Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 28: Jonah, Micah, Nahum, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Contained in this Volume, as in the last, are the Writings of three Prophets: and they are explained and elucidated in the Author's peculiar manner; every sentence being dissected and examined, and the meaning ascertained according to the context, without the introduction of any extraneous matters. The main object throughout seems to have been to exhibit the genuine sense and design of the Sacred Writers.
The Book of Jonah is a plain narrative, and no part is supposed to have been written in the style of poetry except the prayer in the second chapter.
Some things in this Book have furnished Infidels with objections, and have induced some learned men, bearing at least the name of believers, to indulge in inventions. To satisfy Infidels or themselves, they have endeavored to prove, that this Book is either an historical allegory, or a parable, or a dream, or a moral fiction, or something else still more absurd and extravagant. But all these are mere vagrant conjectures, wholly groundless, rendered plausible only by a show of learning, and calculated to do tenfold more mischief than all the sneers and cavils of Infidels. The Bible Is A Book Of Miracles as well as of Prophecies; and an attempt to divest it of its Miracles is an attempt to divest it of one of its distinctive properties. Its Prophecies, which are continued Miracles, capable in many instances of ocular demonstration, attest those Miracles which were confined to certain times and occasions, as these were also in some cases performed for the purpose of gaining credit at the time to what was predicted. But there are no Miracles recorded in Scripture, which involve as much exercise of divine power as the fulfillment of Prophecies, though less visible in its operation. 1
The fact that Miracles of some sort form a part of the records of false religions and of superstitious times, is no reason for disbelieving the Miracles of Scripture. Almost all errors are imitations of truth, and superstition is man's substitute for true Religion. The existence of a false coin is no evidence that there is no genuine coin, but, on the contrary, proves that it exists. Independently of the general character of the Miracles recorded in Scripture, what has been just stated, their connection with indubitable Prophecies is an argument in their favor, which neither heathen nor Christian superstition is capable of adducing. Both must stand or fall together. If the truth of Prophecies be allowed, then the reality of Miracles cannot with any reason be denied. They are so connected together, that they cannot possibly be separated.
Learned men, being driven back, as it were, by manifest and palpable absurdities, have sometimes resiliated beyond the limits of reason and truth; being disgusted, and justly so, by Heathen and Popish Miracles, they have often been imperceptibly led to doubt all Miracles, as when we are frequently deceived, we are tempted to conclude that there is no such a thing as honesty in the world. And hence has arisen the attempt to obliterate Miracles from Scripture; and various hypotheses have been suggested, and supported in some instances by no small measure of ingenuity and learning: but it is an attempt which ought in the strongest manner to be deprecated and condemned as being nothing less than a sacrilege, the robbing of God's Word of one of its peculiar characteristics, even of that by which God has visibly proved his supreme power; for by reversing and changing those laws of nature, which at the creation he had fixed and established, he has given a manifest demonstration of his Omnipotence and Sovereignty. He has made it known to the world by Miracles, that He who has constructed the wonderful mechanism of nature, can alter, change, and reconstruct it whenever He pleases.
“The opinion,” says Dr. Henderson, “which has been most generally entertained is that which accords to the Book a strictly historical character; in other words, which affirms that it is a relation of facts which actually took place in the life and experience of the Prophet. Nor can I view it in any other light while I hold fast an enlightened belief in the divine authority of the Books composing the Canon of the Old Testament, and place implicit reliance on the authority of the Son of God. Into the fixed and definite character of the Canon I need not here enter, having fully discussed the subject elsewhere; but assuming that all the Books contained in it possess the divine sanction, the test to which I would bring the question, and by which, in my opinion, our decision must be mainly formed, is the unqualified manner in which the personal existence, miraculous fate, and public ministry of JONAH are spoken of by our Lord. He not only explicitly recognizes the prophetic office of the son of Amittai, (Ιωνα του προφητου,) just as he does that of Elisha, Isaiah, and Daniel, but represents his being in the belly of the fish as a real miracle, (το σημειον,) grounds upon it, as a fact, the certainty of the future analogous fact in his own history; assumes the actual execution of the commission of the Prophet at Nineveh; positively asserts that the inhabitants of that city repented at his preaching; and concludes by declaring respecting himself, “Behold! a greater than Jonah is here,” (Matt. 12:39, Matt. 16:4.) Now is it conceivable that all these historical circumstances would have been placed in this prominent light, if the person of the Prophet, and the brief details of his narrative, had been purely fictitious? On the same principle that the historical bearing of the reference in this ease is rejected, may not that to the Queen of Sheba, which follows in the connection, be set aside, and the portion in the First Book of Kings, in which the circumstances of her visit to Solomon are recorded, be converted into an allegory, a moral fiction, or a popular tradition? The two eases, as adduced by our Lord, are altogether parallel; and the same may be affirmed of the allusion to Tyre and Sidon, and that to Sodom in the preceding chapter.”
