Jonah 1:8 Bible Commentary

John Calvin’s Bible Commentary

Chapter 1, Verse(s) 1-234567 | 8 | 11-1213-1415-1617 |

After the lot fell on Jonah, they doubted not but that he was the guilty person, any more than if he had been a hundred times proved to be so: for why did they cast lots, except that they were persuaded that all doubt could thus be removed, and that what was hid could thus be brought to the light? As then this persuasion was fixed in their minds, that the truth was elicited, and was in a manner drawn out of darkness by the lot, they now inquire of Jonah what he had done: for they took this as allowed, that they had to endure the tempest on his account, and also, that he, by some detestable crime, had merited such a vengeance at Gods hand. We hence see that they cast lots, because they fully believed that they could not otherwise find out the crime on account of which they suffered, and also, that lots were directed by the hidden purpose of God: for how could a certain judgment be found by lot, except God directed it according to his own purpose, and overruled what seemed to be especially fortuitous? These principles then were held as certain in a manner by men who were heathens, -- that God can draw out the truth, and bring it to the light, -- and also, that he presides over lots, however fortuitous they may be thought to be.

This was the reason why they now asked what Jonah had done. Tell us, then, why has this evil happened to us, what is thy work? etc. By work here I do not mean what is wrong, but a kind of life, or, as they say, a manner of living. They then asked how Jonah had hitherto employed himself, and what sort of life he followed. For it afterwards follows, Tell us, whence comest thou, what is thy country, and from what people art thou? They made inquiries, no doubt, on each particular in due order; but Jonah here briefly records the questions.

I now come to his answer, He said to them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear Jehovah the God of heaven, Who has created the sea and the dry land 1. Here Jonah seemed as yet to evade, yea, to disown his crime, for he professed himself to be the worshipper of the true God. Who would not have said, but that he wished here to escape by a subterfuge, as he set up his own piety to cover the crime before-mentioned? But all things are not here in the first verse related; for shortly after, it follows, that the sailors knew of Jonah's flight; and that he had himself told them, that he had disobeyed God's call and command. There is then no doubt but that Jonah honestly confessed his own sin, though he does not say so. But we know, that it is a mode of speaking common among the Hebrews to add in the last place what had been first said; and grammarians say, that it is u[steron proteron, (last first,) when anything is left out in its proper place and then added as an explanation. When therefore Jonah says that he was an Hebrew, and worshipper of the true God, -- this tended to aggravate his fault or crime rather than to excuse it: for had he said only, that he was conscious of having done wrong in disobeying God, his crime would not have appeared so atrocious; but when he begins by sayings that known to him was the true God, the framer of heaven and earth, the God of Israel, who had made himself known by a law given and published, -- when Jonah made this introduction, he thereby removed from himself all pretenses as to ignorance and misconception. He had been educated in the law, and had, from childhood, been taught who the true God was. He could not then have fallen through ignorance; and further, he did not, as the others, worship fictitious gods; he was an Israelite. As then he had been brought up in true religion, his sin was the more atrocious, inasmuch as he had fallen away from God, having despised his command, and, as it were, shaken off the yoke, and had become a fugitive.

We now then perceive the reason why Jonah called himself here an Hebrew, and testified that he was the worshipper of the true God. First, by saying that he was an Hebrew, he distinguished the God of Abraham from the idols of the Gentiles: for the religion of the chosen people was well known in all places, though disapproved by universal consent; at the same time, the Cilicians and other Asiatics, and also the Grecians, and the Syrians in another quarter, -- all these knew what the Israelites gloried in, -- that the true God had appeared to their father Abraham, and then made with him a gratuitous covenant, and also had given the law by Moses; -- all this was sufficiently known by report. Hence Jonah says now, that he was an Hebrew, as though he had said, that he had no concern with any fictitious god, but with the God of Abraham, who had formerly appeared to the holy Fathers, and who had also given a perpetual testimony of his will by Moses. We see then how emphatically he declared, that he was an Hebrew: secondly, he adds, I fear Jehovah the God of heaven. By the word fear is meant worship: for it is not to be taken here as often in other places, that is, in its strict meaning; but fear is to be understood for worship: "I am not given", he says, "to various superstitions, but I have been taught in true religion; God has made himself known to me from my childhood: I therefore do not worship any idol, as almost all other people, who invent gods for themselves; but I worship God, the creator of heaven and earth." He calls him the God of heaven, that is, who dwells alone as God in heaven. While the others thought heaven to be filled with a great number of gods, Jonah here sets up against them the one true God, as though he said, "Invent according to your own fancy innumerable gods, there is yet but one, who possesses the highest authority in heaven; for it is he who made the sea and the dry land. 2"

We now then apprehend what Jonah meant by these words: he shows here that it was no wonder that God pursued him with so much severity; for he had not committed a slight offense, but a fatal sin. We now see how much Jonah had profited since the Lord had begun severely to deal with him: for inasmuch as he was asleep yea, and insensible in his sin, he would have never repented had it not been for this violent remedy. But when the Lord roused him by his severity, he then not only confessed that he was guilty, or owned his guilt in a formal manner, (defunctorie -- as ridding one's self of a business, carelessly;) but also willingly testified, as we see, before men who were heathens, that he was the guilty man, who had forsaken the true God, in whose worship he had been well instructed. This was the fruit of true penitence, and it was also the fruit of the chastisement which God had inflicted on him. If then we wish God to approve of our repentance, let us not seek evasions, as for the most part is the case; nor let us extenuate our sins, but by a free confession testify before the whole world what we have deserved.

It then follows, that the men feared with great fear, and said, Why hast thou done this? 3 for they knew treat he had fled from the presence of Jehovah, for he had told them. And this is not unimportant -- that the sailors feared with great fear: for Jonah means that they were not only moved by what he said, but also terrified, so that they gave to the true God his glory. We indeed know that superstitious men almost trifle with their own idols. They often entertain, it is true, strange fears, but afterwards they flatter themselves, and in a manner cajole their own hearts, so that they can pleasantly and sweetly smile at their own fancies. But Jonah, by saying here that they feared with great fear, means that they were so smitten, that they really perceived that the God of Israel was a righteous judge, and that he was not such as other nations fancied him to be, but that he was capable of affording dreadful examples whenever he intended to execute his vengeance. We hence see what Jonah means, when he speaks of great fear. At the same time, two things ought to be noticed, -- that they feared, because it was easy for them to conclude from the Prophet's words, that the God of Israel was the only creator of heaven and earth, -- and then, that it was a great fear, which, as I have said, must be considered as serious dread, since the fear which the unbelieving have soon vanishes.

But with regard to the reproof which the sailors and other passengers gave to Jonah, the Lord returned to him this as a reward which he had deserved. He had fled from the presence of God; he had thus, as we have said taken away from God his supreme power: for what becomes of God's authority when any one of us rejects his commands and flees away from his presence? Since Jonah then sought to shun God, he was now placed before men. There were present heathens, and even barbarians, who rebuked him for his sin, who were his censors and judges. And the same thing we see happening often. For they who do not willingly obey God and his word, afterwards abandon themselves to many flagrant sins, and their baseness becomes evident to all. As, then, they cannot bear God to be their Master and Teacher, they are constrained to bear innumerable censors; for they are branded by the reproaches of the vulgar, they are pointed at every where by the finger, at length they are conducted to the gallows, and the executioner becomes their chief teacher. The case was similar, as we see, with Jonah: the pilot had before reproved his torpor, when he said, Do thou also call on thy God; what meanest thou, O sleeper? thou liest down here like a log of wood, and yet thou sees us perplexed and in extreme danger. As, then, the pilot first so sharply inveighed against Jonah, and then all reproved him with one mouth, we certainly find that he was made subject to the condemnation of all, because he tried to deprive God of his supreme power. If at any time the same thing should happen to us, if God should subject us to the reproaches of men when we seek to avoid his judgment, let us not wonder. But as Jonah here calmly answers, and raises no clamor, and shows no bitterness, so let every one of us, in the true spirit of meekness, acknowledge our own sins; when charged with them, were even children our condemners, or were even the most contemptible of the people to rise up against us, let us patiently bear all this; and let us know that these kinds of censors befall us through the providence of God. It now follows --


1 This answer reverses the order of the questions. He answers the last question first. "Whence comest thou, and what is thy country?" The answer is, "I am Hebrew." The previous question was, "What is thy work," or occupation? To this he answers, "I fear Jehovah," etc. This was his calling, his work, his occupation. "Fear," of course, includes worship and service. This ought to be the work and occupation of all. But to the first question, as to what evil he had done, he gives no answer. Calvin supposes that the whole is not here related, but is to be gathered from what follows. It is, however, probable that he had previously told them, that is, before the storm arose, that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord: he therefore left them to conclude what evil it was which he had done. It may be inquired why he said that he was "Hebrew," and not that he was an Israelite, as the case really was, for he belonged to the ten tribes, and not to the kingdom of Judah; and Israelites, and not Hebrews seem to have been then the common name of the ten tribes. The reason may be, that as the Israelites were then for the most part idolatrous, he wished to show that he was a true descendant of the patriarchs, who were God's faithful servants, real Hebrews, passengers, sojourners, and pilgrims, as the word imparts, on the earth. -- Ed.

2 "Non Deos quos invocatis, et qui salvare non possunt, sed Deum coeli qui mare fecit et aridam, mare in quo fugio, aridam de qua fugio," etc. -- Jerome.

3 tyse tazahm, -- "What this thou hast done?" "ti> touto epoi>hsav -- what this thou hast done?" -- Sept. "Quid (i.e., cur) hoc fecisti -- why hast thou done this?" -- Marckius; so Jerome, and Drusius, and Dathius. "What is this thou hast done?" -- Henderson. It is not a question, requiring a reason for what he had done, but rather an exclamation -- "What an evil is this which thou has done!" They judged of it by the effects; for they knew before that he had fled from the presence of the Lord; and now they perceived how great an evil it was. -- Ed.


Chapter 1, Verse(s) 1-234567 | 8 | 11-1213-1415-1617 |
  • John Calvin’s Bible Commentary