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Part I. THE JUDGMENT UPON NINEVEH DECREED BY GOD.
§ 1. The heading of the book. The book has a double title, the first giving the object of the prophecy, which otherwise would not be evident; the second, its author, added to give confidence in its contents. The burden; massa (Habakkuk 1:1)—a term generally used of a weighty, threatening prophecy (Isaiah 13:1), though translated by the LXX. λῆμμα here, and elsewhere ὄρασις, and ῥῆμα. Some prefer to render it "utterance," or "oracle." The word is capable of either meaning. It almost always (except, perhaps, in Zechariah 12:1) introduces a threat of judgment. Of Nineveh. The denunciation of this city is the object of the prophecy. The effect of Jonah's preaching had been only temporary; the reformation was partial and superficial; and now God's long suffering was wearied out, and the time of punishment was to come. (For an account of Nineveh, see note on Jonah 1:2.) Some critics have deemed one part of the title an interpolation; but the connection of the two portions is obvious, and without the former we should not know the object of the prophet's denunciation till Nahum 2:8. The book of the vision. This is the second title, in apposition with the former, and defining it more closely as the Book in which was written the prophecy of Nahum. It is called a "vision," because what the prophet foretold was presented to his mental sight, and stood plainly before him (comp. Isaiah 1:1). The Elkoshite; i.e. native of Elkosh, for which, see Introduction, § II.
§ 2. The prophet describes the inflexible justice of God, and illustrates his irresistible power by the control which he exercises over the material world.
God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; better, Jehovah is a jealous and avenging God, as Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24; Joshua 24:19. The threefold repetition of the name of Jehovah and the attribute "avenging" gives a wonderful force to this sublime description of the Divine character. God is here called jealous anthropopothically, as ready to defend his honour against all who oppose him, as One who loves his people and punishes their oppressors. Is furious; literally, master of fury, as Genesis 37:19, "master of dreams." The Lord is full of wrath (comp. Proverbs 10:12 :24; Proverbs 29:22). The word used implies a permanent feeling, Hire the Greek μῆνις. He reserveth wrath. The Hebrew is simply "watching," "observing" for punishment. Septuagint, ἐξαίρων αὐτὸς τοὺς ἐχθροὺς αὐτοῦ, "himself cutting off his enemies;" Vulgate, irascens ipse inimicis ejus. God withholds his hand for a time, but does not forget. All this description of God's attributes is intended to show that the destruction of Assyria is his doing, and that its accomplishment is certain.
Slow to anger (Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7). Nahum seems to take up the words of Jonah (Jonah 4:2) or Joel (Joel 2:13). God is long suffering, not from weakness, but because he is great in power, and can punish when he will. Will not at all acquit the wicked; literally, holding pure will not hold pure; i.e. he will not treat the guilty as innocent. Ἀθωῶν [Alex; ἀθῶον] οὐκ ἀθωώσει; Mundans non faciet innocentem (comp. Exodus 20:7; Exodus 34:7). The Lord hath his way, etc. The prophet grounds his description of the majesty and might of God upon the revelation at the Exodus and at Sinai. (see Exodus 19:16-18; Psalms 18:1-50.; Psalms 97:0.). The clouds are the dust of his feet, Large and grand as the clouds look to us, they are to God but as the dust raised by the feet in walking. As an illustration of this statement (though, of course, the fact was utterly unknown to Nahum), it has been remarked that recent scientific discovery asserts that clouds owe their beauty, and even their very existence, to the presence of dust particles in the atmosphere. The aqueous vapour, it is said, condenses on these particles, and thus becomes visible.
The great physical changes and convulsions in the world are tokens of God's wrath on sinful nations. He rebuketh the sea, as at the passage of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21; Psalms 106:9). This is a sign of omnipotence (comp. Luke 8:24). All the rivers. A generalization from the miracle at the Jordan (Joshua 3:1-17.; comp. Psalms 107:33; Isaiah 1:2). Septuagint, ποταμοὺς ἐξερημῶν, "making rivers desolate;" Vulgate, flumina ad desertum deducens. Bashan (see note on Amos 4:1). Carmel (see on Amos 1:2). Flower of Lebanon. This district was famous, not only for its cedars, but also for its vines and flowers (comp. Hosea 14:7; So Hosea 4:11). These three regions are mentioned as remarkable for their fertility, and they occur most naturally to the mind of a native of Galilee, as was Nahum. They also geographically are the eastern, western, and northern boundaries of the land. They are used here proverbially to express the truth that God can cause the most luxuriant regions to wither at his word.
The mountains quake. The mountains, the very emblems of stability, tremble before him (Adios 8:8). The hills melt; Οἱ βουνοὶ ἐσαλεύθησαν, "The hills were shaken". The hills dissolve like wax or anew at his presence (see Amos 4:13; Micah 1:4). Burned; Septuagint, ἀνεστάλη, "recoils," "is upheaved," as by an earthquake. This rendering has the greatest authority. The world; i.e. the habitable world, and all living creatures therein (Joel 1:18-20). Nature animate and inanimate is represented as actuated by the terror of conscious guilt.
Who can stand? (Psalms 76:7; Joel 2:11; Malachi 3:2; comp. Revelation 6:17). His fury is poured out like fire (Deuteronomy 4:24); like the brimstone and fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24), or like the molten lava that issues from a volcano (Jeremiah 7:20). Septuagint (reading differently), ὁ θυμὸς αὐτοῦ τήκει ἀρχάς: consumit principatus (Jerome). Are thrown down; rather, are rent asunder. If such is tile power of God, how shall Assyria resist it?
§ 3. The prophet prepares the way for proclaiming the punishment of Nineveh lay deriding that the wrath of God falls not on those who trust in him, but is reserved for his enemies.
The Lord is good. The Targum adds unnecessarily, "for Israel" (Psalms 25:8). He is "good," in that he is a stronghold in the day of trouble, as in the perilous time when the Assyrians attacked Judaea (comp. Psalms 27:1; Jeremiah 16:19). He knoweth; loves and cares for.
With an overrunning flood. This may be merely a metaphor to express the utter devastation which should overwhelm Nineveh, as the invasion of a hostile army is often thus depicted (comp. Isaiah 8:7; Daniel 11:26, Daniel 11:40); or it may be an allusion to the inundation which aided the capture of the city (see note on Nahum 2:6). Of the place thereof; i.e. of Nineveh, not named, but present to the prophet's mind, and understood from the heading (Nahum 1:1). (For the utter destruction of Nineveh, comp. Zephaniah 2:13, etc.) The LXX. has, τουνειρομένους ("those that rise up"). The Chaldee has a similar reading, with the meaning that God would exterminate those who rise up against him. Darkness shall pursue his enemies. So the Septuagint and Vulgate. But it is better rendered, He shall pursue his enemies into darkness, so that they disappear from the earth. If this is the meaning of the clause, it resembles the termination of many Assyrian inscriptions which record the defeat of a hostile chieftain: "and no one has seen any trace of him since."
The prophet suddenly addresses both Jews and Assyrians, encouraging the former by the thought that God can perform what he promises, and warning the latter that their boasting (comp. Isaiah 10:9, etc.; Isaiah 36:20) was vain. What do ye imagine against the Lord? Quid cogitatis contra Dominum? (Vulgate). This rendering regards the question as addressed to the Assyrians, demanding of them what it is that they dare to plot against God; do they presume to fight against him, or to fancy that his threats will not be accomplished? But the sentence is best translated, What think ye of the Lord? Τί λογίζεσθε ἐπὶ τὸν Κύριον; "What devise ye against the Lord?". This is addressed not only to the Jews in the sense, "Do ye think that he will not accomplish his threat against Nineveh?" but to the Assyrians also. He will make an utter end. This denunciation is repeated from Nahum 1:8 to denote the absolute certainty of the doom. Affliction shall not rise up the second time. The Assyrians shall never again have the power of oppressing Judah as they have ruined Israel there shall be no repetition of Sennacherib's invasion. Septuagint, Οὐκ ἐκδικήσει δὶς ἐπιτοαυτὸ ἐν θλίψει: Non vindicabit bis in idipsura (Jerome). From this text the Fathers take occasion to discuss the question how it is that God does not punish twice for the same sin.
While they be folden together as thorns. The clause is conditional: "Though they be interwined as thorns." Though the Assyrians present an impenetrable front, which seems to defy attack. (For the comparison of a hostile army to briers and thorns, see Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 27:4; Henderson.) And while they are drunken as drunkards; and though they be drunken with their drink, regarding themselves as invincible, and drenched with wine, and given up to luxury and excess. There may be an allusion to the legend current concerning the destruction of Nineveh. Diodorus (2.26) relates that, after the enemy had been thrice repulsed, the King of Nineveh was so elated that he gave himself up to festivity, and allowed all his army to indulge in the utmost licence, and that it was while they were occupied in drunkenness and feasting they were surprised by the Medes under Cyaxares, and their city taken. An account of such a feast, accompanied with sketehes from the monuments, is given in Bonomi, 'Nineveh and its Discoveries,' p. 187, etc. We may compare the fate of Belshazzar (Daniel 5:1, etc.). They shall be devoured as stubble fully dry; like worthless refuse, fit only for burning (Exodus 15:7; Isaiah 5:24; Joel 2:5; Obadiah 1:18). The LXX. renders this verse differently, "Because to its foundation it shall be dried up (χερσωθήσεται: redigentur in vepres, Jerome), and as bind weed (σμῖλαξ) intertwined it shall be devoured, and as stubble fully dry."
The reason of the destruction and of the punishment is told. There is one come out of thee. Nineveh is addressed; and we need not refer the words entirely to Sennacherib and his impious threats, but may take them generally as expressing the arrogant impiety of the Assyrians and their attitude towards Jehovah. A wicked counseller; literally, a councilor of Belial; i.e. of worthlessness. The expression, perhaps primarily applied to Sennacherib, also regards the plans prepared by the Assyrians for destroying the people of God, a type of the world arrayed against piety.
§ 4. The destruction of Nineveh is emphatically announced, and Zion is depicted as rejoicing at the news of its ruin, and celebrating her feasts in safety.
Thus saith the lord. An expression used to introduce a solemn declaration. Though they (the Assyrians) be quiet. Shalem has this meaning elsewhere, as Genesis 34:21; but this is unsuitable here, where it must be translated, "in full strength," "unimpaired," "complete," like the thorn hedge in Genesis 34:10. Vulgate, Si perfecti fuerint. Though they be unbroken in strength, and likewise (on that account) many in number. Septuagint, Τάδε λέγει Κύριος κατάρχων ὑδάτων πολλῶν, "Thus saith the Lord, ruling over many waters." So the Syriac and Arabic. Jerome interprets "the waters" to mean the heavenly powers (Psalms 148:4). Yet thus (though such is their state) shall they be cut down. The verb is used of the mowing of a fold or the shearing of sheep, and implies complete destruction. When he shall pass through; better, and he shall pass away. The number is changed, but the same persons are meant, spoken of as one to show their insignificance and complete annihilation. Septuagint "Thus shall they be dispersed [διασταλήσουται: dividentur, Jerome], and the report of thee shall no more be heard therein." The following clause is not translated. Though I have afflicted thee. The Lord addresses Judah, referring to the oppression of Judaea by the Assyriaus in the times of Ahaz and Hezekiah (2 Kings 16:18; 2 Chronicles 28:20, etc.; 32.). I will afflict thee no more; according to the promise in Genesis 34:9. This is further confirmed in what follows.
His yoke. The yoke of Assyria, probably referring to the vassalage of Judah (2 Kings 18:14; 2 Chronicles 33:11). (For the metaphor of "yoke" denoting subjugation, setup. Leviticus 26:13; Jeremiah 27:2; Ezekiel 34:27.) Jeremiah (Jeremiah 30:8) seems to use these words of Nahum to announce the deliverance of Israel from captivity. Burst thy bonds in sunder; by the final overthrow of the Assyrian power (Psalms 2:3; Jeremiah 2:20).
Concerning thee. The prophet addresses the Assyrian, and announces God's purpose concerning him. That no more of thy name be sown. There is no special reference to Sennacherib in this or the next clause, but the prophet means that the Assyrian people and name shall become extinct. Out of the house of thy gods (Isaiah 37:38, whore the murder of Sennacherib in the temple of Nisroch is mentioned). An account of the religion of the Assyrians will be found in Layard, 'Nineveh and its Remains,' vol. 2 Chronicles 7:0. Graven image; carved out of wood or stone. Molten; cast in metal. The two terms comprise every kind of idol, as in Deuteronomy 27:15; Judges 17:3. The Assyrians used to destroy the images of the gods worshipped by conquered nations (2 Kings 19:18). Bonomi gives a picture of soldiers cutting up the image of some foreign deity, and carrying away the pieces. So should it now be done unto their gods. I will make thy grave. I will consign thee, O Assyrian, and thy idols to oblivion (Ezekiel 32:22, etc.). It is not, "I will make it, the temple, thy grave," as those who see a reference to the death of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:37) render it; but, "I prepare thy grave"—I doom thee to destruction. The reason is given: For thou art vile; quia inhonoratus es (Vulgate): ὅτι ταχεῖς, "for they are swift". The word is also translated "light," weighed in the balances, and found wanting, as Daniel 5:27.
The second chapter commences here in the Hebrew and Syriac; the Anglican follows the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Chaldee Versions. This seems most agreeable to the method of the prophecy, wherein threat is succeeded by promise, denunciation of the enemy by declaration of comfort to Judah (comp. Nahum 1:6, Nahum 1:7, Nahum 1:12, and Nahum 1:13; so here Nahum 1:14 and Nahum 1:15). The prophet announces the joy with which Judah receives the news of the overthrow of Nineveh. Behold upon the mountains, etc. Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7) uses these words to proclaim the coming of Messiah (comp. Isaiah 40:9; Romans 10:15). The messengers come from the East across the mountains of Palestine, announcing the fall of Nineveh and the consequent peace and security of Judah—a type of the overthrow of God's enemies and the safety of his Church. There may be an allusion to the custom of spreading tidings by beacon fires. Keep thy solemn feasts. Judah is exhorted to resume the observation of her solemnities, which were interrupted during the enemy's occupation of the country, or which could not be properly attended by the distant inhabitants. Judah must offer her praises and thanksgivings for deliverance, and perform the vows which she made unto the Lord in the time of peril. The wicked (Hebrew, Belial) shall no more pass through thee. Belial is here the adversary, the opposing army (see verse 11).
A vision and a burden.
I. THE VISION OF NAHUM.
1. The person of the prophet.
(1) His name. Nahum, "Consolation"—fitly borne by one whose mission was to be the comforter of God's people. That so many in the Hebrew Church and nation possessed names prophetic of their future destinies points as its explanation to an overruling providence, which in this way kept alive in the hearts of the people a strongly operative belief in a Divine interposition in human affairs. That names are not now in this fashion significant does not prove that God is less cognizant of or interested in mundane matters, but merely shows that such devices are not now required to enable thoughtful persons to detect God's finger in the progress of history.
(2) His birthplace. Elkosh; not to be sought for in Assyria, as e.g. in the modern Christian village of Elkosh, east of the Tigris and northwest of Khorsabad, two days' journey from Mosul, where the tomb of the prophet is still shown, in the form of a simple alabaster box of modern style (Michaelis, Eichhorn, Ewald, etc.); but in Galilee, perhaps in the present day village of Helcesaei (Jerome, Hitzig, Delitzsch, Keil, etc.).
(3) His parentage. Unknown. That his father's name was Elkosh (Strauss) could only be maintained by regarding "the Elkoshite" as a patronymic, and the Elkoshites as a distinct family. Of this, however, Scripture affords no trace.
(4) His time. Uncertain. According to Josephus ('Ant.,' 9.11, 3), Nahum prophesied in the reign of Jotham. But the prophecy itself rather points to a later date—not to the earlier years of Hezekiah, before the destruction of Sennacherib's army (Jerome, Fausset), but to a point of time after that event, and consequently after the conquest of Samaria and the deportation of the ten tribes (Vitringa, Hitzig, Delitzsch, Keil, Nagelsbach in Herzog), more particularly to an age after the destruction of No-Amon, or Thebes (Nahum 3:8), which took place soon after Tirhakah's death, in B.C. 664. Hence B.C. 660, or the last years of Manasseh, may be accepted as the most probable date for Nahum's prophecy. 2. The nature of his vision.
(1) Not political foresight merely, since the destruction of Nineveh occurred in B.C. 609-606 (Schrader), i.e. a full half century later than the days of Nahum, which is too broad a chasm to be spanned by purely human sagacity. If the Preacher is not in error (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 8:7), Nahum required more than mere natural ability to enable him to predict the downfall of the great Assyrian capital fifty years before it happened.
(2) Divine inspiration alone can explain the utterance of Nahum. "The Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). Compare the examples of Abraham (Genesis 18:17), Moses (Numbers 12:6), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:11), Elijah (1 Kings 18:36), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:18), Daniel (Daniel 2:19), etc. The details given in Nahum's prophecy concerning Nineveh are such that they must have been obtained either by direct personal knowledge or by Divine revelation. But inasmuch as the former hypothesis—the ground upon which some scholars and critics locate Elkosh in Assyria—is rendered impossible by the time when Nahum lived (shortly after the destruction of No-Amon), it can only have been by the latter method that he acquired his information.
II. THE BURDEN OF NINEVEH.
1. The city. Nineveh; in Assyrian Ninua, or Nina, equivalent to "Station," "Dwelling," if the word be of Semitic origin; equivalent to "Fish house" if derived from the Accadian (Delitzsch). A city remarkable for:
(1) Its antiquity. Founded by Asshur, who went forth out of the land of Shinar, or Babylon, and builded Nineveh, the present day Kouyunjik and Nebbi Yunus. opposite Mosul on the Tigris (Layard, Smith, Schrader); Rehoboth Ir, the site of which is unknown; Calah, represented by the mounds of Nimrud (Layard, Smith, Schrader); and Resen, or Selamiyeh (Layard, Smith, Schrader), between Calah and Nimroud (Genesis 10:11, Genesis 10:12). "The foundation of Nineveh, the modern Kouyunjik, probably goes back to as early an age as that of Assur (Kalah Shergat, the original capital), but it was not until a much later period that it became an important city, and supplanted the older capital of the kingdom'.
(2) Its size. Even from earliest times it was regarded as a great city, including Calah, Rehoboth Ir, and Resen, as well as Nineveh proper. In Jonah's day it was "a great city" (Jonah 1:1), "an exceeding great city of three days' journey" (Jonah 3:3). This accords both with the statements of classical writers one of whom gives its circumference as four hundred and eighty stadia, or twelve geographical miles—and with the discoveries of modern research, according to which Nineveh appears to have been used to designate at one time Nineveh proper, at another time the four large prominent cities—Nineveh, equivalent to Kouyunjik and Nebbi Yunus; Calah, Nimroud; Resen, Selamiych; and Dur-Sargina of the inscriptions, Khorsabad. These four cities "formed a trapezium, the sharp angles of which lay towards the north and south, the long sides being formed by the Tigris and the mountains, the average length being about twenty-five English miles, and the average breadth fifteen" (Delitzsch, on Jonah 1:1). "The circumference of these four quarters or towns has been given by the English Jones at almost ninety English miles, which may correspond to a circuit of three days' journey".
(3) Its population. In Jonah's time it contained over a hundred and twenty thousand young persons at and under seven years of age (Jonah 4:11), which would give a population of six hundred thousand (Niebuhr, Delitzsch, Keil) or seven hundred thousand (Schrader) souls—a number exceeded by many modern cities.
(4) Its wealth. Nahum speaks of Nineveh as having multiplied her merchants above the stars of heaven (Nahum 3:16); and that this was so her situation "at the culminating point of the three quarters of the globe, Europe, Asia, and Africa" (O. Strauss), might naturally lead one to expect. That Nineveh contained immense stores of gold and silver (Nahum 2:9) accords with the statements of ancient writers, which represent the spoil of Nineveh as having been unparalleled in extent. So completely also was it plundered that "scarcely any fragments of gold and silver have been found in its ruins" (Kitto's 'Cyclopaedia,' 3:334), thus verifying the prediction that she should be "empty, and void, and waste" (Nahum 2:10).
(5) Its power. The crowned ones, i.e. nobles, and the marshals, i.e. the captains, of Nineveh were as plentiful as the locusts and great grasshoppers (Nahum 3:17); in which case what must have been the number of the common soldiers? To these—the levied and selected ones (for war) and the soldiery—rather than to the princes and commanders, according to another interpretation (Keil), the prophet's language refers. The shields and scarlet coats of her mighty men, the rattling of her war chariots, and the prancing of her horses are vividly depicted (Nahum 2:3; Nahum 3:1); as well as the fierceness and destructiveness of her warfare (Nahum 2:11, Nahum 2:12).
(6) Its wickedness. This, which in Jonah's time was so aggravated as to call forth against it a threatening of Divine punishment (Jonah 1:2; Jonah 3:4, Jonah 3:8, Jonah 3:10), was not less conspicuous in the days of Nahum. The "bloody city full of lies and rapine" (Nahum 3:1), had fully justified her designation by the manner in which she had deceived and destroyed the nations, Syria, Phoenicia, Philistia, Israel, and even Egypt.
2. The burden. This, which refers to Nahum's oracle concerning Nineveh, appropriately describes:
(1) Its momentous character. A burden on the prophet's soul until it was uttered, it forthwith became a weight of doom upon the city against which it was pronounced.
(2) Its certain fulfilment. Laid upon the bloody city by Jehovah's hand (Nahum 2:13; Nahum 3:5), it would inflict a grievous wound and cause a bruise for which there should be no healing (Nahum 3:19).
1. The argument from prophecy for the inspiration of the Scriptures.
2. The superiority of the Christian dispensation, whose messenger was not a prophet of Jehovah, but the Son of God (Hebrews 1:1).
3. The excellence of the gospel, which contains a burden, not of wrath, but of mercy.
The wrath of God-a warning.
I. NECESSARY AS TO ITS EXISTENCE Based upon the character of God as a jealous God. Jealous:
1. For his own glory, and therefore admitting of no rival claimant to man's worship and homage (Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24).
2. For his holy Law, and therefore shut up to punish iniquity (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 29:20; Joshua 24:19).
3. For his own people, and therefore impelled to take vengeance on their adversaries.
II. RIGHTEOUS AS TO ITS CHARACTER. Directed only and always:
1. Against his adversaries; i.e. against those who decline to do him homage, and show this by worshipping idols.
2. Against those who dishonour his holy Law by their disobedience and unrighteousness.
3. Against those who oppress and tyrannize over his people, as the Assyrians had done and were doing.
III. FURIOUS AS TO OPERATION. The wrath of Jehovah is not a trifle. Nahum speaks of it as something that has fury in it (verses 2, 6). The prophets generally represented it as terrible in its forth flashing against sin and sinners (Deuteronomy 29:28; 2 Chronicles 28:13; Isaiah 13:9; Jeremiah 21:5; Zephaniah 1:18; Zechariah 7:12). Christ did not view it as of small moment (Luke 21:23; Luke 22:22). Reason does not warrant the idea that it will be slight and easy to bear, it being the anger of a great and holy God.
IV. SLOW AS TO MANIFESTATION. It does not spring forth readily. Scripture distinctly testifies that God is slow to anger (verse 3).
1. Jehovah himself claimed that such was his character,
(1) when he spake to the people at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:6); and
(2) when he declared his Name to Moses (Exodus 34:6).
2. The Bible throughout concedes to him this character. Moses (Numbers 14:18), David (Psalms 86:15), Jonah (Jonah 4:2), Micah (Micah 7:18), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:17), alike proclaim it. In the New Testament, Paul (Romans 9:22) and Peter (2 Peter 3:9, 2 Peter 3:15) entertain the same idea.
3. Experience sufficiently confirms the Divine claim and the Scripture representation. The providential treatment of the world, of the antediluvian race, of Israel and Judah, of Nineveh and Babylon, of unbelievers in Christendom and of idolaters in heathendom,—the best evidence that God is not willing that any should perish.
V. CERTAIN AS TO INCIDENCE.
1. His character such as to demand this. "He will by no means clear the guilty." If he did he would contradict the representations of his character, falsify his word, and endanger his government. Hence his long suffering cannot arise from any secret sympathy which he has with sin, but must spring solely from his own inherent mercifulness.
2. His power sufficient to secure this. If Jehovah is slow to anger, this proceeds not from any defect in his ability to execute wrath upon his adversaries. He is of great power—a truth explicitly set forth in Scripture (Genesis 18:14; Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 7:21; Job 9:4; Psalms 89:8, etc.), and amplified and illustrated by Nahum, who depicts that power in a threefold way.
(1) By its character as supernatural. "The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet" (verse 3). As such it is mysterious, violent, and swift, inscrutable as to origin, immeasurable as to vehemence, incalculable as to velocity.
(2) By its effects as irresistible. Nothing can stand before it; not the most uncontrollable element in nature, the sea, which with its dashing billows and moaning waters is to the human mind a striking emblem of power. "He rebuketh the sea and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers" (verse 4)—an allusion to the drying up of the Red Sea and of the Jordan for the Israelites to pass over (Exodus 14:22; Joshua 3:17), Jehovah's supremacy over the sea a frequent theme with Scripture writers (Job 9:8; Job 38:8, Job 38:11; Psalms 29:3; Psalms 65:7; Psalms 74:15; Isaiah 44:27; Isaiah 51:10). Not the freshest and most vigorous, of which Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon are cited as examples—these languish and fade, their beauty decaying and their fruitfulness departing when he directs against them the fury of his wrathful power (verse 4; cf. Psalms 107:34). Not the most solid and stable, the mountains, the hills, the earth, the world, all of which quake, melt, and burn at his presence (verse 5; cf. Psalms 68:8; Micah 1:4; Isaiah 64:1). Not the most exalted and wise, the living creatures that dwell upon the surface of the globe, beasts and men, both of which are upheaved with terror before the manifestations of Jehovah's power (Joel 1:18, Joel 1:20; Hosea 4:3; Psalms 65:8).
APPLICATION. "Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?" (verse 6).
Nahum 1:7, Nahum 1:8
Consolation in God.
I. IN HIS LOVE. "The Lord is good."
1. Revealed in his Word.
(1) Made known to Moses (Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:6);
(2) proclaimed by David (Psalms 52:1; Psalms 100:5; Psalms 119:68);
(3) announced by Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:25);
(4) confirmed by Christ (Matthew 19:17).
2. Attested by his works.
(1) In creation, God having made the earth to be an abode of happiness for innumerable myriads of creatures: "the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord" (Psalms 33:5).
(2) In providence, by his being good unto all (Psalms 145:9), and making all things work together for good to his people (Romans 8:28).
(3) In grace, by the gift of his Son to be man's Redeemer (Romans 8:32; 2 Corinthians 9:15), and by the various blessings of salvation he for Christ's sake bestows upon them—pardon, peace, adoption, holiness, light, strength, life, heaven.
3. Experienced by his saints. From the beginning of time downwards, good men have been partakers of, and delighted to bear testimony to, the goodness of God, saying, like David, "The Lord is my Shepherd," etc. (Psalms 23:1); "He hath dealt bountifully with me" (Psalms 13:6); confessing, like Solomon, "There hath not failed one word of all his good promise" (1 Kings 8:56); acknowledging, like Jacob, "He hath fed me all my life long unto this day" (Genesis 48:15).
4. Illustrated by his Son. The highest, clearest, and fullest evidence that God is good was furnished by Jesus Christ, who was good in himself (John 10:11), and went about continually doing good (Acts 10:38).
II. IN HIS POWER. "He is a Stronghold in the day of trouble."
(1) To all troubled ones, amongst his believing people (Psalms 46:1; Proverbs 14:26; Isaiah 25:4), and amongst mankind generally, if they care to avail themselves of it (Psalms 91:9).
(2) From every quarter of the globe, from every rank and condition of society. Jehovah the God, not of the Jew only, but also of the Gentile (Romans 3:29); not of the rich and learned and outwardly virtuous, to the exclusion of the poor, ignorant, and degraded, nor of these to the disadvantage of those—with him is no respect of persons (2 Chronicles 19:7; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25).
(3) In every form of calamity—in the day of national adversity, such as had often befallen Israel undivided (Exodus 14:10; Judges 6:1, Judges 6:2; Judges 10:9; 1 Samuel 4:2), and Judah in separation (2 Chronicles 14:9; 2 Chronicles 20:1; 2 Chronicles 32:1), and such as was soon to threaten the latter again, if not from the Assyrian, from the Babylonian power; in the day of domestic tribulation, such as overtook Job (Job 1:13-19), David (2 Samuel 15-18), Jacob (Genesis 42:36), Jairus (Matthew 9:18), the centurion (Luke 7:2), the widow of Nain (Luke 7:12), the nobleman (John 4:46), and the household of Bethany (John 11:1); in the day of personal affliction, which may be either spiritual like the distress which fell on David (Psalms 38:3), or material like that which overtook Lot (Genesis 19:29), bodily like that which struck Hezekiah (Isaiah 32:1), or mental like that which crushed Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1), occasional like that which happened to Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:12), or perpetual like that which was the lot of Paul (2 Corinthians 4:10).
2. Impregnable. This inevitable, considering what kind of a fortress it is—Divine, and by what munitions it is guarded, the royal battalion of the Divine attributes, by Jehovah's omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, faithfulness, wisdom, holiness, love, Against this manifestly no weapon can prevail. "Mine omnipotency shall be your guard. I am God Almighty, your Almighty Protector, your Almighty Benefactor. What though your enemies are many? More are they that are with you than they that are against you; for I am with you. What though they are mighty? they are not almighty," etc..
3. Sufficient. Every succour the soul needs in its day of trouble is found in God, and found oomph rely—for the soul's guilt, pardon (Isaiah 1:16; Isaiah 43:25); for its pollution, cleansing (Ezekiel 36:25); for its anxiety, peace (Isaiah 26:3; Matthew 11:28); for its weakness, strength (Isaiah 45:24); for its darkness, light (Psalms 118:27; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:5); for its death, life (Isaiah 25:8; Romans 4:17).
III. IN HIS KNOWLEDGE. "He knoweth them that put their trust in him." He knoweth them:
1. Collectively. All that belong to the body of his believing people he exactly and always knows, so that he can think and speak of them as his people (Isaiah 32:18; 2 Timothy 2:19), as Christ does of those who are his (John 10:14).
2. Individually. Not in the mass merely, but separately and singly, he knows them (2 Samuel 7:20; Psalms 139:1; 1 Corinthians 8:3, Hebrews 4:13), as Christ also calls his own sheep by name (John 10:3).
(1) Their characters—seeing that he searches the heart (1 Kings 8:39; Jeremiah 17:10; Psalms 139:2; Luke 16:15; Acts 1:24; Acts 15:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). Hence he can never err as to their persons.
(2) Their conditions—since nothing can be hid from him, neither person (Jeremiah 23:24; Hosea 5:3) nor thing (Psalms 139:15; Jeremiah 16:17), but both alike are manifest in his sight (Hebrews 4:13). Hence he can never mistake as to their circumstances, but must always understand precisely what they need.
4. Efficiently. Different from the wicked, whom he knows afar off (Psalms 138:6), i.e. as persons estranged from and hostile to him elf, them that put their trust in him he knows appreciatively and helpfully, so as to love, cherish, protect, and assist them. "Though the Lord be-high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly"—to their persons to love them, to their characters to admire them, to their wants to supply them, to their souls to save them.
1. The characters of those for whom this consolation exists—they put their trust in God. Remark upon the simplicity and efficacy of faith.
2. The evil fate of them who, being destitute of faith, are his enemies—they shall be destroyed by an overrunning flood, their habitations swept away, their persons engulfed, their hopes disappointed, their projects defeated, their ambitions scattered to the winds; they shall be pursued by (or into) darkness (see next homily).
Pursued by (Authorized Version), into (Revised Version), darkness.
I. A WOEFUL FATE.
1. The picture. That of a defeated enemy pursued by a victorious general who comes up behind his foes like the shades of night upon a wearied and dispirited traveller stumbling forward upon an uncertain and perilous way, as Abraham fell upon the kings by night and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah (Genesis 14:15); or, who drives them on before him into the gloom of night, where they encounter unforeseen dangers and perish, as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah did when chased by Chedorlaomer's troops (Genesis 14:10).
2. The interpretation. The defeated enemy is the sinner; the pursuing conqueror is either darkness, meaning those calamities which God has ordained to follow sin, or God himself, by whom the sinner shall be chased into such disastrous overthrow. In either case, with darkness behind or darkness before—and, in reality, it is both behind and before—the condition of God's enemy is pitiful indeed.
II. A CERTAIN DOOM. Pursued by or into darkness. There is no "peradventure" about the lot of the ungodly. What is here predicted is not contingent, but absolute; not what ought to be merely, or what may be only, but what shall be.
1. God's Word hath declared it. "The wicked shall be silent in darkness," etc. (1 Samuel 2:9); "The eyes of the wicked shall fail," etc. (Job 11:20); "He shall be driven from light into darkness" (Job 18:18); "Let their way be darkness and slippery places" (Psalms 35:6); "The candle of the wicked shall be put out" (Proverbs 24:20); "The children of the kingdom [who have become God's enemies] will be cast into outer darkness," etc. (Matthew 8:12)—"And the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
2. God's character requires it. If his love and mercy make it sure that none who return to him will be rejected (Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 3:22; Hosea 14:4), his holiness and justice render it equally imperative that the impenitent and unbelieving, the rebellious and disobedient, should be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of God and from the glory of his power (Romans 1:18; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Peter 3:12).
3. Sin itself ensures it. Every action that a man performs carries in its own bosom its reward or punishment. "The wages of sin is death," just as certainly as "the fruit of holiness" is "everlasting life" (Romans 6:21-23).
III. A JUST RETRIBUTION. To be pursued by or into darkness is a fitting lot for those who in their lifetime have loved the darkness rather than the light.
1. The law of moral retribution demands that this shall be so. "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). He that walks in darkness here cannot hope to walk in light yonder; he who does the deeds of darkness on earth will not likely begin to do deeds of light in heaven.
2. The character of the wicked makes it certain that this shall be so. No being can act otherwise than in accordance with its nature. Mere change of place suffices not to alter one's nature. No reason to think that passing from one form of existence to another will effect any radical transmutation of one's being. Hence they who have died in darkness will (in all probability) continue to dwell in darkness.
1. Forsake sin. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness."
2. Follow holiness. "Walk as children of the light."
A wicked counsellor.
I. HIS PERSON.
1. The Assyrian power. Represented in Hezekiah's reign by Sennacherib; in Manasseh's (Nahum's time) by Esar-haddon or Assurbanipal; in each successive reign by the ruling sovereign.
2. The unbelieving world. Of this Assyria was now the symbol, as in former times Egypt had been, as in later days Rome was (John 15:18; James 4:4).
3. The unrenewed heart. The curtal mind is enmity against God (Romans 8:7).
II. HIS CHARACTER.
1. Powerful. The Assyrian in Nahum's age was "in full strength" (verse 12), a well organized and firmly knit confederacy like "tangled thorns" (verse 10), which were dangerous to touch, and a multitudinous people (verse 12) in comparison with which Judah was but a handful. The same elements of power coexist in the unbelieving world force (Ephesians 2:2), order (Ephesians 6:12), numbers (1 John 5:19)—in comparison with which the Church of God is weak, disunited, and small. The individual transgressor also not unfrequently exhibits an energy, a determination, and a capacity to enlist others upon his side which are wanting in the followers of God and Christ.
2. Self-reliant. Like drunkards drenched in drink (verse 10), the Assyrians were foolishly confident, and believed themselves to be invincible. In like manner, the unbelieving world in general and the individual sinner in particular, are of opinion that they are more than sufficient to cope with any form of calamity that may assail them, and to ensure their own safety against any foe, bodily or ghostly, earthly or unearthly, human or Divine.
(1) The Assyrian court was notorious for its gluttony and revelry, especially in the days of Assurbanipal. The world also runs to strange excess of riot in eating and drinking (Romans 13:13; 1 Peter 4:4).
(2) The Assyrian people were worshippers of idols (verse 14); and the world of today has its idols before which it delights to prostrate itself and present homage.
(3) The Assyrian kings were tyrannical, cruel, and oppressive; and so also is the world.
III. HIS DESIGNS.
1. Evil. "He counselleth wickedness" (verse 11)—in particular oppression of the people of Jehovah (verse 13). Such was the aim of Assyria towards Judah; such is the aim of the world towards the Church; and of the unbeliever towards the believer.
2. Impious. His wicked counsels are also directed "against the Lord" (verses 9, 11). This was the spirit of Assyria as represented by Rabshakeh in the time of Hezekiah (2Ki 18:28-35; 2 Chronicles 32:11-17; Isaiah 36:7, Isaiah 36:14, Isaiah 36:15, Isaiah 36:18-20; Isaiah 37:10-13); and of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentile world, and the unbelieving Jews in the days of Christ (Psalms 2:1; Acts 4:25-28); and is the spirit still of the unrenewed heart (Romans 8:7).
3. Vain. The fruits of a corrupt "imagination" (verses 9, 11), they will prove idle and worthless. Assyria's schemes for the subjugation of Judah came to nought; so resulted in defeat those of Herod and of Pilate, of the Jews and of the Gentiles against the holy Child Jesus; and so will terminate in shame those of wicked men generally against the truth.
IV. HIS DOOM.
1. Certain. The decree had gone forth against Assyria when Nahum spoke. "The Lord hath given commandment concerning thee, that no more of thy seed be sown" (verse 14). A similar decree has gone forth against the ungodly world (2 Peter 3:7; 1 John 2:15-17), and against unbelievers as individuals (Philippians 3:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:9).
2. Complete. Of Nineveh Jehovah was to make "a full end," so that no second affliction should be required to destroy them (Calvin, Hitzig), or should be able to proceed from them (Keil, Fausset) against Judah (verse 9); the Assyrians were to be "destroyed utterly as dry stubble" (verse 10), "to be cut down and pass away," so that Jehovah should no more (at least by their hand) afflict his people (verse 12); the royal house was to come to an end, no more of that name being sown (verse 14); the very divinities of Assyria and Nineveh were to be exterminated (verse 14). More complete ruin was inconceivable; so will all the enemies of God and Christ be utterly destroyed (Jeremiah 12:17; Psalms 37:38; Matthew 21:41; 2 Peter 2:12).
1. The danger of forming designs against either God or his people.
2. The wisdom of taking warning in time before it is too late.
3. The certainty that, when God begins the work of judgment, he will also make an end.
Glad tidings for God's people.
I. THE DESTRUCTION OF A POWERFUL FOE.
1. The historical allusion. The "wicked one" whom Nahum represents as "utterly cut off" was the power of Assyria, whose certain and complete annihilation he has just predicted (verse 14), and now depicts as accomplished.
2. The spiritual application. Capable of being applied to every deliverance wrought by Jehovah for Judah, in particular to her deliverance from Babylonian captivity, it is specially true of that emancipation which was wrought for mankind sinners by the destruction of the Church's greatest foe, the prince of the power of the air, over whom Christ triumphed through his cross. This the first note of the gospel message that Christ hath destroyed death, and him that hath the power of death, the devil (Hebrews 2:14).
II. THE PROCLAMATION OF A BLESSED PEACE.
1. The scene depicted. The prophet represents heralds as appearing on the mountains encircling Jerusalem with the joyous announcement that the ancient and terrible enemy she feared was overthrown, and could no more invade her land or oppress her people, and that henceforth she might dismiss all anxiety and be at peace.
2. The sense intended. The prophet wished to convey the thought that when once the power of Assyria was broken there would be no cause of alarm—that Judah might rest at ease, and prosecute her national career without fear of being disturbed by hostile invasion.
3. The symbol interpreted. As the destruction of Nineveh meant peace for Judah, so the overthrow of Satan and the powers of darkness means peace for God's believing people. This the second note of the gospel message. After the work of redemption the publication of peace (Acts 10:36; Ephesians 2:14-17). As Judah's duty was to behold the peace messengers upon the mountains of Judah, and to believe their message, so the duty of the New Testament Church is to recognize him whom God hath sent, and to receive his gospel of peace.
III. AN INVITATION TO A JOYOUS FEAST.
1. The feasts referred to. These were the three principal feasts enjoined upon the Hebrew Church by Moses—the Feast of the Passover, commemorative of the nation's deliverance from Egypt; the Feast of Harvest, in which the firstfruits of the field were presented to the Lord; and the Feast of Ingathering, when the labours of the year were happily concluded by the safe storing of the well filled sheaves. In addition were other toasts which need not now be mentioned. The above named three were pre-eminently gladsome in their causes and their forms. They gave expression to the nation's thankful joy in thinking of the Divine mercifulness, the Divine faithfulness, and the Divine goodness—first, in sparing them and making them a nation; next, in faithfully keeping with them his covenant of seed time and harvest; and, thirdly, in making such abundant provision for their wants, of all which they had been made partakers. Hence they tidy stood as types of the great feast of salvation to which God's believing people are invited in consequence of Christ's atoning and redeeming work, and in which God's mercy, faithfulness, and goodness are expressed—that feast of fat things full of marrow, and of wines on the lees well refined, of which Isaiah speaks (Isaiah 25:6), that feast to which Christ alluded in his parables of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:2) and of the great supper (Luke 14:16), and that feast which is symbolized in the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 5:8).
2. The invitation given.
(1) To whom addressed? To Judah, God's ancient people; and, while in one sense the overtures of the gospel are extended to all, in another they belong only to them who believe and are God's people through faith in Christ Jesus.
(2) On what based? Not on any merit or good works on the part of Judah, as e.g. on Judah's prowess in defeating her ancient enemy, but solely on the fact that Jehovah had done so; and the people of God in the Church of Christ are invited to participate in the joyous banquet of salvation, and to celebrate their New Testament feast, not because of any worthiness in themselves, or because of any share they have had in overthrowing their arch foe (since they have had none), but exclusively because their adversary hath been destroyed for them—because God's right hand alone hath gotten him the victory (Psalms 98:1).
IV. A SUMMONS TO A PLEASANT DUTY.
1. A becoming duty. The payment of Judah's vows meant her performance of the engagements she had come under to be faithful and obedient to Jehovah, observing his worship, and keeping his commandments. To do this had been her duty from the first, though she had often failed in it; to return to it now after experiencing Jehovah's mercy was in the highest degree proper.
2. A necessary duty. Without this Judah would not be truly grateful for her deliverance, her outward observance would be insincere and hypocritical, and her inner life would be practically unchanged. So the highest evidence a soul can give of its thankfulness for Divine mercy, of its own heartfelt sincerity, and of its genuine conversion and regeneration, is obedience.
3. An agreeable duty. What should be easier or more delightful than service which springs from love? So to gracious souls God's commandments are not grievous, and hearts constrained by the love of Christ find that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
1. The possibility of extracting gospel truths from Old Testament Scriptures.
2. The clearer light which shines in the Christian records concerning God's gracious work of redemption.
3. The larger responsibilities that rest upon such as have experienced the salvation of Christ.
HOMILIES BY S.D. HILMAN
The messenger of judgment.
Notice here -
I. THE MESSENGER: HIS PERSONALITY. "Nahum the Elkoshite."
1. His name. "Nahum," signifying "Consolation;" and whilst this scarcely accords with the character of his mission as the proclaimer of Divine judgments, yet, interspersed with the heavy tidings concerning Nineveh, we have here very tender and consolatory words addressed by him to his own afflicted nation (verses 7, 12, 13-15).
2. His birthplace. He was "the Elkoshite," a native of Elkosh, a village of Galilee. This has been questioned, and a tradition has been appealed to representing that he belonged to the Captivity, and was born at Alcosh, a town near Mosul. It has been urged, however, that much of the phraseology he employs, together with certain familiar references to places, connects him unmistakably with North Palestine.
II. THE CHARACTER OF HIS MESSAGE. "The burden of Nineveh."
1. It was a message to be delivered to a heathen nation. Like the message of Jonah, to which it has been fittingly described as being "the complement and the counterpart," it indicates theft God holds wider relations with mankind than the Jews were prepared to admit; and that all nations and peoples lie within the range of his providence and power.
2. It was a message full of dark forebodings. It told of impending judgment and of national destruction and desolation. The sombre announcements were unrelieved even by a single word of hope being addressed to the guilty nation. The Ninevites had previously recognized the Divine righteousness, and upon their repentance had experienced the Divine clemency; but this had been followed by relapse into the grossest iniquity, and there remained now only the experience of the threatened ruin—the nation should be "utterly cut off." "The burden of Nineveh" was also the burden of Nahum. His few words recorded here addressed to his own people are sufficient to indicate that he was a man of refined susceptibilities; and to such a man his commission must have been indeed oppressive. Yet he would not shrink, but would faithfully fulfil his trust. Whilst the mercy and love of God should be the constant theme of the modern teacher, yet the great and solemn fact of his retributive justice must not be ignored. There is to be declared "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
III. THE DIVINE AUTHORITY WITH WHICH HE WAS INVESTED. A plain man unfolding such teachings respecting a mighty heathen power might well be required to furnish his credentials. And we have his authority expressed in the words, "the vision of Nahum." A Divine insight had been imparted unto him; there had been given him "visions and revelations of the Lord," and of his terrible doings about to be wrought. Such apprehension of spiritual realities is absolutely essential in order to constitute any man a messenger of God to his age (1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 1 Peter 1:12; 1 John 4:14).
IV. THE PERMANENT RECORD OF HIS SOLEMN TEACHING. "The book of the vision," etc. (verse 1). This is the only form in which mental thoughts and conceptions can be lastingly perpetuated. The matchless works of the great, masters in painting, sculpture, and architecture, which have excited the admiration of the whole world, can have but a limited existence; no copy equal to the originals can be made; and in the waste and wear of time these must inevitably pass away; whereas the literary productions of men of genius will continue to live on; for time does not impair that, art by which books are reproduced and the circle of their influence extended. The Bible is a collection of books; and the remarkable unity combined with progressiveness traceable therein furnish s very convincing evidence of its Divine origin. Written prophecy forms a most important feature in this development of truth. It was not only necessary that the prophets should labour (as they did so earnestly) to maintain religion amongst the people who had been chosen of God and separated to his praise, but also that, as the work of prophecy advanced, there should be indicated and recorded how that the Lord was working among the nations, Hebrew and heathen alike, and bringing about the fulfilment of his all-wise and gracious purposes. And viewed under this aspect, "the book of the vision of Nahum tim Elkoshite" fills an important niche, whilst its grave words of admonition and warning may well lead evil doers to reflection and penitence, and its occasional words of hope to the pious and God fearing may serve, in troublous times, to keep their hearts in quietness and assurance.—S.D.H.
The Divine vengeance.
In engaging in work for God, the worker must not be unmindful of the terrible consequences resulting from despising the riches of Divine mercy and grace. There is, assuredly, such a thing as retribution following a course of alienation from God's ways. It must be so. The very love of God renders the punishment of the ungodly absolutely essential. Objectors sometimes point to the scriptural teaching concerning the future of the impenitent as indicating that the God of the Bible is unlovely and severe. But surely, where there is love there will also be found regard for justice. There is a mawkish sentimentalism about the teaching which dwells upon the love of God to the exclusion of all regard for his rectoral character. There is much of this teaching prevalent today. It is the recoil from extreme Calvinism, and, as is usual in such eases, the very opposite extreme is reached. It is impossible to indicate the extent to which the intense sense of God possessed by the Reformer of Geneva gave strength to his work; and let God be realized by us as "infinite Justice, infinite Love, and infinite Truth, blended in one indivisible ray of whitest light," and the thought of his all-embracing sovereignty and wise and perfect administration will be found full of comfort and inspiration to our hearts. And so long as he is righteous, sin, unrepented of and unabandoned, must be followed by bitter results; and hence, whilst joyfully proclaiming "the acceptable year of the Lord," we must also declare the coming of "the day of vengeance of our God." In these verses—
I. LIGHT IS CAST UPON THE NATURE OF THE DIVINE VENGEANCE. Our conceptions of the Divine Being are sometimes assisted by our ascribing to him certain characteristics belonging to the children of men. Analogy, however, in this direction must not be pressed too far, or we may be led to form very erroneous views concerning our God. We have in these verses a case in point. Nothing is more strongly to be condemned in men than the cherishing by them of the spirit of jealousy and of vengeance; yet this is here ascribed to God. "The Lord is jealous, and the Lord revengeth," etc. (Nahum 1:2). But then "jealousy" and "vengeance" mean something very different when applied to man from what is intended when the same terms are used in reference to God. By jealousy on the part of man we understand envy, but by the same word in reference to God we are reminded of his regard for the maintenance of truth, his holy concern for the upholding of righteousness. And by vengeance on the part of man we understand revenge, a determination that satisfaction shall be given for the injury we consider has been done to us; whereas the same word as applied to God carries with it no such idea of vindictiveness, but simply a pure desire that the cause of justice and rectitude may be established and secure complete vindication. Since this brief book of prophecy has almost exclusive reference to the Divine judgments to fall upon the Assyrians, it is all-important that we clearly understand at the outset that Divine vengeance has absolutely no malice in it, and is ever exercised in the maintenance of righteousness. This is indicated in the next verse in three particulars (Nahum 1:3).
1. The Divine slowness. "The Lord is slow to anger." Vindictiveness will not brook delay; human vengeance reckons with its victims at the earliest moment; revenge burns; passion rages; but the Divine vengeance delays, that perchance, through penitence, the blow may not be required to fall.
2. The restraining of Divine power. Man, cherishing the spirit of vindictiveness, sometimes lingers because conscious of his want of power to inflict the penalty; but God "great in power" (Nahum 1:3) restrains his might, holds back his avenging hand, that "space for repentance" may be given, and the fact be made manifest that he "desires not the death of the wicked."
3. The Divine concern for the maintenance of his pure Law. "And will not at all acquit the wicked" (Nahum 1:3). His vengeance is not vindictive, but is exercised in order that the supremacy of his holy Law may be asserted. He has graciously made provision for the forgiveness of sin and the salvation of transgressors from condemnation (Romans 8:1), and they who wilfully persist in iniquity must bear the consequences, which will light upon them, not because God is vindictive, but because the honour of his pure Law must be sustained.
II. THIS ASPECT OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER IS SET FORTH IN GRAPHIC IMAGERY. (Nahum 1:3-6.) For sublimity and grandeur this passage stands unrivalled. The Divine vengeance is presented to us here:
1. In its irresistibleness. Like the whirlwind, it sweeps everything before it (Nahum 1:3).
2. In its terribleness. In vivid symbolical language all nature is represented as full of terror at the Divine manifestations (Nahum 1:5).
3. In its destructiveness. Desolation is brought about—the sea and the rivers are dried up at the rebuke of the Lord; the rich pastures of Bashan, the beautiful gardens of Carmel, and the fragrant flowers and fruitful vines and stately trees of Lebanon languish (Nahum 1:4); as a devouring fire this vengeance consumes in every direction (Nahum 1:5, Nahum 1:6); yea, so mighty is it that the very rocks crumble to pieces when it is put forth (Nahum 1:6).
III. THIS VIEW OF OUR GOD IS PRESSED HOME UPON OUR HEARTS BY EARNEST INQUIRY. "Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?" (Nahum 1:6). The design of the questions is to quicken conscience. They contain and suggest the answers. Humbled in the very dust of self-abasement, we cry, "Enter not into judgment with thy servants, O Lord; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified" (Psalms 143:2).—S.D.H.
The Divine goodness.
"The Lord is good." The word "good" is used herein the sense of the desire to promote happiness. The prophet affirms that "the Lord" possesses this disposition—that whilst he is powerful he exerts this power in saving, not in destroying, "judgment" being "his strange work;" that whilst his presence fills all space, and his omniscient eye penetrates all, he is concerned, in his watchfulness, that none of the creatures he has formed should lack the blessings his bounteous hand has to bestow; and that as he is eternal in his duration, so the streams of his bounty shall ever continue to flow. "The Lord is good." This inspiring truth was revealed even from the earliest times, and is inscribed in Scripture upon every page. Abram in the vision by night (Genesis 15:1-21.), Jacob in his weary wanderings (Genesis 28:10-22), and Moses in "the holy mount" (Exodus 33:19), were alike favoured with special revelations of it. The very thought of God thus woke up within the psalmist the faculty of song, and led him to strike his lyre and to sing with holy fervour, "Thou, Lord, art good and ready to forgive" (Psalms 86:5); "They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness," etc. (Psalms 145:7); "Oh, taste and see," etc. (Psalms 34:8). And prophets unite with psalmists in bearing this testimony (Jeremiah 33:11; Isaiah 63:7). Very different was the conception formed by the heathen. We think of the tyranny, caprice, and revenge supposed to characterize heathen deities, the acts of cruelty ascribed to them, the impurity of heathen rites, and the wearisomeness of heathen penances, and we rejoice that the voice from heaven has spoken unto us, and that the truth which heathen worshippers did not know has been so clearly revealed to us in the bright assurance, "The Lord is good." "The Lord is good." Nature, with bar ten thousand voices, bears emphatic testimony here. Benevolence marks all the operations of the Creator's hands. All his works declare his goodness. The majestic sun, the full-orbed moon, the stars countless in number and sparkling in the vault of heaven, the refreshing and fertilizing shower, the gentle breeze, the woods re-echoing with the notes of little songsters, the varied landscape, the carpeted earth, the tinted flowers, all seem to speak and to say, "The Lord is good." "O Lord, how excellent is thy Name in all the earth!" (Psalms 8:1); "O Lord, how manifold," etc.! (Psalms 104:24). "The Lord is good." As in creation so in providence, the same testimony is borne. Specially is this so in the Divine dealings with men, supplying his wants, ministering to his necessities, scattering blessings in his path, and daily, yea, hourly, sustaining and preserving him from peril and danger. His goodness, too, is seen in that he is "kind even to the unthankful," and bestows his flowers not only upon "the just" but also upon "the unjust," sustaining even these who live in rebellion against him. Nor does the fact that whilst the ungodly often seem to "prosper in their way," "waters of a full cup are wrung out to his people," militate against the declaration of this text; for God's providence takes into account the entire welfare of his servants, and adverse scenes may be necessary in order to the promotion of this; and, the discipline accomplished, deliverance shall be theirs, whilst the arm of the oppressor shall be bracken (Nahum 1:12, Nahum 1:13). "The Lord is good." This truth, impressed upon the pages of the Old Testament, receives its highest exemplification in the records of the New. In him whose advent prophets predicted, and whose work was shadowed forth in type and symbol, and in the free redemption he has wrought; in the seeking and self-sacrificing love and the compassionate mercy and grace of God as thus expressed, we see the noblest, purest, brightest token that "the Lord is good." In this Divine goodness, ever watchful to guard us; almighty, and hence equal to every emergency of our life; immutable too, and therefore an unfailing dependence amidst the mutations and fluctuations of our earthly lot,—let us rest with unswerving trust, until at length, every bond sundered, we, as "the ransomed of the Lord, come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon our heads," there with adoring gratitude to reflect upon the memory of his great goodness, and to praise him for his mercy and grace and love forevermore.—S.D.H.
God our Stronghold.
Great, indeed, is the honour sustained by the man who fulfils the mission of being a comforter to others, who is enabled to minister to sorrowing and stricken ones, who watches with them in their Gethsemanes, and by his gentle words and tender sympathy imparts consolation to their wounded hearts. "I dwelt as a king in the army; as one that comforteth the mourners" (Job 29:25). No service makes a greater demand upon a man than this, yet he has an abundant reward for the self-sacrifice involved, in beholding the objects of his regard no longer in "ashes," but raised out of the dust and made comely; no longer with disfigured countenance through grief, but radiant with joy; no longer arrayed in gloom, but clad in the beautiful garments worn on festal days (Isaiah 61:2, Isaiah 61:3). Nahum, whilst the minister of condemnation to the Ninevites, was also the minister of consolation to his own people in their sadness and sorrow. Only a few of his words to Israel are recorded, but they are words full of consolation and hope. Here he pointed to God as the Stronghold of his servants. "He is a Stronghold in the day of trouble" (verse 7). We have here—
I. A COMMON UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE. "Trouble." Man is born to this. Trials arise; conflicts must be engaged in; the cares and anxieties of life press; hopes are frustrated; injustice triumphs; slander blights; sickness, disease, death, prevail; our best and dearest pass away from our view; graves are opened; the tears fail fast; and immunity from all this is granted to none, each must pass through dark experiences and encounter adverse influences: this is the discipline of life.
"In this vain world the days are not all fair;
To suffer is the work we have to do;
And every one has got a cross to bear,
And every one some secret heart, ache too."
II. A DEEP INWARD NEED ARISING OUT OF THIS EXPERIENCE. It is implied here that man circumstanced thus needs help. He knows not how to bear the ills of life unaided and alone. He who has to face the pitiless storm needs to be robed to resist the stress of adverse weather, and he who has to confront the foe requires to be armour clad. This need of the sorrowing heart cannot be supplied by earthly sources. The world's cheer then comes to the man like songs to a heavy heart, and he has no taste for its music. Scepticism can east no bow of promise across the cloud; whilst human philosophy may counsel the cherishing of the spirit of indifference, but which under the pressure it is impossible to cultivate.
III. THIS NEED AMPLY MET IN GOD. "He is a Stronghold in the day of trouble." The figure is a very striking one. There stands the castle with its thick walls and buttresses and its brave defenders ready to resist any attack. The foes attempt a landing, and the inhabitants, old and young, hasten to the fortress. The drawbridge is lifted, the moat is filled with water, and all are safely lodged in the stronghold, and in the day of visitation are securely guarded and safely kept. Even thus is it with the good in "the day of trouble." So David cried, "Thou hast been a Shelter for me and a Strong Tower from the enemy" (Psalms 61:3, Psalms 61:4). God was his "Light and his Salvation" (Psalms 27:1), his "Pavilion" (Psalms 27:5), the Solace of his every grief as well as the Centre of his every joy. He loved him, he trusted him, he knew that the dearest experience in life is the experience of God's love and care. So Hezekiah and his people when threatened by Sennacherib. The Assyrian army gathered in all its strength around "the city of God," and Jerusalem became as a mountain shaken by the swelling of the sea, portions of which were crumbling and falling through the violence of the waves, and the whole of which seemed ready to be borne entirely away; yet the king and his subjects were calm and tranquil; they committed their cause to "the Strong One," and rested in his protection, and cried with holy fervour, "God is our Refuge and Strength," etc. (Isaiah 36:1-22.; Isaiah 37:0.; Psalms 46:1-11.). And let us only realize that Jehovah is to us a living Presence, the Source of our inspiration, the Strength of our hearts and our abiding Portion, and we shall give to the winds all craven fear, and in our darkest seasons shall sing—
"A sure Stronghold our God is he,
A timely Shield and Weapon;
Our Help he'll be, and. set us free
From every ill can happen.
And were the world with devils filled,
All eager to devour us,
Our souls to fear shall little yield,
They cannot overpower us."
The Divine regard for trusting hearts.
"And he knoweth them that trust in him." Something more than mere acquaintance is involved here; the meaning undoubtedly is that he intimately and lovingly regards those who commit themselves and their way unto him, and will tenderly care for them and promote their weal; yea, still more, even that he knows and cares thus for such personally and individually, not overlooking any of them in the multitude, but regarding thus each and every such trusting heart.
I. THIS TRUTH ADMITS OF AMPLE CONFIRMATION. There is something very wonderful in this thought. Is it not almost past conception that he who has the direction of all worlds dependent upon him, and whose dominions are so vast, should look upon his servants in this small world of ours, separately and with loving regard, and should interest himself in our personal concerns? So too, awed and humbled as we stand in the midst of the vast and mighty works of God, we feel impelled to cry, "When I consider thy heavens." etc (Psalms 8:3) Yet that it is so is abundantly confirmed in the teachings of Scripture.
1. See this truth taught in type. Call to remembrance the breastplate of the Jewish high priest, that splendid embroidered cloth which covered his breast, and in which were set precious stones bearing the names of the tribes of Israel. And did not those precious stones, worn so near the heart of the high priest, symbolize the truth that all sincere servants of God are dear unto him; that he not only bears them up in his arms with an almighty strength, but bears them also upon his heart with the most tender affection?
2. See this truth taught in prophecy. It is therein declared that there is nothing so impossible as that God should forget his trusting children. "Zion said, The Lord hath forgotten me, and my Lord hath forsaken me" (Isaiah 49:14, Isaiah 49:15). And in response to this fear the Lord declared that this could never be, and that his love and care are even more enduring than that of mothers. "Can a woman," etc.? (Isaiah 49:15); "I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands" (Isaiah 49:16). Undying remembrance surely! The name is inscribed there, never to be obliterated, a ceaseless memorial before his face.
3. The New Testament unites with the Old in bearing this bright testimony; for does not Christ, as the good Shepherd, declare that "he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out"? do we not read also the assurance, "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Timothy 2:19)? yea, is it not even affirmed that this Divine knowledge and care respecting the good shall be perpetuated evermore (Revelation 7:15-17; Revelation 21:3, Revelation 21:4)?
II. THIS TRUTH IS CALCULATED TO EXERT A STRENGTHENING AND STIMULATING INFLUENCE. This thought, if more intensely realized by us, would prove helpful in many ways.
1. It would render us less dependent than we are upon human supports. What over anxiety is felt by us at times in reference to the success of our plans and projects, or for the continuance to us of those in whom our prosperity, humanly speaking, centres! But if we grasped fully the assurance here expressed, we should be led to depend less upon earthly sources and more upon him who has loved us with an everlasting love; who, though unseen by us, ever encompasses our path, and who, in the season of their deepest extremity, will guide and strengthen all who stay themselves on him.
2. It would give increased reality to the sacred exercise of prayer. We too often draw nigh unto God as though we were seeking One who, because he is invisible, is necessarily at an infinite distance from us, and who may or may not regard our cry, and perhaps it is not too much to say that we sometimes draw nigh without any distinct apprehension of the Being to whom we profess to come, and whose aid we invoke; but then we should indeed feel prayer to be a reality and not a merely formal exercise, and by such intimate and hallowed communion should renew our spiritual strength.
3. It would strengthen and aid us in our conflicts with sin. In this strife we sometimes suffer defeat; and in our endeavours after the Christian character and life we are painfully conscious at seasons of failure. How cheering in such circumstances is the thought that all our aspirations after truth and purity and goodness are known unto our God; that he is acquainted with all tile circumstances of our case; that he is conscious we have not designedly strayed from him; and that he follows us, with loving regard, in all our wanderings, with a view to bringing us back to his fold!—S.D.H.
Antagonism to God and his rule.
Nahum doubtless prophesied during the reign of Hezekiah, and shortly after the defeat of Sennacherib by the destroying angel of the Lord (Isaiah 37:36). That memorable event, it would appear, was present to his mind and is referred to in these verses, although his thoughts were also carried on to the future and to the complete and final overthrow of the Assyrian power in the destruction of the capital, and which forms the theme of the succeeding chapters. The latter part of this first chapter may be regarded as introductory to the description to be given of the ruin of Nineveh; and in the mind of the seer, as he wrote these verses, the events which had recently transpired and darker events yet to come were associated together. The significance of the conflicts waged by Sennacherib against Hezekiah lies very materially in the fact that his enterprises were designedly antagonistic to the God of the Hebrews. It is not simply an ambitious sovereign seeking to extend his dominions and to spread his conquests that is presented to us here, but a mortal man, invested with regal honour, resolved upon measuring his strength with that of the Supreme Ruler. The historical records we possess bearing upon the career of this Assyrian king present him to us as one who thought he could "outwit Divine wisdom, and conquer omnipotence itself" (2 Kings 19:10-13; Isaiah 36:13-20); and viewed thus they become suggestive to us of important teachings bearing upon that moral antagonism to God and his authority which unhappily prevails in every age. Concerning this opposition to the Most High and his rule, note—
I. ANTAGONISM TO GOD HAS ITS ORIGIN IN A DEPRAVED HEART. Evil thoughts and vain imaginings, self-sufficiency and self-conceit, revellings and drunkenness, all betoken an evil heart, and these are here associated with the action of Assyria. "For thou art vile" (verse 14); "a wicked counsellor" (verse 11), etc. So in every age. Men with hearts alienated from all that is true and right desire not the knowledge of his ways, and say unto him, "Depart from us;" and "they set themselves against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and let us cast away their cords from us" (Psalms 2:2, Psalms 2:3).
II. ANTAGONISM TO GOD REVEALS ITSELF OPENLY IN THE ACTIVE OPERATIONS OF EVIL MEN. As here:
1. Unprincipled leaders are forthcoming (verse 11).
2. Combinations are formed. "Though they be entire, and likewise many" (verse 12); "While they be folden together" (verse 10).
3. Plots are conceived. "They imagine evil against the Lord" (verse 11).
4. Mischief is wrought. "The yoke" of Assyria was upon Judah, and because of the threatened invasion the hearts of the good Hezekiah and his subjects failed, and were in sore distress. The Assyrians were as "thorns" to Judah (verse 10). And so evil men, antagonistic to God and to the principles of his rule, are ever a blight and a curse.
III. ANTAGONISM TO GOD CAN ONLY END IN DEFEAT AND DISHONOUR. In the case of Assyria this discomfiture was:
1. Divinely inflicted. "I will make thy grave" (verse 14).
2. Sudden—so far as the proud, vaunting Sennacherib and his hosts were concerned (Isaiah 37:36).
3. Complete. "He will make an utter end" (verse 9).
4. Permanent. "The Lord hath given a commandment concerning thee, that no more of thy name be sown" (verse 14). "So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might" (Judges 5:31).—S.D.H.
Spiritual redemption symbolized.
The expression in Nahum 1:11, "a wicked counsellor," is rendered in the margin "counsellor of Belial." "Belial" is used in the Old Testament to indicate sensual profligacy (Jdg 19:1-30 : 22:13; 1 Samuel 2:12); and in the New Testament as a synonym for Satan (2 Corinthians 6:15). The term was here (Nahum 1:11) applied to Sennacherib; and the deliverance of Judah from the vauntings and oppressions of this mighty and evil Assyrian monarch described in these verses (8-15) may be taken as serving to illustrate the spiritual deliverance of men. There is thus suggested—
I. DELIVERANCE FROM SERVITUDE. Assyria had been a bitter scourge to Judah. Through the action of his predecessors, Hezekiah found himself the vassal of this heathen power, and his. attempts to free himself from the yoke had only resulted in his fetters being fastened the more securely; until now, by Divine interposition, the power of the oppressor was broken (Nahum 1:13). So sin yielded to becomes a tyranny, It gains an ever-increasing power over its subjects. The fetters of habit become forged about them that they cannot release themselves. There is no slavery like that of sin—only the grace of God can sunder the fetters and free us from the galling yoke; but "made free" thus, we become "free indeed" (John 8:34-36).
II. DELIVERANCE. FROM SORROW. "Affliction shall not rise up the second time" (Nahum 1:9); "Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more" (Nahum 1:12). The promise was conditional. The people humbled themselves before God in penitence, and it was implied that they should not be afflicted again if they continued in God's ways. In this they failed—the reformation proved but partial; still, God never afflicted them again through Assyria. So suffering is disciplinary, and "made free from sin" there accompanies this deliverance from sorrow. The character of life's trials become changed to the good; they are not looked upon as harsh inflictions, but as lovingly designed by the All-wise and All-gracious.
III. DELIVERANCE RESULTING IN PRIVILEGE. "O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows"(Nahum 1:15). Whilst under the yoke of Assyria, there had been the restriction of their religious privileges, but now these could be renewed and enjoyed without restraint, and the ransomed of the Lord could return to Zion with songs, and pay their vows unto the Lord, and keep the sacred festivals. Spiritual freedom is with a view to holy and joyous service. The Emancipator becomes enthroned in the hearts of the enfranchised; they love him supremely; his service is their delight; they become bound to him in loving loyalty and devotion forever.
IV. DELIVERANCE PROCLAIMED IN THE SPIRIT OF HOLY GLADNESS. (Nahum 1:15.) Let the countenance be lighted up with joy as the announcement of the "good tidings" is made. With a glad heart let the proclamation be published that, through the abounding mercy and grace of God, it is possible for sinful men to become delivered from condemnation and freed from the slavery of sinful habit, and to soar to that higher and holier realm where God is, and to exchange the miserable chains of evil for those golden fetters which only bind to the holy and the heavenly. There can be no more exalted or joyous service than that engaged in by the man who stands upon the mountains ringing this great bell, that, guided by its sum,d, the imperilled traveller may make his way across the snowy wastes, to find in Christ a sure and safe retreat from the storm and tempest. "Behold upon the mountains," etc. (Nahum 1:15; Isaiah 40:9).—S.D.H.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Nahum 1:1, Nahum 1:2
Great sins bringing great ruin.
"The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Etkoshite. God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies." But little is known of Nahum, whose name signifies "Comfort." He was a native of Elkosh; generally supposed to be a Galilaean village. He lived probably in or about the year B.C. 650. The burden of his prophecy is the destruction of Nineveh, which destruction was predicted by Jonah a century before, Nineveh was destroyed about fifty years after this prophecy was uttered, and so complete was its overthrow that the very site where it stood is a matter of conjecture. The prophecy, though divided into three chapters, is a continuous poem of unrivalled spirit and sublimity, and admirable for the elegance of its imagery. "The third chariot is a very striking description of a siege—the rattle of the war chariot, the gleam of the sword, the trench filled with corpses, the ferocity of the successful invaders, the panic of the defeated, the vain attempts to rebuild the crumbling battlements, final overthrow and ruin." The opening words suggest two remarks.
I. THAT THE GREAT SINS OF A PEOPLE MUST EVER BRING UPON THEM GREAT RUIN. The population of Nineveh was pre-eminently wicked. It is represented in the Scriptures as a "bloody city," a "city full of lies and robberies;" its savage brutality to captives is portrayed in its own monuments, and the Hebrew prophets dwell upon its impious haughtiness and ruthless fierceness (Isaiah 10:7, Isaiah 10:8). In this book we have its "burden," that is, its sentence, its doom; and the doom is terrible beyond description. It is ever so. Great sins bring great ruin. It was so with the antediluvians, with the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was so with the Jews in the time of Titus. Thirty-seven years after the crucifixion of our Lord, the Roman general, with a numerous army, laid siege to their city, and converted it into a scene of the greatest horrors ever witnessed on this earth. The principle of moral causation and the eternal justice of the universe demand that wherever there is sin there shall be suffering; and in proportion to the amount of sin shall be the amount of suffering. "Unto when,soever much is given, of him shall be much required."
II. THAT THE GREAT RUIN THAT COMES UPON GREAT SINNERS PRESENTS GOD TO THE "VISION" OF MAN AS TERRIBLY INDIGNANT. "God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies." The passions of man are here ascribed to God. In this form of speech the Eternal Spirit is often represented in the Bible as having feet, hands, ears, mouth; but as he has none of these, neither has he any of these passions. It is only when terrible anguish comes upon the sinner that God appears to the observer as indignant. The God here was the God who only appeared in the "vision" of Nahum—the God as he appeared to a man of limited capacity and imperfect character. Jesus alone saw the absolute God. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." The God of Jesus of Nazareth had no jealousy, no vengeance, no fury. He was love. "Fury is not in me, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 27:4) If God has anger, it is the anger of principle, not passion—the anger of love, not malevolence. It is indeed but another form of love: love opposing and crushing whatever is repugnant to the virtue and the happiness of the universe.
CONCLUSION. Beware of sin. Ruin must follow it. "Be sure your sins will find you out."—D.T.
The patience of God.
"The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked." These words suggest two thoughts concerning God's patience.
I. HIS PATIENCE ALWAYS IMPLIES GREAT POWER. "The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power." This is a remarkable expression. It seems as if the prophet meant, God is "slow to anger" because he is "great in power;" if he had leas power he would be less patient. A man may be "slow to anger," slow to deal out vengeance, because he lacks power to do so. But God is "slow to anger" because he has abundance of power. In order to see the power revealed in his forbearance towards sinners in this world, think of four things.
1. His exquisite sensibility. There are some men "slow to anger" because they have not the susceptibility of feeling an insult or offence; their patience, such as it is, is nothing but a natural stoicism. Many men are lauded for their calmness under insults, who are rather to be pitied for their natural insensibility, or denounced for their moral callousness. But the great God is ineffably sensitive. He is sensibility itself. He is love. He feels everything. Every immoral act vibrates, so to speak, on his heart chord; and yet he is "slow to anger."
2. His abhorrence of sin. It is the "abominable thing" which he emphatically hates. His whole nature revolts from it. He feels that it is antagonism to his will and to the order and well being of the universe.
3. His provocation by the world. Multiply the sins of each man in one day by the countless millions of men that populate the globe; then you will have some conception of the provocation that this God of exquisite sensibility, of an ineffable hatred to sin, receives every day from this planet. One insult often sets man's blood ablaze. Surely, if all the patience of all the angels in heaven were to be embodied in one personality, and that personality were entrusted with the government of this world for one day, before the clock struck the hour of midnight he would set the globe in flames.
4. His right to do whatever he pleases He could show his anger if he pleased, at any time, anywhere, or anyhow. He is absolutely irresponsible. He has no one to fear. When men feel anger there are many reasons to prevent them from showing it; but he has no such reason. How great, then, must be his "power" in holding back his anger! His power of self-control is infinite. "He is Slow … to anger, and of great power." "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
II. HIS PATIENCE PRECLUDES NOT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE IMPENITENT. "And will not at all acquit the wicked." That is, the impenitent wicked. However wicked a man is, if he repents he will be acquitted. "Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts," etc. (Isaiah 55:7).
1. To "acquit" the impenitent would be an infraction of his law. He has bound suffering to sin by a law as strong and as inviolable as that which binds the planets to the sun. "The wages of sin is death;" "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Sin leads to ruin: this is a law.
2. To "acquit" the impenitent would be a violation of his word. "The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God;" "Unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish;" "I will laugh at your calamities, and mock when your fear cometh."
3. To "acquit" the impenitent would be to break the harmony of his universe. If inveterate rebels and incorrigible sinners were acquitted, what an impulse there would be given in God's moral empire to anarchy and rebellion!
CONCLUSION. Abuse not the patience of God; nay, avail yourselves of it. While he forbears, and because he forbears, repent! "Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Romans 2:4).—D.T.
"The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers," etc. Here is a description of God's power unrivalled in its sublimity and soul stirring force. "Power belongeth unto, God." It is absolute, inexhaustible, ever and everywhere operative. "He fainteth not, neither is weary." His power is here presented in two aspects.
I. AS OPERATING IRRESISTIBLY IN NATURE.
1. It works in the air. "The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet." He is in the "whirlwind" and in the "storm," and has his way in the clouds. As men walk on the dust of the earth, he walketh upon the clouds of heaven. He creates the whirlwind and the storm; he controls the whirlwind and the storm; he uses the whirlwind and the storm. "He maketh the clouds his chariot, and rideth upon the wings of the wind." He awakes the tornado and simoom, he forges the thunderbolts, and he kindles the lightnings.
2. It works in the sea. "He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers." There is undoubtedly an allusion to the Red Sea and the Jordan. "He holdeth the winds in his fists, and the waters in the hollow of iris hands." His "way is in the sea," and his "path in the great waters." The billows that rise into mountains, as well as the smallest wavelets that come rippling softly to the shore, are the creatures of his power and the servants of his will.
3. It works on the earth. "Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth." No spots in Palestine were more fruitful than these three; they abounded in vigorous vegetation and majestic forests. But their life and their growth depended on the results of God's power. All the blades in the fields, all the trees in the forest, would languish and wither did his power cease to operate. Nor is his power less active in the inorganic parts of the world. "The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein." "He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke." He piles up the mountains, and again makes them a plain; he kindles the volcanoes and quenches them at his pleasure. God's power is seen in all the phenomena of the material world. How graphically and beautifully is this presented in Psalms 104:1 The fact that God's power is ever acting in the material universe is:
(1) The most philosophic explanation of all its phenomena. The men who ascribe all the operations of nature to what they call laws fail to satisfy my intellect. For what are those laws?
(2) The most hallowing aspect of the world we live in. God is in all. "How dreadful is this place! it is none other than the house of God." Walk the earth with reverence. "Take your shoes from off your feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."
II. AS IRRESISTIBLY OPPOSED TO THE WICKED. "Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him." The mightiest rocks are but as pebbles in his hands. "He taketh up the isles as a very little thing; he weigheth the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance" (Isaiah 40:12, Isaiah 40:15) His anger, as we have said, is his determination to crush the wrong; and there is no power in the universe that can thwart him in this. Who can stand before this? Were all the creatures in the universe to stand up against it, the attempt would be as feeble and as futile as the attempt of a child to turn back the advancing tides with his little spade. Sinner, why attempt to oppose him? You must submit, either against your will or by your will. If you continue to resist, the former is a necessity. He will break you in pieces like a potter's vessel. The latter is your duty and your interest. Fall down in penitence before him, yield yourselves to his service, acquiesce in his will, and you are saved.—D.T.
Nahum 1:7, Nahum 1:8
Opposite types of human character, and opposite lines of Divine procedure.
"The Lord is good, a Stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him. But with an overruning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies." The previous verses were introductory to the subject which the prophet now takes up, namely, the safe keeping of the Jews by Jehovah, in view of the tremendous attack the King of Nineveh was about making on their country and their city, and also to announce the terrible doom of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian foe. In these verses there is a very striking and significant contrast
(1) between the characters of men, and
(2) between the lines of Divine procedure in relation to them. Here we have—
I. TWO OPPOSITE TYPES OF HUMAN CHARACTER.
1. Here we have the friends of God. There is here a twofold description of them.
(1) "They trust in him." This is the universal character of the good in all ages. Instead of placing their chief confidence in the ever-changing creature, they centre it in the immutable Creator. They trust his love ever to provide for them, his wisdom as their infallible guide, and his power as their strength and their shield. "Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord."
(2) He acknowledges them. "And he knoweth." This means that he recognizes them as his loyal subjects and loving children, his people. In Hosea 13:5 he saith, "I did know thee in the wilderness," which means, "I did acknowledge thee, and took care of thee!" The words imply the cognizance of special sympathy with the just. He knows them; they are always in his mind, his heart. "Can a mother forget her sucking child," etc.?
2. Here we have the enemies of God. "Darkness shall pursue his enemies." The men who misrepresent our characters, oppose our expressed wishes, seek to undermine our influence, and are ever in association with those who are opposed to us—such men, whatever may be their professions of regard and friendship, we are bound to regard as enemies. Is it not so with men in relation to God? Those who pursue a course of life directly opposite to the moral laws of Heaven, whatever they may say, are his enemies. How numerous are God's enemies! These two great classes comprehend the human race today. The race may be divided into very numerous classes on certain adventitious principles, but on moral grounds there are but two—God's friends and God's enemies.
II. TO OPPOSITE LINES OF DIVINE PROCEDURE. God's procedure is very different towards these two opposite classes of men.
1. He affords protection to the one. When the hosts of Sennacherib were approaching Jerusalem, Hezekiah the king, under Divine inspiration, said to the people, "Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the King of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah King of Judah" (2 Chronicles 32:7, 2 Chronicles 32:8). Thus it is ever. God is always the Refuge and Strength of his people in times of tribulation. As a Refuge, he is:
(1) Ever accessible. However suddenly the storm may come, the refuge is at your side, the door is open. "I will never leave thee," etc.
(2) Ever secure. The sanctuary once entered, no injury can follow. Amidst the most violent convulsions of nature, the wreck of worlds, the shatterings of the universe, there is no endangering the security of those who avail themselves of this refuge.
2. He sends destruction to the other. "But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies." The image of a flood which breaks through every barrier is not unfrequently used in the Bible to represent overwhelming armies of invasion. The primary allusion here, no doubt, is to the way which Nineveh was captured by means of the Medes and Babylonians. A flood in the river, we are told, broke down the wall for twenty furlongs. The rolling tide burst its barriers, bore away the defences of the city, and opened an easy and unexpected way for the invading armies. On all finally impenitent men destruction must come as irresistibly as a flood. The destruction, however, of existence, conscience, or moral obligations would be the destruction of all that would make existence worth having.
CONCLUSION. The grand question of every man is—How do I stand in relation to God? If I am his friend, his procedure is in my favour, it guards me and blesses me every step. It I am his enemy, his procedure is not in my favour, not because he changes, but because I put myself against him, and it must be my ruin if I change not. As he proceeds in his beneficent and undeviating march, he showers blessings on the good, and miseries on the evil, and this forever.—D.T.
Nahum 1:9, Nahum 1:10
"What do ye imagine against the Lord? He will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time. For while they be folden together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry." These words suggest a few thoughts concerning sin.
I. THE ESSENCE OF SIN IS SUGGESTED; IT IS HOSTILITY TO GOD. It is something directed against the Lord: it is opposition to the laws, purposes, spirit of God. "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). It involves:
1. The basest ingratitude; for to him we owe everything.
2. The greatest injustice; for he has supreme claims to our devotion and obedience.
3. Impious presumption. Frail worms raising their heads against the Infinite!
II. THE SEAT OF SIN IS SUGGESTED: IT IS IN THE MIND. "What do ye imagine against the Lord?" Sin is not language, however bad; not actions, however apparently wicked. Words and deeds are no more sin than branches are the sap of the tree. They are the mere effects and expression of sin. Sin is in the mind—in the deep secret, mute thoughts of the heart. God's legislation extends to thought, reaches it in the profoundest abyss. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). Christ, in his sermon on the mount, taught this. Adultery, robbery, murder, are all perpetrated on the arena of the heart. How necessary the prayer, "Create within us clean hearts, O God"!
III. THE FOLLY OF SIN IS SUGGESTED: IT IS OPPOSITION TO OMNIPOTENCE. "What do ye imagine against the Lord? He will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up a second time." "How mad is your attempt, O Assyrians, to resist so powerful a God! What can ye do against such an Adversary, successful though ye have been against all other adversaries? Ye imagine ye have to do merely with mortals, and with a weak people, and that so you will gain an easy victory; but you have to encounter God, the Protector of his people" (Fausset). In opposing him:
1. He will completely ruin you. "He will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time." The literal meaning of this is that the overthrow of Sennacherib's host was so complete that Judah's affliction caused by this invasion would never be repeated. The man who opposes God will be utterly ruined.
2. He will completely ruin you, whatever the kind of resistance you may offer. "For while they be folden together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry." You may be combined like a bundle of thorns, offering resistance; you may have all the daring and temerity of drunkards, albeit you "shall be devoured as stubble fully dry." All this was realized in the destruction of his enemy. Oh the folly of sin! Fighting against God is a mad fight. "What do ye imagine against the Lord," then? Sinners, submit.—D.T.
"There is one come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the Lord, a wicked counsellor. Thus saith the Lord; Though they be quiet, and likewise many, yet thus shall they be cut down, when he shall pass through," etc. These words suggest a few thoughts concerning human kings and kingdoms.
I. HUMAN KINGS ARE SOMETIMES TERRIBLY CORRUPT. "There is one come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the Lord, a wicked counsellor." This evidently means Sennacherib, the King of Nineveh. He was one of the great moral monsters of the world. "He invaded the land of Judah with an immense army, besieged Lachish, and having reduced that city, threatened to invade Jerusalem itself. Hezekiah, dreading his power, sent him an obsequious embassy, and by paying three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold, purchased an inglorious peace. But no sooner had Sennacherib received the money than, disdaining his engagements, he prosecuted the war with as much vigour as if no treaty had been in existence, sending three of his generals and a powerful army to besiege Jerusalem. Being informed that Tirhakah King of Ethiopia joined by the power of Egypt, was advancing to assist Hezekiah, he marched to meet the approaching armies, defeated them in a general engagement, ravaged their country, and returned with the spoil to finish the siege of Jerusalem. Hezekiah, in the extremity of his distress, implored the succour of Heaven; and the insolence and blasphemy of Sennacherib drew upon the Assyrians the vengeance of God. And, in perfect accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah, the sacred historian informs us that the angel of the Lord slew, in one night, one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian army." Such is a brief and very partial sketch of this monster. Alas! he is only a type of the vast majority of men who have found their way to thrones! They have been in all ages the chief devils of the world. There are kings that have powers ordained of God; but such kings, and those only, are "a terror to evil doers and a praise to those that do well." We are commanded to honour the king; but such a king as this Sennacherib, who can honour? A king, to be honoured, must be honourworthy; he must be just, ruling in the fear of the Lord.
II. CORRUPT KINGS OFTEN RUIN THEIR KINGDOMS. "Though they be quiet, and likewise many, yet thus shall they be cut down, when he shall pass through. Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more." These words seem to be addressed to Judah concerning the utter destruction that will befall their enemies, and their consequent deliverance from all fear from that quarter. It was here said they should be destroyed:
1. Notwithstanding their military completeness. "Though they be quiet." The word "quiet" means complete. No doubt the military organization, discipline, and equipment of Sennacherib's mighty army, as he led them up to attack Jerusalem, were as complete as the intelligence, the art, and the circumstances of the age could make them. Notwithstanding this, ruin befell them.
2. Notwithstanding their numerical force. "Likewise many." Their numbers were overwhelming, yet how complete their destruction! They were "cut down," and their name ceased. Nineveh has been long since blotted from the earth. The account given of the destruction you have in 2 Kings 19:35, "And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses." Then followed, in due course, the complete destruction of Nineveh itself by the forces of the Medes and Babylonians. So utterly was it destroyed, that even the references of classical writers to it are to a city that is long since extinct. It was a wonderful city; it stood, according to the account of some, on an area ten times the size of London; its walls a hundred feet high, and so broad that three chariots could be driven on them abreast. It bad fifteen hundred towers, each two hundred feet in height. In 1842 Botta began to excavate, and three years afterwards Layard commenced his interesting and successful explorations. The remains which were discovered by these excavators filled the world with astonishment. "A city, an empire, had risen from the silent slumber of ages; its kings could be numbered, and its tongue mastered; while its history, manners, customs, and dwellings formed an unexpected revelation, wondrous in its variety and fulness." Who brought all this ruin on this grand old city? Sennacherib, a ruthless despot and a bloody warrior, and his successors, as savage as himself. And what cities and empires have been rained by such men in all ages! Who broke up ancient dynasties? Despots. And in modern times who has brought all the suffering, the disorder, and the spoliation that has befallen France during the last sixty years? Despots. Until despotism is put down, such will continue to be the case.
III. THE RUIN OF CORRUPT KINGDOMS IS A BLESSING TO THE OPPRESSED. "For now will I break his yoke from off thee [that is, 'thee, Judah'], and will burst thy bonds in sunder." "Yoke" here refers to the tribute imposed upon Hezekiah King of Judah by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14). And so it ever is—when despotism has fallen, the oppressed rise to liberty. What teeming millions of men are groaning, not only in Asiatic countries, but in European countries, under the tyranny of despots! These arrogant, haughty autocracies must fail, as Assyria and other ancient despotisms fell, before the yoke shall be taken from the neck of the oppressed, and their bands burst asunder.
1. Realize the truth of prophecy. When Nahum uttered these fearful predictions in relation to Nineveh, Nineveh shone in unabated splendor, and stood in unabated strength; but after a very few generations had passed away the predicted ruin came, and Nineveh has long since been buried in the oblivion of centuries. Have faith in the Wont of God. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not one jot or tittle of his Word shall fail to be accomplished.
2. Realize the importance of promoting education among the people. By education I do not mean what is merely technical or scientific, but chiefly moral. The education that teaches the people the sense of personal independency and responsibility, the duty of self-respect, the inalienable right of private judgment, and a liberty of action circumscribed only by the rights of others. It is when such an education as this spreads among the peoples of the world that despotisms will moulder to dust. When men shall know the moral truth, the moral reality, then the truth shall make them free,
"It's coming yet for a' that,
That man to man the warld o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that."
Three things worthy of note.
"Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off." A mighty army has gone up against nineveh, and so certain it is that it will be utterly destroyed that the prophet speaks of it as past. He has seen the "messenger" upon the mountain proclaiming deliverance to Judah. The "mountains" are those round Jerusalem, on which the hosts of Sennacherib had lately encamped, and the messenger of peace scales the mountains that his welcome presence may be seen. How transporting the message must have been! Sennacherib, the disturber of the nations, is no more, and Jerusalem is delivered. The first clause of this verse is applied in Isaiah 52:7 to the message of peace brought to the world through Jesus Christ. There are three things here worthy of note.
I. PEACE PROCLAIMED. "Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace." Glorious to the ears of the men of Jerusalem must have been the intelligence that their great enemy was destroyed, that the Assyrian hosts were crushed, and now peace was come. A proclamation of peace is indeed "good tidings." A proclamation of national peace is "good tidings." What country that has been engaged in a bloody campaign, in which its commerce has been all but ruined, the flower of its manhood destroyed, and its very existence imperilled, does not hail with rapture the proclamation of peace? But the proclamation of moral peace is still more delightful. Paul quotes these words, and applies them to the ministers of the gospel. "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (Romans 10:15). As there is no war so painful, so terrible, as a moral war, the war of a soul with itself, with the moral instincts of the universe, and with the will of its God; so no tidings are so delightful to it as the tidings of peace, peace brought through Jesus Christ, the "peace that passeth all understanding." "My peace I give unto you,… not as the world giveth give I unto you."
II. WORSHIP ENJOINED. "O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows." "During the Assyrian invasion the inhabitants of Judah were cut off from all access to the metropolis; now they would be at liberty to proceed thither as usual, in order to observe their religious rites, and they are here commanded to do so." Observe:
1. War disturbs religious observances. War, which had been called the totality of all evil, is an enemy to the progress of religion. It not merely arrests the march of the cause of truth and godliness, but throws it back. It is said in Acts 9:31, "Then had the Churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." The storm of persecution which Stephen had invoked and Saul aided had abated, and the Christian religion advanced. As peace in nature is the time to cultivate your ground and sow your seed, peace in the nation is the time to promote growth in religion and virtue.
2. In war men are disposed to make religious vows. When dangers thicken around, and death seems close at hand, the soul naturally turns to Heaven, and vows that, if life is preserved, it shall be devoted to God. When peace comes they are called upon to "perform" their "vows." But alas! how often are such vows neglected! and we are told (Ecclesiastes 5:5) it is better not to vow, than to vow and not pay. Worship is a duty ever binding.
III. ENEMIES VANQUISHED; "For the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off." Here is encouragement. Sennacherib is gone; Nineveh is in desolation. They will "no more pass through thee." The time will come with all good men when their enemies shall be utterly vanquished. "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." What a blessed time for the world, when the wicked shall no more "pass through" it! This will be its millennium.
"Peace is the end of all things—tearless peace;
Who by the immovable basis of God's throne
Takes her perpetual stand; and, of herself
Prophetic, lengthens age by age her sceptre.
The world shall yet be subjugate to love,
The final form religion must assume;
Led like a lion, rid with wreathed reins,
In some enchanted island, by a child."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Nahum 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany