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The Prophet, as I have said, more clearly expresses here the reason why the vengeance of God would be so severe on the Ninevites, — because they had wholly given themselves up to barbarous cruelty; and hence he calls it the bloody city. Bloody city! he says. The exclamation is emphatical. Though הו, eu, sometimes means Woe; yet it is put here as though the Prophet would have constrained Nineveh to undergo its punishment, O sanguinary city, then, the whole of it is full of כחש cachesh: the word signifies leanness and the Prophet no doubt joins here together two words, which seem to differ widely, and yet they signify the same thing. For פרק, perek, means to lay by; and כחש, cachesh, is taken for a lie or vanity, when there is nothing solid in what is said: but the Prophet, I doubt not, means by both words the spoils of the city Nineveh. It was then full of leanness for it had consumed all others; it was also full of spoils, for it had filled itself. But the meaning of the Prophet is in no way dubious; for at length he adds, Depart shall not the prey; that is as some think, it shall not be withdrawn from the hands of conquerors; but others more correctly think that a continued liberty in plundering is intended, that the Assyrians were constantly employed in pillaging and kept within no bounds.
We hence see that the Prophet now shows why God says, that he would be an adversary to the Ninevites, because he could not endure its unjust cruelty. He bore with it indeed for a time; for he did not immediately execute his judgment; but yet he never forgot his own people.
As, then, God has once declared by the mouth of his Prophet that he would be the avenger of the cruelty which the Assyrians had exercised, let us know that he retains still his own nature; and whatever liberty he may for a time grant to tyrants and savage wild beasts, he yet continues to be a just avenger. It is our duty calmly to bear injuries, and to groan to him; and as he promises to be at length our helper, it behaves us to flee to him, and to ask him to succor us, so that seeing his Church oppressed, and tyrants exercising licentiously their power, he may hasten the time to restrain them. If then we were at all times to continue thus resigned under God’s protection, there is no doubt but that he would be ready even at this day to execute a similar judgment to that which the city Nineveh and its people had to endure.
The Prophet represents here as in a lively picture, what was nigh the Assyrians; for he sets forth the Chaldeans their enemies, with all their preparations and in their quick movements. (239) The sound of the whip, he says; the whips, made a noise in exciting the horses: the sound of the rattling of the wheel; that is, great shall be the haste and celerity, when the horses shall be forced on by the whip; the horse also shaking the earth, and the chariot bounding; the horseman making it to ascend; and then, the flame of the sword and the lightning of the spear He then says, that there would be such a slaughter, that the whole place would be full of dead bodies.
We now then understand what the Prophet means: for as Nineveh might have then appeared impregnable the Prophet confirms at large what he had said of its approaching ruin, and thus sets before the eyes of the Israelites what was then incredible.
(239) It appears from Marckius that Theodoret and Cyril regarded this verse, with Calvin, as a description of the Chaldean army after having invaded Nineveh, but that Jerome and Cocceius viewed it as a delineation of the state of Nineveh in the Prophet’s time; and with the last Newcome agrees, while Henderson coincides with the former. The version given by them is all nearly the same. It seems certainly more consistent with the order of the poem to regard the verse as describing the state of Nineveh at the time, for the sacking of Nineveh had been before very minutely delineated. Having done this, the Prophet may be supposed to give here a reason for the dreadful catastrophe which he had mentioned. Entertaining this view, and differing from others as to the meaning of some of the clauses, I offer the following version of the three verses, —
1. Oh! The city of blood! All of deceit; Of plunder it is full, none can search out the spoil: —
2. The sound of the whip, and the sound of the rattling wheel! And the horse prancing, and the chariot bounding! The horseman mounting, And the flaming of the sword and the glittering of the spear! And a multitude dancing, and a mass inactive! And no end to her people! Who are fallen, with their nations,
3. Through the many fornications of the harlot, That exults in beauty, and possesses enchantments; Who sells nations by her fornications, And tribes by her enchantments.
ימיש, “search out,” I derive from מש, which is to feel for the purpose of exploring, and then, to explore or search out; see Genesis 31:34. The second verse contains a simple enumeration of what the city exhibited. רב חלל, “a multitude dancing” or piping, the ו being dropped in חלל, as it is in חללים, pipers, Genesis 1:40. Then as a contrast comes the dead, heavy, inactive mass, כבד פגד. “To her people” or nations, לגויה, τοις εθνεσιν αυτης. — Sept. In the word בנויתם, I take that ת is a mistake for ה. If taken for carcasses, it wants a ו before ת; see Psalms 110:6. The third verse must be connected with the second, as it has otherwise no grammatical construction. — Ed.
