John Calvin, Commentary on Jonah  
Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets by John Calvin.  
Now first translated from the original Latin, by the Rev. John Owen,  
vicar of Thrussington, Leicestershire.  
Volume Third. Jonah, Micah, Nahum  
WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1950, Michigan.  
Printed in the United States of America.  
Printed in the United States of America  
Translator's Preface  
Preface by the Author  
Chapter 1.  
Chapter 2.  
Chapter 3.  
Chapter 4.  
Translator's Preface  
Contained in this Volume, as in the last, are the Writings of three  
Prophets: and they are explained and elucidated in the Author's  
peculiar manner; every sentence being dissected and examined, and  
the meaning ascertained according to the context, without the  
introduction of any extraneous matters. The main object throughout  
seems to have been to exhibit the genuine sense and design of the  
Sacred Writers.  
    The Book of Jonah is a plain narrative, and no part is supposed  
to have been written in the style of poetry except the prayer in the  
second chapter.  
    Some things in this Book have furnished Infidels with  
objections, and have induced some learned men, bearing at least the  
name of believers, to indulge in inventions. To satiety Infidels or  
themselves, they have endeavored to prove, that this Book is either  
an historical allegory, or a parable, or a dream, or a moral  
fiction, or something else still more absurd and extravagant. But  
all these are mere vagrant conjectures, wholly groundless, rendered  
plausible only by a show of learning, and calculated to do tenfold  
more mischief than all the sneers and cavils of Infidels. The Bible  
is a Book of Miracles as well as of Prophecies; and an attempt to  
divest it of its Miracles is an attempt to divest it of one of its  
distinctive properties. Its Prophecies, which are continued  
Miracles, capable in many instances of ocular demonstration, attest  
those Miracles which were confined to certain times and occasions,  
as these were also in some cases performed for the purpose of  
gaining credit at the time to what was predicted. But there are no  
Miracles recorded in Scripture, which involve as much exercise of  
divine power as the fulfillment of Prophecies, though less visible  
in its operation.  
    The fact that Miracles of some sort form a part of the records  
of false religions and of superstitious times, is no reason for  
disbelieving the Miracles of Scripture. Almost all errors are  
imitations of truth, and superstition is man's substitute for true  
Religion. The existence of a false coin is no evidence that there is  
no genuine coin, but, on the contrary, proves that it exists.  
Independently of the general character of the Miracles recorded in  
Scripture, what has been just stated, their connection with  
indubitable Prophecies is an argument in their favor, which neither  
heathen nor Christian superstition is capable of adducing. Both must  
stand or fall together. If the truth of Prophecies be allowed, then  
the reality of Miracles cannot with any reason be denied. They are  
so connected together, that they cannot possibly be separated.  
    Learned men, being driven back, as it were, by manifest and  
palpable absurdities, have sometimes resiliated beyond the limits of  
reason and truth; being disgusted, and justly so, by Heathen and  
Popish Miracles, they have often been imperceptibly led to doubt all  
Miracles, as when we are frequently deceived, we are tempted to  
conclude that there is no such a thing as honesty in the world. And  
hence has arisen the attempt to obliterate Miracles from Scripture;  
and various hypotheses have been suggested, and supported in some  
instances by no small measure of ingenuity and learning: but it is  
an attempt which ought in the strongest manner to be deprecated and  
condemned as being nothing less than a sacrilege, the robbing of  
God's Word of one of its peculiar characteristics, even of that by  
which God has visibly proved his supreme power; for by reversing and  
changing those laws of nature, which at the creation he had fixed  
and established, he has given a manifest demonstration of his  
Omnipotence and Sovereignty. He has made it known to the world by  
Miracles, that He who has constructed the wonderful mechanism of  
nature, can alter, change, and reconstruct it whenever He pleases.  
     "The opinion," says Dr Henderson "which has been most  
generally entertained is that which accords to the Book a strictly  
historical character; in other words which affirms that it is a  
relation of facts which actually took place in the life and  
experience of the Prophet. Nor can I view it in any other light  
while I hold fast an enlightened belief in the divine authority of  
the Books composing the Canon of the Old Testament, and place  
implicit reliance on the authority of the Son of God. Into the fixed  
and definite character of the Canon I need not here enter, having  
fully discussed the subject elsewhere; but assuming that all the  
Books contained in it possess the divine sanction, the test to which  
I would bring the question, and by which, in my opinion, our  
decision must be mainly formed, is the unqualified manner in which  
the personal existence, miraculous fate, and public ministry of  
Jonah are spoken of by our Lord. He not only explicitly recognizes  
the prophetic office of the son of Amittai, ("Jona tou profetou",)  
just as he does that of Elisha, Isaiah, and Daniel, but represents  
his being in the belly of the fish as a real miracle, ("to  
semeion",) grounds upon it, as a fact, the certainty of the future  
analogous fact in his own history; assumes the actual execution of  
the commission of the Prophet at Nineveh; positively asserting that  
the inhabitants of that city repented at his preaching; and  
concludes by declaring respecting himself, "Behold! a greater than  
Jonah is here," (Matth. 12: 39-41; 16: 4.) Now is it conceivable  
that all these historical circumstances would have been placed in  
this prominent light, if the person of the Prophet, and the brief  
details of his narrative, had been purely fictitious? On the same  
principle that the historical bearing of the reference in this case  
is rejected, may not that to the Queen of Sheba, which follows in  
the connection, be set aside, and the portion in the First Book of  
Kings, in which the circumstances of her visit to Solomon are  
recorded, be converted into an allegory, a moral fiction, or a  
popular tradition? The two cases, as adduced by our Lord, are  
altogether parallel; and the same may be affirmed of the allusion to  
Tyre and Simon, and that to Sodom in the preceding chapter."  
    This reasoning is conclusive on the subject, and cannot be  
fairly evaded. Our learned author adds another consideration: -  
    "Certainly in no other instance in which our Savior adduces  
passages out of the Old Testament for the purpose of illustrating or  
confirming his doctrines, can it be shown that any point or  
circumstance is thus employed which is not historically true. He  
uniformly quotes and reasons upon them as containing accounts of  
universally admitted facts, stamps them as such with the high  
sanction of his own authority, and transmits them for the confident  
belief of mankind in all future ages."  
    That the preservation of Jonah in the bowels of the fish was an  
impossibility according to the course and nature of things, as they  
now exist, is quite evident: but it was no greater reversion of  
nature than the parting of the Red Sea, or the dividing of the  
streams of Jordan, or the sustentation of life in Moses during his  
stay on the Mount for forty days. The laws of nature were equally  
suspended in all these instances; and to deny to Him, who made these  
laws to be what they are, the power of changing them, is an  
inconsistency which no reason can justify.  
    The next Prophet is Micah;; and his Book is especially  
interesting on account of the prediction it contains of the  
birth-place of our Savior, and also of the establishment of his  
Kingdom, and the spread of his Gospel. The prophecy recorded in the  
fourth chapter is one of the most splendid in all the Writings of  
the Prophets. We find the same in the second chapter of Isaiah; but  
it is fuller and given more at large by Micah. The idea of borrowing  
seems not compatible with the fact, that each declares that what  
they delivered was conveyed to them by a vision: and there is  
nothing unreasonable in the thought, that the Divine Spirit  
communicated the very same things, to a certain extent, to two  
individual Prophets; and the fact that more, on the same subject,  
was revealed to one than to the other, seems to favor the notion,  
that the whole was communicated to each separately.  
    It is a subject worthy of being noticed, - that it was not the  
practice of the Prophets to refer to the testimony of one another or  
even expressly to the commandments included in the Law of Moses.  
Isaiah indeed once said, "To the Law and to the Testimony." Though  
the sins which generally prevailed were distinctly condemned in the  
Law, especially the idolatry which was so common, they yet never  
quoted the commandments, and brought them to bear on the reigning  
corruptions. This may appear singular: but the way to account for it  
seems to be this, - that the Prophets' authority was the same with  
that of Moses: Their communications proceeded from the same Author;  
and there was no necessity to confirm what they said by referring to  
what the Law sanctioned. The same God, who gave the Law by Moses,  
sent his messages to the people by his Prophets. And hence arises a  
strong, though, as it were, an incidental, proof of the Divine  
character of what they have written.  
