Commentary on Jonah, Micah, Nahum - Enhanced Version (Calvins Commentaries Book 28)
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This then is the only remedy in afflictions and distresses, to pray to God. But when we, taught by the Law and by the Gospel, use not this remedy, whenever God warns us and exhorts us to repentance, what shadow of excuse can we have, since heathens, even those who understood not a syllable of true religion, yet prayed to God, and the king himself commanded this with the consent of his nobles? Hence this edict of the king ought to fill us with more shame than if one adduced the same doctrine only from the word of God: But Jonah shows more clearly afterwards, that it was no feigned repentance when the Ninevites put on sackcloth, and abstained also from meat and drink; for it follows in the kings edict, And let every one turn from his own wicked ways and from the plunder which is in their hands Here the heathen king shows for what purpose and with what design he had given orders respecting fasting and other things; it was done that the Ninevites might thus more effectually stimulate themselves to fear God; for he here exhorts them to turn from their evil way.
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The more shameful then is their dullness who seek to pacify God by frivolous devices, as the Papists do; for while they obtrude on God trifles, I know not what, they think that these are so many expiations, and they tenaciously contend for them. They need no other judge than this heathen king, who shows that true penitence is wholly different, that it then only takes place when men become changed in mind and heart, and wholly turn to a better course of life.
One kind of evil is here subjoined, a part being stated for the whole, for plunders were not the only things which stood in need of amendment among the Ninevites, as it is probable that they were polluted by other vices and corruptions. In a city so large, drunkenness probably prevailed, as well as luxury, and pride, and ambition, and also lusts. It cannot indeed be doubted, but that Nineveh was filled with innumerable vices: It was the same as though he had said that the principal virtue is equity or justice, that is, when men deal with one another without doing any hurt or injury: For the Papists, though they accumulate expiations, pass by charity; and in the whole course of life equity has hardly any place.
Let them then learn, from the mouth of a heathen king, what God principally requires from men, and approves of in their life, even to abstain from plunder and from the doing of any injury. We now then perceive why rapacity was especially mentioned. But we must bear in mind that the king, as yet a novice, and hardly in a slight degree imbued with the elements of religion, through hearing what Jonah preached, gave orders to his people according to the measure of his faith and knowledge: These circumstances ought then to be carefully observed by us.
Let us now proceed —. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? Quis novit an convertatur et poenitentia ducatur Deus, et revertatur a furore irae suae, ut non pereamus? The mind and design of the king are here more distinctly stated, — that he thus endeavored to reconcile himself and the people to God. There is in the meaning of the Prophet nothing ambiguous, for he introduces the king here as expressing a doubt, Who knows whether God will be reconciled to us?
We hence see that the king was not overwhelmed with despair for he still thought of a remedy; and this is the purport of the verse. How then was it that the king of Nineveh had seriously and undissemblingly repented, while yet he spoke doubtfully of the favor of God? To this I answer, that it was a measure of doubt, which was yet connected with faith, even that which does not directly reject the promise of God, but has other hindrances: There is, therefore, no doubt but that the king of Nineveh entertained hope of deliverance; but at the same time his mind was perplexed, both on account of the sermon of Jonah and on account of the consciousness of his own sins: The first obstacle was the awful message, — that Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days.
For though Jonah, as we have said, might have added something more, yet the denunciation was distinct and express, and tended to cast down the minds of all. The king then had to struggle, in order to overcome this obstacle, and to resist this declaration of Jonah as far as it was found to be without any comfort. And then the king, while considering his own sins, could not but vacillate for some time. But yet we see that he strove to emerge, though he had these obstacles before his eyes, for he says, Who knows whether God will turn from the fury of his wrath, and repent?
We hence see that the king was in a hard struggle; for though Jonah seemed to have closed the door and to shut out the king from any hope of deliverance, and though his own conscience held him fast bound, he yet perseveres and encourages himself; in short, he aspires to the hope of pardon.
And it must be further noticed, that this form of expression expresses a difficulty rather than a mistrust.
The king then here asks, as it were doubtingly, Who knows whether God will turn? Hence the king expresses it as a difficulty; and such an interrogation was no proof of the absence of faith. We then stated several things in explaining that passage: And it was an evidence of humility that he acknowledged himself and his people to be sunk as it were, in the lowest hell, and yet ceased not to entertain some hope: We now then see the meaning of the words. Of the repentance of God we shall speak hereafter, either to-morrow or the day after. Lest we perish, he says.
As soon then as any danger threatens us, let us bear this in mind, that no deliverance can be found except the Lord receives us into favor; such was the conviction of the king of Nineveh, for he concluded that all things would be well as soon as God should be propitious.
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We hence see how much this new and untrained disciple had improved; for he understood that men cannot escape miseries until God be pacified towards them, and that when men return into favor with him, though they ought to have perished a hundred times before, they yet shall be delivered and made safe; for the grace or the favor of God is the fountain of life and salvation, and of all blessings. Edward D. The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism. The Origin of Paul's Religion. John Ankerberg. How We Got Our Bible. W Griffith Thomas. Piety's Wisdom. Mark Beach.
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