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. 
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