    The style of Micah much resembles, in some respects, the style  
of Hosea. His transitions are sometimes abrupt, and the sudden  
change of persons is not infrequent. Lowth in his Prelections  
describes him as "being brief in words, sententious, concise,  
pointed, sometimes bordering on the obscurity of Hosea, - in many  
parts lofty and fervid, and highly poetical." Marckius says, that  
"his diction is elegant, not very unlike that of Isaiah."  
Henderson's account is more extensive, but on the whole just, as  
well as discriminating, - "His style is concise, yet perspicuous,  
nervous, vehement, and energetic; and, in many instances, equals  
that of Isaiah in boldness and sublimity. He is rich and beautiful  
in the varied use of tropical language, indulges in paranomasias,  
preserves a pure and classical diction, is regular in the formation  
of parallelisms, and exhibits a roundness in the construction of his  
periods, which is not surpassed by his more celebrated contemporary.  
Both in administering threatenings and communicating promises he  
evinces great tenderness, and shows that his mind was deeply  
affected by the subjects of which he treats. In his appeals he is  
lofty and energetic. His description of the character of Jehovah,  
chap. 7: 18-20, is unrivaled by any contained elsewhere in  
    "Some of his prophecies," says Newcome, "are distinct and  
illustrious ones, as 2: 12, 13; 3: 12; 4: 1-4, 10; 5: 2, 3, 4; 6:  
13; 7: 8-10. We may justly admire the beauty and elegance of his  
manner, - 2: 12, 13; 4: 1, 2, 3, and particularly the two first  
lines of verse 4; his animation, - 1: 5, lines 3, 4; 2: 7, 10, line  
1; 4: 9; his strength of expression, - 1: 6, 8; 2: 3, lines 3, 4; 3:  
2, 3, 12; 7: 1, 2, 4, line 1, 19, line 2; his pathos, - 1: 16; 2: 4;  
his sublimity, - 1: 2, 3, 4; 3: 6, 12; 4: 12, lines 3, 13; 5: 8; 6:  
1, 9-16; 7: 16, 17."  
    The three first chapters are throughout comminatory, in which  
judgments are denounced on both nations, the Jews and the  
Israelites, and in which are also enumerated the various evils which  
prevailed, idolatry as the chief, and its accompanying sins -  
injustice, oppression, and cruelty. - The fourth and the fifth  
chapters are of an opposite character, being prophetic of blessings,  
appertaining more especially to the Kingdom of Christ, while at the  
same time the previous sufferings and trials of the Church are  
graphically described. - In the sixth chapter the people are  
summoned to a trial; the Lord had a controversy with them. Being  
proved guilty of ingratitude, ignorance, injustice, and idolatry,  
they are threatened with awful judgments. - In the seventh and last  
chapter the Prophet bewails the paucity of good men, deplores the  
faithlessness and perfidy of the people, turns to the Lord,  
entertains hope, foretells the restoration of the Church and the  
fall of its enemies, and ends with a rapturous exclamation, having  
been evidently favored with a glimpse of the rich and abundant  
mercies which God had in reserve for his people.  
    The Prophet Nahum has but one subject - the Fall of Nineveh -  
and he keeps to his subject without diverging to any other. In  
mentioning the sins of Nineveh, the first thing he states is a  
wicked design against the Lord, referring no doubt to the purpose  
formed of entirely destroying the Kingdom of Judah. In describing  
afterwards the vices of the people of Nineveh, he especially  
mentions their rapaciousness, deceit, injustice, oppression, and  
barbarous cruelty, and compares Nineveh to the den of lions.  
    The special design of the Prophet in the description he gives,  
at the beginning of the first chapter, of the character of the  
Almighty, was to delineate him as He is to his enemies, as the God  
of vengeance, who vindicates his own honor, and defends his own  
cause against profane and rebellious opponents. He only makes a  
transient allusion to his goodness towards his people. The other  
subject was that which was suitable to his purpose. He was going to  
denounce irrevocable judgment on God's adversaries; he therefore  
described Him as the God of vengeance: and the extremely awful  
character here presented to us by one who spoke, as he was inspired  
from above, ought to be well weighed and seriously considered,  
especially by all those who are not become God's friends, but still  
continue his enemies.  
    The second chapter contains a vivid description of the fierce  
assailants of Nineveh, of their success, of the plunder of the city,  
and of the captivity of its people, with an exultation over the den  
of lions. To prevent, as it were, any hope of escape, the Prophet,  
in the third chapter, gives, according to Calvin, and many other  
commentators, a graphic view of the ransack of the city, as though  
he were an eye-witness; then he states the reasons for this dreadful  
overthrow, reminds the Ninevites of what had happened to another  
powerful and well fortified city, shows the uselessness of  
resistance, and declares the doom of the city to be irrevocable and  
irremediable. How wonderfully exact has been the fulfillment of this  
Prophecy! Who can contemplate it without acknowledging that He who  
spoke by the Prophets is the supreme, who rules and overrules all  
the events of time?  
    The style of Nahum has been admired by all critics. Lowth says  
that "no one of the minor Prophets seems to equal the sublimity, the  
vehemence and the boldness of Nahum: besides, his Prophecy is a  
complete and finished poem; his exordium is magnificent, and indeed  
majestic; the preparation for the destruction of Nineveh, and the  
description of its ruin, and its greatness, are expressed in most  
vivid colors, and possess admirable perspicuity and fulness."  
    This volume contains a very interesting portion of The Minor  
Prophets. The History of Jonah is in many respects very instructive.  
The Prophecies of Micah are some of the most remarkable in the Old  
Testament. Nahum exhibits in language the most awful the vengeance  
of the Almighty against the enemies of his Church. And readers will  
find that our Commentator continues to exercise his talents in that  
capacity with his wonted vigor, penetration, and judgment. An  
impartial consideration of his labors cannot fail to impress our  
minds with veneration for his character, and especially with  
gratitude to the only Giver of all good for having so richly endued  
his servant, and for having employed him in services so conducive to  
the interest of true religion. Such was the respect in which he was  
held by Bishop Horsley, whose learning and acuteness were not of an  
ordinary kind, that in quoting his comment on a portion of the  
eighteenth chapter of Isaiah, he calls him "The venerable Calvin."  
                                        J. O.  
The Commentaries of John Calvin on the Prophet Jonah 
Preface by the Author 
At what time Jonah discharged the office of a Teacher, we may in 
some measure learn from 2 Kings 14; for it is certain that he is the 
person there mentioned in Sacred history, as he is expressly called 
the son of Amittai. It is said there that Jeroboam, the son of 
Joash, had enlarged the borders of his kingdom, from the entrance 
into Hamath to the sea of the desert, according to the word of 
Jonah, the servant of God, the son of Amittai, who came from Gath. 
It was then at that time, or shortly before, that Jonah prophesied. 
And it is certain that he was not only sent to the Ninevites, but 
that he also was counted a Teacher among the people of Israel. And 
the beginning also of his Book seems to intimate what I have said, - 
that he was an ordinary Prophet among the people of Israel, for it 
begins with a copulative, And the Word of the Lord came to Jonah. 
Though the Holy Spirit does in other places speak sometimes in this 
manner, yet I doubt not but that Jonah intimates that he was 
recalled from the discharge of his ordinary office, and had a new 
charge committed to him, - to denounce, as we shall see, on the 
Ninevites a near destruction. 
    We must now then understand, that Jonah taught among the people 
of Israel, but that he received a command to go to the Ninevites. Of 
this command we shall take notice in its proper place; but it is 
right that we should know that he was not then only made a Prophet, 
when he was given as a Teacher to the Ninevites, but that he was 
sent to the Ninevites after having for some time employed his labors 
for God and his Church. 
    This Book is partly historical and partly didactic. For Jonah 
relates what happened to him after he had attempted to avoid the 
call of God, and what was the issue of his prophecy: this is one 
thing. But at the same time he mentions the kind of doctrine which 
he was commanded to proclaim, and he also writes a Song of 
Thanksgiving. This last part contains doctrines and is not a mere 
    I come now to the words.
Calvin, Commentary on Jonah, Part: Introductory 
(continued in Part 1 ...) 
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