that he had suffered some kind of fainting, and that he 
had been harassed by anxious and perplexing thoughts, so as not to 
be able by his own efforts to disengage himself. 
    As to the word "'ataf", it means in Hebrew to hide, to cover; 
but in Niphal and Hithpael (in which conjugation it is found here) 
it signifies to fail: but its former meaning might still be suitably 
retained here; then it would be, 'My soul hid or rolled up itself,' 
as it is in Ps. 102, 'The prayer of the afflicted, when he rolled up 
himself in his distress.' They who render it, "he multiplied 
prayers," have no reason to support them. I therefore doubt not but 
that Jonah here means, either that he had been overcome by a swoon, 
or that he had been so perplexed as not to be able without a violent 
struggle to raise up his mind to God. However it may have been, he 
intended by this word to express the anxiety of his mind. While then 
we are tossed about by divers thoughts, and remain, as it were, 
bound up in a hopeless condition, then our soul may be said to roll 
or to fold up itself within us. When therefore the soul rolls up 
itself, all the thoughts of man in perplexity recoil on himself. We 
may indeed seek to disburden ourselves while we toss about various 
purposes, but whatever we strive to turn away from us, soon comes 
back on our own head; thus our soul recoils upon us. We now perceive 
what Jonah meant by this clause, "When my soul infolded itself", or 
failed within me, "I remembered, he says, Jehovah". We hence learn 
that Jonah became not a conqueror without the greatest difficulties, 
not until his soul, as we have said, had fainted: this is one thing. 
Then we learn, also, that he was not so oppressed with distresses 
but that he at length sought God by prayer. Jonah therefore retained 
this truth, that God was to be sought, however severely and sharply 
he treated him for a time; for the remembering, of which he speaks, 
proceeded from faith. The ungodly also remember Jehovah, but they 
dread him, for they look on him as a judge; and whenever a mention 
is made of God, they expect nothing but destruction: but Jonah 
applied the remembrance of God to another purpose, even as a solace 
to ease his cares and his anxieties. 
    For it immediate]y follows, "that his prayer had penetrated 
unto God, or entered before him." We then see that Jonah so 
remembered his God, that by faith he knew that he would be 
propitious to him; and hence was his disposition to pray. But by 
saying that his prayer entered into his temple, he no doubt alludes 
to a custom under the law; for the Jews were wont to turn themselves 
towards the temple whenever they prayed: nor was this a 
superstitious ceremony; for we know that they were instructed in the 
doctrine which invited them to the sanctuary and the ark of the 
covenant. Since then this was the custom under the law, Jonah says 
that his prayer entered into the temple of God; for that was a 
visible symbol, through which the Jews might understand that God was 
near to them; not that they by a false imagination bound God to 
external signs, but because they knew that these helps Had not in 
vain been given to them. So then Jonah not only remembered his God, 
but called also to mind the signs and symbols in which he had 
exercised his faith, as we have just said through the whole course 
of his life; for they who view him as referring to heaven, depart 
wholly from what the Prophet meant. We indeed know that the temple 
sometimes means heaven; but this sense suits not this place. Then 
Jonah meant that though he was far away from the temple, God was yet 
near to him; for he had not ceased to pray to that God who had 
revealed himself by the law which he gave, and who had expressed his 
will to be worshipped at Jerusalem, and also had been pleased to 
appoint the ark as the symbol of his presence, that the Jews might, 
with an assured faith, call upon him, and that they might not doubt 
but that he dwelt in the midst of them, inasmuch as he had there his 
visible habitation. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast once given us such an 
evidence of thy infinite power in thy servant Jonah, whose mind, 
when he was almost sunk down into hell, thou hadst yet raised up to 
thyself, and hadst so supported with firm constancy, that he ceased 
not to pray and to call on thee, - O grant, that in the trials by 
which we must be daily exercised, we may raise upwards our minds to 
thee, and never cease to think that thou art near us; and that when 
the signs of thy wrath appear, and when our sins thrust themselves 
before our eyes, to drive us to despair, may we still constantly 
struggle, and never surrender the hope of thy mercy, until having 
finished all our contests, we may at length freely and fully give 
thanks to thee, and praise thy infinite goodness, such as we daily 
experience that being conducted through continual trials, we may at 
last come into that blessed rest which is laid up for us in heaven, 
through Christ one Lord. Amen. 

Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 5
(continued in part 6....)

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