Nineveh's Sins and Inevitable Destruction - Nahum 3
The announcement of the destruction awaiting Nineveh is confirmed by the proof, that this imperial city has brought this fate upon itself by its sins and crimes (Nahum 3:1-7), and will no more be able to avert it than the Egyptian No-amon was (Nahum 3:8-13), but that, in spite of all its resources, it will be brought to a terrible end (Nahum 3:14-19).
The city of blood will have the shame, which it has inflicted upon the nations, repaid to it by a terrible massacre. The prophet announces this with the woe which opens the last section of this threatening prophecy. Nahum 3:1. “Woe to the city of blood! She all full of deceit and murder; the prey departs not.” ‛Ir dâmı̄m , city of drops of blood, i.e., of blood shed, or of murders. This predicate is explained in the following clauses: she all full of lying and murder. Cachash and pereq are asyndeton, and accusatives dependent upon מלאה . Cachash , lying and deceit: this is correctly explained by Abarbanel and Strauss as referring to the fact that “she deceived the nations with vain promises of help and protection.” Pereq , tearing in pieces for murder, - a figure taken from the lion, which tears its prey in pieces (Psalms 7:3). לא ימישׁ, the prey does not depart, never fails. Mūsh : in the hiphil here, used intransitively, “to depart,” as in Exodus 13:22; Psalms 55:12, and not in a transitive sense, “to cause to depart,” to let go; for if ‛ı̄r (the city) were the subject, we should have tâmı̄sh .
This threat is explained in Nahum 3:2., by a description of the manner in which a hostile army enters Nineveh and fills the city with corpses. Nahum 3:2. “The cracking of whips, and noise of the rattling of wheels, and the horse in galloping, and chariots flying high. Nahum 3:3. Riders dashing along, and flame of the sword, and flashing of the lance, and multitude of slain men and mass of dead men, and no end of corpses; they stumble over their corpses. Nahum 3:4. For the multitude of the whoredoms of the harlot, the graceful one, the mistress of witchcrafts, who sells nations with her whoredoms, and families with her witchcrafts.” Nahum sees in spirit the hostile army bursting upon Nineveh. He hears the noise, i.e., the cracking of the whips of the charioteers, and the rattling ( ra‛ash ) of the chariot-wheels, sees horses and chariots driving along ( dâhar , to hunt, cf. Judges 5:22; riqqēd , to jump, applied to the springing up of the chariots as they drive quickly along over a rugged road), dashing riders ( ma‛ăleh , lit., to cause to ascend, sc. the horse, i.e., to make it prance, by driving the spur into its side to accelerate its speed), flaming swords, and flashing lances. As these words are well adapted to depict the attack, so are those which follow to describe the consequence or effect of the attack. Slain men, fallen men in abundance, and so many corpses, that one cannot help stumbling or falling over them. כּבד, the heavy multitude. The chethib יכשׁלו is to be read יכּשׁלוּ ( niphal ), in the sense of stumbling, as in Nahum 2:6. The keri וכשׁלוּ is unsuitable, as the sentence does not express any progress, but simply exhibits the infinite number of the corpses (Hitzig). גויּתם, their (the slain men's) corpses. This happens to the city of sins because of the multitude of its whoredoms. Nineveh is called Zōnâh , and its conduct z e nūnı̄m , not because it had fallen away from the living God and pursued idolatry, for there is nothing about idolatry either here or in what follows; nor because of its commercial intercourse, in which case the commerce of Nineveh would appear here under the perfectly new figure of love-making with other nations (Ewald), for commercial intercourse as such is not love-making; but the love-making, with its parallel “witchcrafts” ( k e shâphı̄m ), denotes “the treacherous friendship and crafty politics with which the coquette in her search for conquests ensnared the smaller states” (Hitzig, after Abarbanel, Calvin, J. H. Michaelis, and others). This policy is called whoring or love-making, “inasmuch as it was that selfishness which wraps itself up in the dress of love, and under the appearance of love seeks simply the gratification of its own lust” (Hengstenberg on the Rev.). The zōnâh is described still more minutely as טובת חן, beautiful with grace. This refers to the splendour and brilliancy of Nineveh, by which this city dazzled and ensnared the nations, like a graceful coquette. Ba‛ălath k e shâphı̄m , devoted to witchcrafts, mistress of them. K e shâphı̄m (witchcrafts) connected with z e nūnı̄m , as in 2 Kings 9:22, are “the secret wiles, which, like magical arts, do not come to the light in themselves, but only in their effects” (Hitzig). מכר, to sell nations, i.e., to rob them of liberty and bring them into slavery, to make them tributary, as in Deuteronomy 32:30; Judges 2:14; Judges 3:8, etc. (not = כמר from כבר, to entangle: Hitzig). בּזנוּניה, with (not for) their whoredoms. Mishpâchōth , families, synonymous with עמּים, are smaller peoples or tribes (cf. Jeremiah 25:9; Ezekiel 20:32).
The Lord will plunge Nineveh into shameful misery in consequence. Nahum 3:5. “Behold, I come to thee, is the saying of Jehovah of hosts; and uncover thy skirts over thy face, and let nations see they nakedness, and kingdoms thy shame. Nahum 3:6. And cast horrible things upon thee, and shame thee, and make thee a gazing-stock. Nahum 3:7. And it comes to pass, every one who sees thee will flee before thee, and say, Is Nineveh laid waste? Who will bewail her? whence do I seek comforters for thee?” Nahum 3:5. a as in Nahum 2:13 . The punishment of Nineveh will correspond to her conduct. Her coquetry shall be repaid to her by the uncovering of her nakedness before the nations (cf. Jeremiah 13:26; Isaiah 47:3; Hosea 2:5). Gillâh , to uncover. Shūlı̄m , fimbriae , the skirts, borders, or lower end of the long sweeping dress (cf. Exodus 28:33-34; Isaiah 6:1). על פּניך, over thy countenance, so that the train when lifted up is drawn over the face. מער, a contraction of מערה, from ערה, signifies in 1 Kings 7:36 an empty space, here nakedness or shame equivalent to ערוה . This thought is carried out still further in literal terms in Nahum 3:6, Nahum 3:7. Shiqqutsı̄m , objects of abhorrence, is used most frequently of idols; but here it is used in a more general sense for unclean or repulsive things, dirt and filth. Throwing dirt upon any one is a figurative expression for the most ignominious treatment or greatest contempt. Nibbēl , to treat contemptuously, not with words, as in Micah 7:6, but with deeds, equivalent to insult or abuse (cf. Jeremiah 14:21). To make it כּראי, the object of sight, i.e., to give up to open shame, παραδειγματίζειν (Matthew 1:19). ראי, a pausal form of ראי, the seeing, here the spectacle, like θέατρον in 1 Corinthians 4:9. This is evident from Nahum 3:7, where ראיך contains a play upon ראי . Every one who looks at her will flee from her as an object of disgust. שׁדּדה, a rare form of the pual for שׁדּדה (for the fact, compare Jeremiah 48:20). The last two clauses express the thought that no one will take pity upon the devastated city, because its fate is so well deserved; compare Isaiah 51:19, where the same words are used of Jerusalem. Nineveh will not be able to protect herself from destruction even by her great power. The prophet wrests this vain hope away from her by pointing in Isaiah 51:8. to the fall of the mighty Thebes in Egypt.
Nineveh will share the fate of No-Ammon. - Nahum 3:8. “Art thou better than No-amon, that sat by rivers, waters round about her, whose bulwark was the sea, her wall of sea? Nahum 3:9. Ethiopians and Egyptians were (her) strong men, there is no end; Phut and Libyans were for thy help. Nahum 3:10. She also has gone to transportation, into captivity; her children were also dashed in pieces at the corners of all roads; upon her nobles they cast the lot, and all her great men were bound in chains.” התיטבי for התיטבי, for the sake of euphony, the imperfect kal of יטב, to be good, used to denote prosperity in Genesis 12:13 and Genesis 40:14, is applied here to the prosperous condition of the city, which was rendered strong both by its situation and its resources. נא אמון, i.e., probably “dwelling ( נא contracted from נוא, cf. נאות ) of Amon,” the sacred name of the celebrated city of Thebes in Upper Egypt, called in Egyptian P - amen , i.e., house of the god Amun, who had a celebrated temple there (Herod. i. 182, ii. 42; see Brugsch, Geogr. Inschr. i. p. 177). The Greeks called it Διὸς πόλις, generally with the predicate ἡ μεγάλη (Diod. Sic. i. 45), or from the profane name of the city, which was Apet according to Brugsch (possibly a throne, seat, or bank), and with the feminine article prefixed, Tapet, or Tape, or Tepe, Θήβη, generally used in the plural Θῆβαι . This strong royal city, which was described even by Homer ( Il. ix. 383) as ἑκατόμπυλος, and in which the Pharaohs of the 18th to the 20th dynasties, from Amosis to the last Rameses, resided, and created those works of architecture which were admired by Greeks and Romans, and the remains of which still fill the visitor with astonishment, was situated on both banks of the river Nile, which was 1500 feet in breadth at that point, and was built upon a broad plain formed by the falling back of the Libyan and Arabian mountain wall, over which there are now scattered nine larger or smaller fellah-villages, including upon the eastern bank Karnak and Luxor, and upon the western Gurnah and Medinet Abu, with their plantations of date-palms, sugar-canes, corn, etc. היּשׁבה בּיארים, who sits there, i.e., dwells quietly and securely, on the streams of the Nile. The plural יארים refers to the Nile with its canals, which surrounded the city, as we may see from what follows: “water round about her.” אשׁר־חיל, not which is a fortress of the sea (Hitzig), but whose bulwark is sea. חיל (for חילהּ ) does not mean the fortified place (Hitzig), but the fortification, bulwark, applied primarily to the moats of a fortification, with the wall belonging to it; then, in the broader sense, the defence of a city in distinction from the actual wall (cf. Isaiah 26:1; Lamentations 2:8). מיּם, consisting of sea is its wall, i.e., its wall is formed of sea. Great rivers are frequently called yâm , sea, in rhetorical and poetical diction: for example, the Euphrates in Isaiah 27:1; Jeremiah 51:36; and the Nile in Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 19:5; Job 41:23. The Nile is still called by the Beduins bahr, i.e., sea, and when it overflows it really resembles a sea.
To the natural strength of Thebes there was also added the strength of the warlike nations at her command. Cush, i.e., Ethiopians in the stricter sense, and Mitsraim, Egyptians, the two tribes descended from Ham, according to Genesis 10:6, who formed the Egyptian kingdom before the fall of Thebes, and under the 25th (Ethiopian) dynasty. עצמה, as in Isaiah 40:29; Isaiah 47:9, for עצם, strength; it is written without any suffix, which may easily be supplied from the context. The corresponding words to עצמה in the parallel clause are ואין קצה (with Vav cop. ): Egyptians, as for them there is no number; equivalent to an innumerable multitude. To these there were to be added the auxiliary tribes: Put, i.e., the Libyans in the broader sense, who had spread themselves out over the northern part of Africa as far as Mauritania (see at Genesis 10:6); and Lubim = L e hâbhı̄m , the Libyans in the narrower sense, probably the Libyaegyptii of the ancients (see at Genesis 10:13). בּעזרתך (cf. Psalms 35:2) Nahum addresses No-amon itself, to give greater life to the description. Notwithstanding all this might, No-amon had to wander into captivity. Laggōlâh and basshebhı̄ are not tautological. Laggōlâh , for emigration, is strengthened by basshebhı̄ into captivity. The perfect הלכה is obviously not to be taken prophetically. The very antithesis of גּם־היא הלכה and גּם־אתּ תּשׁכּרי (Nahum 3:11) shows to itself that הלכה refers to the past, as תּשׁכּרי does to the future; yea, the facts themselves require that Nahum should be understood as pointing to the fate which the powerful city of Thebes had already experienced. For it must be an event that has already occurred, and not something still in the future, which he holds up before Nineveh as a mirror of the fate that is awaiting it. The clauses which follow depict the cruelties that were generally associated with the taking of an enemy's cities. For עלליה וגו roF .se, see Hosea 14:1; Isaiah 13:16, and 2 Kings 8:12; and for ידּוּ גורל, Joel 3:3 and Obadiah 1:11. Nikhbaddı̄m , nobiles ; cf. Isaiah 23:8-9. G e dōlı̄m , magnates ; cf. Jonah 3:7. It must be borne in mind, however, that the words only refer to cruelties connected with the conquest and carrying away of the inhabitants, and not to the destruction of No-amon.
We have no express historical account of this occurrence; but there is hardly any doubt that, after the conquest of Ashdod, Sargon the king of Assyria organized an expedition against Egypt and Ethiopia, conquered No-amon, the residence of the Pharaohs at that time, and, as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 20:3-4), carried the prisoners of Egypt and Ethiopia into exile. According to the Assyrian researches and their most recent results (vid., Spiegel's Nineveh and Assyria in Herzog's Cyclopaedia ), the king Sargon mentioned in Isaiah 20:1 is not the same person as Shalmaneser, as I assumed in my commentary on 2 Kings 17:3, but his successor, and the predecessor of Sennacherib, who ascended the throne during the siege of Samaria, and conquered that city in the first year of his reign, leading 27,280 persons into captivity, and appointing a vicegerent over the country of the ten tribes. In Assyrian Sargon is called Sar Kin, i.e., essentially a king. He was the builder of the palace at Khorsabad, which is so rich in monuments; and, according to the inscriptions, he carried on wars in Susiana, Babylon, the borders of Egypt, Melitene, Southern Armenia, Kurdistan, and Media; and in all his expeditions he resorted to the removal of the people in great numbers, as one means of securing the lasting subjugation of the lands (see Spiegel, l.c. p. 224). In the great inscription in the palace-halls of Khorsabad, Sargon boasts immediately after the conquest of Samaria of a victorious conflict with Pharaoh Sebech at Raphia, in consequence of which the latter became tributary, and also of the dethroning of the rebellious king of Ashdod; and still further, that after another king of Ashdod, who had been chosen by the people, had fled to Egypt, he besieged Ashdod with all his army, and took it. Then follows a difficult and mutilated passage, in which Rawlinson ( Five Great Monarchies, ii. 416) and Oppert ( Les Sargonides, pp. 22, 26, 27) find an account of the complete subjugation of Sebech (see Delitzsch on Isaiah, at Isaiah 20:5-6). There is apparently a confirmation of this in the monuments recording the deeds of Esarhaddon's successor, whose name is read Assur-bani-pal, according to which that king carried on tedious wars in Egypt against Tirhaka, who had conquered Memphis, Thebes, and sundry other Egyptian cities during the illness of Esarhaddon, and according to his own account, succeeded at length in completely overcoming him, and returned home with rich booty, having first of all taken hostages for future good behaviour (see Spiegel, p. 225). If these inscriptions have been read correctly, it follows from them that from the reign of Sargon the Assyrians made attempts to subjugate Egypt, and were partially successful, though they could not maintain their conquests. The struggle between Assyria and Egypt for supremacy in Hither Asia may also be inferred from the brief notices in the Old Testament (2 Kings 17:4) concerning the help which the Israelitish king Hosea expected from So the king of Egypt, and also concerning the advance of Tirhaka against Sennacherib.
(Note: From the modern researches concerning ancient Egypt, not the smallest light can be obtained as to any of these things. “The Egyptologists (as J. Bumüller observes, p. 245) have hitherto failed to fill up the gaps in the history of Egypt, and have been still less successful in restoring the chronology; for hitherto we have not met with a single well-established date, which we have obtained from a monumental inscription; nor have the monuments enabled us to assign to a single Pharaoh, from the 1st to the 21st, his proper place in the years or centuries of the historical chronology.”)
The same, or rather a worse fate than No-amon suffered, is now awaiting Nineveh. Nahum 3:11. “Thou also wilt be drunken, shalt be hidden; thou also wilt seek for a refuge from the enemy. Nahum 3:12. All thy citadels are fig-trees with early figs; if they are shaken, they fall into the mouth of the eater. Nahum 3:13. Behold thy people, women in the midst of thee; the gates of thy land are thrown quite open to thine enemies; fire consumes thy bolts.” גּם־אתּ corresponds to גּם־היא in Nahum 3:10 : as she, so also thou. “The fate of No-amon is a prophecy of thine own” (Hitzig). תּשׁכּרי, thou wilt be drunken, viz., from the goblet of divine wrath, as at Obadiah 1:16. תּהי נעלמה might mean, “thou wilt be hiding thyself;” but although this might suit what follows, it does not agree with תּשׁכּרי, since an intoxicated person is not in the habit of hiding himself. Moreover, נעלם always means “hidden,” occultus ; so that Calvin's interpretation is the correct one: “Thou wilt vanish away as if thou hadst never been; the Hebrews frequently using the expression being hidden for being reduced to nothing.” This is favoured by a comparison both with Nahum 1:8 and Nahum 2:12, and also with the parallel passage in Obadiah 1:16, “They will drink, and be as if they had not been.” This is carried out still further in what follows: “Thou wilt seek refuge from the enemy,” i.e., in this connection, seek it in vain, or without finding it; not, “Thou wilt surely demand salvation from the enemy by surrender” (Strauss), for מאויב does not belong to תּבקשׁי, but to מעוז (cf. Isaiah 25:4). All the fortifications of Nineveh are like fig-trees with early figs ( עם in the sense of subordination, as in Song of Solomon 4:13), which fall into the mouth of the eater when the trees are shaken. The tertium compar. is the facility with which the castles will be taken and destroyed by the enemy assaulting them (cf. Isaiah 28:4). We must not extend the comparison so far, however, as to take the figs as representing cowardly warriors, as Hitzig does. Even in Nahum 3:13, where the people are compared to women, the point of comparison is not the cowardliness of the warriors, but the weakness and inability to offer any successful resistance into which the nation of the Assyrians, which was at other times so warlike, would be reduced through the force of the divine judgment inflicted upon Nineveh (compare Isaiah 19:16; Jeremiah 50:37; Jeremiah 51:30). לאיביך belongs to what follows, and is placed first, and pointed with zakeph-katon for the sake of emphasis. The gates of the land are the approaches to it, the passes leading into it, which were no doubt provided with castles. Tuch (p. 35) refers to the mountains on the north, which Pliny calls impassable. The bolts of these gates are the castles, through which the approaches were closed. Jeremiah transfers to Babel what is here said of Nineveh (see Jeremiah 51:30).
In conclusion, the prophet takes away from the city so heavily laden with guilt the last prop to its hope, - namely, reliance upon its fortifications, and the numerical strength of its population. - Nahum 3:14. “Draw thyself water for the siege! Make thy castles strong! tread in the mire, and stamp in the clay! prepare the brick-kiln! Nahum 3:15. There will the fire devour thee, the sword destroy thee, devour thee like the lickers. Be in great multitude like the lickers, be in great multitude like the locusts? Nahum 3:16. Thou hast made thy merchants more than the star so heaven; the licker enters to plunder, and flies away. Nahum 3:17. Thy levied ones are like the locusts, and thy men like an army of grasshoppers which encamp in the hedges in the day of frost; if the sun rises, they are off, and men know not their place: where are they?” Water of the siege is the drinking water necessary for a long-continued siege. Nineveh is to provide itself with this, because the siege will last a long while. It is also to improve the fortifications ( chizzēq as in 2 Kings 12:8, 2 Kings 12:13). This is then depicted still more fully. Tı̄t and chōmer are used synonymously here, as in Isaiah 41:25. Tı̄t , lit., dirt, slime, then clay and potter's clay (Isaiah l.c. ). Chōmer , clay or mortar (Genesis 11:3), also dirt of the streets (Isaiah 10:6, compared with Micah 7:10). החזיק, to make firm, or strong, applied to the restoration of buildings in Nehemiah 5:16 and Ezekiel 27:9, Ezekiel 27:27; here to restore, or to put in order, the brick-kiln ( malbēn , a denom. from l e bhēnâh , a brick), for the purpose of burning bricks. The Assyrians built with bricks sometimes burnt, sometimes unburnt, and merely dried in the sun. Both kinds are met with on the Assyrian monuments (see Layard, vol. ii. p. 36ff.). This appeal, however, is simply a rhetorical turn for the thought that a severe and tedious siege is awaiting Nineveh. This siege will end in the destruction of the great and populous city. שׁם, there, sc. in these fortifications of thine, will fire consume thee; fire will destroy the city with its buildings, and the sword destroy the inhabitants. The destruction of Nineveh by fire is related by ancient writers (Herod. 1:106, 185; Diod. Sic. 2:25-28; Athen. xii. p. 529), and also confirmed by the ruins (cf. Str. ad h. l. ). It devours thee like the locust. The subject is not fire or sword, either one or the other, but rather both embraced in one. כּיּלק, like the licker ; yeleq , a poetical epithet applied to the locust (see at Joel 1:4), is the nominative, no the accusative, as Calvin, Grotius, Ewald, and Hitzig suppose. For the locusts are not devoured by the fire or the sword, but it is they who devour the vegetables and green of the fields, so that they are everywhere used as a symbol of devastation and destruction. It is true that in the following sentences the locusts are used figuratively for the Assyrians, or the inhabitants of Nineveh; but it is also by no means a rare thing for prophets to give a new turn and application to a figure or simile. The thought is this: fire and sword will devour Nineveh and its inhabitants like the all-consuming locusts, even though the city itself, with its mass of houses and people, should resemble an enormous swarm of locusts. התכּבּד may be either an inf. abs. used instead of the imperative, or the imperative itself. The latter seems the more simple; and the use of the masculine may be explained on the assumption that the prophet had the people floating before his mind, whereas in התכּבּדי he was thinking of the city. Hithkahbbēd , to show itself heavy by virtue of the large multitude; similar to כּבד in Nahum 2:10 (cf. כּבד in Genesis 13:2; Exodus 8:20, etc.).
The comparison to a swarm of locusts is carried still further in Nahum 3:16 and Nahum 3:17, and that so that Nahum 3:16 explains the תּאכלך כּיּלק in Nahum 3:15. Nineveh has multiplied its traders or merchants, even more than the stars of heaven, i.e., to an innumerable multitude. The yeleq , i.e., the army of the enemy, bursts in and plunders. That Nineveh was a very rich commercial city may be inferred from its position, - namely, just at the point where, according to oriental notions, the east and west meet together, and where the Tigris becomes navigable, so that it was very easy to sail from thence into the Persian Gulf; just as afterwards Mosul, which was situated opposite, became great and powerful through its widely-extended trade (see Tuch, l.c. p. 31ff., and Strauss, in loc. ).
(Note: “The point,” says O. Strauss ( Nineveh and the Word of God, Berl 1855, p. 19), “at which Nineveh was situated was certainly the culminating point of the three quarters of the globe - Europe, Asia, and Africa; and from the very earliest times it was just at the crossing of the Tigris by Nineveh that the great military and commercial roads met, which led into the heart of all the leading known lands.”)
The meaning of this verse has been differently interpreted, according to the explanation given to the verb pâshat . Many, following the ὥρμησε and expansus est of the lxx and Jerome, give it the meaning, to spread out the wing; whilst Credner (on Joel, p. 295), Maurer, Ewald, and Hitzig take it in the sense of undressing one's self, and understand it as relating to the shedding of the horny wing-sheaths of the young locusts. But neither the one nor the other of these explanations can be grammatically sustained. Pâshat never means anything else then to plunder, or to invade with plundering; not even in such passages as Hosea 7:1; 1 Chronicles 14:9 and 1 Chronicles 14:13, which Gesenius and Dietrich quote in support of the meaning, to spread; and the meaning forced upon it by Credner, of the shedding of the wing-sheaths by locusts, is perfectly visionary, and has merely been invented by him for the purpose of establishing his false interpretation of the different names given to the locusts in Joel 1:4. In the passage before us we cannot understand by the yeleq , which “plunders and flies away” ( pâshat vayyâ‛ōph ), the innumerable multitude of the merchants of Nineveh, because they were not able to fly away in crowds out of the besieged city. Moreover, the flying away of the merchants would be quite contrary to the meaning of the whole description, which does not promise deliverance from danger by flight, but threatens destruction. The yeleq is rather the innumerable army of the enemy, which plunders everything, and hurries away with its booty. In Nahum 3:17 the last two clauses of Nahum 3:15 are explained, and the warriors of Nineveh compared to an army of locusts. There is some difficulty caused by the two words מנּזריך and טפסריך, the first of which only occurs here, and the second only once more, viz., in Jeremiah 51:27, where we meet with it in the singular. That they both denote warlike companies appears to be tolerably certain; but the real meaning cannot be exactly determined. מנּזרים with dagesh dir., as for example in מקּדשׁ in Exodus 15:17, is probably derived from nâzar , to separate, and not directly from nezer , a diadem, or nâzı̄r , the crowned person, from which the lexicons, following Kimchi's example, have derived the meaning princes, or persons ornamented with crowns; whereas the true meaning is those levied, selected (for war), analogous to bâchūr , the picked or selected one, applied to the soldiery. The meaning princes or captains is at variance with the comparison to 'arbeh , the multitude of locusts, since the number of the commanders in an army, or of the war-staff, is always a comparatively small one. And the same objection may be offered to the rendering war-chiefs or captains, which has been given to taphsar , and which derives only an extremely weak support from the Neo-Persian tâwsr , although the word might be applied to a commander-in-chief in Jeremiah 51:27, and does signify an angel in the Targum-Jonathan on Deuteronomy 28:12. The different derivations are all untenable (see Ges. Thes. p. 554); and the attempt of Böttcher ( N. Krit. Aehrenl. ii. pp. 209-10) to trace it to the Aramaean verb טפס, obedivit , with the inflection ־ר for ־ן, in the sense of clientes , vassals, is precluded by the fact that ar does not occur as a syllable of inflection. The word is probably Assyrian, and a technical term for soldiers of a special kind, though hitherto it has not been explained. גּוב גּובי, locusts upon locusts, i.e., an innumerable swarm of locusts. On גּובי, see at Amos 7:1; and on the repetition of the same word to express the idea of the superlative, see the comm. on 2 Kings 19:23 (and Ges. §108, 4). Yōm qârâh , day (or time) of cold, is either the night, which is generally very cold in the East, or the winter-time. To the latter explanation it may be objected, that locusts do not take refuge in walls or hedges during the winter; whilst the expression yōm , day, for night, may be pleaded against the former. We must therefore take the word as relating to certain cold days, on which the sky is covered with clouds, so that the sun cannot break through, and zârach as denoting not the rising of the sun, but its shining or breaking through. The wings of locusts become stiffened in the cold; but as soon as the warm rays of the sun break through the clouds, they recover their animation and fly away. Nōdad , ( poal ), has flown away, viz., the Assyrian army, which is compared to a swarm of locusts, so that its place is known no more (cf. Psalms 103:16), i.e., has perished without leaving a trace behind. איּם contracted from איּה הם . These words depict in the most striking manner the complete annihilation of the army on which Nineveh relied.
Such an end will come to the Assyrian kingdom on the overthrow of Nineveh. Nahum 3:18. “The shepherds have fallen asleep, king Asshur: thy glorious ones are lying there: thy people have scattered themselves upon the mountains, and no one gathers them. Nahum 3:19. No alleviation to thy fracture, thy stroke is grievous: all who hear tidings of thee clap the hand over thee: for over whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?” The king of Asshur addressed in Nahum 3:18 is not the last historical king of that kingdom, but a rhetorical personification of the holder of the imperial power of Assyria. His shepherds and glorious ones ( 'addı̄rı̄m , as in Nahum 2:6) are the princes and great men, upon whom the government and defence of the kingdom devolved, the royal counsellors, deputies, and generals. Mâmū , from nūm , to slumber, to sleep, is not a figurative expression for carelessness and inactivity here; for the thought that the people would be scattered, and the kingdom perish, through the carelessness of the rulers (Hitzig), neither suits the context, where the destruction of the army and the laying of the capital in ashes are predicted, nor the object of the whole prophecy, which does not threaten the fall of the kingdom through the carelessness of its rulers, but the destruction of the kingdom by a hostile army. Nūm denotes here, as in Psalms 76:6, the sleep of death (cf. Psalms 13:4; Jeremiah 51:39, Jeremiah 51:57 : Theodoret, Hesselb., Str., and others). Shâkhan , a synonym of shâkhabh , to have lain down, to lie quietly (Judges 5:17), used here of the rest of death. As the shepherds have fallen asleep, the flock (i.e., the Assyrian people) is scattered upon the mountains and perishes, because no one gathers it together. Being scattered upon the mountains, is easily explained from the figure of the flock (cf. Numbers 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Zechariah 13:7), and implies destruction. The mountains are mentioned with evident reference to the fact that Nineveh is shut in towards the north by impassable mountains. Kēhâh , a noun formed from the adjective, the extinction of the wound (cf. Leviticus 13:6), i.e., the softening or anointing of it. Shebher , the fracture of a limb, is frequently applied to the collapse or destruction of a state or kingdom (e.g., Psalms 60:4; Lamentations 2:11). נחלה מכּתך, i.e., dangerously bad, incurable is the stroke which has fallen upon thee (cf. Jeremiah 10:19; Jeremiah 14:17; Jeremiah 30:12). Over thy destruction will all rejoice who hear thereof. שׁמעך, the tidings of thee, i.e., of that which has befallen thee. Clapping the hands is a gesture expressive of joy (cf. Psalms 47:2; Isaiah 55:12). All: because they all had to suffer from the malice of Asshur. רעה, malice, is the tyranny and cruelty which Assyria displayed towards the subjugated lands and nations.
Thus was Nineveh to perish. If we inquire now how the prophecy was fulfilled, the view already expressed by Josephus ( Ant. x. 2), that the fall of the Assyrian empire commenced with the overthrow of Sennacherib in Judah, is not confirmed by the results of the more recent examinations of the Assyrian monuments. For according to the inscriptions, so far as they have been correctly deciphered, Sennacherib carried out several more campaigns in Susiana and Babylonia after that disaster, whilst ancient writers also speak of an expedition of his to Cilicia. His successor, Esarhaddon, also carried on wars against the cities of Phoenicia, against Armenia and Cilicia, attacked the Edomites, and transported some of them to Assyria, and is said to have brought a small and otherwise unknown people, the Bikni , into subjection; whilst we also know from the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 33:11) that his generals led king Manasseh in chains to Babylon. Like many of his predecessors, he built himself a palace at Kalah or Nimrud; but before the internal decorations were completely finished, it was destroyed by so fierce a fire, that the few monuments preserved have suffered very considerably. His successor is the last king of whom we have any inscriptions, with his name still legible upon them (viz., Assur-bani-pal ). He carried on wars not only in Susiana, but also in Egypt, viz., against Tirhaka, who had conquered Memphis, Thebes, and other Egyptian cities, during the illness of Esarhaddon; also on the coast of Syria, and in Cilicia and Arabia; and completed different buildings which bear his name, including a palace in Kouyunjik, in which a room has been found with a library in it, consisting of clay tablets. Assur-bani-pal had a son, whose name was written Asur-emid-ilin, and who is regarded as the Sarakos of the ancients, under whom the Assyrian empire perished, with the conquest and destruction of Nineveh (see Spiegel in Herzog's Cycl. ). But if, according to these testimonies, the might of the Assyrian empire was not so weakened by Sennacherib's overthrow in Judah, that any hope could be drawn from that, according to human conjecture, of the speedy destruction of that empire; the prophecy of Nahum concerning Nineveh, which was uttered in consequence of that catastrophe, cannot be taken as the production of any human combination: still less can it be taken, as Ewald supposes, as referring to “the first important siege of Nineveh, under the Median king Phraortes (Herod. i. 102).” For Herodotus says nothing about any siege of Nineveh, but simply speaks of a war between Phraortes and the Assyrians, in which the former lost his life. Nineveh was not really besieged till the time of Cyaxares (Uwakhshatra), who carried on the war with an increased army, to avenge the death of his father, and forced his way to Nineveh, to destroy that city, but was compelled, by the invasion of his own land by the Scythians, to relinquish the siege, and hasten to meet that foe (Her. i. 103). On the extension of his sway, the same Cyaxares commenced a war with the Lydian king Alyattes, which was carried on for five years with alternating success and failure on both sides, and was terminated in the sixth year by the fact, that when the two armies were standing opposite to one another, drawn up in battle array, the day suddenly darkened into night, which alarmed the armies, and rendered the kings disposed for peace. This was brought about by the mediation of the Cilician viceroy Syennesis and the Babylonian viceroy Labynetus, and sealed by the establishment of a marriage relationship between the royal families of Lydia and Media (Her. i. 74). And if this Labynetus was the same person as the Babylonian king Nabopolassar, which there is no reason to doubt, it was not till after the conclusion of this peace that Cyaxares formed an alliance with Nabopolassar to make war upon Nineveh; and this alliance was strengthened by his giving his daughter Amuhea in marriage to Nabopolassar's son Nebuchadnezzar (Nabukudrossor). The combined forces of these two kings now advanced to the attack upon Nineveh, and conquered it, after a siege of three years, the Assyrian king Saracus burning himself in his palace as the besiegers were entering the city. This is the historical kernel of the capture and destruction of Nineveh, which may be taken as undoubted fact from the accounts of Herodotus (i. 106) and Diod. Sic. (ii. 24-28), as compared with the extract from Abydenus in Euseb. Chron. Armen. i. p. 54; whereas it is impossible to separate the historical portions from the legendary and in part mythical decorations contained in the elaborate account given by Diodorus (vid., M. v. Niebuhr, Geschichte Assurs, p. 200ff.; Duncker, Geschichte des Alterthums . i. p. 793ff.; and Bumüller, Gesch. d. Alterth. i. p. 316ff.).
The year of the conquest and destruction of Nineveh has been greatly disputed, and cannot be exactly determined. As it is certain that Nabopolassar took part in the war against Nineveh, and this is indirectly intimated even by Herodotus, who attributes the conquest of it to Cyaxares and the Medes (vid., i. 106), Nineveh must have fallen between the years 625 and 606 b.c. For according to the canon of Ptolemy, Nabopolassar was king of Babylon from 625 to 606; and this date is astronomically established by an eclipse of the moon, which took place in the fifth year of his reign, and which actually occurred in the year 621 b.c. (vid., Niebuhr, p. 47). Attempts have been made to determine the year of the taking of Nineveh, partly with reference to the termination of the Lydio-Median war, and partly from the account given by Herodotus of the twenty-eight years' duration of the Scythian rule in Asia. Starting from the fact, that the eclipse of the sun, which put an end to the war between Cyaxares and Alyattes, took place, according to the calculation of Altmann, on the 30th September b.c. 610 (see Ideler, Handbuch der Chronologie, i. p. 209ff.), M. v. Niebuhr (pp. 197-8) has assumed that, at the same time as the mediation of peace between the Lydians and Medes, an alliance was formed between Cyaxares and Nabopolassar for the destruction of Nineveh; and as this treaty could not possibly be kept secret, the war against Assyria was commenced at once, according to agreement, with their united forces. But as it was impossible to carry out extensive operations in winter, the siege of Nineveh may not have commenced till the spring of 609; and as it lasted three years according to Ctesias, the capture may not have been effected before the spring of 606 b.c. It is true that this combination is apparently confirmed by the fact, that during that time the Egyptian king Necho forced his way into Palestine and Syria, and after subduing all Syria, advanced to the Euphrates; since this advance of the Egyptian is most easily explained on the supposition that Nabopolassar was so occupied with the war against Nineveh, that he could not offer any resistance to the enterprise of Necho. And the statement in 2 Kings 23:29, that Necho had come up to fight against the king of Asshur on the Euphrates, appears to favour the conclusion, that at that time (i.e., in the year of Josiah's death, 610 b.c.) the Assyrian empire was not yet destroyed. Nevertheless there are serious objections to this combination. In the first place, there is the double difficulty, that Cyaxares would hardly have been in condition to undertake the war against Nineveh in alliance with Nabopolassar, directly after the conclusion of peace with Alyattes, especially after he had carried on a war for five years, without being able to defeat his enemy; and secondly, that even Nabopolassar, after a fierce three years' conflict with Nineveh, the conquest of which was only effected in consequence of the wall of the city having been thrown down for the length of twenty stadia, would hardly possess the power to take the field at once against Pharoah Necho, who had advanced as far as the Euphrates, and not only defeat him at Carchemish, but pursue him to the frontier of Egypt, and wrest from him all the conquests that he had effected, as would necessarily be the case, since the battle at Carchemish was fought in the year 606; and the pursuit of the defeated foe by Nebuchadnezzar, to whom his father had transferred the command of the army because of his own age an infirmity, even to the very border of Egypt, is so distinctly attested by the biblical accounts (2 Kings 24:1 and 2 Kings 24:7; Jeremiah 46:2), and by the testimony of Berosus in Josephus ( Ant. x. 11, 1, and c. Ap. i. 19), that these occurrences are placed beyond the reach of doubt (see comm. on 2 Kings 24:1). These difficulties would not indeed be sufficient in themselves to overthrow the combination mentioned, provided that the year 610 could be fixed upon with certainty as the time when the Lydio-Median war was brought to a close. But that is not the case; and this circumstance is decisive. The eclipse of the sun, which alarmed Cyaxares and Alyattes, and made them disposed for peace, must have been total, or nearly total, in Central Asia and Cappadocia, to produce the effect described. But it has been proved by exact astronomical calculations, that on the 30th September 610 b.c., the shadow of the moon did not fall upon those portions of Asia Minor, whereas it did so on the 18th May 622, after eight o'clock in the morning, and on the 28th May 585 (vid., Bumüll. p. 315, and M. v. Niebuhr, pp. 48, 49). Of these two dates the latter cannot come into consideration at all, because Cyaxares only reigned till the year 594; and therefore, provided that peace had not been concluded with Alyattes before 595, he would not have been able to carry on the war with Nineveh and conquer that city. On the other hand, there is no valid objection that can be offered to our transferring the conclusion of peace with the Lydian king to the year 622 b.c. Since, for example, Cyaxares became king as early as the year 634, he might commence the war with the Lydians as early as the year 627 or 628; and inasmuch as Nabopolassar was king of Babylon from 625 to 605, he might very well help to bring about the peace between Cyaxares and Alyattes in the year 622. In this way we obtain the whole space between 622 and 605 b.c. for the war with Nineveh; so that the city may have been taken and destroyed as early as the years 615-610.
Even the twenty-eight years' duration of the Scythian supremacy in Asia, which is recorded by Herodotus (i. 104, 106, cf. iv. 1), cannot be adduced as a well-founded objection. For if the Scythians invaded Media in the year 633, so as to compel Cyaxares to relinquish the siege of Nineveh, and if their rule in Upper Asia lasted for twenty-eight years, the expedition against Nineveh, which led to the fall of that city, cannot have taken place after the expulsion of the Scythians in the year 605, because the Assyrian empire had passed into the hands of the Chaldaeans before that time, and Nebuchadnezzar had already defeated Necho on the Euphrates, and was standing at the frontier of Egypt, when he received the intelligence of his father's death, which led him to return with all speed to Babylon. There is no other alternative left, therefore, than either to assume, as M. v. Niebuhr does (pp. 119, 120), that the war of Cyaxares with the Lydians, and also the last war against Nineveh, and probably also the capture of Nineveh, and the greatest portion of the Median conquests between Ararat and Halys, fell within the period of the Scythian sway, so that Cyaxares extended his power as a vassal of the Scythian Great Khan as soon as he had recovered from the first blow received from these wild hordes, inasmuch as that sovereign allowed his dependent to do just as he liked, provided that he paid the tribute, and did not disturb the hordes in their pasture grounds; or else to suppose that Cyaxares drove out the Scythian hordes from Media at a much earlier period, and liberated his own country from their sway; in which case the twenty-eight years of Herodotus would not indicate the period of their sway over Media and Upper Asia, but simply the length of time that they remained in Hither Asia generally, or the period that intervened between their first invasion and the complete disappearance of their hordes. If Cyaxares had driven the Scythians out of his own land at a much earlier period, he might extend his dominion even while they still kept their position in Hither Asia, and might commence the war with the Lydians as early as the year 628 or 627, especially as his wrath is said to have been kindled because Alyattes refused to deliver up to him a Scythian horde, which had first of all submitted to Cyaxares, and then fled into Lydia to Alyattes (Herod. i. 73). Now, whichever of these two combinations be the correct one, they both show that the period of the war commenced by Cyaxares against Nineveh, in alliance with Nabopolassar, cannot be determined by the statement made by Herodotus with regard to the twenty-eight years of the Scythian rule in Asia; and this Scythian rule, generally, does not compel us to place the taking and destruction of Nineveh, and the dissolution of the Assyrian empire, as late as the year 605 b.c., or even later.
At this conquest Nineveh was so utterly destroyed, that, as Strabo (xvi. 1, §3) attests, the city entirely disappeared immediately after the dissolution of the Assyrian kingdom ( ἡ μὲν οὖν Νῖνος πόλις ἠφανίσθη παραχρῆμα μετὰ τὴν τῶν Σύρων κατάλυσιν ). When Xenophon entered the plain of Nineveh, in the year 401, on the retreat of the ten thousand Greeks, he found the ruins of two large cities, which he calls Larissa and Mespila, and by the side of the first a stone pyramid of 200 feet in height and 100 feet in breadth, upon which many of the inhabitants of the nearest villages had taken refuge, and heard from the inhabitants that it was only by a miracle that it had been possible for the Persians to conquer those cities with their strong walls (Xenoph. Anab. iii. 4, 7ff.). These ruined cities had been portions of the ancient Nineveh: Larissa was Calah ; and Mespila, Kouyunjik . Thus Xenophon passed by the walls of Nineveh without even learning its name. Four hundred years after (according to Tacitus, Annal. xii. 13), a small fortress stood on this very spot, to guard the crossing of the Tigris; and the same fortress is mentioned by Abul-Pharaj in the thirteenth century ( Hist. Dynast. pp. 266, 289, 353). Opposite to this, on the western side of the Tigris, Mosul had risen into one of the first cities of Asia, and the ruins of Nineveh served as quarries for the building of the new city, so that nothing remained but heaps of rubbish, which even Niebuhr took to be natural heights in the year 1766, when he was told, as he stood by the Tigris bridge, that he was in the neighbourhood of ancient Nineveh. So completely had this mighty city vanished from the face of the earth; until, in the most recent times, viz., from 1842 onwards, Botta the French consul, and the two Englishmen Layard and Rawlinson, instituted excavations in the heaps, and brought to light numerous remains of the palaces and state-buildings of the Assyrian rulers of the world. Compare the general survey of these researches, and their results, in Herm. J. C. Weissenborn's Ninive u. sein Gebiet., Erfurt 1851, and 56, 4.
But if Nahum's prophecy was thus fulfilled in the destruction of Nineveh, even to the disappearance of every trace of its existence, we must not restrict it to this one historical event, but must bear in mind that, as the prophet simply saw in Nineveh the representative for the time of the power of the world in its hostility to God, so the destruction predicted to Nineveh applied to all the kingdoms of the world which have risen up against God since the destruction of Asshur, and which will still continue to do so to the end of the world.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Nahum 3". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany