Jonah 1:13 Bible Commentary

John Calvin’s Bible Commentary

Chapter 1, Verse(s) 1-2345678-1011-12 | 13-14 | 15-1617 |

This verse shows that the sailors and the rest were more inclined to mercy, when they saw that the holy Prophet was willing to undergo the punishment which he had deserved. When therefore, he confessed that he was guilty, and refused not to be punished, they became anxious to spare his life, though they were heathens, and also for the most part barbarians: and as each of them could not but be frightened with his immediate danger, the wonder is increased, that they had such regard for the life of one who alone was in fault, and who had now freely confessed this. But the Lord so turned their hearts, that they now saw more clearly how grievous a sin it was to flee away from the call of God, and not to yield obedience, as we have before observed, to his command. Many think that this is a light offense, and readily indulge themselves in it: but it is not in the power of men to weigh sins; the balance is deceitful when men estimate their sins according to their own judgment. Let us then learn to ascribe to God his own honor, -- that he alone is Judge, and is far above us, and can alone determine how grievous or how slight any sin is. But common sense, except when men willfully deceive themselves by vain flatteries, clearly teaches this, -- that it is no light offense when we evade the command of God; for, as we have stated, men do thus take away from God his supreme authority; and what is left to God, when he governs not the creatures whom he has formed, and whom he sustains by his power? The Lord, then, designed to show here, that his displeasure could not be otherwise pacified than by drowning Jonah in the sea; though, as we shall presently see, he had something greater in view. But, in the meantime, this is worthy of being observed, -- that the Lord intended to make Jonah an example, that all may now know that he is not to be trifled with, but that he ought to be obeyed as soon as he commands any thing.

The word which the Prophet uses has been variously explained by interpreters. rtx, chetar, is properly, to dig; so that some think it to be a metaphorical expression, as rowers seem to dig the sea; and this sense is not unsuitable. Others carry the metaphor still higher, -- that the sailors searched out or sought means by which they might drive the ship to land. But the other metaphor, as being less remote, is more to be approved. The Latins call it to toil, (moliri) when the rowers not only apply gently their oars, but when they make a greater effort. The sailors, then, toiled to bring back the ship 1. But for what purpose? To spare the life of the man who had already confessed that he was guilty before God, and that the storm, which threatened them all with a shipwreck, had arisen through his fault: but he says that they could not, for the sea was tempestuous, as we have already seen in our yesterday's lecture.

I come now to the second verse. They cried, he says, to Jehovah and said, We beseech 2, Jehovah, let us not perish, we pray, on account of the life of this man, and give not, that is, lay not, innocent blood upon us. 3 The Prophet now expresses more fully why the sailors toiled so much to return to port, or to reach some shore, -- they were already persuaded that Jonah was a worshipper of the true God, and not only this, but that he was a Prophet, inasmuch as he had told them, as we have seen, that he had fled from the presence of God, because he feared to execute the command which we have noticed. It was therefore pious (reverentia) fear that restrained the sailors, knowing, as they did, that Jonah was the servant of the true God. They, at the same time, saw, that Jonah was already standing for his sin before God's tribunal, and that punishment was demanded. This they saw; but yet they wished to preserve his life.

Now this place shows, that there is by nature implanted in all an abhorrence of cruelty; for however brutal and sanguinary many men may be, they yet cannot divest themselves of this feeling, -- that the effusion of human blood is hateful. Many, at the same time, harden themselves; but they apply a searing iron: they cannot shake off horror, nay, they feel that they are detested by God and by men, when they thus shed innocent blood. Hence it was that the sailors, who in other respects hardly retained a drop of humanity, fled as suppliants to God, when the case was about the death of man; and they said, hwhy hna, ane Ieve, 'We beseech Jehovah:' and the expression is repeated; which shows that the sailors earnestly prayed that the Lord would not impute this as a sin to them.

We hence see that though these men had never known the doctrine of the law, they were yet so taught by nature that they knew that the blood of man is dear and precious in the sight of God. And as to us, we ought not only to imitate these sailors, but to go far beyond them: for not only ought the law of nature to prevail among us, but also the law of God; for we hear what God had formerly pronounced with his own mouth,

'Whosoever sheddeth man's blood, shed shall his blood be,' (Genesis 9:6.)

And we know also the reason why God undertakes to protect the life of men, and that is, because they have been created in his image. Whosoever then uses violence against the life of man, destroys, as far as he can the image of the eternal God. Since it is so, ought not violence and cruelty to be regarded by us with double horror? We ought also to learn another thing from this doctrine: God proves by this remarkable testimony what paternal feeling he manifests towards us by taking our life under his own guardianship and protection; and he even proves that we are really the objects of his care, inasmuch as he will execute punishment and vengeance when any one unjustly injures us. We then see that this doctrine on the one side restrains us, that we may not attempt anything against the lives of our brethren; and, on the other side, it assures us of the paternal love of God, so that being allured by his kindness we may learn to deliver up ourselves wholly to his protection.