This reasoning is conclusive on the subject, and cannot be fairly evaded. Our learned author adds another consideration: —
“Certainly in no other instance in which our Savior adduces passages out of the Old Testament for the purpose of illustrating or confirming his doctrines, can it be shown that any point or circumstance is thus employed which is not historically true. He uniformly quotes and reasons upon them as containing accounts of universally admitted facts, stamps them as such with the high sanction of his own authority, and transmits them for the confident belief of mankind in all future ages.”
That the preservation of Jonah in the bowels of the fish was an impossibility according to the course and nature of things, as they now exist, is quite evident: but it was no greater reversion of nature than the parting of the Red Sea, or the dividing of the streams of Jordan, or the sustentation of life in Moses during his stay on the Mount for forty days. The laws of nature were equally suspended in all these instances; and to deny to Him, who made these laws to be what they are, the power of changing them, is an inconsistency which no reason can justify.
The next Prophet is Micah; and his Book is especially interesting on account of the prediction it contains of the birth-place of our Savior, and also of the establishment of his Kingdom, and the spread of his Gospel. The prophecy recorded in the fourth chapter is one of the most splendid in all the Writings of the Prophets. We find the same in the second chapter of Isaiah; but it is fuller and given more at large by Micah. The idea of borrowing seems not compatible with the fact, that each declares that what they delivered was conveyed to them by a vision: and there is nothing unreasonable in the thought, that the Divine Spirit communicated the very same things, to a certain extent, to two individual Prophets; and the fact that more, on the same subject, was revealed to one than to the other, seems to favor the notion, that the whole was communicated to each separately.
It is a subject worthy of being noticed, — that it was not the practice of the Prophets to refer to the testimony of one another, or even expressly to the commandments included in the Law of Moses. Isaiah indeed once said, “To the Law and to the Testimony.” Though the sins which generally prevailed were distinctly condemned in the Law, especially the idolatry which was so common, they yet never quoted the commandments, and brought them to bear on the reigning corruptions. This may appear singular: but the way to account for it seems to be this, — that the Prophets' authority was the same with that of Moses: Their communications proceeded from the same Author; and there was no necessity to confirm what they said by referring to what the Law sanctioned. The same God, who gave the Law by Moses, sent his messages to the people by his Prophets. And hence arises a strong, though, as it were, an incidental, proof of the Divine character of what they have written.
The style of Micah much resembles, in some respects, the style of Hosea. His transitions are sometimes abrupt, and the sudden change of persons is not unfrequent. Lowth in his Prelections describes him as “being brief in words, sententious, concise, pointed, — sometimes bordering on the obscurity of Hosea, — in many parts lofty and fervid, and highly poetical.” 2 Marckius says, that, “his diction is elegant, not very unlike that of Isaiah.” 3 Henderson's account is more extensive, but on the whole just, as well as discriminating, — “His style is concise, yet perspicuous, 4 nervous, vehement, and energetic; and, in many instances, equals that of Isaiah in boldness and sublimity. He is rich and beautiful in the varied use of tropical language, indulges in paranomasias, preserves a pure and classical diction, is regular in the formation of parallelisms, and exhibits a roundness in the construction of his periods, which is not surpassed by his more celebrated contemporary. Both in administering threatenings and communicating promises, he evinces great tenderness, and shows that his mind was deeply affected by the subjects of which he treats. In his appeals he is lofty and energetic. His description of the character of Jehovah, Mic 7:18-20, is unrivalled by any contained elsewhere in Scripture.”
“Some of his prophecies,” says Newcome, “are distinct and illustrious ones, as Mic. 2:12, 13; Mic. 3:12, Mic. 4:1, 10; Mic. 5:2, 3, 4; Mic. 6:13, Mic. 7:8. We may justly admire the beauty and elegance of his manner — Mic. 2:12, 13; Mic. 4:1, 2, 3, and particularly the two first lines of verse 4; his animation, — Mic 1:5, lines 3, 4; Mic. 2:7, 10, line 1; Mic 4:9; his strength of expression, — Mic. 1:6, 8; Mic 2:3, lines 3, 4; Mic. 3:2, 3, 12; Mic. 7:1, 2, 4, line 1, 19, line 2; his pathos, — Mic 1:16; Mic 2:4; his sublimity, — Mic. 1:2, 3, 4; Mic. 3:6, 12; Mic 4:12, lines 3, 13; Mic 5:8; Mic. 6:1, 9; Mic. 7:16, 17.”
The three first chapters are throughout comminatory, in which judgments are denounced on both nations, the Jews and the Israelites, and in which are also enumerated the various evils which prevailed, idolatry as the chief, and its accompanying sins — injustice, oppression, and cruelty. — The fourth and the fifth chapters are of an opposite character, being prophetic of blessings, appertaining more especially to the Kingdom of Christ, while at the same time the previous sufferings and trials of the Church are graphically described. — In the sixth chapter the people are summoned to a trial; the Lord had a controversy with them. Being proved guilty of ingratitude, ignorance, injustice, and idolatry, they are threatened with awful judgments. — In the seventh and last chapter the Prophet bewails the paucity of good men, deplores the faithlessness and perfidy of the people, turns to the Lord, entertains hope, foretells the restoration of the Church and the fall of its enemies, and ends with a rapturous exclamation, having been evidently favored with a glimpse of the rich and abundant mercies which God had in reserve for his people.
The Prophet Nahum has but one subject — the Fall Of Nineveh — and he keeps to his subject without diverging to any other. In mentioning the sins of Nineveh, the first thing he states is a wicked design against the Lord, referring no doubt to the purpose formed of entirely destroying the Kingdom of Judah. In describing afterwards the vices of the people of Nineveh, he especially mentions their rapaciousness, deceit, injustice, oppression, and barbarous cruelty, and compares Nineveh to the den of lions.
The special design of the Prophet in the description he gives, at the beginning of the first chapter, of the character of the Almighty, was to delineate him as He is to his enemies, as the God of vengeance, who vindicates his own honor, and defends his own cause against profane and rebellious opponents. He only makes a transient allusion to his goodness towards his people. The other subject was that which was suitable to his purpose. He was going to denounce irrevocable judgment on God's adversaries; he therefore described Him as the God of vengeance: and the extremely awful character here presented to us by one who spoke, as he was inspired from above, ought to be well weighed and seriously considered, especially by all those who are not become God's friends, but still continue his enemies.
The second chapter contains a vivid description of the fierce assailants of Nineveh, of their success, of the plunder of the city, and of the captivity of its people, with an exultation over the den of lions. To prevent, as it were, any hope of escape, the Prophet, in the third chapter, gives, according to Calvin and many other Commentators, a graphic view of the ransack of the city, as though he were an eye-witness; then he states the reasons for this dreadful overthrow, reminds the Ninevites of what had happened to another powerful and well fortified city, shows the uselessness of resistance, and declares the doom of the city to be irrevocable and irremediable. How wonderfully exact has been the fulfillment of this Prophecy! 5 Who can contemplate it without acknowledging that He who spoke by the Prophets is the supreme, who rules and overrules all the events of time?
The style of Nahum has been admired by all critics. Lowth says, that “no one of the minor Prophets seems to equal the sublimity, the vehemence and the boldness of Nahum: besides, his Prophecy is a complete and finished poem; his exordium is magnificent, and indeed majestic; the preparation for the destruction of Nineveh, and the description of its ruin, and its greatness, are expressed in most vivid colors, and possess admirable perspicuity and fulness.” 6
This Volume contains a very interesting portion of The Minor Prophets. The History of Jonah is in many respects very instructive. 7 The Prophecies of Micah are some of the most remarkable in the Old Testament. Nahum exhibits in language the most awful the vengeance of the Almighty against the enemies of his Church. And readers will find that our Commentator continues to exercise his talents in that capacity with his wonted vigor, penetration, and judgment. An impartial consideration of his labors cannot fail to impress our minds with veneration for his character, and especially with gratitude to the only Giver of all good for having so richly endued his servant, and for having employed him in services so conducive to the interest of true religion. Such was the respect in which he was held by Bishop Horsley, whose learning and acuteness were not of an ordinary kind, that in quoting his comment on a portion of the eighteenth chapter of Isaiah, he calls him” The Venerable Calvin.”
Thrussington, July 1847.
“Prophecy is of a prodigious extent; it commenced from the fall of man, and reaches to the consummation of all things. So many illustrious events falling in, one after another, just as the word of prophecy foretold they should, must afford the most convincing proof that our Religion is, as it claims to be, of divine institution, — a proof the more convincing, because it is continually growing upon us; and the farther we are removed from the source of our religion, the clearer is the evidence of its truth.” — Bishop Hurd.
“Michas plerumque brevis est, pressns, concisus, acutus; nonnunquam ad Hoseae obscuritatem prope accedens; in multis elatus et fervidus, valdeque poeticus.” — Prael. 21
“Dictio elegans, non admodum dissimilis isti Iesaiae.”
This must be qualified; in most parts it is so, but in some, it borders, as Lowth says, on the obscurity of Hosea's style.
Those who wish to see this proved at large, may consult Bishop Newton on the Prophecies. Vol. 1: Diss. 9.
“Verum ex omnibus minoribus Prophetis nemo videtur aequare sublimitatem, ardorem et audaces spiritus Nahumi: adde quod vaticinium integrum et justum est poema; exordium magnificum est et plane angus-tum; apparatus ad excidium Ninivae, ejusque excidii descriptio et amplificatio, ardentissimis coloribus exprimatur, et admirabilem habet evidentiam et pondus.” — Prael. 21.
It has been made the groundwork of a most interesting volume of Essays by the late Revelation Thomas Jones of Creaton, under the title of “Jonah's Portrait.”