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Chapter one was a prelude-summary in which the overthrow of Nineveh was announced. The identity and character of the overthrower (Jehovah) were stressed, and that an "over-running flood" would contribute to the overthrow, that it would be the "final end" of the city, and that the forthcoming destruction was absolutely necessary in God's sight, "Who will by no means clear the guilty." As Fraser noted, "The overthrow of Nineveh was given in relation to the justice of God and to the oppressed people of Judah." As a prelude should do, the first chapter briefly introduced a number of elements that would receive more extensive treatment later. "In the remaining two chapters, he turns to his subject in particular and in detail, setting forth its accomplishment in word-pictures of battle, unrivalled in Hebrew literature."
The terrible destruction of this chapter must not be viewed as capricious or impulsive, but as the inevitable and ultimate achievement of the justice of God. "It was not Israel's pride that was at stake, but God's honor; and it was not even the redemption of his people that was primary, but the vindication of their God." Assyria deserved destruction and death; and the Righteous One executed it upon them. However, there is more in Nahum than the destruction of an ancient, wicked city. It relates to a much larger and more extensive drama reaching from Eden to the Judgment.
"It is not the product of mere national hatred, or even of a desire for vengeance, but a hymn to that Nemesis (against all evil) at once ethical and divine, which inexorably realizes itself in history ... we should interpret it eschatologically."
The seven great, monolithic, worldwide, persecuting powers that throughout history deployed themselves against God and which hated and oppressed his people, the same seven which appear in the prophecy of Daniel and in the Book of Revelation are: EGYPT; ASSYRIA; BABYLON; MEDO-PERSIA; GREECE; ROME; BABYLON THE GREAT (another ROME with a spiritual nature, and "diverse from the others," but also identified with the sixth), the Seven Heads of the Sea-Beast (Revelation 13:1-11). God's people had already witnessed the overthrow of the first head (EGYPT) in the Red Sea; and, in Nahum, the second head (ASSYRIA) perished in the ruin of its capitol city; and yet the Sea-Beast would not die throughout history, each mortal wound in the destruction of one head would lead only to the elevation of another. Egypt was succeeded by Assyria; and soon it would be succeeded by Babylon, etc.; but Nahum in this marvelous prophecy revealed God's unchanging hatred and opposition to human states as organized in their rebellion against God. "I am against thee, saith Jehovah of hosts" (Nahum 2:13; 3:5). No end of this sad succession of God-opposed "heads" of the Beast appears in prophecy until Revelation 19:19-21, where is revealed their ultimate overthrow in the "lake of fire." It is the significant relationship which Nahum has to that larger drama which endows it with an importance utterly lost to many through their failure to discern it. It is particularly in this context that "Nahum is essentially though not explicitly Messianic." "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10); "Yea, all the prophets from Samuel and them that followed after ... told of these days" (Acts 3:24). Thus there is definitely a witness of Christ in Nahum, indirect as it is. Nahum saw that the kingdom of darkness must fall before, "The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign forever and ever" (Revelation 11:15). "Such a message has a value for all time, as long as there remains aught in which the spirit of Nineveh survives."
"He that dasheth in pieces is come up against thee: keep the fortress, watch the way, make thy loins strong, fortify thy power mightily."
"He that dasheth in pieces ..." is the Lord of hosts; the instrument by which his will would be executed upon Nineveh was Babylon. The fourfold warning of "keep... watch ... make strong ... fortify" is irony. Who can stand against the Almighty ? What human strength could avail against the Lord ?
"The Besieger of the world is at last besieged; every cruelty that he has inflicted upon men is now to be turned upon himself." Some have labored to produce a list of the military forces arrayed against Nineveh; but, while interesting enough, those forces, composed largely of the Babylonians, were not identified as "He that dasheth in pieces." Jeremiah 51:20 identified both the Dasher and the instrument thus:
"Thou art my battle-ax (to the destroyer of Babylon) and weapons of war; and with thee will I break in pieces the nations; and with thee will I destroy kingdoms, and with thee will I break in pieces the horse and his rider, etc. (Jeremiah 51:20,21)."
Although applicable to another situation, Jeremiah's understanding that God was the Executioner and that the armies of men were merely his instruments certainly sheds light upon the similar situation here. Jamieson also identified God as the Breaker, and the armies as his "battle-ax."
"For Jehovah restoreth the excellency of Jacob, as the excellency of Israel; for the emptiers have emptied them out, and destroyed their vine-branches."