As to the words, some interpreters connect what we have rendered, the horseman makes to ascend, with what follows, that is, he makes to ascend the flame of the sword and the lightning of the spear But as a copulative comes between, it seems rather to be an imperfect sentence, meaning, that the horseman makes to ascend or mount, that is, his horses, by urging them on. With regard to the word להב, leb, it means I have no doubt, a flame. By this word, I know, is also understood metaphorically the brightness of swords, which appears like a flame: but the Prophet immediately adds lightning As then he says that spears lighten, I doubt not but that for the same reason he meant to say that swords flame. All these things were intended for the purpose of fully convincing the Israelites that Nineveh, however much it was supplied with wealth and power, was yet approaching its ruin, for its enemies would prevail against it: and therefore he adds, that all the roads would be full of dead bodies, that the enemies could not enter without treading on them everywhere. It follows —
The Prophet mentions again the cause why God would execute so dreadful a vengeance on that city, which yet procured by its splendor so much glory and respect among all people: and God seems in a manner to have but little regard for the order of the world when he thus overturns great cities. For since he is the Creator of the whole world, it seems to be his proper office to protect its various parts, especially those which excel in beauty, for they seem to deserve a higher regard. When therefore any splendid city is demolished, such thoughts as these occur to us, — That God is either delighted with the ruin of the world, or is asleep in heaven, and that thus all things revolve by chance and contingency. Therefore the Prophet shows, that God had just reasons for decreeing the ruin of Nineveh, and for deforming that beauty, that it might not deceive the eyes of men. Hence he compares Nineveh to a harlot. The similitude seems not to be very suitable: but yet if we take a nearer view of things, the Prophet could not have more fitly nor more strikingly set forth the condition of that city. He had before mentioned its barbarous cruelty, and said, that it was the den of lions, and that savage and bloody wild beasts dwelt there. He now begins to speak of the frauds and crafty artifices by which the kings of this world attain for themselves both wealth and power. The Prophet then makes the city Nineveh to be like a harlot for this reason, — because it had not only brought under its power neighboring nations by threats and terrors, and also by cruelty, but because it had ensnared many by oblique arts and fraudulent means, by captious dealings and allurements. This is the reason why it is now called a harlot by the Prophet.
The Prophets of God seem indeed to speak but with little reverence of great cities and empires: but we know that it rightly belongs to the Spirit of God, that in exercising his own jurisdiction, he should uncover the base deeds of the whole world, which otherwise would lie concealed and even under the appearance of virtues deceive the eyes and senses of the simple: and as men so much flatter themselves, and are inebriated with their own delusions, it is necessary that those who are too self-indulgent and delicate should be roughly handled. As then kings ever set up their own splendor that they may dazzle the eyes of the simple, and seem to have their own greatness as a beautiful covering, the Spirit of God divests them of these masks. This then is the reason why the Prophet speaks here, in no very respectful terms, of that great monarchy which had attracted the admiration of all nations. For when the Spirit of God adopts a humble and common mode of speaking, men, blinded by their vices, will not acknowledge their own baseness; nay, they will even dare to set up in opposition those things which cover their disgraceful deeds: but the Spirit of God breaks through all these things, and dissipates those delusions by which men impose on themselves.
Such is the reason for this similitude; On account of the multitude, he says, of the whoredoms of the harlot, who excels in favor It is said by way of concession that Nineveh was in great favor, that is, that by her beauty she had allured to herself many nations, like a harlot who attains many lovers: and thus the Prophet allows that Nineveh was beautiful. But he adds that she was the mistress of sorceries כשף, casheph, means sorcery, and also juggling: we may then render כשפים, cashaphim, used here, juggleries, ( praestigias — sleights of hand.) But the Prophet seems to allude to filters or amatory potions, by which harlots dementate youths. As then harlots not only attract notice by their beauty and bland manners and other usual ways; but they also in a manner fascinate unhappy youths, and use various arts and delusions; so the Prophet under this word comprehends all the deceits practiced by harlots; as though he said, “This harlot was not only beautiful, but also an enchantress, who by her charms deceived unhappy nations like a strumpets who dementates unhappy youths, who do not take care of themselves.”
He afterwards adds, Who sells nations by her whoredoms, and tribes by her sorceries Though Nahum still carries on the same metaphor, he yet shows more clearly what he meant by whoredoms and sorceries, — even the crafts of princes, by which they allure their neighbors, and then reduce them to bondage. Then all the counsels of kings (which they call policies) (240) are here, by the Spirit of God, called sorceries or juggleries, and also meretricious arts. This reproof, as I have already said, many deem to have been too severe; for so much majesty shone forth then in the Assyrians, that they ought, as they think, to have been more respectfully treated. But it behaved the Spirit of God to speak in this forcible language: for there is no one who does not applaud such crafty proceedings. Where any one, without mentioning princes, to ask, Is it right to deceive, and then by lies, deceptions, perjuries, cavils, and other arts, to make a cover for things? — were this question asked, the prompt answer would be, that all these things are as remote as possible from virtue, as nothing becomes men more than ingenuous sincerity. But when princes appear in public, and make this pretense, that the world must be ruled with great prudence, that except secret counsels be taken, all kingdoms would immediately fall into ruin, — this veil covers all their shameful transactions, so that it becomes lawful for them, and even praiseworthy, to deceive one party, to circumvent another, and a third to oppress by means of deception. Since then princes are praised for their craftiness, this is the reason why the Prophet here takes away, as it were by force, the mask, under which they hide their base proceedings; “They are,” he says, “meretricious arts, and they are sorceries and juggleries.”
It is of one city, it is true, that he speaks here; but the Prophet no doubt describes in this striking representation how kingdoms increase and by what crafty means, — first, by robberies, — and then by artful dealings, such as would by no means become honest men in the middle class of life. But princes could never succeed, except they practiced such artifices. We yet see how they are described here by the Spirit of God, — that they are like strumpets given to juggleries, and to other base and filthy arts, which he calls whoredoms. But I have said, that the meaning of the Prophet can be more clearly elicited from the second clause of the verse, when he says that the Ninevites made a merchandise of the nations. We see indeed even at this day that princes disturb the whole world at their pleasure; for they deliver up innocent people to one another, and shamefully sell them, while each hunts after his own advantage, without any shame; that he may increase his own power, he will deliver others into the hand of an enemy. Since then there are crafty proceedings of this kind carried on too much at this day, there is no need that I should attempt to explain at any length the meaning of the Prophet. I wish that examples were to be sought at a distance. Let us proceed —
(240) Practicas , used here evidently in a sense not classical, meaning the crafty tactics of politicians. The word practic, in English, was, at one time, used in a bad sense, signifying what was sly and artful, or crafty; and practice too was employed to designate a trick, or a stratagem. — Ed.
The Prophet confirms here what he has said of the fall of Nineveh; but, as it was stated yesterday, he introduces God as the speaker, that his address might be more powerful. God then testifies here to the Assyrians, that they should have no strife or contention with any mortal being, but with their own judgment; as though he said, “There is no reason for thee to compare thy forces with those of the Chaldeans; but think of this — that I am the punisher of thy crimes. The Chaldeans indeed shall come; chariots shall make a noise and horses shall leap, and horsemen shall shake the earth; they shall brandish the flaming swords, and their spears shall be like lightning; but there is no reason for thee to think that the Chaldeans will, of themselves, break in upon thee: for I guide them by my hidden providence, as it is my purpose to destroy thee; and now the time is come when I shall execute on thee my judgment.”
I am, he says, Jehovah of hosts. The epithet צבאות tsabaut, must be referred to the circumstance of this passage; for God declares here his own power, that the Assyrians might not think that they could by any means escape. He then adds, I will disclose thy extremities on thy face He alludes to the similitude which we have lately observed; for harlots appear very fine, and affect neatness and elegance in their dress; they not only put on costly apparel, but also add disguises. Though then this fine dress conceals the baseness of strumpets, yet, were any to take the clothes of a harlot and throw them over her head, all her beauty would disappear, and all men would abhor the sight: to see her concealed parts disclosed would be a base and filthy spectacle. So God declares that he would strip Nineveh of its magnificent dress, that she might be a detestable sight, only exhibiting her own reproach. We now then apprehend the Prophet’s meaning; as though he said, “Nineveh thinks not that she is to perish. — How so? Because her own splendor blinds her: and she has willfully deceived herself, and, by her deceits, has dazzled the eyes of all nations. As then this splendor seems to be a defense to the city Nineveh, I the Lord, he says, will disclose her hidden parts; I will deprive the Assyrians of all this splendor in which they now glory, and which is in high esteem and admiration among other nations.”
And this passage ought to be especially noticed; for, as I have said, true dignity is not to be found in the highest princes. Princes ought, indeed, to seek respect for themselves by justice, integrity, mercy, and a magnanimous spirit: but they only excel in mean artifices; then they shamelessly deceive, lie, and swear falsely; they also flatter, even meanly, when circumstances require; they insinuate themselves by various crafty means, and by large promises decoy the simple. Since then their true dignity is not commonly regarded by princes, this passage ought to be observed, so that we may know that their elevation, which captivates the minds of men, is an abomination before God; for they do not discern things, but are blind, being dazzled by empty splendor.
Disclose, then, he says, will I thy shame He says first, Disclose will I thy fringes on thy face; and then I will show to the nations thy nakedness And the nakedness of great kings is shown to the nations when the Lord executes his vengeance: for then even the lowest of the low will dare to pass judgment, — “He deserved to perish with shame, for he exercised tyranny on his own subjects, and spared not his own neighbors; he never was a good prince; nay, he only employed deceits and perjuries.” When, therefore princes are cast down, every one, however low, becomes a judge, and ascends as it were, the tribunal to burden and load them with reproaches. And hence the Prophet says, in the person of God, Disclose will I thy fringes on thy face, and will show to the nations thy nakedness, and to kingdoms thy filthiness.
He afterwards adds, I will besprinkle thee with filth, or defilements. The Prophet still alludes to the similitude of a harlot, who is well and sumptuously adorned, and by her charms captivates the eyes of all: but when any one takes mire and filth from the middle of the road, and bespatters her with it, there is then no one who will not turn away his eyes from so filthy an object. But we have already explained the import of this. God is indeed said to besprinkle kingdoms with defilements, when he casts them down; for they all begin freely to express their opinion: and those who before pretended great admiration, now rise up and bring forth many reproachful things. Then it is, that the Lord is said to besprinkle great kingdoms with filth and defilements.
He then adds, I will disgrace thee נבל, nubel, is to fall, and it is applied to dead bodies; but it means also to disgrace, as it is to be taken here. I will make thee as the dung Some think רואי, ruai, to be dung, or something fetid: but as it comes from ראה, rae, to see, and is in many parts of Scripture taken for vision or view, they are more correct, in my judgment, who render it thus, I will make thee an example; so Jerome renders it; as though he said, “Thou shalt be a spectacle to all nations.” (241) And Nineveh is said to be made an example, because its ruin was more memorable than that of any other which had previously happened. Thou shalt then be a spectacle; that is, the calamity which I now denounce shall attract the observation of all. It afterwards follows —
(241) The Septuagint favors this meaning, “ εις παραδειγμα —for an example.” In this sense Grotius and Piscator take the word. Henderson, with less propriety, renders it “gazingstock,” the word of our version. Newcome translates it “dung,” according to the Rabbins. — Ed.
When he says, כל ראיך, cal-raik, ‘whosoever sees thee,’ we hence learn again that רואי, ruai, at the end of the last verse, is to be taken for example or spectacle; for the Prophet proceeds with the same subject: I will make thee, he says, an example, or a spectacle. — For what purpose? that whosoever sees thee may depart from thee (242) And it was an evidence of horror, though some think it to have been a reward for her cruelty, that no one came to Nineveh, but that she was forsaken by all friends in her desolation. And they take in the same sense what follows, Who will condole with her? and whence shall I seek comforters for thee? For they think that the Ninevites are here reproached for their cruelty, because they made themselves so hated by all that they were unworthy of sympathy; for they spared none, they allowed themselves full liberty in injuring others, they had gained the hatred of all the world. Hence some think that what is here intimated is, that the Ninevites were justly detested by and so that no one condoled with them in so great a calamity, inasmuch as they had been injurious to all: “It shall then happen, that whosoever sees thee shall go far away from thee and shall say, Wasted is Nineveh; who will condole with her? Whence shall I call comforters to her?”
But I know not whether this refined meaning came into the Prophet’s mind. We may explain the words more simply, that all would flee far away as a proof of their horrors and that the calamity would be such, that no lamentation would correspond with it. Who will be able to console with her? that is, were the greatness of her calamity duly weighed, though all were to weep and utter their meanings, it would not yet be sufficient: all lamentations would be far unequal to so great a calamity. The Prophet seems rather to mean this. Who then shall condole with her? and whence shall I seek comforters, as though he said, “The ruin of so splendid a city will not be of an ordinary kind, but what cannot be equaled by any lamentations.” It then follows —
(242) Literally, “Every one of thy seers shall hasten from thee.” — Ed.
The Prophet, in order to gain credit to his prophecy, produces here the ensample of Alexandria. It is indeed certain, from many testimonies of Scripture, that Alexandria is called No, which was a very ancient city, situated on the confines of Africa, and yet in Egypt. It might, at the same time, be, that the Alexandrians formerly had their own government, at least their own kings: and this is probable; for the Prophet says here, that Egypt and Ethiopia, as well as Africa and the Libyan nations, were the confederates of this city. It may hence then be concluded, that Alexandria was not then a part of Egypt, but had its own government, and was in alliance with the Egyptians, as with the other nations. But as Egypt, after the death of our Prophet, was in part overthrown by the Assyrians, and in part by the Chaldeans, some interpreters think, that the Prophet speaks of a ruin which had not yet taken place. (243) But this would not harmonize with his design; for the Prophet shows here, as in a mirror, that the chief empires fall according to the will of God, and that cities, the richest and the best fortified, come to nothing, whenever it pleases God. Unless, then, the destruction of Alexandria was notorious and everywhere known, the Prophet could not have suitably adduced this example: I therefore doubt not but that Alexandria had been then demolished. It is no matter of wonder that it afterwards returned to its former state and became rich; for the situation of the city was most commodious, not so much on account of the fertility of the land, as on account of its traffic; for ships from the Mediterranean sailed up near to it. It had, indeed, on one side, the lake Marcotis, which is not very healthy; and then the sea fortified it; and Pharos was a neighboring island: but yet the city was inhabited by many, and adorned with splendid buildings; for the advantage of traffic drew together inhabitants from all quarters. It was afterwards built again by Alexander of Macedon. But it is evident enough that it had been already an opulent city: for Alexander did not build a new city but enlarged it. (244) Let us now come to the words of the Prophet.
Shall it be better to thee than to Alexandria? The word אמון, amun, some render populous; and I am inclined to adopt this meaning, which has been received nearly by the consent of all. Others have supposed it to be the name of a king; but as proof fails them, I leave to themselves their own conjecture. Shall it then be better to thee than to Alexandria? For it stood, he says, between the rivers Alexandria had the Nile, as it were, under its own power; for it was then divided into many parts, so that it intersected the city in various places. So then he says, that Alexandria dwelt between the rivers; for it divided the Nile, as it suited its convenience, into several streams.
Then he says, The sea was around her: for it was surrounded on one side by the sea, and protected by the island Pharos, which had a tower, not only for the sake of defense, but that ships coming in from the Mediterranean, might have a signal, by which they might direct their course straight to the harbor. The sea then was around her; for the sea encircled more than half of the city; and then the lake Mareotis was on the other side to the south. He afterwards adds, And its wall or moat was the sea The word is written with י, iod, חיל, chil; but it means a wall or a moat, though Latins render antemurale — a front-work: for they were wont formerly to fortify their cities with a double wall, as old buildings still show. According to these interpreters חיל, chil, is the inner wall, and so they render its front-work: and there was also an outer wall towards the sea. But we may take חיל, chil, for a moat or a trench; and it is easy to find from other passages that it was a trench rather than a front-work. It is said that the body of Jezebel was torn by dogs in the trench, and the word there is חיל, chil. As to the object of the Prophet, he evidently intended to show, that Alexandria was so well fortified, that Nineveh had no reason to think herself to be in a safer state; for its fortress was from the sea, and also from Ethiopia, on account of the munitions which he has mentioned. Then he speaks of Africa and Egypt, and the Libyan nations, (245) and says in short, that there was no end of her strength; that is, that she could seek the help of many friends and confederates: many were ready to bring aid, even Africa, Ethiopia, and the Lybians.
(243) So does Newcome, but with no countenance from the passage. The verb in the 10 th verse which refers to the captivity of No, is in the past tense. Most commentators regard the event as having passed. — Ed.
(244) Opinions differ as to No. Bochart supposed it to be Diospolis, near Mendes, in Lower Egypt. Henderson says, that later commentators are in favor of Thebes, the ancient capital of Upper Egypt. It is of no consequence to the present purpose which it was. It was some celebrated city in Egypt, whose ruin was well known in the Prophet’s time. Both the Rabbins and early Fathers thought that it was what was afterwards called Alexandria. But most probably it was a city which had lost its name and existence from the catastrophe that is here mentioned. — Ed.
(245) The original names in this verse are כוש, supposed to be Ethiopia, — מצרים, Egypt, here, either Upper or Lower, — פוט, Put, a country to the west of Lower Egypt, its inhabitants the descendants of Ham, Genesis 10:6, — לובים, Lybians, who occupied the region between Put and Numidia. — Ed.