I now come to the last clause of the verse, For thou, Jehovah, hast done as it has pleased thee. The sailors clearly prove here that they did not willingly shed innocent blood. How then can these two things agree, -- that the blood was innocent, and that they were blameless? They adopted this excuse, -- that they obeyed God's decree, that they did nothing rashly or according to their own inclinations, but followed what the Lord had prescribed: though, indeed, God had not spoken, yet what he required was really evident; for as God demanded an expiation by the death of Jonah, so he designed to continue the tempest until he was thrown into the deep. These things the sailors now put forward. But we must notice, that they did not cast the blame on God, as blasphemers are wont to do, who, while they seek to exempt themselves from blame, find fault with God, or at least put him in their own place: "Why then" they say, "does he sit as a judge to condemn us for that of which he is himself the author, since he has so decreed?" At this day there are many fanatics who thus speak, who obliterate all the difference between good and evil, as if lust were to them the law. They at the same time make a covert of God's providence. Jonah wished not that such a thing should be thought of the sailors; but as they well understood that God governed the world justly, though his counsels be secret and cannot be comprehended by us, -- as, then, they were thus convinced, they thus strengthened themselves; and though they gave to God the praise due to his justice, they at the same time trembled lest they should be guilty of innocent blood.

We now then see how reverently these men spoke of God, and that so much religious fear possessed them, that they did not rob God of his praise, Thou Jehovah, they said, hast done as it has pleased thee 4. Do they here accuse God of tyranny, as though he confounded all things without any cause or reason? By no means. They took this principle as granted, -- that the will of God is right and just, yea, that whatever God has decreed is beyond doubt just. Being then thus persuaded, they took the will of God as the rule for acting rightly: "As thou, Jehovah, hast done as it seemed good to thee, so we are blameless." But at the same time it is proper also to add, that the sailors do not vainly talk here of the secret providence of God in order to impute murder to him, as ungodly men and profane cavilers do at this day: but as the Lord made known his purpose to them, they show that the storm and the tempest could not be otherwise calmed and quieted than by drowning Jonah: they therefore took this knowledge of God's purpose as a certain rule to follow. At the same time they fled, as I have said, to God, and supplicated his mercy, lest in a matter so perplexed and difficult he should involve them in the same punishment, as they were constrained to shed innocent blood. We now then apprehend the meaning of this passage. Now it follows --


1 Literally, "and the men labored to return to dry land." The ideal meaning of rtx is to dig, or to dig through, Job 24:16; Ezekiel 12:7: but it is here in its secondary sense of laboring or toiling. byshl, to return, must be taken here intransitively, though generally it bears in Hiphil a transitive sense.Kai> parebiazonto oi andrev tou epistreyai prov thn ghn -- And the men strove to return to land." -- Sept. And the men rowed hard to regain the land." -- Henderson. -- Ed.

2 hna and an are particles of entreaty or exclamation, and may be rendered, "I, or, we pray" according to the context. Here they should be, "We pray." They are sometimes rendered, Oh! Alas! Now. -- Ed.

3 "Hoc est, ne nobis imputes caedem viri justi -- Impute not unto us the slaughter of a just man." -- Marckius. See Judges 9:24; Matthew 27:24. -- Ed.

4 Some render this sentence in the present tense, as Marckius, "Tu enim Jehovah sicut vis facis -- for thou, Jehovah, doest as thou willest." The verbs are in the past tense, but this tense in Hebrew includes often both times, -- "Thou hast done and doest, as thou hast willed and willest:" and this seems to be the full import of the passage. Mercerius, quoted by Poole, gives this paraphrase, -- "All these things have taken place through thine appointment, -- that Jonah came to the ship, that a storm has been raised, that the lot has fallen on Jonah, and that he has confessed his sin: we unwillingly do this dreadful deed, but this is understood to be thy will." Drusius took the words as referring to the time then present, for he expresses the meaning thus: "Tu vis ut in mare dejeciatur: fiat igitur quod vis; nam voluntati tuae quis resistat? Thou willest that he should be cast into the sea: be then that done which thou willest; for who can resist thy will?" According to this view, it is an expression of acquiescence in God's will respecting Jonah. But both Newcome and Henderson retain our common version. Dathius reads, "Tu enim, O Jova, pro arbitratu tuo agis. -- For thou, O Jehovah, doest according to thine own will." -- Ed.


Chapter 1, Verse(s) 1-2345678-1011-12 | 13-14 | 15-1617 |
  • John Calvin’s Bible Commentary