Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 9 (... continue from part 8) Lecture Eightieth. Jonah 4:5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. It may be here doubted whether Jonah had waited till the forty days had passed, and whether that time had arrived; for if we say that he went out of the city before the fortieth day, another question arises, how could he have known what would be? for we have not yet found that he had been informed by any oracular communication. But the words which we have noticed intimate that it was then known by the event itself, that God had spared the city from destruction; for in the last lecture it was said, that God had repented of the evil he had declared and had not done it. It hence appears that Jonah had not gone out of the city until the forty days had passed. But there comes again another question, what need had he to sit near the city, for it was evident enough that the purpose of God had changed, or at least that the sentence Jonah had pronounced was changed? he ought not then to have seated himself near the city as though he was doubtful. But I am inclined to adopt the conjecture, that Jonah went out after the fortieth day, for the words seem to countenance it. With regard to the question, why he yet doubted the event, when time seemed to have proved it, the answer may be readily given: though indeed the forty days had passed, yet Jonah stood as it were perplexed, because he could not as yet feel assured that what he had before proclaimed according to God's command would be without its effect. I therefore doubt not but that Jonah was held perplexed by this thought, "Thou hast declared nothing rashly; how can it then be, that what God wished to be proclaimed by his own command and in his own name, should be now in vain, with no corresponding effect?" Since then Jonah had respect to God's command, he could not immediately extricate himself from his doubts. This then was the cause why he sat waiting: it was, because he thought that though God's vengeance was suspended, his preaching would not yet be in vain, but that the ruin of the city was at hand. This therefore was the reason why he still waited after the prefixed time, as though the event was still doubtful. Now that this may be more evident, let us bear in mind that the purpose of God was hidden, so that Jonah understood not all the parts of his vocation. God, then, when he threatened ruin to the Ninevites, designed to speak conditionally: for what could have been the benefit of the word, unless this condition was added, - that the Ninevites, if they repented, should be saved? There would otherwise have been no need of a Prophet; the Lord might have executed the judgment which the Ninevites deserved, had he not intended to regard their salvation. If any one objects by saying that a preacher was sent to render them inexcusable, - this would have been unusual; for God had executed all his other judgments without any previous denunciation, I mean, with regard to heathen nations: it was the peculiar privilege of the Church that the Prophets ever denounced the punishments which were at hand; but to other nations God made it known that he was their Judge, though he did not send Prophets to warn them. There was then included a condition, with regard to God's purpose, when he commanded the Ninevites to be terrified by so express a declaration. But Jonah was, so to speak, too literal a teacher; for he did not include what he ought to have done, - that there was room for repentance, and that the city would be saved, if the Ninevites repented of their wickedness. Since then Jonah had learned only one half of his office, it is no wonder that his mind was still in doubt, and could not feel assured as to the issue; for he had nothing but the event, God had not yet made known to him what he would do. Let us now proceed - Jonah 4:6-8 6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made [it] to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. 7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. 8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, [It is] better for me to die than to live. Before I proceed to treat on the contents of these verses, I will say a few things on the word "kikayon"; for there were formerly some disputes respecting this word. Some render it, a gourd; others think it to have been a cucumber. Free conjectures are commonly made respecting obscure and unknown things. However, the first rendering has been the received one: and Augustine says, that a tumult arose in some church, when the Bishop rend the new interpretation of Jerome, who said that it was the ivy. Those men were certainly thoughtless and foolish who were so offended for a matter so trifling; for they ought to have more carefully inquired which version was the best and most correct. And Augustine did not act so very wisely in this affair; for superstition so possessed him, that he was unwilling that the received version of the Old Testament should be changed. He indeed willingly allowed Jerome to translate the New Testament from the Greek