Jonah 4:4 Bible Commentary

John Calvin’s Bible Commentary

Jonah 4
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Chapter 4, Verse(s) 123 | 4 | 56-8910-11 |

There is no doubt but that God by thus reproving Jonah condemns his intemperate warmth. But since God alone is a fit judge of man's conduct, there is no reason for us to boast that we are influenced by good intentions; for there is nothing more fallacious than our own balances. When therefore we weigh facts, deeds, and thoughts by our own judgment, we deceive ourselves. Were any disposed rhetorically to defend the conduct of Jonah, he might certainly muster up many specious pretenses; and were any one inclined to adduce excuses for Jonah, he might be made to appear to us altogether innocent: but though the whole world absolved him, what would it avail, since he was condemned by the mouth of God himself, who alone, as I have already stated, is the judge? We ought then to feel assured, that Jonah had done foolishly, even if no reason was apparent to us; for the authority of the Supreme Judge ought to be more than sufficient.

Now God expressly condemns his wrath. Had Jonah modestly expostulated, and unburdened his griefs into the bosom of God, it would have been excusable; though his ardor would not have been free from blame, it might yet have been borne with. But now, when he is angry, it is past endurance; for wrath, as one says, is but short madness; and then it blinds the perceptions of men, it disturbs all the faculties of the soul. God then does not here in a slight manner condemn Jonah, but he shows how grievously he had fallen by allowing himself to become thus angry. We must at the same time remember, that Jonah had sinned not only by giving way to anger; he might have sinned, as we have said, without being angry. But God by this circumstance -- that he thus became turbulent, enhances his sin. And it is certainly a most unseemly thing, when a mean creature rises up against God, and in a boisterous spirit contends with him: this is monstrous; and Jonah was in this state of mind.

We hence see why an express mention is made of his anger, -- God thus intended to bring conviction home to Jonah, that he might no more seek evasions. Had he simply said, "Why! how is it that thou dost not leave to me the supreme right of judging? If such is my will, why dost not thou submissively acknowledge that what I do is rightly done? Is it thy privilege to be so wise, as to dictate laws to me, or to correct my decisions?" -- had the Lord thus spoken, there might have remained still some excuse; Jonah might have said, "Lord, I cannot restrain my grief, when I see thy name so profaned by unseemly reproaches; can I witness this with a calm mind?" He might thus have still sought some coverings for his grief; but when the Lord brought forward his anger, he must have been necessarily silenced; for what could be found to excuse Jonah, when he thus perversely rebelled, as I have said, against God, his Judge and Maker? We now then understand why God expressly declares that Jonah did not do well in being thus angry.

But I wonder how it came into Jerome's mind to say that Jonah is not here reproved by the Lord, but that something of an indifferent kind is mentioned. He was indeed a person who was by nature a sophister, (cavillator -- a caviler;) and thus he wantonly trifled with the work of falsifying Scripture; he made no conscience of perverting passages of holy writ. As, for instance, when he writes about marriage, he says that they do not ill who marry, and yet that they do not well. What a sophistry is this, and how vapid! So also on this place, "God," he says, "does not condemn Jonah, neither did he intend to reprove his sin; but, on the contrary, Jonah brings before us here the person of Christ, who sought death that the whole world might be saved; for when alive he could not do good to his own nation, he could not save his own kindred; he therefore preferred to devote himself and his life for the redemption of the world." These are mere puerilities; and thus the whole meaning of this passage, as we clearly see, is distorted. But the question is more emphatical than if God had simply said, "Thou hast sinned by being thus angry;" for an affirmative sentence has not so much force as that which is in the form of a question.

God then not only declares as a Judge that Jonah had not done well, but he also draws from him his own confession, as though he said, "Though thou art a judge in thine own cause, thou can't not yet make a cover for thy passion, for thou art beyond measure angry." For when he says Kl, lak, with, or, in thyself, he reminds Jonah to examine his own heart, as though he said, "Look on thyself as in a mirror: thou wilt see what a boisterous sea is thy soul, being seized as thou art by so mad a rage." We now then perceive not only the plain sense of the passage, but also the emphasis, which is contained in the questions which Jerome has turned to a meaning wholly contrary. I will not proceed farther; 2 for what remains will be sufficient for to-morrow's lecture.


Grant, Almighty God, that as thou sees us implicated in so many errors, that we often fall through want of thought, and as thou also sees that the violent emotions of our flesh wholly blind whatever reason and judgment there is in us, -- O grant, that we may learn to give up ourselves altogether to obey thee, and so honor thy wisdom as never to contend with thee, though all things may happen contrary to our wishes, but patiently to wait for such an issue as it may please thee to grant; and may we never be disturbed by any of the hindrances which Satan may throw in our way, but ever go on towards the mark which thou hast set before us, and never turn aside from thee, until, having gone through all dangers and overcome all impediments, we shall at length reach that blessed rest, which has been obtained for us by the blood of thy Son. Amen.

1 This clause has been variously rendered. The original words are these, Kl hrx bjyhh. It is not to the point to say, as Dr. Henderson does, that the first word is sometimes rendered adverbially, as meaning "greatly," etc.; for in other places it is rendered as a verb, "to be good," or "to do good." It depends wholly on the form of the sentence what rendering is the most suitable. Both the construction of the words and the connection of the passage seem to favor the literal rendering. The first h is the an of the Latin, whether, it is an interrogation. Then the rendering is, "Whether it is good," or, "Is that good?" Jonah had said before that it was "good" for him to die rather than to live; for it is the same word in a different form -- yyxm ytwm bwj yk, "for good my death rather than my life." Then the question to him is, "Is it good that thou art wrathful," or literally, "that wrath is to thee?" the verb hrx, as in the first verse, is to be construed impersonally.

The rendering, "Art thou much vexed?" is pointless and vapid. It is indeed countenanced by the Septuagint; but we must remember that on some points there is a wrong leaning in that version, and this is one of those points. As in the case of Jerome and the early Fathers, there was a disposition and an attempt to lessen and even to obliterate all the faults and defects of the ancient saints, so it was evidently with the authors of this version. Superstition and Pharisaism must have all their saints perfect, while the word of God represents all true saints as imperfect in the present state, but aiming at, and longing for, perfection, and fully expecting to enjoy it hereafter.

The version of Newcome is, "Doest thou well that thine anger is kindled?" Kindling or heat, that is, of anger or wrath, is the ideal meaning of the verb. Junius and Tremelius, as well as Dathius, consider that anger, and not grief is meant. Dr. Adam Clarke's version is this, "Is anger good for thee?" which is certainly very literal; or, as the verb is in the causative mood, it might be rendered, "Can anger do good to thee?" It may be doubted whether here, and in the ninth verse, where the same phrase twice occurs, this rendering is the most obvious and natural. -- Ed.

2 Appended here is this note in the margin, -- "Putavit, cessante horologio, se ante tempus finire;" -- "He thought that, through the clock stopping, he had finished before the time." -- Ed.

Chapter 4, Verse(s) 123 | 4 | 56-8910-11 |
  • John Calvin’s Bible Commentary
Jonah 4