Dalglish thought this referred to "the restoration of both Judah and the Ten Northern tribes, and to their restoration under a Davidic monarch." However, nothing like that is in the passage. "Jacob" is used here, not Judah; and Jacob necessarily included all of Israel, northern and southern; and, besides that, it is the spiritual Israel which comes into view here, and not the fortunes of the Jewish secular state, either north or south. The excellency of Jacob will be restored in the glorious privileges of all men under the New Covenant of God in Christ. All of this is evident in the use of two different names for Israel: Jacob, which is identified with the poverty and humility of Israel at first, and Israel, meaning "Prince of God," and identified with the glories that came to him later. This verse is therefore Messianic and is similar in thought to Nahum 1:15, to which it is joined in the New English Bible and by many commentators. However, such fiddling around with Biblical verses by re-grouping them is not at all necessary, and sometimes is very harmful. The verse, as it stands, is logically related to the greater drama of God's conflict with evil mentioned in the chapter introduction. The preference for connecting the verse with Nahum 1:15 was clearly stated by Blaiklock, "It is assumed that Jacob means the northern kingdom, and Israel means the southern kingdom." Of course, that is an error, both words as used here having reference to the whole of Israel. As Keil accurately discerned:
"Both names stand here for the whole of Israel (of the twelve tribes); and as Cyril has shown, the distinction is this: Jacob is the natural name which the people inherited from their forefather, and Israel the spiritual name which they received from God."
Therefore, it is evident that New English Bible's removing the verse and joining it in another place is not a manuscript decision, but an interpretive one; and the interpretation is wrong.
The proper interpretation of the use of two names here was cited thus by Barnes: "It means the afflicted people (Jacob) shall be restored to its utmost glory as Israel." But such a promise is clearly Messianic and has nothing whatever to do with restoring the old northern kingdom, of which God had already made a summary end forever. Furthermore, before the ultimate glory indicated in this verse would appear, Judah also (the southern kingdom) would be destroyed and its people carried into captivity. Only a remnant would return; and the glory promised here would be achieved in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"For the emptiers have emptied them out ..." The great world military powers, perpetually the enemies of God, had seduced the heart of Israel (all of it); and they had rejected God and elevated a king and proceeded to build another worldly kingdom, becoming thereby themselves also enemies of God, which necessitated their being "emptied," before the true "glory of Israel" could appear. That is exactly why that emptying was mentioned here in this verse.
But Nahum would next describe prophetically the doom of Nineveh, as a judgment against the godless state, a doom that would continue to fall repeatedly throughout history upon all similar examples of the kingdom of man founded upon the rejection of God and rebellion against him. Is this pertinent now? Of course it is!
"The shield of his mighty men is made red, the valiant men are in scarlet: the chariots flash with steel in the day of his preparation, and the cypress spears are brandished."
This verse, and through verse ten, is as powerful and brilliant a description of the siege and fall of a city as any ever written. No, it exceeds all others. "No other, of all the prophets, except Isaiah, can be said even to equal Nahum in boldness, ardor, and sublimity." The words of this description tumble forth like hot rocks from a volcano. In one clause, the besiegers are in focus; and in the next, the besieged are seen. The doomed city is referred to as "she," "they" and "he"; substantives appear without verbs; the staccato thunder of the wrath of God could not be contained in the arbitrary rules of rhetoric and grammar. The weapons of attackers and defenders alike are mentioned indiscriminately. It is the most remarkable montage ever produced, presenting with the most dramatic impact the burned palaces, the flood, the slaughter, the fleeing inhabitants, the battering rams and engines of warfare, the horses, chariots, and spears, the fevered anxiety, the drunken walk of the nobles, the looting of treasures, and the heartbreak of defeat! There were miles of walls and buildings in Nineveh covered with friezes depicting captives from all the nations tortured and destroyed by Nineveh, the most cruel and heartless of all nations. There were the lines of captives, led by chains in their lips or ears; there were the brutal slaughter of whole populations, the slave-masters with their whips, and the burden-bearers with intolerable loads; there were the treasures of palaces and temples, and the arrogant king receiving tribute from humbled kings in the act of kissing his feet! The life of the city was built upon such things; but now it was happening to them!
The efforts of modern Biblical critics to convert large sections of the holy Bible into "poetry" is in a great many instances foolishly impious. The Jews preserved the books as they were written; and while it may be true enough that some of our critics are pretty fair poets, their changing such a passage as the one before us into poetry requires altogether too much unlawful tampering with the sacred text to enable it to be received as a valid translation, which it is not! J. M. Powis Smith cites just a few of the problems confronted in making a poem out of this chapter:
"The meter of this section is rough and irregular. (In other words, it is in no sense "poetry"... J.B.C.). Hexamaters are frequent ... tetrameters are common; while a few pentameters appear. Uniformity can be attained only by taking unwarranted liberties with the text!
We have stressed this because some are tempted to receive such man-made poems imposed upon the sacred text as "translations." Nevertheless, some of the poems are valuable as commentary; and herewith we present this passage (Nahum 2:3-10) as it appears in the New English Bible. Translation it is not; but as commentary it certainly conveys a strong impression in general line with what the prophet wrote:
The shield of the mighty man is red,
his soldiers are clothed in scarlet.
