Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 6 
(... continue from part 5) 

Lecture Seventy-seventh 
Jonah 2:8,9 
They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. 
But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I 
will pay [that] that I have vowed. Salvation [is] of the LORD. 
    Here Jonah says first, that men miserably go astray, when they 
turn aside to vain superstitions, for they rob themselves of the 
chief good: for he calls whatever help or aid that is necessary for 
salvation, the mercy of men. The sense then is that as soon as men 
depart from God, they depart from life and salvation, and that 
nothing is retained by them, for they willfully cast aside whatever 
good that can be hoped and desired. Some elicit a contrary meaning, 
that the superstitious, when they return to a sound mind, relinquish 
their own reproach; for "chesed" sometimes means reproach. They then 
think that the way of true penitence is here described, - that when 
God restores men from their straying to the right way, he gives them 
at the same time a sound mind, so that they rid themselves from all 
their vices. This is indeed true, but it is too strained a meaning. 
Others confine this to the sailors who vowed sacrifices to God; as 
though Jonah had said, that they would soon relapse to their own 
follies, and bid adieu to God, who in his mercy had delivered them 
from shipwreck; so they explain their mercy to be God; but this is 
also too forced an explanation. 
    I doubt not, therefore, but that Jonah here sets his own 
religion in opposition to his false intentions of men; for it 
immediately follows, "But I with the voice of praise will sacrifice 
to thee". Jonah, then, having before confessed that he would be 
thankful to God, now pours contempt on all those inventions which 
men foolishly contrive for themselves, and through which they 
withdraw themselves from the only true God, and from the sincere 
worship of him. For he calls all those devices, by which men deceive 
themselves, "the vanities of falsehood;" for it is certain that they 
are mere fallacies which men invent for themselves without the 
authority of God's Word; for truth is one and simple, which God has 
revealed to us in his world. Whosoever then turns aside the least, 
either on this or on that side, seeks, as it were designedly, some 
imposture or another, by which he ruins himself. They then who 
follow such vanities, says Jonah, forsake their own mercy, that is 
they reject all happiness: for no aid and no help can be expected 
from any other quarter than from the only true God. 
    But this passage deserves a careful notice; for we hence learn 
what value to attach to all superstitions, to all those opinions of 
men, when they attempt to set up religion according to their own 
will: for Jonah calls them lying or fallacious vanities. There is 
then but one true religion, the religion which God has taught us in 
his word. We must also notice, that men in vain weary themselves 
when they follow their own inventions; for the more strenuously they 
run, the farther they recede from the right way, as Augustine has 
well observed. But Jonah here adopts a higher principle, - that God 
alone possesses in himself all fulness of blessings: whosoever then 
truly and sincerely seeks God, will find in him whatever can be 
wished for salvation. But God is not to be sought but by obedience 
and faith: whosoever then dare to give themselves loose reins, so as 
to follow this or that without the warrant of God's word, recede 
from God, and, at the same time, deprive themselves of all good 
things. The superstitious do indeed think that they gain much when 
they toil in their own inventions; but we see what the Holy Spirit 
declares by the mouth of Jonah. The Lord says the same by Jeremiah 
"They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and cisterns 
have they digged for themselves," (Jer. 2: 13.) There the Lord 
complains of his chosen people, who had gone astray after wicked 
superstitions. Hence, when men wander beyond the word of God, they 
in a manner renounce God, or say adieu to him; and thus they deprive 
themselves of all good things; for without God there is no salvation 
and no help to be found. 
    Jonah therefore rightly adds, But I, "with the voice of praise, 
will sacrifice to thee"; as though he said "While men as it were 
banish themselves from God, by giving themselves up to errors, I 
will sacrifice to thee and to thee alone, O Lord." And this ought to 
be observed by us; for as our minds are prone to falsehood and 
vanity, any new superstition will easily lay hold so us, except we 
be restrained by this bond, except we be fully persuaded, - that 
true salvation dwells in God alone, and every aid and help that can 
be expected by us: but when this conviction is really and thoroughly 
fixed in our hearts, then true religion cannot be easily lost by us: 
though Satan should on every side spread his allurements, we shall 
yet continue in the true and right worship of God. And the more 
carefully it behaves us to consider this passage, because Jonah no 
doubt meant here to strengthen himself in the right path of 
religion; for he knew that like all mortals he was prone to what was 
false; he therefore encouraged himself to persevere: and this he 
does, when he declares that whatever superstition men devise, is a 
deprivation of the chief good, even of life and salvation. It will 
hence follow, that we shall abominate every error when we are fully 
persuaded that we forsake the true God whenever we obey not his 
word, and that we at the same time cast away salvation, and every 
thing good that can be desired. Then Jonah says, I will sacrifice to 
thee with the voice of praise. 
    It must be noticed here farther, that the worship of God 
especially consists in praises, as it is said in Ps. 1: for there 
God shows that he regards as nothing all sacrifices, except they 
answer this end - to set forth the praise of his name. It was indeed 
his will that sacrifices should be offered to him under the law; but 
it was for the end just stated: for God cares not for calves and 
oxen, for goats and lambs; but his will was that he should be 
acknowledged as the Giver of all blessings. Hence he says there, 
'Sacrifice to me the sacrifice of praise.' So also Jonah now says, 
'I will offer to thee the sacrifice of praise,' and he might have 
said with still more simplicity, "Lord, I ascribe to thee my 
preserved life." But if this was the case under the shadows of the 
law, how much more ought we to attend to this, that is, - to strive 
to worship God, not in a gross manner, but spiritually, and to 
testify that our life proceeds from him, that it is in his hand, 
that we owe all things to him, and, in a word, that he is the Source 
and Author of salvation, and not only of salvation, but also of 
wisdom, of righteousness, of power? 
    And he afterwards mentions his vows, "I will pay, he says, my 
vows". We have stated elsewhere in what light we are to consider 
vows. The holy Fathers did not vow to God, as the Papists of this 
day are wont to do, who seek to pacify God by their frivolous 
practices; one abstains for a certain time from meat, another puts 
on sackcloth, another undertakes a pilgrimage, and another obtrudes 
on God some new ceremony. There was nothing of this kind in the vows 
of the holy Fathers; but a vow was the mere act of thanksgiving, or 
a testimony of gratitude: and so Jonah joins his vows here with the 
sacrifice of praise. We hence learn that they were not two different 
things; but he repeats the same thing twice. Jonah, then, had 
declared his vow to God for no other purpose but to testify his 
    And hence he adds, "To Jehovah is", or belongs, "salvation"; 
that is, to save is the prerogative of God alone; Jehovah is here in 
the dative case, for prefixed to it is "lamed". It is then to 
Jehovah that salvation belongs; the work of saving appertains to no 
other but to the Supreme God. Since it is so, we see how absurd and 
insane men are, when they transfer praises to another, as every one 
does who invents an idol for himself. As, then, there is but the one 
true God who saves, it behaves us to ascribe to him alone all our 
praises, that we may not deprive him of his right. This is the 
import of the whole. It follows - 
Jonah 2:10 
And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the 
dry [land]. 
    The deliverance of Jonah is here in few words described; but 
how attentively ought we to consider the event? It was an incredible 
miracle, that Jonah should have continued alive and safe in the 
bowels of the fish for three days. For how was it that he was not a 
thousand times smothered or drowned by waters? We know that fish 
continually draw in water: Jonah could not certainly respire while 
in the fish; and the life of man without breathing can hardly 
continue for a minute. Jonah, then, must have been preserved beyond 
the power of nature. Then how could it have been that the fish 
should cast forth Jonah on the shore, except God by his unsearchable 
power had drawn the fish there? Again, who could have supernaturally 
opened its bowels and its mouth? His coming forth, then, was in 
every way miraculous, yea, it was attended with many miracles. 
    But Jonah, that he might the more extol the infinite power of 
God, adopted the word "said". Hence we learn that nothing is hard to 
God, for he could by a nod only effect so great a thing as surpasses 
all our conceptions. If Jonah had said that he was delivered by 
God's kindness and favor, it would have been much less emphatical, 
than when he adopts a word which expresses a command, "And Jehovah 
spake, or said, to the fish". 
    But as this deliverance of Jonah is an image of the 
resurrection, this is an extraordinary passage, and worthy of being 
especially noticed; for the Holy Spirit carries our minds to that 
power by which the world was formed and is still wonderfully 
preserved. That we may then, without hesitation and doubt, be 
convinced of the restoration which God promises to us, let us 
remember that the world was by him created out of nothing by his 
word and bidding, and is still thus sustained. But if this general 
truth is not sufficient, let this history of Jonah come to our 
minds, - that God commanded a fish to cast forth Jonah: for how was 
it that Jonah escaped safe and was delivered? Even because it so 
pleased God, because the Lord commanded; and this word at this day 
retains the same efficacy. By that power then, by which he works all 
things, we also shall one day be raised up from the dead. Now 
follows - 
Chapter 3. 
Jonah 3 
And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, 
Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the 
preaching that I bid thee. 