Yet, he says, she departed into captivity a captive; that is, the inhabitants of Alexandria have been banished, and the city become as it were captive, for its inhabitants were driven here and there. Dashed, he says, have been their little ones at the head of every street The Prophet means, that so great a power as that of Alexandria did not prevent the conquerors to exercise towards her the most barbarous cruelty; for it was a savage act to dash little children against stones, who ought on account of their tender age, to have been spared. There was indeed no reason for raging against them, for they could not have been deemed enemies. But yet the Prophet says that Alexandria had been thus treated; and he said this, that Nineveh might not trust in her strength, and thus perversely despise God’s judgment, which he now denounced on it. He adds, They cast lots on her princess and bound were her great men with fetters In saying that lots were cast, he refers to an ancient custom; for when there was any dispute respecting a captive, the lot was cast: as for instance, when two had taken one man, to prevent contention, it was by lot determined who was to be his master. So then he says that lots were cast on their princes. This usually happened to the common people and to the lowest slaves; but the Prophet says that the conquerors spared not even the princes. They were therefore treated as the lowest class; and though they were great princes, they were led into captivity and bound with chains, in the same manner with the meanest and the lowest of the people. They were not treated according to their rank; and there was no differences between the chief men and the most degraded of the humbler classes; for even the very princes were so brought down, that their lot differed not from that of the wretched; for as common people are usually treated with contempt, so were the chiefs of Alexandria treated by their enemies.
Nahum, after having adduced the example of Alexandria, now shows that nothing would be able to resist God, so that he should not deal with Nineveh in the same manner; and he declares that this would be the case, Thou also, he says, shalt be inebriated. Well known is this metaphor, which often occurs in Scripture: for the Prophets are wont frequently to call punishment a cup, which God administers. But when God executes a heavy punishment, he is said to inebriate the wicked with his cup. The Prophet says now, that the chastisement of Nineveh would make her like a drunken man, who, being overcome with wine, lies down, as it were, stupefied. Hence by this metaphor he intended to set forth a most severe punishment: Thou then shalt be also inebriated The particle גם, gam, is here emphatical; it was introduced, that the Ninevites might know, that they could not possibly escape the punishment which they deserved; for God continues ever like himself. Thou then shalt be also inebriated This would not be consistent, were not God the judge of the world to the end. There is then a common reason for this proceeding; hence it necessarily follows, — since God punished the Alexandrians, the Assyrians cannot escape his hand, and be exempt from punishment.
He adds, Thou shalt be hidden Some refer this to shame, as though the Prophet had said, — “Thou indeed showest thyself now to be very proud, but calamity will force thee to seek hiding-places, in which to conceal thyself.” But I am more inclined to this meaning, — that Nineveh would vanish away, as though it never had been; for to be hidden is often taken in Hebrew in the sense of being reduced to nothing.
He afterwards says, Thou shalt also seek strength, or supplies, from the enemy. The words מעוז מאויב, meouz meavib, may admit of two meanings, — either that she will humbly solicit her enemies, — or that on account of her enemies she will flee to some foreign aid; for the preposition מ, mem, may be taken in both senses. If we adopt the first meaning, then I think that the Prophet speaks not of the Babylonians, but of the other nations who had been before harassed by the Assyrians. Thou shalt now then humbly pray for the aid of those who have been hitherto thine enemies, — not because they had provoked thee, but because thou hast as an enemy treated them. Now it is an extreme misery, when we are constrained to seek the help of those by whom we are hated, and hated, because we have by wrongs provoked them. But the other sense is more approved, for it is less strained: Thou shalt also seek aids on account of the enemy; that is, as strength to resist will fail thee, thou wilt seek assistance from thy neighbors. (246) It follows —
(246) Thou shalt seek a refuge from the enemy. — Newcome. But מעוז is rather a defense, aid, assistance, that which affords strength. — Ed.
The Prophet here declares that the strongholds of the Assyrians would avail them nothing; whether they trusted in the number of their men, or in their walls, or in other defenses, they would be disappointed; for all things, he says, will of themselves fall, even without being much assailed. And he employs a very apposite similitude, “Thy fortifications,” he says, “which thou thinkest to be very strong, shall be like figs; for when the fruit is ripe, and any comes to the tree, as soon as he touches it or any of the branches, the figs will fall off themselves.” We indeed know that there is not much firmness in that fruit; when it is ripe, it immediately falls to the ground, or if it hangs on the branches, a very little shaking will bring it down. We now see the design of the Prophet.
And hence an useful doctrine may be deduced: whatever strength men may seek for themselves from different quarters, it will wholly vanish away; for neither forts, nor towers, nor ramparts, nor troops of men, nor any kind of contrivances, will avail any thing; and were there no one to rise against them, they would yet fall of themselves. It afterwards follows —
The Prophet declares here, that the hearts of them all would become soft and effeminate when God would proceed to destroy Nineveh. We have said before that the hearts of men are so in the hand of God, that he melts whatever courage there may be in them, whenever he pleases: and God prepares men for ruin, when he debilitates their hearts, that they cannot bear the sight of their enemies. God indeed can leave in men their perverseness, so that they may ever run furiously into ruin, and not be able, with a courageous heart, to repel the attacks of their enemies; but he often softens their hearts and deprives them of power, that he may make more evident his judgment: God does not, however, always work in the same way; for variety in his judgments is calculated to do us good, for thereby our minds are more powerfully awakened. Were his proceedings uniformly the same, we could not so well distinguish the hand of God, as when he acts now in this way, and then in another. But, as I have already said, it is what is well known, that God enervates men and strips them of all courage, when he gives them over to destruction.
