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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Nahum 3

Verses 15-19


This second major part of Nahum contains another introduction and four descriptions of Nineveh’s destruction. Having revealed general statements about Yahweh’s judgment, Nahum next communicated more specific descriptions of Nineveh’s demise. As in the previous section, he also gave promises of Israel’s restoration.

"Nahum portrays [the] siege, reproduces its horrors and its savagery, its cruelties and mercilessness, in language so realistic that one is able to see it and feel it. First comes the fighting in the suburbs. Then the assault upon the walls. Then the capture of the city and its destruction." [Note: Raymond Calkins, The Modern Message of the Minor Prophets, p. 82.]

The section begins, as the first major one did (cf. Nahum 1:2-8), with an emphasis on Yahweh who contrasts with the human destroyer of Nineveh. Humans can destroy, but it takes Yahweh to deliver. This section is also chiastic, as was Nahum 1:9-14.

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 1

Nahum pronounced woe on Nineveh, a city characterized by bloodshed. Here, as often elsewhere (e.g., Isaiah 3:9), "woe" announces impending doom. Sometimes "woe" is an expression of grief (e.g., Isaiah 6:5), but that is only its secondary meaning here. As noted earlier, the Assyrians were notorious for their cruelty that included cutting off hands, feet, ears, noses, gouging out eyes, lopping off heads, impaling bodies, and peeling the skin off living victims. [Note: See Maier, p. 292.] Nahum saw the city as completely full of lies (cf. 2 Kings 18:31) and pillage (cf. Nahum 2:9). Nineveh always had prey; she was constantly on the prowl looking for other nations to conquer.

Verses 1-7

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

This description explains further the "why" for Nineveh’s fall whereas the first two descriptions in the previous chapter gave more of the actual events, the "what" of it. There is much similarity between the descriptions of the siege in Nahum 2:3-4 and Nahum 3:2-3, however. This section has been called a woe oracle because it pronounces doom on Nineveh in typical woe oracle fashion (cf. Isaiah 5:18-19; Amos 5:18-20; Amos 6:1-7; Micah 2:1-4). [Note: See Patterson, pp. 81-82.]

Verses 2-3

Again the prophet described the sounds and sights that would accompany the battle in which Nineveh would fall (cf. Nahum 2:3-4). Whips could be heard as soldiers urged their horses forward. Nahum heard the sound of chariot wheels and the hoofs of horses bearing cavalry soldiers clattering on the pavement. Horsemen were charging, swords were flashing, and spears were gleaming in the light. The large number of corpses on the scene of battle impressed Nahum. They seemed to be countless, so many that they appeared to cover the ground completely. The living soldiers had trouble moving about because they kept tripping over dead bodies. This was a scene that someone might have seen had they visited the site of one of the Assyrian army’s battles, but this one was taking place in Nineveh and the dead were mainly Ninevites.

"God has allowed Nahum to witness the fall of Nineveh even though it is years, perhaps even decades, away." [Note: Longman, "Nahum," p. 813.]

"No passage of Hebrew literature surpasses this for vividness of description." [Note: Charles L. Feinberg, "Nahum," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 867.]

Verse 4

This devastation was coming on Nineveh because of her wickedness. She had played the harlot often by luring unsuspecting nations and then harming them. For example, King Ahaz had been attracted to Assyria and had appealed for her to come help Judah (2 Kings 16:7-18), but when she did, years later, she came to destroy rather than assist (cf. Isaiah 36:16-17). The Ninevites were also practitioners of sorcery; they appealed to the spirit world for power to determine and control their destiny and that of their victims. The pagan worship of the Assyrians involved occultism, sexual perversion, and human degradation. Assyria had lured other nations, then, with immoral attractions and magical arts. These practices resulted in the enslavement of many nations and people groups; Nineveh sold them into slavery.

Verse 5

Almighty Yahweh repeated that He was against Nineveh (cf. Nahum 2:13). He would expose her shamefulness because of her shameless acts, as when someone lifted the skirt of a lady over her head so high that he covered her face with it (cf. Isaiah 47:1-3; Jeremiah 13:26-27; Ezekiel 16:37; Hosea 2:3-5; Revelation 17:15-16). Nakedness was a great shame in the ancient world. She who had enslaved the nations (Nahum 3:4) would have her own nakedness exposed to them.

Verse 6

As the Assyrians had made many other people detestable, the Lord would do the same to them. Nahum’s picture is that of God covering Nineveh with human excrement and then lifting her up for all to behold, a disgusting sight indeed.

Verse 7

It is no wonder then that everyone who saw Nineveh would recoil from her and remark on her devastated condition. No one would grieve over Nineveh’s destruction because all would be glad that she got what she deserved. Mourners over her demise would not be found because people would rejoice, not sorrow, over her humiliation (Nahum 3:19). Even a few mourners would attend any funeral in the ancient Near East, even if relatives had to pay them to attend. But no one would agree to weep for Nineveh, even if paid to do so. This is hyperbole, but the point is clear: the world would rejoice when Nineveh fell.

Verse 8

Nineveh was similar to the Egyptian capital, No-amon ("city of the god Amon," Gr. Thebes). Thebes had been the capital of Upper (southern) Egypt and had stood at the site of modern Karnak and Luxor, 400 miles south of Cairo. Water from rivers, tributaries, canals, and moats surrounded this city, as it did Nineveh, and both were capitals of mighty kingdoms. However, Thebes had fallen to Sargon the Assyrian in 663 B.C. Jeremiah and Ezekiel predicted its fall (Jeremiah 46:25; Ezekiel 30:14; Ezekiel 30:16). Its solid and liquid defenses did not protect it, and Nineveh’s would not protect it either.

Verses 8-19

4. The fourth description of Nineveh’s fall 3:8-19

This section, evidently another message that Nahum delivered concerning Nineveh’s fall, begins by comparing it to the fall of another great city. Nahum proceeded to use many figures of speech to describe how various segments of Ninevite society would respond to the coming invasion. The literary form of the section is that of a taunt song. [Note: See Patterson, pp. 93-94.]

Verse 9

In contrast to Nineveh, Thebes had several allies. Ethiopia (Cush) was the country No-amon ruled over. It was a territory that included parts of modern southern Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and northern Ethiopia along the Red Sea. Egypt (Lower Egypt) in Nahum’s day was a separate country to the north of Ethiopia, and Ethiopia was the stronger of the two powers. Put evidently lay farther to the south reaching as far as present-day Somalia on the eastern tip of Africa, and Lubim (part of modern Libya) was to the west. Some references to Put in ancient literature seem to put it in the same area as modern Libya (cf. Genesis 10:6; 1 Chronicles 1:8; Jeremiah 46:9; et al.), but the location described above seems more likely. [Note: See Maier, p. 322; and Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum-Malachi, p. 25.] Thus Thebes’ allies surrounded her for many miles, but that did not guarantee her security.

Verse 10

No-amon had become an exile and had gone into captivity to Assyria (cf. Nahum 2:7). [Note: See Armerding, pp. 484-85, for a short history of the fall of Thebes.] Instead of taking infants into captivity, however, the Assyrians simply slaughtered them where they found them, even at street corners (cf. Hosea 13:16). The honorable men of Thebes suffered the humiliation of being auctioned off as slaves and dragged away to Assyria in chains.

Verse 11

The same fate would befall Nineveh. It too would lose its powers of self-defense and self-control. This would happen through excessive wine drinking (cf. Nahum 1:10) but also in a metaphorical way because the Ninevites would imbibe a cup of wrath from Yahweh. They would vanish from the world.

"The disappearance of the Assyrian people will always remain an unique and striking phenomenon in ancient history. Other, similar, kingdoms and empires have indeed passed away, but the people have lived on. Recent discoveries have, it is true, shown that poverty-stricken communities perpetuated the old Assyrian names and various places, for instance on the ruined site of Ashur, for many centuries, but the essential truth remains the same. A nation which had existed two thousand years and had ruled a wide area, lost its independent character." [Note: J. B. Bury, et al., eds., The Cambridge Ancient History, 3:130.]

As noted above, the ancients could not find Nineveh after its destruction, and modern archaeologists, the Frenchman Botta and the Englishman Layard, first found physical evidence of Nineveh’s existence in 1842. In the past many people had sought to hide from the invading Assyrians, but when Nineveh fell, the Ninevites would try to hide.

Verse 12

Nineveh’s fortifications would prove as weak as fig trees laden with ripe fruit. Ripe figs fall off their trees of their own accord, and so easily would Nineveh’s fortifications fall. Though the city’s walls were large and impressive, they would crumble under their own weight when water eroded their foundations (cf. Nahum 2:6). The inhabitants, too, would drop like ripe fruit into the hands of their enemies.

Verse 13

The Ninevites would prove to be as defenseless, vulnerable, and fearful as women, in contrast to lion-like soldiers (cf. Isaiah 19:16; Jeremiah 50:37; Jeremiah 51:30). Their gates would be so weak that they could have been left open rather than bolted shut because fire would consume them (cf. Isaiah 10:16-17).

Verse 14

In irony (cf. Nahum 2:1) Nahum urged the Ninevites to draw plenty of water so they would have enough to drink and so they could extinguish the fires that would burn their gates and city. They should strengthen their fortifications and make more bricks to build their walls and battlements higher and stronger and to fill in the holes the enemy would punch in them.

"Nineveh’s ruins include traces of a counter-wall built by the inhabitants to defend the city near places where the enemy had broken down some of the city’s defenses." [Note: Johnson, p. 1503.]

Verse 15

However if the Ninevites did strengthen their defenses, fire would consume them where they went to draw water and the sword would cut them down as they built. The walls of Nineveh would become the walls of her tomb rather than her defense.

"There was no question about the clear traces of the burning of the temple (as also in the palace of Sennacherib), for a layer of ash about two inches thick lay clearly defined in places on the southeast side about the level of the Sargon pavement." [Note: R. Campbell Thompson and R. W. Hutchinson, A Century of Exploration at Nineveh, p. 77.]

The city’s destruction would be like a locust invasion. A hoard of invading soldiers would descend on Nineveh and leave nothing remaining (cf. Joel 1:2-13). Nahum ironically encouraged the Ninevites to multiply their numbers like locusts since they would have to face a swarm of invading locust-like soldiers. [Note: Longman, "Nahum," p. 825.] Another interpretation is that Nahum was addressing the invading soldiers and encouraging them to increase their number so they would be successful. This seems less likely to me since the references to "yourself" are to the people of Nineveh in the context, and an ironical word to them makes sense.

Verse 16

Assyrian traders, seemingly more numerous than the stars, had increased their country’s wealth. However they would be like locusts when the invasion came in that they would fly away in vast numbers rather than defending Nineveh.

Verse 17

Assyria’s guards also reminded Nahum of locusts. There were huge numbers of them, but when the heat of battle came they would run away. Locusts do the same thing. They take their places on walls in the cool of the day, but when the hot sun beats on them they desert their posts and seek more comfortable surroundings.

Verse 18

Nahum addressed the king of Assyria who would rule after Nineveh’s downfall (in 612 B.C.). This turned out to be Ashur-uballit who tried for three years to hold the empire together from the city of Haran. The prophet told the king that Assyria’s shepherds (leaders) and nobles were not providing leadership for their people. They were lying down on the job, asleep at the switch (cf. Isaiah 5:26-27). The ordinary citizens were scattered all over rather than being under the direction of the leaders, like sheep without shepherds. No one was available to re-gather them into the imperial fold.

Verse 19

Addressing Nineveh again, in conclusion, Nahum reiterated that the breakdown of Assyria would be impossible to repair. She had a fatal illness from which she would not recover. Everyone who heard about her demise would rejoice because her long practice of wickedness had touched everyone.

Only two books in the Bible end with rhetorical questions, Jonah and Nahum, both of which focus on Nineveh. Jonah ends on a note of compassion for Nineveh, but Nahum ends with assurance that God’s patience had run out and the destruction of Nineveh was now certain.

Is this book only about God’s judgment on Nineveh and the Assyrians, or does it have a broader message? The reasons God brought Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire down are the same reasons He will humble any similar people. Any nation or city that lusts for conquest, practices violence and brutality to dominate others, abuses its power, oppresses the weak, worships anything but Yahweh, or seeks help from the demonic world shares Nineveh’s sins and can expect her fate.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Nahum 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.