The chariots flash like flame
when mustered in array;
the chargers prance.
The chariots rage in the streets,
they rush to and fro through the squares;
they gleam like torches
they dart like lighting.
The officers are summoned,
they stumble as they go,
they hasten to the wall,
the mantelet is set up.
The river gates are opened,
the palace is in dismay,
its mistress is stripped, she is carried off,
her maidens lamenting,
moaning like doves,
and beating their breasts.
Nineveh is like a pool
whose waters run away.
"Halt! Halt!" they cry;
but none turns back.
Plunder the silver,
plunder the gold!
There is no end of treasure,
or wealth of every precious thing.
Desolate! Desolation and ruin!
Hearts faint, and knees tremble,
anguish is on all loins,
all faces grow pale.
We shall leave the discernment of whether or not the above is "poetry" in any sense up to the individual. To us it appears as only the best that a good typesetter could do to convert masterful prose into weak poetry. How remarkable that anyone could hail the above effort as an improvement over what Nahum wrote!
"Scarlet ... red ..." Fraser and others point out that this color identified the attackers as, "The fighting men of Media. Their shield are red, as are their cloaks. It was their favorite color." While true enough, we believe there is another identification intended. Babylon which pressed the attack against Nineveh here was itself the third head of the seven-headed Scarlet Sea-Beast which the apostle John saw coming up out of the sea (Revelation 13:1ff). Thus, it was a powerful suggestion that the ruin of Assyria would not mean the end of human oppression and wickedness, but only the emergence of another great world-power that would oppose God and oppress his people.
"The chariots rage in the streets; they rush to and fro in the broad ways: the appearance of them is like torches; they run like lightnings."
A number of commentators mention the fact that some very fanciful interpretations have been imposed upon this verse.
"Were it not so common a view, who could believe that sober men would attempt to see in words like these references to railroads, electric cars, and automobiles ? ... It is an instance of the careless way in which men read Scripture."
What is meant, of course, is the war chariots of the victorious besiegers, glistening brightly in the sun from their polished metal weapons or ornaments, or perhaps carrying torches at night for the incineration of buildings in the ruined city. No actual description of such things was given, only a dramatic impression of swift and invincible destruction. It is not clear whether the chariots here belong to the defenders or the attackers; scholars may be cited as advocating either view.
"He remembereth his nobles: they stumble in their march; they make haste to the wall thereof, and the mantelet is prepared."
Like this whole passage, Nahum 2:5 is impressionistic: "remembereth his nobles" shows the king's hasty call for battle as the flood descended upon them and the attack was renewed; "stumble in their walk" appears to be a description of the drunken state of those who should have been able to defend the city. "Half-drunken, they totter and stumble as they hasten to the walls of the city."
"The mantelet is prepared ..." Scholars do not agree on what the mantelet was, perhaps a "battering ram" if the reference is to an engine of the attackers, or "some defensive device" if the besieged prepared it. The thought is starkly clear. The great engines of warfare are brought into action. "Whether mantelet (on the side of the besiegers), or bulwark (on the side of the besieged) is uncertain."
"The gates of the rivers are opened, and the palace is dissolved."
"The gates of the rivers are opened ..." Many gates and multiple rivers are in view. Some sudden disaster had left the city defenseless. Although many have tried it, none has ever succeeded in devising a convincing record of just how such a disaster occurred. It is foolish to trust in any of the wild and complicated schemes alleged as the battle plan by which the Babylonians captured Nineveh. It was of the Lord, and not of the Babylonians alone. We do not certainly know how many rivers flooded, or why, nor how many gates were opened, nor how it could have taken Nineveh so completely by surprise.
"The palace is dissolved ..." Since the palace was built upon a high eminence within the city, it would appear that the flood could not have destroyed it. Therefore, it must have been dissolved by fire; but at just what juncture in the siege that occurred is not known.
"And it is decreed: she is uncovered, she is carried away; and her handmaids moan as with the voice of doves, beating upon their breasts."
The text in a number of places here is not certain; and scholars are much perplexed as to the identity of the feminine person "uncovered" or "stripped" and "carried away" to the accompaniment of the weeping handmaidens. Some see it as a personification of Nineveh; the New English Bible makes it to be the queen; and others see it as a reference to the patron goddess of Assyria, Ishtar, humbled, and bemoaned by her regiments of sacred prostitutes. There is really no good reason to suppose that any such disasters did not occur. The ruin of Nineveh was complete, let the details be filled in anyway one chooses!
J. M.P. Smith has this interesting comment:
"The probability that the goddess of Nineveh is referred to here is certainly greater than that it is the queen. The latter played no conspicuous part in Assyrian history, but the goddess occupied a very large part in the minds of Assyrian monarchs. If it is the goddess, the maidens are probably the female devotees of Ishtar (the sacred prostitutes)."