So now the Prophet speaks of the Ninevites, Behold, he says, thy people are women (247) The demonstrative particle, Behold, is here emphatical: for the Assyrians, no doubt, ridiculed, as a fable, the prediction of the Prophet; and it was what the Israelites found it difficult to believe. This is the reason why the Prophet pointed out, as by the finger, what surpassed the comprehensions of men. By saying, in the midst of thee, he intimates, that though they should be separated from their enemies and dwell in a fortified city, they should yet be filled with trembling. This amplification deserves to be noticed: for it is nothing wonderful, when an onset frightens us, when enemies join battle with us, and when many things present themselves before our eyes, which are calculated to deprive us of courage; but when we are frightened by report only concerning our enemies, and we become fainthearted, though walls be between us, it then appears evident, that we are smitten by the hand of God; for when we see walls of stone, and yet our hearts become brittle like glass, is it not evident, that we are inwardly terrified by the Lord, as it were, through some hidden influence, rather than through intervening and natural causes? We now then perceive the Prophet’s meaning, when he says, that the people would become women, or effeminate, in the midst of the city, in its very bowels; as though he had said, that they would not cease to tremble, even while they were dwelling in a safe place.
By opening, opened shall be thy gates, he says, to thy enemies. He shows again, that though the Assyrians were fortified, every access would be made open to their enemies, as though there was no fortress. By saying, the gates of thy land, it is probable that he speaks not only of the city, but of all their strongholds. The Assyrians, no doubt, fortified many cities, in order to keep afar off the enemy, and to preserve the chief seat of the empire free from danger and fear. I therefore understand the Prophet as referring here to many cities, when he says, By opening, opened shall be the gates of thy land to thine enemies and fire shall consume thy bars He means, that though they had before carefully fortified the whole land around, so that they thought themselves secure from all hostile invasion, yet all this would be useless; for the fire would consume all their bars. By fire, the Prophet understands metaphorically the judgment of God. For as we see that so great is the vehemence of fire, that it melts iron and brass, so the Prophet means, that there would be no strength which could defend Nineveh and its empire against the hand of God. It follows —
(247) Both Homer and Virgil have this comparison. “ Αχαιδες ουκ ετ Αχαιοι — Grecian women, not Grecians.” — “ O! vere Phrygiae, neque enim Phryges — O truly Phrygian women, but not Phrygians.”
The Prophet goes on with the same subject, — that the Ninevites would labor in vain, while striving anxiously and with every effort to defend themselves against their enemies. The meaning then is, “That though thou remittest no diligence, yet thou shalt lose all thy labor; for thou wilt not be able to resist the vengeance of God; and thou deceives thyself if thou thinkest that by the usual means thou canst aid thyself; for it is God who attacks thee by the Babylonians. How much soever then thou mayest accumulate of those things which are usually employed to fortify cities, all this will be useless.” Draw for thyself, he says, waters for the siege; that is, lay up provisions for thyself, as it is usually done, and have water laid up in cisterns; strengthen thy fortresses, that is, renew them; enter into the clay for the sake of treading the mortar: fortify, or cement, or join together; the brick-kiln (for what some think that חזק, chezek, means, here is to hold, or to lay hold, is wholly foreign to the Prophet’s meaning:) to fortify then the brick- kiln, that is, the bricks which come forth from the kiln, nothing else than to construct and join them together, that there might be a solid building: for we know that buildings often fall, or are overturned, because they are not well joined together: and he refers to the mode of building which historians say was in use among the Assyrians. For as that country had no abundance of stones, they supplied the defect by bricks. We now then understand the intention of the Prophet.
But he adds, There shall the fire consume thee There is much importance in the adverb of place, there, which he uses: there also, he says, shall the fire eat thee up: for he expresses more than before, when he said, that the Assyrians would weary themselves in vain in fortifying their city and their empire; for he says now, that the Lord would turn to their destruction those things in which they trusted as their defenses; There then shall the fire consume thee We now then see what the Prophet means.
We must at the same time observe, that he mentions water; as though he said, However sparingly and frugally thy soldiers may live, being content with water as their drink, (for it is necessary, when we would firmly resist enemies, to undergo all indulgences, and if needs be to endure want, at least the want of delicate meat and drink,) — though thy soldiers be content with water, and seek not water fresh from the spring or the river, but drink it from cisterns, and though thy fortresses be repaired, and thy walls carefully joined together in a solid structure, by bricks well fitted and fastened, yet there shall the fire consume thee; that is, thy frugality, exertion, and care, not only will avail thee nothing, but will also turn out to thy ruin; for the Lord pronounces accursed the arrogance of men, when they trust in their own resources.
He afterwards adds, Exterminate thee shall the sword; that is, the Lord will find out various means by which he will consume thee. By the fire, then, and by the sword, will he waste and destroy thee. He then says, He will consume thee as the chafer we may read the last word in the nominative as well as in the objective case — He as a chafer will consume thee. If we approve of this rendering, then the meaning would be, — “As chafers in a short time devour a meadow or standing corn, so thy enemies shall soon devour thee as with one mouthful.” We indeed know, that these little animals are so hurtful, that they will very soon eat up and consume all the fruit; and there is in these insects an astonishing voracity. But as the Prophet afterwards compares the Assyrians to chafers and locusts, another sense would be more suitable, and that is, — that God’s judgment would consume the Assyrians, as when rain, or a storm, or a change of season, consumes the chafers; for as these insects are very hurtful, so the Lord also exterminates them whenever he pleases. (248) He afterwards adds, to be multiplied; which is, as I have said, a verb in the infinitive mood. But the sentence of the Prophet is this, by multiplying as the chafer, to multiply as the locusts: but why he speaks thus, may be better understood from the context; the two following verses must be therefore added —
(248) Grotius agrees in this view, though Newcome takes the former, explaining, “as the locust,” that is, in a manner equally unsparing. — Ed.