    There is here set before us a remarkable proof of God's grace, 
- that he was pleased to bestow on Jonah his former dignity and 
honor. He was indeed unworthy of the common light, but God not only 
restored him to life, but favored him again with the office and 
honor of a prophet. This, as I have said, Jonah obtained through the 
wonderful and singular favor of God. As he had previously fled, and 
by disobedience deprived himself in a manner of all God's favor, the 
recovery of his prophetic office was certainly not obtained through 
his own merit. 
    It must, in the first place, be observed, that this phrase, 
"The word of Jehovah came the second time", ought to be noticed; for 
the word of God comes to men in different ways. God indeed addresses 
each of us individually; but he spoke to his Prophets in a special 
manner; for he designed them to be witnesses and heralds of his 
will. Hence, whenever God sets a man in some peculiar office, his 
word is said to come to him: as the word of God is addressed to 
magistrates because they are commanded to exercise the power 
committed to them; so also the word of God ever came to the 
Prophets, because it was not lawful for them to thrust in themselves 
without being called. 
    The command now follows, "Arise, go to Nineveh, to that great 
city, and preach there the preaching which I command thee." God 
again repeats what we have observed at the be ginning, - that 
Nineveh was a great city, that Jonah might provide himself with an 
invincible courage of mind, and come there well prepared: for it 
often happens, that many boldly undertake an office, but soon fail, 
because difficulties had not been sufficiently foreseen by them. 
Hence, when men find more hardships than they thought of at the 
beginning, they nearly faint, at least they despond. The Lord, 
therefore, expressly foretold Jonah how difficult would be his 
employment; as though he said, "I send thee, a man unknown, and of 
no rank, and a stranger, to denounce ruin on men, not a few in 
number, but on a vast multitude, and to carry on a contest with the 
noblest city, and so populous, that it may seem to be a region of 
    We now then understand why this character of the city was 
added; it was, that Jonah might gird up himself for the contest, 
that he might not afterwards fail in the middle of his course. This 
fear indeed frightened him at the beginning, so that he shunned the 
call of God; but he is not now moved in any degree by the greatness 
of the city, but resolutely follows where the Lord leads. We hence 
see, that faith, when once it gains the ascendancy in our hearts, 
surmounts all obstacles and despises all the greatness of the world; 
for it is immediately added - 
Jonah 3:3 
So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the 
LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' 
    Jonah, by saying that he went to Nineveh according to God's 
command, proves in the first place, as I have said, how great was 
the power and energy of his faith; for though Jonah had considered 
the greatness and pride of the city, he seems to have forgotten that 
he was an obscure man, alone, and unarmed; but he had laid hold on 
weapons capable of destroying all the power of the world, for he 
knew that he was sent from above. His conviction was, that God was 
on his side; and he knew that God had called him. Hence then it was, 
that with a high and intrepid mind he looked down on all the 
splendor of the city Nineveh. Hence John does not without reason 
say, that the victory, by which we overcome the world, proceeds from 
faith, (1 John 5: 4.) Jonah also proves, at the same time, how much 
he had improved under God's scourges. He had been severely 
chastised; but we know that most of the unbelieving grow hardened 
under the rod, and vomit forth their rage against God; Jonah, on the 
contrary, shows here that chastisement had been useful to him for he 
was subdued and led to obey God. 
    "He went, then, according to the command of Jehovah"; that is, 
nothing else did he regard but to render obedience to God, and to 
suffer himself to be wholly ruled by him. We hence learn how well 
God provides for us and for our salvation, when he corrects our 
perverseness; though sharp may be our chastisements, yet as this 
benefit follows we know that nothing is better for us than to be 
humbled under God's hand, as David says in Ps. 119. This change 
then, "he went", is to us a remarkable example; and this is what the 
Lord has ever in view whenever he roughly handles us; for he cannot 
otherwise subdue either the haughtiness or the rebellion, or the 
slowness and indolence of our flesh. We must now also take notice 
how Jonah attained so much strength; it was, because he had found by 
experience in the bowels of the fish, that even amidst thousand 
deaths there is enough in God's protection to secure our safety. As 
then he had by experience known that the issues of death are at the 
will and in the hand of God, he is not now touched with fear so as 
to shun God's command, even were the whole world to rise up against 
him. Hence the more any one has found the kindness of God, the more 
courageously he ought to proceed in the discharge of his office, and 
confidently to commit to God his life and his safety, and resolutely 
to surmount all the perils of the world. 
    He then says, "that Nineveh was a great city, even a journey of 
three days". Some toil much in untying a knot, which at last is no 
knot at all; for it seems to them strange that one city should be in 
compass about thirty leagues according to our measure. When they 
conceive this as being impossible, then they invent some means to 
avoid the difficulty, - that no one could visit the whole city so as 
to go through all the alleys, all the streets, and all the public 
places, except in three days; nay, they add, that this is not to be 
understood as though one ran or quickly passed through the city, but 
as though he walked leisurely and made a stay in public places: but 
these are mere puerilities. And if we believe profane writers, 
Nineveh must have been a great city, as Jonah declares here: for 
they say that its area was about four hundred stadia; and we know 
what space four hundred stadia include. A stadium is one hundred and 
twenty-five paces; hence eight stadia make a mile. Now if any one 
will count he will find that there are twelve miles in a hundred 
stadia; there will then be in four hundred stadia forty-eight miles. 
This account well agrees with the testimony of Jonah. And then 
Diodorus and Herodotus say that there were 1500 towers around the 
city. Since it was so, it could not certainly be a smaller city than 
what it is represented here by Jonah. Though these things may seem 
to exceed what is commonly believed, writers have not yet reported 
them without some foundation: for however false are found to be many 
things in Diodorus and Herodotus, yet as to Babylon and Nineveh they 
could not have dared to say what was untrue; for the first was then 
standing and known to many; and the ruins of the other were still 
existing, though it had been for some time destroyed. We shall 
farther see about the end of the book that this city was large, and 
so populous, that there were there 120,000 children. If any one 
receives not this testimony, let him feed on the lies of the devil. 
But since there were so many children there, what else can we say 
but that the circumference of the city was very great? 
    But this seems inconsistent with what immediately follows; for 
Jonah says, that when he entered the city, he performed a journey in 
the city for one day and preached. The answer is this, - that as 
soon as he entered the city, and began to proclaim the command of 
God, some conversions immediately followed: so Jonah does not mean 
that he went through the city in one day. He then in the first day 
converted a part of the city; he afterwards continued to exhort each 
one to repentance: thus the conversion of the whole city followed; 
but not in the second or the third day, as it may be easily 
gathered. Let us now proceed to what remains - 
Jonah 3:4 
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he 
cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. 
    Jonah here relates what had briefly been said before, - that he 
went to Nineveh according to the command of God. He shows then how 
faithfully he executed the duty enjoined on him, and thus obeyed the 
word of God. Hence Jonah came and began to enter the city and to 
preach on the first day. This promptness proves clearly how 
tractable Jonah had become, and how much he endeavored to obey God 
in discharging his office: for had there been still a timidity in 
his heart, he would have inspected the city, as careful and timid 
men are wont to do, who inquire what is the condition of the place, 
what are the dispositions of the people, and which is the easiest 
access to them, and what is the best way, and where is the least 
danger. If Jonah then had been still entangled by carnal thoughts he 
would have waited two or three days, and then have began to exercise 
his office as a Prophet. This he did not, but entered the city and I 
cried. We now then see how prompt he was in his obedience, who had 
before attempted to pass over the sea: he now takes hardly a moment 
to breathe, but he begins at the very entrance to testify that he 
had come in obedience to God. 
    We hence see with what emphasis these words ought to be read. 
The narrative is indeed very simple; Jonah uses here no rhetorical 
ornaments, nor does he set forth his entrance with any fine display 
of words. Jonah, he says, entered into the city. He who is not well 
versed in Scripture might say that this is frigid: but when we weigh 
the circumstances, we see that this simple way of speaking possesses 
more force and power than all the displays of orators. 
    He entered then the city "a day's journey, and cried and said", 
&c. By saying that he cried, he again proves the courage of his 
soul; for he did not creep in privately, as men are wont to do, 
advancing cautiously when dangers are apprehended. He says that he 
cried: then this freedom shows that Jonah was divested of all fear, 
and endued with such boldness of spirit, that he raised himself up 
above all the hindrances of the world. And we ought, in the 
meantime, to remember how disliked must have been his message: for 
he did not gently lead the Ninevites to God, but threatened them 
with destruction, and seemed to have given them no hope of pardon. 
Jonah might have thought that his voice, as one says, would have to 
return to his own throat, "Can I denounce ruin on this populous 
city, without being instantly crushed? Will not the first man that 
meets me stone me to death?" Thus might Jonah have thought within 
himself. No fear was, however, able to prevent him from doing his 
duty as a faithful servant, for he had been evidently strengthened 
by the Lord. But it will be better to join the following verse - 
Jonah 3:5 
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and 
put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of 
    One thing, escaped me in the third verse: Jonah said that 
Nineveh was a city "great to God". This form of speech is common in 
Scripture: for the Hebrews call that Divine, whatever it be, that is 
superior or excellent: so they say, the cedars of God, the mountains 
of God, the fields of God, when they are superior in height or in 
any other respect. Hence a city is called the city of God, when it 
is beyond others renowned. I wished briefly to allude to this 
subject, because some, with too much refinement and even puerility 
says that it was called the city of God, because it was the object 
of God's care, and in which he intended to exhibit a remarkable 
instance of conversion. But, as I have said, this is to be taken as 
the usual mode of speaking in similar cases. 
    I now return to the text: Jonah says, that the citizens of 
Nineveh believed God. We hence gather that the preaching of Jonah 
was not so concise but that he introduced his discourse by declaring 
that he was God's Prophet, and that he did not proclaim these 
commands without authority; and we also gather that Jonah so 
denounced ruin, that at the same time he showed God to be the 
avenger of sins that he reproved the Ninevites, and, as it were, 
summoned them to God's tribunal, making known to them their guilt; 
for had he spoken only of punishment, it could not certainly have 
been otherwise, but that the Ninevites must have rebelled furiously 
against God; but by showing to them their guilt, he led them to 
acknowledge that the threatened punishment was just, and thus he 
prepared them for humility and penitence. Both these things may be 
collected from this expression of Jonah, that the Ninevites believed 
God; for were they not persuaded that the command came from heaven, 
what was their faith? Let us then know, that Jonah had so spoken of 
his vocation, that the Ninevites felt assured that he was a 
celestial herald: hence was their faith: and further, the Ninevites 
would never have so believed as to put on sackcloth, had they not 
been reminded of their sins. There is, therefore, no doubt but that 
Jonah, while crying against Nineveh, at the same time made known how 
wickedly the men lived, and how grievous were their offenses against 
God. Hence then it was that they put on sackcloth, and suppliantly 
fled to God's mercy: they understood that they were deservedly 
summoned to judgment on account of their wicked lives. 
    But it may be asked, how came the Ninevites to believe God, as 
no hope of salvation was given them? for there can be no faith 
without an acquaintance with the paternal kindness of God; whosoever 
regards God as angry with him must necessarily despair. Since then 
Jonah gave them no knowledge of God's mercy, he must have greatly 
terrified the Ninevites, and not have called them to faith. The 
answer is, that the expression is to be taken as including a part 
for the whole; for there is no perfect faith when men, being called 
to repentance, do suppliantly humble themselves before God; but yet 
it is a part of faith; for the Apostle says, in Heb. 11, that Noah 
through faith feared; he deduces the fear which Noah entertained on 
account of the oracular word he received, from faith, showing 
thereby that it was faith in part, and pointing out the source from 
which it proceeded. At the same time, the mind of the holy Patriarch 
must have been moved by other things besides threatening, when he 
built an ark for himself, as the means of safety. We may thus, by 
taking a part for the whole, explain this, place, - that the 
Ninevites believed God; for as they knew that God required the 
deserved punishment, they submitted to him, and, at the same time, 
solicited pardon: but the Ninevites, no doubt, derived from the 
words of Jonah something more than mere terror: for had they only 
apprehended this - that they were guilty before God, and were justly 
summoned to punishment, they would have been confounded and stunned 
with dread, and could never have been encouraged to seek 
forgiveness. Inasmuch then as they suppliantly prostrated themselves 
before God, they must certainly have conceived some hope of grace. 
They were not, therefore, so touched with penitence and the fear of 
God, but that they had some knowledge of divine grace: thus they 
believed God; for though they were aware that they were most worthy 
of death, they yet despaired not, but retook themselves to prayer. 
Since then we see that the Ninevites sought this, remedy, we must 
feel assured that they derived more advantage from the preaching of 
Jonah than the mere knowledge that they were guilty before God: this 
ought certainly to be understood. But we shall speak more on the 
subject in our next lecture. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as there is so much timidity in us, that 
none of us is prepared to follow where thou mayest call us, we may 
be so instructed by the example of thy servant Jonah, as to obey 
thee in every thing, and that though Satan and the world may oppose 
us with all their terrors, we may yet be strengthened by a reliance 
on thy power and protection, which thou hast promised to us, and may 
go on in the course of our vocation, and never turn aside, but thus 
contend against all the hindrances of this world, until we reach 
that celestial kingdom, where we shall enjoy thee and Christ thy 
only begotten Son, who is our strength and our salvation: and may 
thy Spirit quicken us, and strengthen all our faculties, that we may 
obey thee, and that at length thy name may be glorified in us, and 
that we may finally become partakers of that glory to which thou 
invites us through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 6 
(continued in part 7...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-05: cvjon-06.txt