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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Nahum 2

A. The sovereign justice of Yahweh 1:15-2:2

Verse 1

Nahum turned from addressing the people of Judah to the people of Nineveh. He used the Hebrew prophetic perfect tense, which predicts future events as though they were past, to heighten belief in their certainty. One who would scatter would come up against Nineveh. "Scatterer" is a common figure for a victorious king (cf. Psalms 68:1; Isaiah 24:1; Jeremiah 52:8). Consequently the Ninevites should man their fortress, watch the road for the coming invader, and strengthen themselves. These measures would prove futile because the Lord would destroy the city. Nahum was speaking ironically. This section has been called "a taunt song." [Note: Longman, "Nahum," p. 801.]

"Sennacherib had spent no less than six years building his armory, which occupied a terraced area of forty acres. It was enlarged further by Esarhaddon and contained all the weaponry required for the extension and maintenance of the Assyrian empire: bows, arrows, quivers, chariots, wagons, armor, horses, mules, and equipment (cf. Ezekiel 23:24; Ezekiel 39:9). The royal ’road’ had been enlarged by Sennacherib to a breadth of seventy-eight feet, facilitating the movement of troops." [Note: Armerding, p. 472.]

Even though the Ninevites did all these things they could not escape overthrow. The invader proved to be Cyaxeres the Mede and Nabopolassar the Babylonian. [Note: For an ancient account of the battles that resulted in Nineveh’s fall, see D. Winton Thomas, ed., Documents from Old Testament Times, p. 76; or James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, pp. 303-5.] However, the "scatterer" behind them was Yahweh.

Verse 2

Turning back to Judah again (Nahum 1:15), the prophet repeated that Yahweh would restore Israel to its former glory. Whereas a destroyer would destroy Nineveh (Nahum 2:1), Yahweh would restore Judah. Its fate would be the opposite of Nineveh’s. Nineveh presently enjoyed great glory but would suffer destruction, while Israel, having experienced devastation, would become splendid again. "Israel" was a name connected with Israel’s glory while "Jacob" recalls the perverse aspects of the nation’s experience, reflecting its patriarch’s names and life experience. [Note: See C. F. Keil, "Nahum," in The Twelve Minor Prophets, 2:19.] The invading Assyrians doubtless destroyed many of Israel’s grapevines, but vine branches also symbolized the Israelites (cf. Psalms 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7). The devastator of Israel had been Assyria and it would be the Babylonians. The promise probably looks beyond Israel’s restoration after the Assyrians’ devastation to her restoration after all her devastations throughout history. This restoration will take place in the Millennium.

Verse 3

Nahum again focused on the destroyer (scatterer) of Nineveh (cf. Nahum 2:1). He described the siege and capture of Nineveh. The shields and uniforms of the soldiers who invaded Nineveh would be red. This was, really, a favorite color of the Median and Babylonian armies (cf. Ezekiel 23:14). [Note: Feinberg, p. 136.] However, they may have been red with blood and or from the copper that they used to cover both shields and uniforms. [Note: Johnson, p. 1500] Nahum saw the invading chariots flashing with steel. Scythed chariots were in use at this time in the ancient Near East, chariots with steel blades protruding from them and their wheels. [Note: Feinberg, p. 136.] Spears made out of cypress (pine) were long and straight, and Nineveh’s invaders would brandish them showing their readiness for battle. [Note: See also Yigael Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands, pp. 4-5, 294-95, 452.]

Verses 3-7

1. The first description of Nineveh’s fall 2:3-7

The first message sees the details of the siege of Nineveh taking place in the city when the enemy attacked, and it ends with the reaction of a segment of the populace (Nahum 2:7).

Verses 3-19

B. Four descriptions of Nineveh’s fall 2:3-3:19

The rest of the book contains four descriptions of Nineveh’s fall that were evidently messages that Nahum delivered at various times in Judah.

Verse 4

The invaders’ chariots would race through Nineveh’s streets and squares. So gleaming with red and steel would they be that they would look like torches or lightning darting to and fro. Since Nahum described the enemy advancing toward the city walls (Nahum 2:5), he may have seen these chariots darting through the suburban streets and squares outside the walls. [Note: Maier, p. 243.]

Verse 5

The Assyrian king would call on his nobles to defend the city, but they would stumble in their haste to do so. They would hurry to Nineveh’s walls to set up some type of protective shield to deflect the attacker’s arrows, spears, and stones. [Note: Yadin, p. 316.]

Verse 6

The Tigris River flowed close to the walls of Nineveh, and two of its tributaries, the Khosr and the Tebiltu, passed through the city. Virtually all of Nineveh’s 15 gates also contained passages for the waters from one of these tributaries or its canals. They were called "gates of the river." [Note: Armerding, p. 476.]

Sennacherib had built a double dam and reservoir system to the north of the city to control the amount of water that entered it and to prevent flooding. [Note: Maier, p. 253.] Nahum may have seen the invader opening these dam gates and flooding the city. However, ancient historians wrote that flooding from heavy rains also played a role in Nineveh’s fall.

"Diodorus wrote that in the third year of the siege heavy rains caused a nearby river to flood part of the city and break part of the walls (Bibliotheca Historica 2. 26. 9; 2. 27. 13). Xenophon referred to terrifying thunder (presumably with a storm) associated with the city’s capture (Anabasis, 3. 4. 12). Also the Khosr River, entering the city from the northwest at the Ninlil Gate and running through the city in a southwesterly direction, may have flooded because of heavy rains, or the enemy may have destroyed its sluice gate." [Note: Johnson, p. 1495.]

Other possibilities are that Nahum saw fortified bridges, the city gates that lay below the nearby Tigris River, sluice gates that emptied water into moats, other breaches in Nineveh’s walls made by water, or floodgates that controlled the Khosr within the city. [Note: Ibid., p. 1500.]

The palace the prophet saw washed away was perhaps that of Ashurbanipal, which stood in the north part of Nineveh. [Note: Ibid., p. 1501.] However, Nineveh contained many palaces and temples, and the Hebrew word hekal, used here, describes both types of structures. Assyria had ruined many enemy cities, palaces, and temples, but now this fate would befall Nineveh.

Verse 7

The Lord’s judgment of Nineveh had been determined. The city would be stripped of her treasures and they and their possessors would be carried off to other places. Even the slave girls, the bottom of the social scale, as well as the nobles (Nahum 2:5), the top, would lament the fall of the city. They would make mournful sounds and beat their breasts like doves that cooed and flapped their wings. Normally one would expect slaves in a city to rejoice at its destruction since that would mean their liberation. But life in Nineveh was good for some foreigners taken there as captives.

Verse 8

Nineveh had been as placid as the waters around the city for most of her history. This is the first explicit reference to Nineveh since Nahum 1:1, yet because of Nahum 1:1 we know that the prophet’s revelations of destruction dealt with Nineveh. Nahum now saw it inundated with water and enemy soldiers and its inhabitants fleeing in panic, like water gushing from a broken dam. Someone might call to them to stop, perhaps to defend the city, but no one would turn back.

Verses 8-13

2. The second description of Nineveh’s fall 2:8-13

The second description of Nineveh’s fall is more philosophical than the first one and ends with a statement by Yahweh that gives the reason for its fall (Nahum 2:13).

Verse 9

The prophet called the invading solders to plunder Nineveh, to take for themselves its vast wealth of silver, gold, and other valuable treasures. Nineveh had accumulated her wealth through centuries of conquests, taxation, and trading. [Note: See D. D. Luckenbill, ed., Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1:181, 211, 263; 2:20, 133, 205; and Pritchard, ed., 274-301. For brief histories of Mesopotamia in the seventh century B.C., see Longman, pp. 767-68; and E. von Voightlander, " A Survey of Neo-Babylonian History" (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Michigan, 1963).] It was the richest city in the ancient Near East in the seventh century B.C. [Note: Armerding, p. 477.]

"According to historical records, the Medes were the first to breach the defenses of Nineveh. Later, the Babylonians successfully attacked it. The Medes, however, were not interested in a long-term occupation of the area, but in a quick profit." [Note: Longman, "Nahum," p. 807.]

Verse 10

The invaders would empty Nineveh of her treasures, and it would become a desolate wasteland. The Hebrew words in the first part of this verse sound like water flowing out of a bottle when read aloud, a literary device called onomatopoeia. Even the sound of the description of Nineveh’s fall reinforced the prophecy. Hearts would melt and knees knock when people would observe its overthrow. Anguish would grip the whole body of observers and their faces would go pale. If Nineveh could fall, would anything be secure?

Verse 11

After Nineveh’s destruction the people who remained would taunt the Assyrians by comparing Nineveh to a lion’s den and nearby feeding grounds. They would also compare its inhabitants to lions. Assyria’s leaders were lion-like and its youths like young lions in that they had plundered and preyed on others. But their once secure haunts were now desolate.

"Assyrian kings prided themselves in their ability to kill lions in lion hunts. And the kings likened their own ferocity and fearlessness to that of lions. For example, Sennacherib boasted of his military fury by saying, ’Like a lion I raged.’ Lions were frequently pictured in Assyrian reliefs and decorations." [Note: Johnson, p. 1501. See also Gordon H. Johnston, "Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions to the Neo-Assyrian Lion Motif," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:631 (July-September 2001):287-307.]

Verse 12

Lions normally kill only what they need to eat, but the Assyrians killed many enemies not just to sustain their own needs but for the joy of conquest. They were unusually vicious toward their enemies and notorious in the ancient world as cruel. [Note: See Pritchard, ed., p. 285; idem, ed., The Ancient Near East in Pictures, p. 373; Feinberg, p. 141; Hobart E. Freeman, Nahum Zephaniah Habakkuk, pp. 36-38; and Maier, pp. 281-83.] Yet lions, while vicious, are not known for being excessively so.

Verse 13

Nahum closed this message with a word from Yahweh in which the Lord verbalized His antagonism toward Nineveh. What a terrible fate it is to have almighty Yahweh say, "I am against you!" (cf. Nahum 3:5; Jeremiah 21:13; Jeremiah 50:31; Jeremiah 51:25; Ezekiel 5:8; Ezekiel 13:8; Ezekiel 26:3; Ezekiel 28:22; Ezekiel 39:1; Romans 8:31). He promised to destroy Nineveh’s instruments of warfare. Invading armies would slay her young men. She would no longer devour other peoples like a lion does its prey. And messengers would no longer leave Nineveh with threats and to demand submission and taxes (cf. 2 Kings 18:17-25; 2 Kings 19:22; Isaiah 37:4; Isaiah 37:6).

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Nahum 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/nahum-2.html. 2012.