From these words we may learn what the Prophet before meant, when he said that the Assyrians were like locusts or chafers; as though he said, — “I know that you trust in your great number; for ye are like a swarm of chafers or locusts; ye excel greatly in number; inasmuch as you have assembled your merchants and traders as the stars of heaven.” Here he shows how numerous they were. But when he says, The chafer has spoiled, and flies away, he points out another reason for the comparison; for it is not enough to lay hold on one clause of the verse, but the two clauses must be connected; and they mean this, — that the Assyrians, while they were almost innumerable, gloried in their great number, — and also, that this vast multitude would vanish away. He then makes an admission here and says, by multiplying thy merchants, thou hast multiplied them; but when he says, as chafers and as locusts, he shows that this multitude would not continue, for the Lord would scatter them here and there. As then the scattering was nigh, the Prophet says that they were chafers and locusts.
We now understand the design of the Prophet: He first ridicules the foolish confidence with which the Assyrians were inflated. They thought, that as they ruled over many nations, they could raise great armies, and set them in any quarter to oppose any one who might attack them: the Prophet concedes this to them, that is, that they were very numerous, by multiplying thou hast multiplied; but what will this avail them? They shall be locusts, they shall be chafers. — How so? A fuller explanation follows, Thou hast multiplied thy merchants as the stars of heaven: but this shall be temporary; for thou shalt see them vanishing away very soon; they shall be like the chafers, who, being in a moment scattered here and there, quit the naked field or the meadow. But by merchants or traders some understand confederates; and this comparison also, as we have before seen, frequently occurs in the Prophets: and princes at this day differ nothing from traders, for they outbid one another, and excel in similar artifices, as we have elsewhere seen, by which they carry on a system of mutual deception. This comparison then may be suitable, Thou hast multiplied thy traders, — tes practiciens. But the meaning of the Prophet may be viewed as still wider; we may apply this to the citizens of Nineveh; for the principal men no doubt were merchants: as the Venetian of the present day are all merchants, so were the Syrians, and the Ninevites, and also the Babylonians. It is then nothing strange, that the Prophet, by taking a part for the whole should include under this term all the rich, Thou hast then multiplied thy merchants (249)
He has hitherto allowed them to be very numerous; but he now adds, The chafer has spoiled, and flies away The verb means sometimes to spoil, and it means also to devour: The chafer then has devoured, and flies away; that is, “Thy princes, (as he afterwards calls them,) or thy principal men, have indeed devoured; they have wasted many regions by their plunders, and consumed all things on every side, like the chafers, who destroy the standing corn and all fruits: thou hast then been as a swarm of chafers.” For as chafers in great numbers attack a field, so Nineveh was wont to send everywhere her merchants to spoil and to denude the whole land. “Well,” he says “the chafer has devoured, but he flies away, he is scattered; so it shall happen,” says the Prophet, “to the citizens of Nineveh.” And hence he afterwards adds,
(249) The latter clause of the last verse and this verse and the following are evidently connected. The first, התכבד, hath י added to it in ten or more copies, and may be deemed an imperative as well as the other, and in the feminine gender; Calvin takes it an infinitive. This would be literal rendering —
Increase thyself as the chafer, Increase thyself as the locust,
16. Multiply thy merchants more than the stars of heaven: The chafer spoils, and flies away:
17. Thy crowned ones shall be as the locusts, And thy rulers as the gibbous caterpillar; Which lodge in the fences in the cold day; The sun rises and they flit away, And not known is the place where they are.—
And thy princes are as locusts: this refers to the wicked doings, by which they laid waste almost the whole earth. As then the locusts and chafers, wherever they come, consume every kind of food, devour all the fields, leave nothing, and the whole land becomes a waste; so also have been thy princes; they have been as locusts and thy leaders as the locusts of locusts, that is, as very great locusts; for this form, we know, expresses the superlative degree in Hebrew. Their leaders were then like the most voracious locusts for the whole land was made barren by them, as nothing was capable of satisfying their avarice and voracity.
The Prophet then adds, They are locusts, who dwell in the mounds during the time of cold; but when the sun rises, not known any more is their place He now shows, that it would not be perpetual, that the Ninevites would thus devour the whole earth, and that all countries would be exposed to their voracity; for as the locusts, he says, hide themselves in caverns, and afterwards fly away, so it shall happen to thy princes. But this passage may be taken to mean, — that the Ninevites concealed themselves in their hiding-places during the winter, and that when the suitable time for plundering came, they retook themselves in different directions, and took possession of various regions, and brought home plunder from the remotest parts. This meaning may be elicited from the words of the Prophet; and the different clauses would thus fitly coalesce together, that when the Ninevites left their nests, they dispersed and migrated in all directions. I do not at the same time disapprove of the former meaning: they are then like locusts, who lodge in mounds during the time of cold; but when the sun rises, — that is, when the season invites them, (for he speaks not of the winter sun,) but when the heat of the sun prevails and temperate the air, — then, he says, the locusts go forth and fly away, and known no more is their place He means, in short, that the Ninevites plundered, and that they did so after the manner of locusts; and that a similar end also was nigh them; for the Lord would destroy them, yea, suddenly consume them, so that no trace of them could be found. It follows —
He confirms the preceding verse, and says that there would be no counsel nor wisdom in the leading men: for the shepherds of the king of Assyria were his counselors, in whose wisdom he trusted, as we know that kings usually depend on their counselors: for they think that there is in them prudence enough, and therefore they commit to them the care of the whole people. But the Prophet ridicules the confidence of the king of Assyria, because the shepherds would not have so much vigilance as to take care of themselves, and of the people, and of the whole kingdom. He speaks in the past tense, either to show the certainty of the prediction, or because the change of tenses is common in Hebrew. Lie still, he says, shall thy mighty men; (250) that is, they shall remain idle; they shall not be able to sally out against their enemies, to stop their progress. They shall then lie still: and then he says, Scattered are thy people פוש, push, is not to scatter; hence I doubt not, but that there is a change of letter, that ש, schin, is put for ץ, tzaddi; and I am surprised that some derive the verb from פוש, push, when, on the contrary, it is from פוף, puts, and the change of these two letters is common in Hebrew. Thy people then are dispersed on the mountains and there is no one to assemble them
By these words the Prophet means, that such would be the scattering of the whole kingdom, that there would be no hope of restoration; There will then be none to assemble them He had said before that the chiefs or mighty men would be still. Though it would be needful to go forth to check the progress of their enemies; yet he says, They shall idly lie down: He refers here to their sloth. But the people who ought to be quiet at home, as being weak and feeble, shall be dispersed on the mountains, and no one will be there to gather them It follows —
(250) Fortes tui , אדיריך, thy eminents, thy nobles. “The shepherds,” the governers of the people, נמו, slumber; and the nobles, the princes, ישכנו, rest, sit still, without making any effort: then it follows, —
Dispersed are thy people on the mountains, And there is no gatherer.