Our own view is that the passage means any or all of the things suggested, because of the impressionistic nature of the description.
Watts also took the same view of this as did Smith:
"Ishtar's temple was destroyed, her image broken, and the base taken away as booty. The slave-girls, or maidens, are the sacred harlots who were an important part of the Ishtar cult. Normally, they would dance in the temple; but now they marched away with gestures of grief."
"But Nineveh hath been from of old like a pool of water; yet they flee away. Stand, stand, they cry; but none looketh back."
Nineveh was like a pool of water fed by many streams, in that her citizens came from every land, being drawn to the city, not for patriotic or benign purposes, but solely for commercial greed and the pursuit of wealth. None of the peoples, or at least very few of them, felt any loyalty whatever to the city. When sudden destruction came, every man fled. The whole population deserted the defenses. Fear of the central tyranny had formed out of them a cohesive unity; and when that was destroyed, the city fragmented into a thousand fleeing groups of people.
"Take ye the spoil of the silver, take the spoil of gold, for there is no end of the store, the glory of all goodly furniture."
It is idle to speculate on the obscure clause regarding, "the glory of all goodly furniture." The meaning is clear enough, no matter what the particular shade of meaning might have been. Looting is the same in all ages and countries. The looting of Assyria is taking place in this verse; and no people who ever lived on earth knew any more about looting than the Assyrians; but now it was their turn to be the looted! What a fat city Assyria was! It was the grand central warehouse of looted treasures of the whole ancient world. Descriptions of the wealth of Assyria break down with superlatives. There was nothing else like it on earth; and yet all that wealth was carried away, leaving nothing but a mound of ruins forever!
"She is empty, and void, and waste; and the heart melteth, and the knees smite together, and anguish is in all loins, and the faces of them all are waxed pale."
In the next chapter, Nahum added the thought that, "there is no assuaging of thy hurt," (Nahum 3:19), concluding his prophecy with that word. Those commentators who try to make Nahum merely a poetic celebration of a past event neglect to tell us how "the poet" knew that Assyrian Nineveh would lay desolate for 25 centuries!
"Empty ... void ... waste ... no healing of thy bruise ..." No more powerful or impressive prophecy was ever uttered; and it came at the very zenith of Assyria's power and glory. It would have been impossible for even the Babylonian allies to take it, unless they had been providentially aided at exactly the right time. The city was stripped naked of all defenses; its gates were opened to a mighty army still present (although thrice defeated) and ready to take advantage of their opportunity, an Opportunity that was totally unexpected, either by the besieged or the besiegers.
"Where is the den of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and the lioness walked, the lion's whelp, and none made them afraid?"
"The lion's den, the cave, represents Nineveh; the predatory raids suggested the multiplied spoils seized from the conquered nations; the abundant prey stored in the lair suggests the insatiableness of Assyria; the lion and whelps point to Assyria's nobles and citizens."
"Where is the den ... etc." Long a center of terror for the whole world, where was it when the blow fell? Where were the powers dreaded all over the earth? Where was the mighty king? Where was the rapacious army, red with the blood of all peoples? Where was it? Where is it now? Where has it ever been since "the day of the wrath of the Lord"?
"The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for his lioness, and filled his caves with prey, and his dens with ravin."
Due to the remains of animals killed for prey, with leftovers decaying as new prey is brought in, a lion's den is positively the foulest and most detestable place on earth, an apt figure indeed of the Assyrian capitol.
Another view of the persons intended by this metaphor was that of Ironside, which seems preferable: "The lion is the king, and the lions and lionesses are his household who perished with him amid the flames of his palace."
"Behold, I am against thee, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will burn her chariots in the smoke, and the sword shall devour thy young lions; and I will cut off thy prey from the earth, and the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard."
The dilemma of Assyria's destruction is evident in this extended figure of the lion's dens.
"How is it that with the strength and devastating power of a lion with a den unmolested and uncontested, with mate and offspring, and with unlimited prey to seize with impunity, the lair is utterly abandoned?"
The enigma is answered in the first clause, one of the most important in the prophecy and the one repeated in Nahum 3:5, "I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts!"
This verse identifies the Dasher in pieces of Nahum 2:1; it is God who overthrew Nineveh. He had instruments of course, but the decision for the execution of wrath upon that bloody city was not made in the counsels of men, but at the throne of God.
"I will burn ... I will cut off ..." "Of all the empires, Nineveh was the one most unashamedly founded upon force and cruelty." How appropriate, therefore, was the execution of the wrath of God upon them. Thus is concluded this second chapter which forms a unit prophesying Nineveh's destruction. The whole story is in this chapter; but Nahum proceeded then to emphasis it with another similar announcement of the true word of Jehovah, providing something of a recapitulation with the addition, of other significant and pertinent details in the final chapter.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Nahum 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter