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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Nahum 3


The catastrophe enlarged upon in respect to its provoking cause, and its fearful results.

Verse 1

(1) Woe to the bloody city!—Better, O bloody city! She is altogether deceit, filled with crime: she ceases not from plunder.

Verse 2

(2) The noise of . . .—Better, Hark to the whip, and hark to the rattling of the wheel, and the horse galloping, and the chariot bounding. The entry of the victorious besiegers is here described.

Verse 3

(3) The horseman lifteth up.—Better, There is the rearing horseman and the flaming sword, and the glittering lance, and a multitude of wounded, and a mass of corpses . . .

Verses 4-6

(4-6) Because of the multitude.—In the idolatry and superstition of Nineveh the prophet finds the cause of her destruction. Perversion of religious instinct is frequently denounced under the same figure in Scripture. Here, however, a more literal interpretation is possible, since there is reason to believe the religious rites of Assyria were characterised, like those of Babylon, by gross sensuality. According to Herod, i. 199, the Babylonian worship of Beltis or Mylitta was connected with a system of female prostitution, which was deemed “most shameful” even by the heathen historian. Compare also the Apocryphal Book of Bar. 6:43. The same deity was worshipped in Assyria. Professor Rawlinson writes: “It would seem to follow almost as a matter of course that the worship of the same identical goddess in the adjoining country included a similar usage. It may be to this practice that the prophet Nahum alludes when he denounces Nineveh as a ‘well-favoured harlot,’ the multitude of whose harlotries was notorious” (Five Great Monarchies, ii. 41).

Verse 7

(7) Shall flee from thee.—As in the case of the destruction of Korah, men flee from the stricken city lest they share her punishment. Nor is she an object of compassion whose cruelties have been as extensive as her empire. Hers is the fate of the fallen tyrant—left to

. . . . . . . . . . “vainly groan.

With pangs unfelt before, unpitied and alone.”

Verse 8

(8) Populous No.—Better, No Amon. Thebes, the capital of Upper Egypt, was known to the Hebrews as “No Amon” (perhaps, “house of the god Amon;” similarly the Greeks called it Διόσπολις). Assyria herself had reduced the power of Thebes. (1) Sargon, the father of Sennacherib, had defeated Shebah, the Egyptian Tar-dan, at Rapikh, cir. B.C. 716. (2) Esar-haddon, Sennacherib’s son, had routed the forces of Tirhakah, subjugated the whole of the Nile valley, and taken the city where Tirhakah held his court, probably Thebes, cir. B.C. 670. (3) Asshur-bani-pal invaded Egypt in the year of his accession, B.C. 668, and reinstated certain rulers of his father’s appointment, whom Tirhakah had driven out. In B.C. 665, another revolt brought this king again into Egypt. On this occasion Thebes was certainly sacked, and a large booty, including “gold, silver, precious stones, dyed garments, captives (male and female), tame animals brought up in the palace, obelisks, &c., was carried off, and conveyed to Nineveh” {Five Great Monarchies, ii. 203). The present passage may refer either to this event or to Esar-haddon’s previous capture of Thebes. The fall of the city was certainly a thing of the past when Nahum wrote. The allusion, therefore, helps us to assign the date of the composition (see Introduction). To mere human reasoning the downfall of Thebes testified to the power of Assyria, its conqueror. But to the inspired vision of Nahum, the ruin of the one world-power is an earnest of the ruin of the other. Both had been full of luxury and oppression, both were hated of mankind and opposed to God. If No-Amon has fallen, the city of the hundred gates, the metropolis of the Pharaohs, the conqueror whose countless captives reared the pyramids, why shall Nineveh stand? If Nineveh is protected by rivers—the Tigris and the Khausser—had not Thebes a rampart in the Nile, that “sea” of waters (comp. Isaiah 19:5), and its numerous canals? If Nineveh relies on subordinate or friendly states—Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Syria—had not Thebes all the resources of Africa—Ethiopia in the south, the Egypts in the north, her Libyan allies, Put and the Lubim, in the north-west? Yet what was the fate of No Amon? Her youth carried off in the slave-gangs of Assyria; her infants dashed to pieces at the street-corner (2 Kings 8:12), as unprofitable to the captor; her senators reserved to grace a triumph, and assigned to the Assyrian generals by lot (Obadiah 1:11).

Verses 11-12

(11, 12) Thou also shalt be drunken.—Nineveh also shall be drunken with the cup of God’s wrath (see Habakkuk 2:16), yea, hid from recollection, so that men shall ask, “Where is Nineveh?” (Comp.Nahum 2:11; Nahum 2:11.) She, too, shall vainly seek a fortress (Authorised Version, “strength”) to give her shelter, all her own strongholds having fallen as easily as the ripe fruit from the fig-tree.

Verse 13

(13) Thy people . . . are women, not in their notoriously effeminate and luxurious habits (see Layard, p. 360), but with reference to their panic-stricken condition at the time of the catastrophe. They are fearful as women (comp. Jeremiah 50:37; Jeremiah 51:30), because they find avenues laid open to the enemy, and the remaining defences consuming in the flames.

Verse 14

(14) Draw thee waters.—In this desperate plight Nineveh is scoffingly advised to protract her resistance. The outer walls are broken down; let her hold out in the citadel. Nay, let her begin anew her preparations for defence. Let her lay in water and provision, and build new buttresses of brick. What shall it avail her? In the midst of her preparations, fire and sword shall again surprise her. The account of this last struggle for existence is minute. Nahum goes back to the repair of the brick-kiln, just as Isaiah, in his description of idol-worship, goes back to the smith working with the tongs, and the carpenter measuring with his rule (Isaiah 44:12, seq.). In both cases the irony gains force by a minute and elaborate description of operations destined to be futile.

Verses 15-16

(15, 16) The diversion of metaphor here is somewhat repugnant to modern taste. The sword, like the locust, shall devour Nineveh. Yet Nineveh is immediately afterwards compared in its numbers, destructive influence, and sudden disappearance to the locust. It is a transition like St. Paul’s “going off at a word.” The comparison of the locust suggests the thought that Nineveh herself has been a locust-pest to the world, and the direction of the metaphor is thereupon suddenly changed. A paraphrase will best bring out the meaning. (15) “Hostile swords devour thee, as a locust swarm devours. Vainly clusters together thy dense population, itself another locust-swarm. (16) Yea, as the stars of heaven for number have been thy merchants, as a pest of locusts which plunders one day and is gone the next.”

Verse 16

(16) Spoileth.—Better, spreads itself out: swarms out to spoil.

Verse 17

(17) Thy crowned.—The subordinate kings who represent the Assyrian empire in her tributary provinces.

Captains.Taphsrîm, an Assyrian term denoting some high military office. The sudden disappearance of the Assyrian locust-pest is here enlarged upon. A sudden outburst of sunshine will sometimes induce a swarm of locusts to take flight; cold, on the other hand, makes these insects settle, and soon deprives them of the power of flying. Dr. Pusey well observes, “The heathen conqueror rehearsed his victory, ‘I came, I saw, conquered.’ The prophet goes further, as the issue of all human conquest, ‘I disappeared.’” The insect designations, rendered in Authorised Version, “cankerworm,” “locust,” “great grasshopper,” all represent varieties of the locust species.

Verse 18

(18) Shepherdsi.e., chief officers, as in Micah 5:2 and passim. Their sheep are “scattered upon the mountains and none attempts to gather them.” So Micaiah announces to Ahab, “I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills as sheep that have not a shepherd” (1 Kings 22:17).

Thy nobles shall dwell.—Better, thy mighty men are lying still.

Verse 19

(19) Clap the hands over thee.—All that hear the “bruit” or report of the fall of Nineveh clap their hands with joy (Psalms 47:1), for where has not her oppressive rule been felt? The verse is addressed to the king (second person masculine) as the representative of the empire, perhaps also in view of his terrible end. The cruelty of the Ninevite régime is illustrated, as Kleinert remarks, in the sculptures, “by the rows of the impaled, the prisoners through whose lips rings were fastened, whose eyes were put out, who were flayed alive. Consequently it would be a joy to all nations to hear the voice of the messengers of the tyrant no more (Nahum 2:13), but to hear that of the messengers of his destruction.”

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Nahum 3". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.