original; but he would not have the Old Testament to be touched; for he entertained a suspicion of the Jews, - that as they were the most inveterate enemies of the faith, they would have tried to falsify the Law and the Prophets. As then Augustine had this suspicion, he preferred retaining the common version. And Jerome relates that he was traduced at Rome, because he had rendered it ivy instead of gourd; but he answered Augustine in a very severe and almost an angry manner; and he inveighed in high displeasure against some Cornelius and another by the name of Asinius Polio, who had accused him at Rome as one guilty of sacrilege, because he had changed this word. I cannot allege in excuse, that they peevishly rejected what was probable. But as to the thing itself, I would rather retain in this place the word gourd, or cucumber, than to cause any disturbance by a thing of no moment. Jerome himself confesses, that it was not ivy; for he says, that it was a kind of a shrub, and that it grows everywhere in Syria; he says that it was a shrub supported by its own stem, which is not the case with ivy; for the ivy, except it cleaves to a wall or to a tree, creeps on the ground. It could not then have been the ivy; and he ought not to have so translated it. He excuses himself and says, that if he had put down the Hebrew word, many would have dreamt it to have been a beast or a serpent. He therefore wished to put down something that was known. But he might also have caused many doubts: "Why! ivy is said to have ascended over the head of Jonah, and to have afforded him a shade; how could this have been?" Now I wonder why Jerome says in one place that the shrub was called in his time Cicion in the Syrian language; and he says in another place in his Commentaries, that it was called in the same language Elkeroa; which we see to be wholly different from the word "kikayon". Now when he answered Augustine I doubt not but that he dissembled; for he knew that Augustine did not understand Hebrew: he therefore trifled with him as with a child, because he was ignorant. It seems to have been a new gloss, I know not what, invented at the time for his own convenience: I doubt not but that he at the moment formed the word, as there is some affinity between "kikayon" and cicion. However it may have been, whether it was a gourd or a shrub, it is not necessary to dispute much how it could have grown so soon into so great a size. Jerome says, that it was a shrub with many leaves, and that it grew to the size of a vine. Be it so; but this shrub grows not in one day, nor in two, nor in three days. It must have therefore been something extraordinary. Neither the ivy, nor the gourd, nor any shrub, nor any tree, could have grown so quickly as to afford a cover to the head of Jonah: nor did this shrub alone give shelter to Jonah's head; for it is more probable, that it was derived also from the booth which he had made for himself. Jonah then not only sheltered himself under the shrub, but had the booth as an additional cover, when he was not sufficiently defended from the heat of the sun. Hence God added this shrub to the shade afforded by the booth: for in those regions, as we know, the sun is very hot; and further, it was, as we shall see, an extraordinary heat. I wished to say thus much of the word ivy; and I have spoken more than I intended; but as there have been contentions formerly on the subject, I wished to notice what may be satisfactory even to curious readers. I come now to what is contained in this passage. Jonah tells us that a gourds or a cucumber, or an ivy, was prepared by the Lord. There is no doubt but that this shrub grew in a manner unusual, that it might be a cover to the booth of Jonah. So I view the passage. But God, we know, approaches nature, whenever he does anything beyond what nature is: this is not indeed always the case; but we generally find that God so works, as that he exceeds the course of nature, and yet from nature he does not wholly depart. For when in the desert he intended to collect together a great quantity of quails, that he might give meat to the people, he raised wind from the east, (Num. 11: 31.) How often the winds blew without bringing such an abundance of birds? It was therefore a miracle: but yet God did not wholly cast aside the assistance of nature; hence he made use of the wind; and yet the wind could not of itself bring these birds. So also in this place, God had chosen, I have no doubt, a herb, which soon ascended to a great height, and yet far surpassed the usual course of nature. In this sense, then, it is that God is said to have prepared the "kikayon" and to have made it to ascend over Jonah's head, that it might be for a shade to his head and free him from his distress. But it is said afterwards that a worm was prepared. We see here also, that what seemed to happen by chance was yet directed by the hidden providence of God. Should any one say, that what is here narrated does not commonly happen, but what once happened; to this I answer, - that though God then designed to exhibit a wonderful example, worthy of being remembered, it is yet ever true that the gnawing even of worms are directed by the counsel of God, so that neither a herb nor a tree withers independently of his purpose. The same truth is declared by Christ when he says, that without the Father's appointment the sparrows fall not on the ground, (Matth. 10: 29.) Thus much as to the worm. It is now added, "that when the sun arose the day following, a wind was prepared". We here learn the same thing, - that winds do not of themselves rise, or by chance, but are stirred up by a Divine power. There may indeed be found causes in nature why now the air is tranquil, and then it is disturbed by winds; but God's purpose regulates all these intermediate causes; so that this is ever true - that nature is not some blind impulse, but a law settled by the will of God. God then ever regulates by his own counsel and hand whatever happens. The only difference is, that his works which flow in the usual course have the name of nature; and they are miracles and retain not the name of nature, when God changes their wonted course; but yet they all proceed from God as their author. Therefore with regard to this wind, we must understand that it was not usual or common; and yet that winds are daily no less stirred up by God's providence than this wind of which Jonah speaks. But God wrought then, so to speak, beyond the usual course of nature, though he daily preserves the regular order of nature itself. Let us now see why this whole narrative has been set down. Jonah confesses that he rejoiced with great joy, when he was sheltered from the extreme heat of the sun: but when the shrub withered, he was touched with so much grief that he wished to die. There is nothing superfluous here; for Jonah shows, with regard to his joy and his grief, how tender he was and how susceptible of both. Jonah here confesses his own sensibility, first by saying that he greatly rejoiced, and then by saying that he was so much grieved for the withered shrub, that through weariness of life he instantly desired death. There is then here an ingenuous confession of weakness; for Jonah in a very simple manner has mentioned both his joy and his grief. But he has distinctly expressed the vehemence of both feelings, that we might know that he was led away by his strong emotions, so that in the least things he was either inflamed with anger, or elated with joy beyond any bounds. This then was the case with him in his grief as well as in his joy. But he does not say that he prayed as before; but he adopts the word "sha'al", which signifies to desire or wish. He desired, it is said, for his soul that he might die. It is hence probable that Jonah was so overwhelmed with grief that he did not lift up his heart to God; and yet we see that he was not neglected by God: for it immediately follows - Jonah 4:9 And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, [even] unto death. We see here that God had concealed himself for a time, but did not yet forsake his servant. He often looks on us from behind; that is, though we think that he has forgotten us, he yet observes how we go on, that he may in due time afford help: and hence it is that he recovers and raises up the falling, before we perceive that he is near. This was his manner with Jonah, when he began to address him: for, as we have said, grief had so oppressed the mind of the holy Prophets that it could no longer be raised up to God. Hence he desired to die; and still God did not forsake him. This was no common example of the invaluable mercy of God, with which he favors his own people, even when they precipitate themselves into ruin: such was the case with Jonah, who rushed headlong into a state of despair, and cared not for any remedy. God then did not wait until he was sought, but anticipated miserable Jonah, who was now seeking destruction to himself He says, "Doest thou well that thou art thus angry for the gourd?" As though he had said, that he was too violently disturbed for a matter so trifling. And we must ever bear that in mind, of which we spoke more fully yesterday, - that God did not merely reprove his servant, because he did not patiently bear the withering of the gourd - what then? but because he became angry; for in anger there is ever an excess. Since then Jonah was thus grieved beyond measure, and without any restraint, it was justly condemned by God as a fault. I will now not repeat what I said yesterday respecting the enhancing of the crime, inasmuch as Jonah not only murmured on account of the withering of the shrub, but also disregarded himself, and boiled over with displeasure beyond all due limits. And the answer of Jonah confirms this, "I do well, he says, in being angry even to death". We here see how obstinately the holy Prophet repelled the admonition of God, by which he ought to have been restored to a right mind. He was not ignorant that God spoke. Why then was he not smitten with shame? Why was he not moved by the authority of the speaker, so as immediately to repress the fierceness of his mind? But thus it commonly happens, when the minds of men are once blinded by some wrong feeling; though the Lord may thunder and fulminate from heaven, they will not hear, at least they will not cease violently to resist, as Jonah does here. Since then we find such an example of perverseness in this holy man, how much more ought every one of us to fear? Let us hence learn to repress in time our feelings, and instantly at the beginning to bridle them, lest if they should burst forth to a greater extent, we become at last altogether obstinate. I do well, he says, in being angry even to death. God charged his servant Jonah with the vice of anger; Jonah now indulges himself in his own madness, so that he says that desperation is not a vice: "I do not sin," he says, "though I am despairing; though I abandon myself to death as with mad fury, I do not yet sin." Who could have thought that the holy Prophet could have been brought into this state of mind? But let us be reminded, as I have already said, by this remarkable example, how furious and unreasonable are the passions of our flesh. There is, therefore, nothing better than to restrain them, before they gather more strength than they ought; for when any one feeds his vices, this obstinacy and hardness always follow. But to be angry, or to be in a fume even to death, is to feel such a weariness of life, as to give ourselves up of our own accord to death. It was not indeed the design of Jonah to lay violent hands on himself; but though he abstained from violence, he yet, as to the purpose of his mind, procured death to himself; for he submitted not to God, but was carried away by a blind impulse, so that he wished to throw away his life. It now follows - Jonah 4:10,11 Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and [also] much cattle? Here God explains the design he had in suddenly raising up the gourd, and then in causing it to perish or wither through the gnawing of a worm; it was to teach Jonah that misconduct towards the Ninevites was very inhuman. Though we find that the holy Prophet had become a prey to dreadful feelings, yet God, by this exhibition, does in a manner remind him of his folly; for, under the representation of a gourd, he shows how unkindly he desired the destruction of so populous a city as Nineveh. Yet this comparison may appear ill suited for the purpose. Jonah felt sorry for the gourd, but he only regarded himself: hence he was displeased, because the relief with which he was pleased was taken away from him. As then this inconvenience had driven Jonah to anger, the similitude may not seem appropriate when God thus reasons, "Thou wouldest spare the gourd, should I not spare this great city?" Nay, but he was not concerned for the gourd itself: if all the gourds of the world withered, he would not have been touched with any grief; but as he felt the greatest danger being scorched by the extreme heat of the sun, it was on this account that he was angry. To this I answer, - that though Jonah consulted his own advantage, yet this similitude is most suitable: for God preserves men for the purpose for which he has designed them. Jonah grieved for the withering of the gourd, because he was deprived of its shade: and God does not create men in vain; it is then no wonder that he wishes them to be saved. We hence see that Jonah was not unsuitably taught by this representation, how inhumanely he conducted himself towards the Ninevites. He was certainly but one individual; since then he made such an account of himself and the gourd only, how was it that he cast aside all care for so great and so populous a city? Ought not this to have come to his mind, that it was no wonder that God, the Creator and Father, had a care for so many thousands of men? Though indeed the Ninevites were alienated from God, yet as they were men, God, as he is the Father of the whole human race, acknowledged them as his own, at least to such an extent as to give them the common light of day, and other blessings of earthly life. We now then understand the import of this comparison: "Thou wouldest spare," he says, "the gourd, and should I not spare this great city?" It hence appears how frivolous is the gloss of Jerome, - that Jonah was not angry on account of the deliverance of the city, but because he saw that his own nation would, through its means, be destroyed: for God repeats again that Jonah's feeling was quite different, - that he bore with indignity the deliverance of the city from ruin. And less to be endured it is still, that Jerome excuses Jonah by saying that he nobly and courageously answered God, that he had not sinned in being angry even to death. That man dared, without any shame or discernment, to invent a pretence that he might excuse so disgraceful an obstinacy. But it is enough for us to understand the real meaning of the Prophet. Here then he shows, according to God's representation, that his cruelty was justly condemned for having anxiously desired the destruction of a populous city. But we ought to notice all the parts of the similitudes when he says, "Thou wouldest have spared", &c. There is an emphasis in the pronoun "'attah"; for God compares himself with Jonah; "Who art thou? Doubtless a mortal man is not so inclined to mercy as I am. But thou takest to thyself this right - to desire to spare the gourd, even thou who art made of clay. Now this gourd is not thy work, thou hast not laboured for it, it has not proceeded from thy culture or toil; and further, thou hast not raised it up, and further still, it was the daughter of a night, and in one night it perished; it was an evanescent shrub or herb. If then thou regardest the nature of the gourd, if thou regardest thyself, and joinest together all the other circumstances, thou wilt find no reason for thy hot displeasure. But should not I, who am God, in whose hand are all things, whose prerogative and whose constant practice it is mercifully to bear with men - should not I spare them, though they were worthy of destruction? and should not I spare a great city? The matter here is not concerning a little plant, but a large number of people. And, in the last place, it is a city, in which there are a hundred and twenty thousand men who know not how to distinguish between their right hand and the left." We now then see how emphatical are all the parts of this comparison. And though God's design was to reprove the foolish and sinful grief of Jonah, we may yet further collect a general instruction by reasoning in this manner, "We feel for one another, and so nature inclines us, and yet we are wicked and cruel. If then men are inclined to mercy through some hidden impulse of nature, what may not be hoped from the inconceivable goodness of God, who is the Creator of the whole world, and the Father of us all? and will not he, who is the fountain of all goodness and mercy spare us?" Now as to the number, Jonah mentions here twelve times ten thousand men, and that is as we have said, one hundred and twenty thousand. God shows here how paternally he cares for mankind. Every one of us is cherished by him with singular care: but yet he records here a large number, that it might be more manifest that he so much regards mankind that he will not inconsiderately fulminate against any one nation. And what he adds, that they could not distinguish between the right hand and the left, is to be referred, I have no doubt, to their age; and this opinion has been almost universally received. Some one, however has expressed a fear lest the city should be made too large by allowing such a number of men: he has, therefore, promiscuously included the old, as well as those of middle age and infants. He says that these could not distinguish between the right hand and the left, because they had not been taught in the school of God, nor understood the difference between right and wrong; for the unbelieving, as we know, went astray in their errors. But this view is too strained; and besides, there is no reason for this comment; for that city, we know, was not only like some great cities, many of which are at this day in Europe, but it surpassed most of the principal cities at this day. We know that in Paris there are more than four hundred thousand souls: the same is the case with other cities. I therefore reject this comment, as though Jonah was here speaking of all the Ninevites. But God, on the contrary, intended to show, that though there was the justest reason for destroying entirely the whole city, there were yet other reasons which justified the suspension of so dreadful a vengeance; for many infants were there who had not, by their own transgressions, deserved such a destruction. God then shows here to Jonah that he had been carried away by his own merciless zeal. Though his zeal, as it has been said, arose from a good principle, yet Jonah was influenced by a feeling far too vehement. This God proved, by sparing so many infants hitherto innocent. And to infants he adds the brute animals. Oxen were certainly superior to shrubs. If Jonah justly grieved for one withering shrub, it was far more deplorable and cruel for so many innocent animals to perish. We hence see how apposite are all the parts of this similitude, to make Jonah to loathe his folly, and to be ashamed of it; for he had attempted to frustrate the secret purpose of God, and in a manner to overrule it by his own will, so that the Ninevites might not be spared, who yet labored by true repentance to anticipate the divine judgment. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast, in various ways, testified, and daily continues to testify, how dear and precious to thee are mankind, and as we enjoy daily so many and so remarkable proofs of thy goodness and favor, - O grant, that we may learn to rely wholly on thy goodness, many examples of which thou settest before us, and which thou wouldest have us continually to experience, that we may not only pass through our earthly course, but also confidently aspire to the hope of that blessed and celestial life which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen. End of the commentaries on Jonah. Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part 9 (... Conclusion, Calvin's Commentary on Jonah) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-05: cvjon-09.txt .