Jonah 1:6 Bible Commentary

John Calvin’s Bible Commentary

Chapter 1, Verse(s) 1-2345 | 6 | 78-1011-1213-1415-1617 |

Jonah relates here how he was reproved by the pilot or master of the ship 1, inasmuch as he alone slept, while all the rest were in anxiety and fear. "What meanest thou, fast sleeper?" The pilot no doubt upbraids Jonah for his sleepiness, and reproves him for being almost void of all thought and reflection. What meanest thou, fast sleeper 2, he says; when thou sees all the rest smitten with alarm, how canst thou sleep? Is not this unnatural? Rise, then, and call on thy God.

We see that where there is no rule of faith a liberty is commonly taken, so that every one goes astray here and there. Whence was it, that the pilot said to Jonah, Call on thy God, and that he did not confine him to any certain rule? Because it had been customary in all ages for men to be satisfied with some general apprehension of God; and then every one according to his own fancy formed a god for himself: nor could it have been otherwise, as I have said, while men were not restrained by any sacred bond. All agree as to this truth, that there is some God, and also that no dead idol can do anything, but that the world is governed by the providence and power of God, and further, that safety is to be sought from him. All this, has been received by the common consent of all; but when we come to particulars, then every one is in the dark; how God is to be sought they know not. Hence every one takes his own liberty: "For the sake of appeasing God I will then try this; this shall be my mode of securing his favor; the Lord will regard this service acceptable; in this way shall all my iniquity be expiated, that I may obtain favor with God." Thus each invents for themselves some tortuous way to come to God; and then every one forms a god peculiar to himself. There can therefore be no stability nor consistency in men, unless they are joined together by some bond, even by some certain rule of religion, so that they may not vacillate, and not be in doubt as to what is right to be done, but be assured and certainly persuaded, that there is but one true God, and know what sort of God he is, and then understand the way by which he is to be sought.

We then learn from this passage, that there is an awful license taken in fictitious religions, and that all who are carried away by their fancy are involved in a labyrinth, so that men do nothing but weary and torment themselves in vain, when they seek God without understanding the right way. They indeed run with all their might, but they go farther and farther from God. But that they, at the same time, form in their minds an idea of some God, and that they agree on this great principle, is sufficiently evident from the second clause of this verse, If so be that God will be Propitious to us. Here the pilot confines not his discourse to the God of Jonah, but speaks simply of a God; for though the world by their differences divide God, and Jonah worshipped a God different from the rest, and, in short, there was almost an endless number of gods among the passengers, yet the pilot says, If so be that God, etc.: now then he acknowledges some Supreme God, though each of them had his own god. We hence see that what I have said is most true, -- that this general truth has ever been received with the consent of all, -- that the world is preserved by the providence of God, and hence that the life and safety of men are in his hand. But as they are very far removed from God, and not only creep slowly, but are also more inclined to turn to the earth than to look up to heaven, and are uncertain and ever change, so they seek gods which are nigh to them, and when they find none, they hesitate not to invent them.

We have elsewhere seen that the Holy Spirit uses this form of speaking, If so be, when no doubt, but difficulty alone is intended. It is however probable, that the pilot in this case was perplexed and doubtful, as it is usual with ungodly men, and that he could determine nothing certain as to any help from God; and as his mind was thus doubtful, he says, that every means of relief were to be tried. And here, as in a mirror, we may see how miserable is the condition of all those who call not on God in pure faith: they indeed cry to God, for the impulse of nature thus leads them; but they know not whether they will obtain any thing by their cries: they repeat their prayers; but they know not whether they pass off into air or really come to God. The pilot owns, that his mind was thus doubtful, If so be that God will be propitious to us, call thou also on thy God. Had he been so surely convinced, as to call on the true God, he would have certainly found it to have been no doubtful relief. However, that nothing might be left untried, he exhorted Jonah, that if he had a God, to call upon him. We hence see, that there are strange windings, when we do not understand the right way. Men would rather run here and there, a hundred times, through earth and heaven, than come to God, except where his word shines. How so? because when they make the attempt, an insane impulse drives them in different ways; and thus they are led here and there: "It may be, that this may be useful to me; as that way has not succeeded, I will try another." God then thus punishes all the unbelieving, who obey not his word; for to the right way they do not keep: He indeed shows how great a madness it is, when men give loose reins to their imaginations, and do not submit to celestial truth.

As to the words, interpreters translate them in different ways. Some say, "If so be that God will think of us;" others "If so be that God will favor us." tse, oshit, is properly to shine; but when put as here in the conjugation Hithpael, it means to render one's self clear or bright: and it is a metaphor very common in Scriptures that the face of God is cloudy or dark, when he is not propitious to us; and again, God is said to make bright his face and to appear serene to us, when he really shows himself kind and gracious to us. As then this mode of speaking altogether suits this place, I wonder that some seek extraneous interpretations.3

He afterwards adds, Lest we perish. Here the pilot clearly owns, that he thought the life of man to be in the power of God; for he concluded, that they must perish unless the Lord brought aid. Imprinted then in the minds of all is this notion or prolhyiv, that is, preconception, that when God is angry or adverse, we are miserable, and that near destruction impends over us; and another conviction is found to be in the hearts of men, -- that as soon as the Lord looks on us, his favor and goodwill brings to us immediate safety. The Holy Spirit does not speak here, but a heathen, and we know too how great is the impiety of sailors, and yet he declares this by the impulse of nature, and there is here no feigning; for God, as I have already said, extorts by necessity a confession from the unbelieving, which they would gladly avoid.

Now what excuse can we have, if we think our safety to be in our own hands, if we depend not wholly on God, and if we neglect him in prosperity, as though we could be safe without his help? These words then, spoken by the sailor, ought to be weighed by us, 'If so be that God's face may appear bright to us, and that we perish not. 4 It now follows --

1 lbxh br, the master of the rope or roping: oJ prwreuv, the prowman, the boatswain. -- Sept. Nauclerus, pilot, is the word used by Calvin. -- Ed.

2 Mdrn Klahm, "ti> su< regceiv -- why dost thou snore?" -- Sept. "Quid tu sopore deprimeris -- why art thou oppressed with deep sleep?" -- Jerome. "Quid dormis -- why sleepest thou?" -- Dathius. "How is it, thou art fast asleep?" -- Henderson. "What ails thee? Sleeping!" -- Benjoin. The first pare is well rendered by the last author, but not the other; for Mdrn, only found as a verb in Niphal, ever means a deep sleep. It is applied to Sisera, in Jael's tent, Judges 4:21, and to the sleep of death, Psalm 76:6. The rendering then ought to be, "What ails thee? Being fast asleep." -- Ed.

3 Calvin is quite right here. The verb tsety occurs only here in Hithpael; and once as a verb in Kal, Jeremiah 5:28, wtse, they "shine" applied to fat men, and once as a participle, applied to iron, twse lzrb, "bright iron" or iron brightened, or made to shine, Ezekiel 27:19. It occurs as a noun in three other places, tse, Canticles 5:14, twtse in Job 12:5, and twxse in Psalm 146:4. The idea of shining, brightness, or splendor, comports better with the context than that of thought, as given in our version in the two last places. It occurs once in its Chaldec form in Daniel 6:3, and there, no doubt, it means thought, or intention, or design. Following the usual import of the Hithpael conjugation, we may render the word here, "It may be, that God will himself shine upon us;" which means "will show himself gracious to us." The Septuagint gives the sense, but not the ideal meaning of the verb, diaswsh, may save, and so does Pagininus, placeatur -- may be pacified. Both Newcome and Henderson are wrong here: they follow our common version. Dathius retains the right idea, "se nobis clementem exhibeat." -- Ed.

4 "The servants of God are sometimes surpassed, reproved, and stimulated, by those far below them, yea, even by brute animals: a salutary admonition, from whatever quarter it may come, ought never be despised." -- Marckius.
"If the professors of religion do an ill thing, they must expect to hear of it from those who make no such profession." -- M. Henry.

Chapter 1, Verse(s) 1-2345 | 6 | 78-1011-1213-1415-1617 |
  • John Calvin’s Bible Commentary