Jonah 4:1 Bible Commentary

John Calvin’s Bible Commentary

Jonah 4
Jonah 4:1 | Verse 2 >>
Chapter 4, Verse(s) 1 | 23456-8910-11 |

Jerome commends this grief of Jonah, and compares it to the holy zeal of Paul when he wished himself to be an anathema for his brethren, (Romans 9:3:) for he denies that he grieved because God had showed mercy to so illustrious a city; but because the conversion of the Gentiles was a certain presage of the destruction of the chosen people. As then Jonah perceived as in a mirror the near ruin of Israel, he on this account grieved, if we believe Jerome: but this notion is extremely frivolous; for, immediately after, God reproved Jonah. What then will the foolish and puerile apology of Jerome avail the Prophet, since God has declared that he acted perversely in grieving? Nay, the dullness of Jerome is thus become evident; (thus indeed do I speak of a man, who, though learned and laborious, has yet deprived himself of that praise, which otherwise he might have justly earned.) His wayward disposition everywhere betrayed itself; and he is evidently disproved in this very context, where Jonah shows clearly that the cause of his grief was another, even this, -- that he was unwilling to be deemed a false or a lying prophet: hence was his great grief and his bitterness. And this we see, had God not expressed his mind, was unjust and inconsistent with every reason.

We may then conclude that Jonah was influenced by false zeal when he could not with resignation bear that the city of Nineveh should have been delivered from destruction: and he also himself amplifies the greatness of his sin. He might have said, in one word, that it displeased Jonah; but not satisfied with this simple form, he adds, that he felt great displeasure or grief; and he afterwards adds, that he was very angry. Though the beginning may not have been wrong, yet excess was sinful. But he confesses that there was excess, and want of moderation in his grief: since then he accuses himself in plain words what good is it, by false and invented pretenses, to cover what we clearly see cannot be excused? But that it may be more evident why the deliverance of the city of Nineveh displeased Jonah, let us go on with the context --

1 The two verbs used here are evidently to be construed as impersonals. The most literal rendering would be thus, --

"And it was an evil to Jonah, a great evil;
and wrath was to him" or, "he was wroth."

Evil means often grief or distress, and so it is here: but the verb hrx, properly rendered in our version, "very angry" seldom if ever, means grief. It is sometimes rendered "grieved" in our version; but in every instance that I can find, it means the grief of anger or displeasure. It occurs twice in Genesis 4, in exactly similar form as we find it here, followed by the preposition l, dam Nyql rxyw, "and Cain was very wroth" or literally, "and there was wrath to Cain very much" version 5. And then in the following verse we have the like form, dl hrx hml, "Why are thou wroth?" or, "Why is wrath to thee?" The phrase here is, rxyw wl, "and wrath was to him." What seems to have made some commentators to change wrath or anger to grief, as has been a desire to screen the guilt of Jonah. But the whole narrative clearly shows that he was so displeased as to be angry. His pettish request to die is a sufficient proof of this. Calvin was not a man to trifle with the word of God for this purpose, or for any other: nor was he at a loss to account for the sin of Jonah, without denying his piety. It is only shallow Christians, and such as have only the outward shell of religion, who are reduced to this dilemma.

Marckius very justly observes, "That though all the works of God are altogether blameless (irreprehensibilia,) yet there is hardly anything which is not sometimes blamed by our most foolish flesh (carne insipientissima.) Thus not only the world, God's enemy, sins against him; but even his own people, who honor him, openly show, one while, that his severity, and at another time that his kindness, displease them, as though they were not befitting." -- Ed.

Chapter 4, Verse(s) 1 | 23456-8910-11 |
  • John Calvin’s Bible Commentary
Jonah 4