Calvin is mistaken as to the meaning of the verb פוש : it means more properly, than the other, a dispersed state. It is applied in Leviticus 13:5, and in other places, to the spreading of leprosy. When so used, it is in Kal. It is here, and here only, in Niphal. — Ed.
The Prophet shows here more clearly, that when the empire of Nineveh should be scattered, it would be an incurable evil, that every hope of a remedy would be taken away. Though the wicked cannot escape calamity, yet they harbor false expectations, and think that they can in a short time gather new strength. Hence, in order to take from them this hope, the Prophet says, that there would be no contraction of the fracture (251) And this is a striking similitude; for he compares the ruin of Nineveh to a wound which cannot be seamed and healed. There is then no contraction; some render it, a wrinkle, but improperly. There is then no contraction: and he adds, Thy stroke is full of pain; (252) that is, the pain of thy stroke cannot be allayed. This is one thing, — that the ruin of Nineveh would be irreparable.
Then he says, Whosoever shall hear the report, shall strike the hand on thy account Many give this rendering, They shall clap the hand over thee, or with the hands; and they think that the singular is put for the plural number. But as in Hebrew to strike the hand is a token of consent, it would not be unsuitable to say, that the Prophet means, that wherever the report of this calamity would be heard, all would express their approbation, “See, God has at length proved himself to be the just avenger of so much wickedness.” To strike the hand is said to be done by those who make an agreements or when any one pledges himself for another. (253) As then in giving pledges, and in other compacts, men are said to strike the hand; so also all shall thus give their assent to God’s judgment in this case, “O how rightly is this done! O how justly has God punished these tyrants, these plunderers.” They will then strike the hand on thy account; that is, “This thy ruin will be approved;” as though he said, “Not only before God art thou, Nineveh, accursed, but also according to the consent of all nations.” And thus he intimates, that Nineveh would perish in the greatest dishonor and disgrace. It sometimes happens that an empire falls, and all bewail the event: but God here declares, that he would not be satisfied with the simple destruction of the city Nineveh without adding to it a public infamy, so that all might acknowledge that it happened through his righteous judgment.
He afterwards adds, For upon whom has not thy wickedness passed continually? This is a confirmation of the last clause; and this reason will suit both the views which have been given. If we take the striking of the hand for approbation, this reason will be suitable. — How? For all nations will rejoice at thy destruction, because there is no nation which thou hast not in many ways injured. So also, in token of their joy, all will congratulate themselves, as though they were made free; or they will clap their hands, that is, acknowledge that thou hast been destroyed by the judgment of God, because all had experienced how unjustly and tyrannically thou hast ruled. As then thy wickedness has been like a deluge, and hast nearly consumed all the earth, all will clap or shake their hands at thy ruin.
And he says, continually, to show that God’s forbearance had been long exercised. Hence, also, it appears, that the Assyrians were inexcusable, because, when God indulgently spared them, they did not repent, but pursued their wicked ways for a long course of time. As then to their sinful licentiousness they added perverseness, every excuse was removed. But the Prophet does, at the same time, remind the Israelites, that there was no reason for them to be cast down in their minds, because God did not immediately execute punishment; for by the word תמיד, tamid, he insinuates, that God would so suspend for a time his judgment as to Nineveh, that his forbearance and delay might be an evidence of his goodness and mercy. We hence see that the Prophet here opposes the ardor of men, for they immediately grow angry or complain when God delays to execute vengeance on their enemies.
He shows that God has a just reason for not visiting the wicked with immediate punishment; but yet the time will come when it shall appear that they are altogether past recovery, — the time, I say, will come, when the Lord shall at length put forth his hand and execute his judgment.
(251) אין כהה לשברך — No stopping or restraining to thy breach. The word is applied to the restraint put on men’s wickedness, 1 Samuel 3:13, and to the checking and restraining of the spread of leprosy, Leviticus 6:28. The breach or breaking was such that there was no stopping of it from becoming entire and complete. The Septuagint gives the meaning—” ουκ εστιν εασις τη συντριβη σου — there is no healing to thy breach.” — Ed.
(252) Rather, “grievous is thy stroke.” The verb is נחלה, from חלה, to be languid, and sometimes, to make languid, grievous or afflictive, and then in Niphal, as here, to be grievous. See the same clause in Jeremiah 10:19. As a noun it is rendered “grief” in Isaiah 17:11. — Ed.
(253) The phrase here used, תקע כף, is found in three other places, Psalms 47:1; Proverbs 17:18. In the first it is a symptom of joy; and in the two other places, in the sense here mentioned. — Ed.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Nahum 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension