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Part II. THE EXECUTION OF THE DECREE; THE DESTRUCTION OF NINEVEH DESCRIBED.
§ 1. Nineveh shall be besieged, because God is about to exalt his people by taking vengeance on the enemy, whose defence, howsoever formidable, is of no avail.
Nahum addresses Nineveh, and forewarns her of the siege she was about to undergo (see Introduction, § I.). He that dasheth in pieces; the disperser; qui dispergat (Vulgate); ἐμφυσῶν, "panting". The mixed army that invested Nineveh is so called from its effect on the inhabitants of the neighbouring lands. Others translate it, "the maul," or "hammer"—an appellation of Cyaxares, which reminds one of Charles Martel and Judas Maccabaeus. Is come up before thy face. Placing his forces in thy sight, that thou mayest see his power and thine own danger. Keep the munition. The prophet urges the Ninevites to guard their fortress well. Some connect this clause with the preceding: "the disperser is come to maintain the siege;" as the Vulgate, qui custodiat obsidionem. But the other interpretation is more forcible, and suits the rest of the verse. The LXX; reading differently, gives, ἐξαιρούμενος [+ σε, Alex.] ἐκ θλίψεως, "one delivered from affliction." Watch the way, by which the enemy approaches. Make thy loins strong. Gather up thy strength, the loins being regarded as the seat of strength (2 Chronicles 10:10; Job 40:7; Ezekiel 29:7; 1 Peter 1:13). So weak, effeminate people were called in Latin elumbes, "loinless." Fortify thy power mightily; Ανδρισαι τῇ ἰσχύι σφόδρα. Make yourselves as strong as possible (comp. Amos 2:14).
This ruin shall fall on Nineveh because God is mindful of his chosen people, whom Assyria has oppressed. Hath turned away. It should be rendered, returneth to, or restoreth, bringeth back; reddidit (Vulgate); Isaiah 52:8; Hosea 6:11. The excellency of Jacob, as the excellency of Israel. The Lord restores the glory and honour of Jacob, the nation in its political aspect, and the high privileges of the spiritual Israel, the chosen people of God (comp. Obadiah 1:18). For. Asshur is visited because Judah has had its full measure of punishment. The emptiers have emptied them out. The plunderers (the enemy) have plundered the Jews. And marred their vine branches. The heathen have cut off the members of Israel, the Lord's vineyard. (For the metaphor "vine," comp. Psalms 80:8, etc.; Isaiah 5:1-30.; Jeremiah 41:10.) Not only from what is read in the Bible (e.g.. 2Ki 15:19; 2 Kings 16:7, etc.; 2 Kings 17:3; 2 Kings 18:14), but from the details in the cuneiform inscriptions, we learn that the Assyrians were a constant danger and annoyance to Israel, and harassed continually both the southern and northern provinces.
The prophet describes, as though himself an eyewitness, the army advancing against Nineveh. The shield of his mighty men is made red. "His heroes" may be either God's heroes, as sent by him to war against the evil city, or those of the "dasher in pieces" of Nahum 2:1. The shields of the early Assyrians were usually circular or oval in shape, formed of wicker work, with a central boss of wood or metal. In the latest period they were made straight at bottom and rounded only at top (Rawlinson's 'Anc. Mon.,' 1.440). Some bronze shields have been brought to England from Nineveh; these are circular, about two feet and a half in diameter, the rim bending inwards, and forming a deep groove round the edge. The handles are of iron, and fastened by six bosses or nails, the heads of which form an ornament on the outer face of the shield. There were used also in sieges tall oblong shields, sufficient to protect the entire body, constructed of wicker work or the hides of animals. The shields are said to be "made red," either because they were really so coloured (though the monuments have not confirmed this opinion), or else because of the polished copper with which they were sometimes covered (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 13.12. 5). Septuagint, pointing differently, ὅπλα δυναστείας αὐτῶν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων, "the arms of their power from among men." Are in scarlet. The word rendered "scarlet" is found nowhere else. Septuagint, mistaking the word, ἐμπαίζοντας ἐν πυρί, "sporting in fire:" Vulgate, in coccineis. It is derived from the term applied to the coccus, or worm which was used in dyeing to give to cloth a deep scarlet colour (Henderson). Some have seen in the colour of the soldiers' garments an emblem of the Divine wrath of which they were the appointed ministers. This colour was much affected by combatants in old times as in modern days. Professor Edwards quotes Aelian, 'Var. Hist.' 6.6, "it was necessary to enter into battle clothed in purple, that the colour might denote a certain dignity, and if drops of blood from wounds were sprinkled on it, it became terrible to the enemy" (comp. Xen; 'Cyrop.,' 1.3, 2). Red or purple seems to have been the favourite colour of the Medea and Babylonians (Ezekiel 23:14), blue or violet that of the Assyrians (Ezekiel 23:6; Ezekiel 28:23, etc.) (Orelli). The chariots shall be with flaming torches; literally, are with fire of steels; i.e. flash with steel, and so the clause should be translated, as in the Revised Version. Commentators generally refer the description to the steel bosses of the wheels; but the Assyrian chariots (and those of the Medes and Chaldeans were not dissimilar) were conspicuous for shining metal, hung round with gleaming weapons and figures of the heavenly bodies, carrying bright armed warriors, the homes covered with trappings, which flashed under the sunshine, and fastened to poles of glittering steel. There is no trace in the monuments of chariots armed with scythes, which seem to have been unknown before the time of Cyrus. They are first mentioned in 2 Macc. 13:2 (see Livy, 37.41). The word peladoth, translated "torches," is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον. The LXX. renders it, αἱ ἡνίαι, "the reins," whence Jerome obtained his version, igneae habenae curruum; but it means, "things made of iron or steel,"and by critics uninstructed in monumental discoveries was naturally referred to the scythes with which chariots were armed in later times, instead of to the gleaming metal with which they were adorned. In the day of his preparation. When the Lord marshals the host for battle, as Isaiah 13:4. The fir trees shall be terribly shaken, i.e. the spears with their fir or cypress shafts are brandished. So Homer often calls the spear "the ash," from the material of which the handle was made (comp. 'Il.,' 16:143; 22:225, etc.). The Septuagint rendering is very far from the present text, Οἱ ἱππεῖς θορυβηθήσονται, "The horsemen shall be thrown into confusion." Nor is the Vulgate any better, Agitatores cosopiti sunt, which is explained to mean that the invaders are so carried away by their courage and fury, that they act as if intoxicated. "Sensus utique non spernedus," says a Roman Catholic commentator, "at unum desidero, ut scil. ex verbo ipso fluat"—which is certainly not the case. The text is possibly corrupt, and might be corrected from the Septuagint. Certainly there seems to be no other passage in the Hebrew Scriptures where the metaphor of "cypress" is used for "a spear." After the mention of the chariots, it is not unnatural that the writer should proceed, "and the riders are in active motion," urging their horses with hand and whip and gesture (see Knabenbauer, in loc.).
The chariots shall rage in the streets. The chariots rave, dash madly (Jeremiah 46:9) about the open ways in the suburbs, or in the plains of the country. The description still appertains to the besiegers, who are so numerous that to the Ninevites, looking from their walls, their chariots seem to dash against one another. They shall seem—their appearance is—like torches. Thus is described the gleaming of the chariots and the armour (see on Nahum 2:3; Nahum 1:0 Macc. 6:39, "Now when the sun shone upon the shields of gold and brass, the mountains glistered therewith, and shined like lamps of fire").
The prophet turns to the Ninevites and their preparations for defence. He shall recount his worthies; he remembers his nobles. The King of Nineveh calls to mind the mighty captains who have often led his armies to victory, and sends them to defend the walls (comp. Nahum 3:18). The LXX; anticipating the next clause, adds here, καὶ φεύξονται ἡμέρας, "and they shall flee by day." They shall stumble in their walk. In their fear and baste, or half drunken, they totter and stumble as they hasten to the walls of the city. The defence shall be prepared; literally, the covering is prepared. If this refers to the operations of the Ninevites, it means some kind of breastwork or fascine erected between the towers; but it most probably depicts the sight that meets their eyes from the wails. They see the besiegers bringing up their mantelets and towers. As used by the Assyrians, the machine called "the covering" is either a wooden tower or a wicker mantelet in which was suspended a battering ram. It stood on four or six wheels, and the larger sort had archers posted in the various stories, both to annoy the enemy and to defend the engine. The rams were provided with lance headed extremities, and must have rather picked at and loosened the courses of bricks of which the walls were composed than battered them down. The Septuagint rendering applies rather to the besieged, Ἐτοιμάσουσι τὰς προφυλακὰς αὐτῶν, "They shall prepare their defences."
All defence is vain. The prophet describes the last scene. The gates of the rivers shall be (are) opened. The simplest explanation of this much disputed clause is, according to Strauss and others, the following: The gates intended are those adjacent to the streams which encircled the city, and which were therefore the best defended and the hardest to capture. When these were carried, there was no way of escape for the besieged. But, as Rosenmuller remarks, it would have been an act of folly in the enemy to attack just that part of the city which was most strongly defended by nature and art. We are, therefore, induced to take "the gates of the rivers," not literally, but as a metaphorical expression (like "the windows of heaven," Genesis 7:1 l; Isaiah 24:18) for an overwhelming flood, and to see in this a reference to the fact mentioned by Diod. Sic. (2.27), that the capture of Nineveh was owing to a great and unprecedented inundation, which destroyed a large portion of the fortifications, and laid the city open to the enemy. "At the northwest angle of Nineveh," says Professor Rawlinson, "there was a sluice or flood gate, intended mainly to keep the water of the Khosr-su, which ordinarily filled the city moat, from flowing off too rapidly into the Tigris, but probably intended also to keep back the water of the Tigris, when that stream rose above its common level. A sudden and great rise in the Tigris would necessarily endanger this gate, and if it gave way beneath the pressure, a vast torrent of water would rush up the moat along and against the northern wall, which may have been undermined by its force, and have fallen in". The suggestion that the course of its rivers was diverted, and that the enemy entered the town through the dried channels, has no historical basis. Dr. Pusey explains the term to mean the gates by which the inhabitants had access to the rivers. But these would be well guarded, and the open. ing of them would not involve the capture of the city, which the expression in the text seems to imply. The LXX. gives, πόλεων διηνοίχθησαν, "The gates of the cities were opened." The palace shall be (is) dissolved; or, melteth away. Some take this to signify that the hearts of the in. habitants melt with fear, or the royal power vanishes in terror. That the clause is to be taken literally, to denote the destruction of the royal palace by the action of the waters, seems to be negatived by the fact that the Assyrian palaces were built on artificial mounds of some thirty or forty feet in elevation, composed of sun-dried bricks united into a solid mass, and were thus secured from the effects of an inundation. There is evidence, too, that fire played a great part in the destruction of the temples and palaces (see note on Nahum 3:13).
And Huzzab. The Anglican rendering (which has the authority of the Jewish commentators, and is endorsed by Ewald and Ruckert) takes Huzzab as an appellative, either the name of the Queen of Nineveh, or a symbolical name for Nineveh itself, as Sheshach, Peked, and Merathaim were for Babylon (see Jeremiah 25:26 : 1:21; Jeremiah 51:41; Ezekiel 23:23), which was formed or adopted by Nahum for the purpose of describing its character. Huzzab may mean "established," "act firm" (Genesis 28:12), and confident in its strength; pual from natsab," to set," "to fix" (Wordsworth). We may dismiss the idea that Huzzab is the name of the queen. Such a personage is unknown to history; and there is no reason why she should be mentioned rather than the king; and persona are not introduced by name in prophecy except for some very special reason, as Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28). The alternative rendering, "it is decreed," adopted by Keil, Pusey, and many modern commentators, is unexampled, and comes in baldly, and not at all according to the prophet's manner. Henderson joins the clause with the proceiling, thus: "The palace is dissolved, though firmly established." The Septuagint gives, Ἡ ὑπόστασις ἀπεκαλύφθη, "The hidden treasures are revealed," or, "The foundation is exposed;" Vulgate, Miles captivus abductus est. It seems best to take Huzzab as an appellative representing either Nineveh or Assyria, as the country between the Upper and Lower Zab (Rawlinson, in 'Dictionary of the Bible'), or as meaning "firm," "bold." Thus Egypt is called Rahab, "arrogant" (Isaiah 30:7); the King of Assyria, Jareb, "contentious" (Hosea 5:13); Jerusalem, Ariel, "God's lion" (Isaiah 29:1). Shall be led away captive; better, is laid bare. She, the queen of nations, is stripped of her adornments and igno miniously treated. She shall be brought up. She is carried away into captivity. "Brought up" may mean brought up to judgment, as Nahum 3:5; Isaiah 47:2, Isaiah 47:3 (Pusey). Her maids shall lead her; rather, her handmaids moan. The inhabitants of Nineveh, personified as a queen, or the lesser cities of her empire, follow their mistress mourning. As with the voice of doves (comp. Isaiah 38:14; Isaiah 59:11; Ezekiel 7:16), They shall not only show the outward tokens of sorrow, but shall mourn inwardly in their hearts, as the LXX. renders the whole clause, καθὼς περιστεραὶ φθεγγόμενει ἐν καρδίαις αὐτῶν "as down moaning in their hearts." Tabering; beating on a tabret. (For smiting the breast in token of sorrow, setup. Luke 18:13; Luke 23:48; Homer, 'Il.,' 18.31, Χεροὶ δὲ πἄσαι Στήθεα πεπλήψοντο.)
The prophet compares the past and present condition of Nineveh. But Nineveh is of old like a pool of water; and (or, though) Nineveh hath been like a pool of water all her days. Others, altering the points in accordance with the Septuagint and Vulgate, translate, "But as for Nineveh, her waters are like a pool of water." This is what she has come to, for "her waters" represent herself. She is compared to a pool or reservoir (Nehemiah 2:15; Nehemiah 3:15) from the multitude of her inhabitants gathered from all parts of the world, and streaming unto her, both as tributary and for commercial purposes (comp. Jeremiah 51:13; Revelation 17:1, Revelation 17:15). Yet they shall flee away. In spite of their numbers, the multitudes represented by "the waters" fly before the enemy. In vain the captains cry, Stand, stand. They pay no attention. None shall look back. No one of the fugitives turns rounder gives a thought to anything but his own safety.
§ 2. The city is plundered, and henceforth lies waste, in terrible contrast with its former excellency,
The prophet calls on the invaders to come and gather the spoil of the city, which God gives into their hands. Take ye the spoil. Fabulous stories are told of the amount of the precious metals stored in Nineveh and Babylon. "Sardanapalus is said to have placed a hundred and fifty golden beds, and as many tables of the same metal, on his funeral pile, besides gold and silver vases and ornaments in enormous quantities, and purple and many-coloured raiments (Athen; lib. 12.). According to Diodorus, the value of the gold taken from the temple of Bolus alone by Xerxes amounted to above 7350 Attic talents, of £21,000,000 sterling money" (Layard, 'Nineveh,' 2:416, etc.; comp. Daniel 3:1, where the size of the golden image or pillar, sixty cubits high and six cubits broad, shows how plentiful was gold in these countries). Bonomi: "The riches of Nineveh are inexhaustible, her vases and precious furniture are infinite, copper constantly occurs in their weapons, and it is most probable a mixture of it was used in the materials of their tools. They had acquired the art of making glass.… The well known cylinders are a sufficient proof of their skill in engraving gems. Many beautiful specimens of carving in ivory were also discovered .... The condition of the ruins is highly corroborative of the sudden destruction that came upon Nineveh by fire and sword .... It is evident from the ruins that both Khorsabad and Nimroud were sacked and then set on fire. Neither Botta nor Layard found any of that store of silver and gold and 'pleasant furniture' which the palaces contained; scarcely anything, even of bronze, escaped the spoiler". There is none end of the store; Vulgate, Non finis est divitiarum; Septuagint, οὐκ ἦν πέρας τοῦ κόσμου αὐτῆς, "There was no end of her ornament." And glory out of all the pleasant furniture; literally, vessels of desire. It is plainer to translate, There is abundance of all precious furniture.
She is empty, and void, and waste. Bukahum' bukah, um' bulakah. The three words are of very similar meaning and sound, and express most forcibly the utter ruin of the city. A Latin commentator has endeavoured to imitate the Hebrew paronomasia by rendering them, "vacuitas, evacuatio, evanidatio"—a translation more ingenious than classical. The paronomasia is better rendered by "vastitas, vastitia, vacuitas," and the German, "leer und ausgeleert und verheert." "Sack and sacking and ransacking" (Gandell). An analogous combination of words is found in Isaiah 24:3, Isaiah 24:4; Isaiah 29:2, Isaiah 29:3; Ezekiel 33:29; Zephaniah 1:15. Septuagint, ἐκτιναγμὸς, καὶ ἀνατιναγμὸς καὶ ἐκβρασμός, "thrusting forth and spurning and tumult." The heart melteth. A common expression for fear and despondency (Joshua 7:5; Isaiah 13:7; Ezekiel 21:7). The knees smite together (Daniel 5:6). So in Homer continually, λύτο γούνατα. Much pain is in all loins. The anguish as of childbirth. Septuagint, ὠδῖνες, "labour pains," in contrast with the injunction in Zephaniah 1:1 (comp. Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 21:3; Jeremiah 30:6). Gather blackness (Joel 2:6); or, Withdraw their colour; i.e. wax pale. But the Hebrew rather implies that the faces assume a livid hue, like that of coming death. Hence the LXX. renders, ὡς πρόσκαυμα χύτρας, as the burning of an earthen vessel, which is blackened by the fire; and Jerome, sicut nigredo ollae (comp. Jeremiah 30:6).
The prophet asks, as if in consternation at the complete collapse of the great city—Where is the site of Nineveh? Where is the dwelling (den) of the lions? The lion is a natural symbol of Assyria, both from that animal's cruel, predatory; ravenous habits, and from its use as the chief national emblem. Nergal, the war god, has a winged lion with a man's face as his emblem. See the figure in Rawlinson, 'Anc. Mon.,' 1:173, who adds that the lion is accepted as a true type of the people, blood, ravin, and robbery being their characteristics in the mind of the prophet. The feeding place of the young lions may mean the subject lands whence they took their prey. And the old lion; rather, the lioness. The lion is designated by different names, which may, perhaps, refer to the various satraps and chieftains of the Assyrian kingdom. There are the full-grown male lion, the lioness, the young lion able to seek its own food, and the whelp too young to find its own living. Instead of" the lioness." the LXX; Vulgate, and Syriac, reading differently, give, ταῦεἰσελθεῖν, ut ingrederetur, "that the lion's whelp should enter there." And none made them afraid. They lived in perfect security, without fear or care, irresistible in might (Leviticus 26:6; Micah 4:4; Zephaniah 3:13).
The figure of the lieu is continued, and this verse, in loose apposition to the preceding, may be best explained by continuing the interrogation in thought—Where is now the lion that used to tear in pieces, etc.? The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps. The Assyrian monarch provided for his children and dependents by plundering other nations. His lionesses may mean his wives and concubines. It was the custom both with the Persians and Assyrians to assign towns and provinces to their favourites. Xenophon ('Anab.,' 1.4. 10) mentions certain villages as set apart for the girdle of Queen Parysatis. A Lapide quotes Cicero, 'Verr.,' 2.3. 33, "They say that the barbarian kings of the Persians and Syrians [i.e. Assyrians] are wont to have many wives, to whom they assign cities in this fashion—this city is to provide a girdle for her waist, that a necklace, that again to dress her hair; and so they have whole nations, not only privy to their lusts, but also abettors of them".
I am against thee. The destruction shall be surely accomplished, because God himself directs it. Literally, I to thee (Nahum 3:5; Jeremiah 51:25; Ezekiel 38:3). The Lord of hosts (sabaoth), Lord of the forces of heaven and earth, and therefore omnipotent. Κύριος παντοκράτωρ: I will burn her chariots in the smoke. "Chariots" stand for the whole apparatus of war and military power. Sop-tuagint for "chariots" gives πλῆθος, "multitudes." Thy young lions. Thy fighting men, the metaphor being continued. Cut off thy prey. Thou shalt no more be able to pillage other countries. Thy messengers. These are the heralds who carried the king's commands to his lieutenants, or those, like the imperious Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:17, etc.; 2 Kings 19:23), who summoned nations to surrender, and imposed tributes. "O Nineveh," writes St. Jerome, "thou shalt suffer all that has been spoken. I the Lord will burn to ashes thy chariots, and will cause thy nobles and satraps to be devoured by the sword; never again shalt thou lay countries waste, nor exact tribute, nor will thy emissaries' voice be heard throughout thy provinces."
A predicted invasion.
I. THE ENEMY DESCRIBED.
1. His violence. Nahum calls him "a dasher in pieces" (verse 1), and represents his warriors as "mighty" and "valiant" (verse 3)—epithets which apply with fitness and force to the Merdo-Babylonian army under Cyaxares and Nabopolassar.
2. His boldness. He comes up against Nineveh, not stealthily and under cover of darkness, but openly, pitching his tent opposite the city gates. His fearless attitude was a proof that God was secretly impelling him, using him against Assyria as formerly Assyria had been used against other nations.
3. His invincibility. Nineveh may "keep the munition, watch the way, make her loins strong, fortify her power mightily,"—all will be in vails. The onset of this terrible assailant will be practically resistless. Whether irony (Fausset) or poetry (Keil), the meaning is the same, that Nineveh's utmost exertions will not be able to ward off her ruin.
4. His fierceness. With crimson-coated soldiers, bearing red-coloured shields and shaking terribly tall spears of fir, and with chariots flashing with the gleam of steel plates, his appearance was fitted to inspire terror (verse 3). "The chariots of the Assyrians, as we see them on the monuments, elate with shining things made either of iron or steel, battle axes, bows, arrows, and shields, and all kinds of weapons" (Strauss).
5. His impetuosity. The swiftness and the fury of his attack are vividly described (verse 4). His chariots the prophet represents as raging, driving on madly, through the streets, as crowding the broad spaces in such a fashion as to jostle against and threaten to run down one another, as flashing to and fro like torches, as running hither and thither with the celerity of lightning.
II. THE ATTACK EXPLAINED.
1. The Assyrian oppression of Israel. "The emptiers;" i.e. the Assyrians, "have emptied out" the Israelites, and "marred their vine branches" They had done so by their devastation and depopulation of the northern kingdom (2 Kings 17:6), and by their repeated invasions of the southern (Isaiah 10:5-11; 2 Chronicles 32:1). Now the time was come when they themselves should be emptied (verse 10) and their branches marred (Ezekiel 31:12). Jehovah had employed the Assyrian as the rod of his anger to punish Israel and Judah; but he had never concealed his purpose, when this was done, "to punish the fruit of the stout heart of the King of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks" (Isaiah 10:12).
2. The Divine remembrance of Israel. Having promised never to forget her or finally cast her off (Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 49:16; Psalms 89:33, Psalms 89:34), he had returned to the excellency of Jacob as to the excellency of Israel (Keil), or had brought again the excellency of Jacob as the excellency of Israel (Revised Version). Both renderings are admissible, and both conduct to the same goal. The doom of Nineveh was certain because Jehovah was about to restore Judah to her ideal excellence as "Israel," and this he was to do by himself, returning to her as if she were an ideal Israel.
III. THE RESISTANCE BEGUN.
1. Suddenly. Nineveh at length realizes her danger and bethinks herself of her warriors: "He remembereth his worthies" (verse 5). Assyria had good generals and valiant troops; to these she now turns.
2. Hastily. Not a moment is lost. Men and marshals hurry to the wall. No time to trifle when such enemies as Cyaxares and Nabopolassar thunder at the gates.
3. Vigorously. The defence (Authorized Version), mantelet (Revised Version), or movable parapet, literally, the covering one, the testudo or tortoise (Keil), is prepared—probably "either a movable tower with a battering ram, consisting of a light framework covered with basket work, or else a framework without any tower, either with an ornamented covering or simply covered with skins and moving upon four or six wheels" (Keil).
4. Blindly. Their energy and haste only lead to confusion: "They stumble in their march." The more haste, the less speed.
IV. THE CONQUEST COMPLETED.
1. The capture of the city. This was effected by forcing the gates in the city wall: "The gates of the rivers are opened" (verse 6). These were the gates leading from the river into the city (Luther, Keil), rather than the dams or sluices through which the waters of the river were admitted into the canals which protected the palace.
2. The demolition of the palace. "The palace is dissolved," not by the inundation of water from the river (Fausset), since the palaces were usually "built in the form of terraces upon the tops of hills, either natural or artificial, and could not be flooded with water" (Keil); but by the inrush of enemies against it. The prophet means that "there will be no impediment to hinder the approach of enemies, for all the fortresses will melt away, and that of themselves, as though they were walls of paper, and the stones as though they were water" (Calvin).
3. The deportation of the queen. "And Huzzab is uncovered," etc. (verse 7). This may signify either that the consort of the king is seized, degraded, and borne off into inglorious exile (Ewald), or that Nineveh, personified as a queen, is now cheered with shame, and that she who had formerly been established is now swept off into captivity (Keil, Fausset, Calvin). In the former cage the handmaids who accompany her, mourning with the voice of doves and beating on their breasts (literally, "hearts") are the ladies of her court; in the latter, they are most probably the inhabitants who bewail the fate of their once famous city and kingdom (Calvin, Keil).
4. The flight of the inhabitants. "They," i.e. the masses of the people, "flee away" (verse 8).
(1) Most unexpectedly, since "Nineveh hath been of old like a pool of water," so strong, impregnable, and inaccessible to any foe, as well as so prosperous and flourishing that the thing least to be anticipated was that its inhabitants should flee from it.
(2) Most determinedly, however, they do so giving no heed to the few patriotic men who call upon them to remain. "Stand, stand, they cry; but no one looketh back" (verse 8).
5. The spoliation of the treasure.
(1) The quality of the treasure—silver, gold, pleasant furniture. "The Assyrians were celebrated for their skill in working metals. Their mountains furnished a variety of minerals—silver, iron, copper, and lead, and perhaps even gold" (Layard's 'Nineveh,' 2:415).
(2) The quantity of the treasure: "none end of the store." That gold, silver, and precious vessels should have been abundant in Nineveh is sufficiently explained by remembering, in addition to the mines just mentioned, the enormous tribute received and rich spoils carried off from conquered nations ('Records of the Past,' vol. 1:37, etc; 59, etc.).
6. The desolation of the scene. "She is empty, and void, and waste" (verse 10)—the effect of this description being heightened in Hebrew by the combination of throe synonymous and similarly sounding words, buqah umebhuqah umebullaqah. Emptied of her population and despoiled of her treasure, she became a total ruin. According to Strabo, when Cyaxares and his allies took the city, they utterly destroyed it.
7. The horror of the vanquished. "The heart melteth and the knees smite together, and anguish is in all loins, and the faces of them all are waxed pale" (verse 10). "Hence we may learn how foolishly men boast of their courage, while they seem to be like lions; for God can in a moment so melt their hearts that they lose all firmness" (Calvin).
1. The retributions of Divine providence (verse 1). The destroyers of others may expect themselves to be destroyed (Isaiah 33:1).
2. The hopelessness of defending one's self against the invasions of Heaven (verse 1). "Who would set the thorns and briars against me in battle?" (Isaiah 27:4; cf. 'Herod.,' Isaiah 9:16, "Whatever necessarily comes from God, it is impossible for man by any contrivance to turn aside").
3. The true ideal of a nation's greatness (verse 2)—the dwelling of Jehovah in her midst (Psalms 46:5).
4. The utter vanity of all earthly glory (verse 8). The world's strength, riches, honours, are all destined to perish (1 John 2:17).
5. The horrors of the wicked when the terrors of judgment come upon them (verse 10). "Then shall they say to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on us," etc. (Revelation 6:16).
The parable of the lion's den.
I. THE DESCRIPTION OF THE SEN.
1. Its site. Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire.
(1) Old, extending over centuries at least.
(2) Capacious, having caves in it for its prey, and room in it for the lion, lionesses, and lion's whelps to walk about.
(3) Strong. surrounded on two sides by water and seemingly impregnable—a secure retreat, in which its inhabiting wild beasts felt themselves safe.
2. Its occupants. The lions above referred to.
(1) The old lion—the King of Assyria,
(2) The lionesses—the queens and concubines of the reigning prince.
(3) The lion's whelps, or young lions—his sons, princes, nobles, and warriors.
3. Its prey. The spoils of the nations Syria, Phoenicia, Philistia, Israel, Judah, and even Egypt had felt the might of Assyria and contributed to swell the ravin she had stored in her cities.
II. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE DEN.
1. Its certainty. According to Nahum, Jehovah was against Nineveh, and that was enough to secure its overthrow. "The face of the Lord is against them that do evil," etc. (Psalms 34:16). Besides, his uttered threatening, "I will burn her chariots [i.e. all her military armament] in the smoke," rendered her doom inevitable. The word of Jehovah can as little fail in threatening as in promise.
2. Its celerity. So little difficult would be the task to Jehovah, that he would not need fire, but only smoke, to consume the power of Nineveh. "In short, the prophet shows that Nineveh would be, as it were in a moment, reduced to nothing, as soon as it pleased God to avenge its wickedness" (Calvin).
3. Its completeness.
(1) Her warriors should be destroyed: "The sword shall de, our thy young lions.
(2) Her spoliations should cease: "I will cut off thy prey from the earth."
(3) Her emissaries should be silent: "The voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard," exacting tribute from the nations thou hast conquered. Learn:
1. That Jehovah is against sin in nations no less than in individuals.
2. That national wickedness is the certain prelude to national ruin.
HOMILIES BY S.D. HILMAN
Nahum 2:1, Nahum 2:2
God the Vindicator of the oppressed.
I. THE OPPRESSION OF THE CHOSEN PEOPLE BY THE ASSYRIANS.
1. This is expressed figuratively. "The emptiers have emptied them out" (Nahum 2:2), had exhausted their resources, as the contents of a vessel poured out until every drain had been withdrawn, so had both Israel and Judah been impoverished by the Assyrians, "And marred their vine branches." Ancient Israel was often described as God's vineyard (Isaiah 5:1; Psalms 80:9). This vineyard the foe had ruthlessly invaded, casting down and injuring its fruit-bearing trees,
2. These figurative representations are sustained by historical fact. The more familiar we become with Assyrian history the more do we trace in that vast heathen power the prevalence of the haughty, overbearing spirit. Its rulers and people vainly supposed that national greatness consisted in the possession of might to be used in oppressing other nations and peoples. To be able to depict upon the walls of the palaces of Ninus battlescenes indicative of military triumph, accompanied by great spoil and cruel chastisement inflicted upon their adversaries, seems to have been their highest ambition. Their whole relationship to Israel and Judah was based upon this principle. The favoured of Heaven, having forsaken their God, and hence lost his protecting care, turned in their exigencies to Assyria for aid, bur only to find, in this supposed helper against their foes, a more powerful enemy. In this way the kingdom of Israel was first made tributary to Assyria by Pul (2 Kings 15:17-20), and, soon after, its tribes were carried away into captivity by Shalmaneser (2 Kings 17:3-23), whilst the kingdom of Judah in like manner became compelled to acknowledge the lordship of Tilgath-Pilneser (2 Chronicles 28:16-21). Hezekiah sought to cast off the Assyrian yoke, but this only resulted in the nation, in Nahum's time, being brought into circumstances of extreme peril (2 Kings 18:13-17), and from which eventually supernatural help alone was able to deliver it (Isaiah 37:36).
II. DIVINE INTERPOSITION PROMISED ON BEHALF OF THE OPPRESSED. (Verse 2.) Such interposition had in a measure but recently taken place (Isaiah 37:36). "The angel of death" had "breathed in the face of the foe," and had caused "the might of the Gentile" to "melt like snow," and the oppressor to return humbled to his capital (Isaiah 37:37). The time, however, for the complete and final interposition of Heaven had not yet arrived. Still, it should come. The seer, in rapt vision beheld it as though it had been then in operation, and for the encouragement of the oppressed he declared that the Divine eye observed all that was being endured, that the Lord Almighty still regarded them with favour (verse 2), and would yet make them "an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations" (Isaiah 60:15).
III. THIS DIVINE INTERPOSITION EVENTUALLY TO BE EXPERIENCED VIEWED AS CARRYING WITH IT THE ENTIRE OVERTHROW OF THE OPPRESSOR. (Verse 1.) Asshur should in due course be brought low, and the yoke of bondage should fall from off the necks of the captives. In "the day of visitation:"
1. Agents should not be wanting to carry out the Divine behests. The defection of the Assyrian general, the forces of the King of Media, and the overflowing of the Tigris, should all combine to bring about the accomplishment of the Divine purpose; and these forces are here personified as "the dasher in pieces" (verse 1).
2. Resistance should be in vain. They might "keep the munition, watch the ways," etc. (verse 1), but all to no purpose. The proud power must inevitably fall, and in its overthrow proclamation be made that it is not by means of tyranny and oppression and wrong doing that any nation can become truly great and lastingly established, but by the prevalence in its midst of liberty, virtue, and righteousness, Nineveh in her downfall
"... seems to cry aloud
To warn the mighty and instruct the proud;
That of the great, neglecting to be just,
Heaven in a moment makes a heap of dust."
The downfall of Nineveh, as illustrative of the Divine and the human dements in revelation.
There are two elements in the Bible, the Divine and the human. God speaks to us in every page, nor does he speak the less emphatically, but all the more so, in that he addresses us through men possessing throbbing hearts, and who were phasing through experiences like our own. We honour the volume as being in the highest sense God's Word, nor do we honour it the less in this respect because we rejoice that he has been pleased to make holy men the medium of communicating his will. The account given in these verses of the predicted ruin of Nineveh must be taken as a whole, and in the graphic picture here presented to us we have strikingly illustrated this twofold character of the Scriptures of eternal truth.
I. THE ACCOUNT CONTAINED HERE OF THE PREDICTED OVERTHROW OF NINEVEH SERVES TO ILLUSTRATE THE DIVINE ELEMENT IN REVELATION. Nahum flourished in the reign of Hezekiah, and Nineveh was destroyed between B.C. 609 and 606). He lived and prophesied thus say a hundred years before the occurrence of the events he so vividly described, and when the Assyrian power was in the zenith of its prosperity. His announcements were very distinct and definite, and by placing these and the records of secular historians given at a subsequent period side by side, we sea how minutely the predictions of this seer have been fulfilled, and that hence, in making these, he must have been God's messenger, uttering, not his own thoughts, but those which had been communicated to him by "visions and revelations of the Lord." In Nahum 1:10 we read, "For while they be folden together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry." The secular historian writes, "While all the Assyrian army were feasting for their former victories, those about Arbuces, being informed by some deserters of the negligence and drunkenness in the camp of the enemies, assaulted them unexpectedly by night, and failing orderly on them disorderly, and prepared on them unprepared, became masters of the camp, and slew many of the soldiers and drove the rest into the city". In Nahum 2:6 we read, "The gates of the rivers shall be opened, and the palace shall be dissolved." The secular historian writes, "There was an oracle among the Assyrians that Nineveh should not be taken till the river became an enemy to the city; and in the third year of the siege, the river, being swollen with continual rains, overflowed part of the city, and broke down the wall for twenty furlongs. Then the king, thinking that the oracle was fulfilled, and the river had become an enemy to the city, built a large funeral pile in the palace, and collecting together all his wealth and his concubines and eunuchs, burnt himself and the palace with them all, and the enemy entered at the breach that the waters had made, and took the city". In Nahum 2:9 the prophet, as though addressing the adversaries of Nineveh, said, "Take ye the spoil of silver, take the spoil of gold: for there is none end of the store and glory out of all the pleasant furniture;" and the same secular historian already quoted informs us that the conquerors carried many talents of gold and silver to Ecbatana, the royal city of the Medea No language could be more explicit than that in which Nahum predicted the total destruction of the city (Nahum 2:10-13; Nahum 3:7, Nahum 3:15-17). The Prophet Zephaniah used words equally plain (Zep 2:1-15 :18-15). Their utterances would have appeared very strange to the Ninevites at the time they were spoken; as strange, indeed, as similar utterances would appear if addressed at the present time to the inhabitants of our own metropolis; but they were true nevertheless, and the facts of history furnish abundant confirmations. For upwards of two thousand years after its overthrow, Nineveh lay buried in the earth. History and tradition indicated its probable site, and the mounds to be found in the supposed districts, and out of which the Turks obtained materials for building purposes, of evident antiquity, invited research; and within a very recent period such research has been carried on, the long buried palaces of the kings of Assyria have been discovered, huge sculptures have been carefully dug out of the mounds, and the national museums both of France and England are now enriched with these long lost works of art, testifying not only to the ancient splendour of the Assyrian empire and its capital, but also to the truthfulness of the prophetical records, and to the prophets as speaking and writing under the inspiration of the Almighty, and as being indeed the messengers of him who has said, "I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done" (Isaiah 46:9, Isaiah 46:10).
II. THE ACCOUNT CONTAINED HERE OF THE PREDICTED OVERTHROW OF NINEVEH SERVES TO ILLUSTRATE THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN REVELATION. Holy Scripture is remarkable in its variety—not variety in purpose, for this is single throughout, but variety in expression. History, prophecy, poetry, parable, proverb, miracle, biography, vision, epistle, are all laid under tribute. As there is a Divine element in the Bible, so also there is a human element therein. Whilst upon the writings of each of its contributors there is unmistakably the impress of the operation of the Spirit of God, there is likewise, throughout the whale, clear indications of the preservation of those natural gifts and endowments which the respective writers possessed. There was no suspension of the powers of the men who were honoured of God in communicating to their fellow men a knowledge of his will; but rather there was the retention of their own individual peculiarities and natural qualities, whilst the Divine Spirit operated through these and turned these to the most useful account. Biblical critics are agreed in recognizing "the classic beauty and the finished elegance" of the style of Nahum, and in assigning to this writer a place in the first rank of Hebrew literature. "The variety in his method of presenting ideas discovers much poetic talent in the prophet. The reader of taste and sensibility will be affected by the entire structure of the poem, by the agreeable manner in which the ideas are brought forward, by the flexibility of the expressions, the roundness of his turns, the delicate outlines of his figures, by the strength and delicacy, and the expression of sympathy and greatness, which diffuse themselves over the whole subject" (De Wette's Introduction). "Nahum of all the prophets has the most impassioned style; and in none is found the change of numbers, of persons addressed, and of suffix relations, with such frequentness and immediateness as in him. At the same time, his language has wonder his energy and picturesque beauty. The painting does not embrace merely single rhythms and groups of words, but whole series; and in connecting his thoughts, he shows, with all his vehemence, great and varied skill" (Kleinert). His description of the siege and fall of Nineveh, contained in this chapter (verses 3-13), is wonderfully vivid. As we read the account, even at this distant date, the stirring scenes seem to live again, and to pass in review before us. We see the attacking warriors in their scarlet attire and with their chariots armed with sharp instruments of steel (verse 3), and the defenders of the city, suddenly startled, hastening their preparations, their chariots in the hurry jostling against each other in the streets, and the gallants summoned by the king hastening to the ramparts, which the foe is seeking with battering rams to cast down (verses 4, 5). We behold the overflowing of the river, facilitating the advance of the enemy, and paralyzing the people by reason of the popular tradition now seemingly being fulfilled (verse 6). We witness the inhabitants brought low in shame and dishonour, moaning like a captive woman (verse 7), or fleeing for their very life in hopelessness and despair, conscious that resistance is vain (verse 8). We view the spoiling of the city—the conqueror carrying away the gold and the silver to the Median capital, the trophies of victory (verse 9). Finally, we picture to ourselves the prophets of the Lord gazing upon the waste and desolation, reflecting upon the proud being abased, their offspring cut off, their gains confiscated, their boastful messengers silenced, and ascribing all the terrible reverses thus experienced to the righteous retribution of the Lord of hosts (verses 10-13); and we feel, as we linger upon the scene thus graphically portrayed, that whilst rejoicing in this volume of revelation as having been given by inspiration of God, and as containing Divine lessons abounding both in encouragement and warning, we may well prize it also even on the lower ground of its literary merit, and heartily rejoice in the infinite variety of human powers and endowments here consecrated to the presentation of the loftiest and grandest spiritual teaching.—S.D.H.
Man incuring the Divine displeasure
"Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts." This attitude of God towards man—
I. IMPLIES WRONG DOING ON MAN'S PART. God is not thus adverse to man for naught. "His delights are with the sons of men" (Proverbs 8:31). Sin alienates man from God, and causes God to be righteously displeased with man.
II. INVOLVES MAN IN PRESENT DISTRESS. Man cannot be at ease whilst under the ban of Jehovah. "In his favour is life" (Psalms 30:5). Separation from him through sin means disquietude and unrest. "The worst troubler in the world is a wilful heart." "Conscience makes cowards of us all." "The heart melteth, the knees smite together" (Nahum 2:10).
III. RESULTING IN ULTIMATE RUIN TO SUCH AS WILFULLY PERSIST IN SIN. God is "the Lord of hosts." All power is his. "Who shall stand when he is angry?" (Psalms 76:7). All have sinned, and hence have incurred the displeasure of him who "is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity;" but in Christ, whose day the seers saw afar off, God is reconciled to man; so that the distress and ruin indicated can alone result from man refusing to be reconciled unto God.—S.D.H.
Nahum 2:13 (with Nahum 1:15)
The messengers of Nineveh and the messengers of Zion. a comparison.
"And the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard. (Nahum 2:13) "Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace!" (Nahum 1:15). Messengers, differing very materially in their character and mission, are referred to in these words. The messengers of Nineveh and the messengers of Zion are alluded to in these passages. A comparison of these respective messengers may prove suggestive and useful in its application to certain developments in these modern times. From the Second Book of Kings and the Second Book of Chronicles we learn that the heralds or messengers of Nineveh cherished the spirit of blasphemy with reference to the God of heaven. The faith of the pious Hebrews consisted in the recognition of the one living and true God, and of his providential care over all his creatures; and it was against this bulwark that the emissaries of Assyria constantly directed their assaults in words foul and filthy (see Rabshakeh's appeal to the Jews, 2 Kings 18:33-35; and his letter, 2 Chronicles 32:17). The great and distinguishing characteristic of the messengers of Zion was loyalty to the God of heaven. Their feet stood upon the mountains, and their voice proclaimed to the people, "Behold your God!" (Isaiah 40:9); "Thy God reigneth!" (Isaiah 52:7). In the present age there are messengers who boldly declare their non-acceptance of the teaching that recognizes the Divine Being and his working, and who seek to disseminate their views, and in doing so are not particular if they blaspheme the God of heaven. And whilst there are such messengers in the world doing their injurious work, there are also those who are thoroughly loyal to the King of kings, who delight to show forth his praise, to tell the story of his love in the gift and work of Christ, and to seek to draw men in loving obedience to his authority and will. Note certain contrasts, then, suggested; thus—
I. CAPTIVITY IN CONTRAST WITH FREEDOM. The messengers of Nineveh approached Jerusalem, to which Sennacherib was laying siege, but they bore no tidings of liberty. They claimed full submission, and declared that even this must be followed by captivity in a strange land (2 Kings 18:31, 2 Kings 18:32). The assurance of ultimata deliverance came from the messengers of the Lord (Nahum 1:12, Nahum 1:13). Sin is bondage. Evil passions, habits, desires, are fetters; a life of alienation from the true and the right is a life of hard bondage. Transgressors are slaves. And scepticism has nothing to offer such by way of helping them to escape. The messengers may expatiate to such a one upon the nobleness of virtue, may sound in his ears some wise sayings of sages and philosophers, may remind him of the injury he is inflicting upon himself, and bid him "be a man," and "turn over a new leaf." But he is down; he is conscious of moral inability; he lacks inward strength. Lo! the messengers of Zion come. They tell him of the great Father's unwearying love, the Saviour's obedience unto the death of the cross, the energizing and sanctifying Spirit ready to gird him with all-sufficient strength, the elder Brother who has proved his trials and his tears, and who is prepared to be near him in every season of need as his "strong siding Champion." He feels the tidings to be "good;" is bowed low in penitence; his eye of faith turns to the hill called Calvary, and rises to the everlasting hills whence cometh help; the fettered soul is released, is free, for the messengers on the mountains have proclaimed deliverance to the captive, and the opening of the prison to the bound (Isaiah 61:1).
II. STRIFE IN CONTRAST TO PEACE. The messengers of Nineveh to Judah had nothing conciliatory to convey; they told only of contention and strife. The assurance that peace should ultimately be enjoyed came to the anxious King of Judah from God's messengers, who published peace. The messengers of scepticism have no proclamation of peace to make; their work is altogether destructive; contumely is their delight; to seek to unsettle the minds of men and to shake their faith is their poor mission. It is the privilege, however, of the messengers of Zion to proclaim those spiritual and eternal verities in which the heart may securely and tranquilly repose, and to point to him who can quell every storm and give rest unto the soul.
III. GLOOM IN CONTRAST TO GLADNESS. Hezekiah and his people were in extremity; it was to them a time of "trouble;" but not a ray of hope came to them through the fears were confirmed; the foe was unrelenting. messengers of Nineveh. Their worst Their hope was in God, and in the words spoken by his holy prophets. So in the extremities of life—in sickness and sorrow, and specially at life's close, hope springs not from unbelief, but from the words God has addressed to us through his servants. The gospel has no rival in such seasons. Scepticism has no voice then, or, if it speaks, it. but deepens the prevailing gloom; but the good tidings God has revealed dispels our sadness and fills the soul with immortal hopes. Happy messengers, who are thus enabled to "comfort all that mourn," etc. (Isaiah 61:2)!
IV. SHAME IN CONTRAST TO HONOUR. The voice of all messengers who blaspheme the holy Name of God "shall be no more heard," for God will put them to silence; but voices publishing his love and grace shall go sounding on through the ages—the bright succession of proclaimers shall not cease. Growing numbers shall be raised up who shall find their way to all nations and kindreds and tribes, until the glad tidings shall reach every shore, and the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth (Isaiah 11:9).—S.D.H.
Wicked nations: 1. They are often allowed to exist on this earth until they reach a terrible degree of wickedness.
"He that dasheth in pieces is come up before thy face: keep the munition, watch the way, make thy loins strong, fortify thy power mightily," etc. We take these two chapters together,
(1) because they treat of one subject, viz. the destruction of Nineveh;
(2) because scarcely any detached verse would supply suggestions for a practical discourse; and
(3) because our purpose in these sketches is not critical, but homiletic. The critical part has been admirably done by Henderson, Keil, and others, and is found in the Exposition. We shall therefore endeavour to gather up all that is practical in these two chapters under three general headings.
1. That nations are often allowed to exist on this earth until they reach a terrible degree of wickedness.
2. That it is the decree of Heaven that, however long they exist, the time must come when they shall be utterly destroyed.
3. That Providence often employs on, wicked nation to inflict ruin upon another. We shall devote a separate sketch to each of these propositions. Our subject now is that nations are often allowed to exist on this earth until they reach a terrible degree of wickedness. Assyria, the nation referred to here, was one of the oldest kingdoms in the world; it could count its age by centuries. Generation after generation came through centuries, played their part, and passed away, whilst Assyria stood. Its beginning is so far back that it is lost in obscurity. An early reference to it in Scripture will be found in Numbers 24:22. Reference to its capital, Nineveh, and its founder, Asshur, we have also in Genesis 10:11. Our proposition suggests two questions—
I. WHAT WERE ITS LEADING CRIMES? From these chapters we can infer a few.
1. Rapacity. The city is described as the dwelling place of lions. "Where is the dwelling of the lions?" etc. (Nahum 2:11, Nahum 2:12). "The point of comparison is," says Keil, "the predatory lust of its rulers and warriors, who crushed the nations like lions, plundering their treasures and bringing them together in Nineveh." As lions prowl about with ravenous instincts in search of their prey, and are utterly regardless of the sufferings and agonies they inflict, so long as they gain their object, so the King of Assyria and his minions went forth to rifle and to ruin distant countries, in order to augment their wealth and promote their aggrandizement. This rapacity seems to have been their habit; the city was a dwelling place of lions. What an enormity is this!—man preying upon man like predatory beasts. The spirit of this rapacity lives too strongly in modern nations. It is seen, not only in aggressive wars, but in trade and commerce—the strong everywhere preying on the weak for the sake of gain.
2. Cruelty. The lion instinct was so prevailing in the population, that the very city is called "the bloody city" (Nahum 3:1). The golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," was trampled in the dust. Instead of respect being paid to the rights of men, life itself was cheaply held; their feet were "swift to shed blood." It lived by rapine. Its cruelty is handed down in its sculptures, where we have lions of every form, winged and unwinged. Cruelty is the worst stage of depravity. When all social love in the human breast gives way to malevolence, what have you but a devil? There are men in every age and country whose chief pleasure is to inflict torture. Atrocities are being perpetrated to a greater or less extent in all ages and lands. "Beasts," says our great dramatist, "are not cruel save when urged by hunger;" but men are often so, and into a cruel nature it is impossible to work the humane and generous.
"You may as well use question with the wolf,
Why he hath made the ewe bleat for the lamb;
You may as well forbid the mountain pines
To wag their high tops, and to make no noise
When they are fretted with the gusts of heaven;
You may as well do anything most hard,
As seek to soften that (than which what's harder?)—
A cruel heart."
3. Imposture. The city is represented as "full of lies and robbery" (Nahum 3:1), or, as Keil renders it, "full of deceit and murder." Falsehood and violence were rampant. The imposture or falsehood is expressed in the fourth verse, "Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well favoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts." "The idolatrous practices of the Ninevites, and the means which they employed to seduce others to worship their gods, are here represented as the principal cause of their destruction. At the same time, the commerce, luxury, etc; which they carried to the greatest height, are not to be excluded; for in making contracts and treaties with the more powerful of their neighbours, they not only employed these as inducements, but did not scruple to deliver into their power nations and tribes that were unable to help themselves (comp. Joel 3:3, Joel 3:6, Joel 3:8; Amos 1:6). The metaphor of an unchaste female, and the seductive arts which she employs, is not unfrequent in the prophets" (Henderson). The cunning and deceptive policy is here called whoring or love making, because it was that selfishness which wraps itself up in the dress of love, but under the appearance of love seeks only the gratification of its own lust. It was a mistress of this art, and by it sold nations, deprived them of their independence and liberty. Such are some of the crimes here referred to, of which the Assyrians were pre-eminently guilty—rapacity, cruelty, imposture. These imply every species of moral evil, and moral evil in its most inhuman and ungodly aspects. Where these are there is no rectitude, no benevolence, no moral order, no true religion.
II. WHY WAS SUCH A NATION ALLOWED TO EXIST SO LONG? It was wicked from the beginning: why did not righteous Heaven crush it at the outset? Why was such a monster of iniquity allowed to perpetrate such enormities in the world from age to age? The question is similar to that which Job asked, "Wherefore do the wicked live, Become old, yea, are mighty in power?" (Job 21:7). Without presuming to penetrate the mind of God, or give the reason, we can see some important purposes which the continuation of the existence of wicked men in this world answers. It serves to show:
1. The freedom of the human soul. The natural tendency of all the blessings and beauty of life, the spirit of grandeur and beneficence that runs through all nature, are against wickedness and in favour of virtue and holiness. Notwithstanding this, men are wicked. They have a power to resist the Divine, to pervert the good, and outrage their own natures. Here is freedom of nature. Men are not bad by necessity; they are bad by their own free determination.
2. The wonderful forbearance of God. Though wickedness is to the last degree repugnant to his holy nature, and though by a volition he could annihilate a universe of sinners, through his infinite love he forbears. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
3. The existence of a future state of retribution. Under the righteous government of God such a state of things cannot go on forever. There must come an end, a balancing of the world's accounts, and an administration of justice to every soul. Human society is in an abnormal state; like water in a flood, it is hurrying onward to a more settled destination. "The mills of God grind slowly."—D.T.
Wicked nations: 2. However long they exist, they will be utterly destroyed.
"He that dasheth in pieces," etc. "The Scripture," says Sherlock," takes notice of a certain measure of iniquity, which is filling up from one generation to another, till at last it makes a nation or family ripe for destruction. And although these persons on whom this vengeance falls suffer no more than their own personal sin deserved, yet, because the sins of former generations, which they equal or outdo, make it time for God utterly to destroy them, the punishment due to the sins of many generations is said to fall upon them" (Genesis 15:16; 2Ki 24:3, 2 Kings 24:4; Matthew 23:32-36). So thorough was the destruction of Nineveh, that its very site for ages was a matter of conjecture. The wonderful discoveries of Botta in 1842, followed up by Layard in 1845, not only determined its site, but disclosed the dwellings, ornaments, history, manners, of the inhabitants of the old Assyrian metropolis. Now, in the prophecy which Nahum gives, we learn that its destruction reveals several things.
I. THE FRUITLESSNESS OF THE MOST STRENUOUS EFFORTS OF RESISTANCE. "Keep the munition, watch the way, make thy loins strong, fortify thy power mightily" (Nahum 2:1). This is supposed by some to be ironical, and to mean—Do your utmost to resist, concentrate all your forces, bring them into vigorous play, it will be utterly worthless. No doubt Nineveh, in her extremities, strove to the utmost to crush the invader and to preserve her own existence. But all efforts failed; its doom was sealed, its time had come, it had filled up the measure of its iniquity. There is no resisting God's judgment when it comes. "There is no discharge in that warfare." We learn from this prophecy that its destruction reveals—
II. THAT THE SAME VIOLENCE WITH WHICH IT DESTROYED OTHERS WAS NOW EMPLOYED FOR ITS OWN DESTRUCTION. Nineveh was a city of blood, full of lies and violence, the dwelling place of ravenous lions, which had preyed upon other nations and ruined them. Now this violence is brought to bear upon them. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." See the description given of its conquerors (Nahum 2:3; Nahum 3:2, Nahum 3:3), "The shield of his mighty men is made red," the emblem of slaughter. "The chariots shall be with flaming torches," their wheels rolling with such velocity that they flash lightning from the stones. They "rage in the streets," jostle against each other, and "run like the lightnings," and there are the "noise of the whips," the "rattling of the wheels," the "prancing of the horses," the flashing of the swords and the glittering spears. Crowds are struck down, "a great number of carcases," there is "none end of their corpses; they stumble upon their corpses," etc. The Bible is full of the doctrine of retributive justice; it abounds with examples of sinners receiving back in punishment the very same evils that they have inflicted on others. "Every man shall be rewarded according to his works." How often it happens in the government of the world, that the deceiver is punished by deceit, the ambitious by ambition, the avaricious by avarice, the violent by violence "His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate." £
III. THE WORTHLESSNESS OF ITS CHIEF METHOD OF DEFENCE. "The gates of the rivers shall be opened, and the palace shall be dissolved" (Nahum 2:6). "The river wall on the Tigris (the west defence of Nineveh) was 4530 yards long. On the north, south, and east sides there were large moats, capable of being easily filled with water from the Khosru. Traces of dams, gates, or sluices, for regulating the supply, are still visible, so that the whole city could be surrounded with a water barrier. Besides, on the east, the weakest side, it was further protected by a lofty double rampart, with a moat two hundred feet wide between its two parts, cut in the rocky ground. The moats, or canals, flooded by the Ninevites before the siege to repel the foe, were made a dry bed to march into the city, by the foe turning the water into a different channel, as Cyrus did in the siege of Babylon" (Maurer). This, however, is not substantiated. "In the earlier capture of Nineveh by Arbaces the Mode and Belsis the Babylonian, Diodorus Siculus states that there was an old prophecy, that it should not be taken till the river became its enemy; so, in the third year of the siege, the river, by a flood, broke down the walls twenty furlongs, and the king thereupon burnt himself and his palace and all his concubines and wealth together; and the enemy entered by the breach in the wall" (Fausset). It is often thus with the sinner, that the very things on which he relies contribute to his ruin. It may be wealth, physical strength, genius, morality, etc.; but when judgment comes, these, like the Tigris, "flee away."
IV. THE INEVITABLENESS OF ITS UTTER RUIN. The reason of it was, "I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts" (Nahum 3:5). "Art thou better than populous No?" (Nahum 3:8-10)—the Egyptian name for Thebes, the possession of Ammon. The populousness of Thebes and its wonderful natural productions did not save it from ruin. Her "strength" was "infinite," yet she was "carried away into captivity;" if she could not resist, neither canst thou. "How vain," says a modern expositor, "are all the defences of sinners when the Lord is against them! No-Ammon, or Thebes, was one of the grandest and most magnificent cities of the earliest ages. Yet her rampart and seawall, with her seemingly infinite strength, were of no avail to save her young children from being dashed in pieces and all her great men from being bound in chains. Such was to be the doom of Nineveh likewise. God acts on the same unchanging principle in all ages, and in the case of all nations. Unrighteousness towards man and impiety and idolatry towards God bear the same bitter fruits everywhere, however for a time transgressors may seem to prosper. Let us as a nation remember that our safety consists, not in our fleets and armies, nor even in the 'multiplication of our merchants above the stars of heaven' (Nahum 3:16). Riches, like the cankerworm or the grasshopper (verse 17), certainly make themselves wings, they fly away (Proverbs 23:5). The strongholds (verse 12) on which we rely would fall before the invader as easily as the ripe fruit into the mouth of the eater, if God were against us. The nobles and captains who are the glory of England would soon be abased in the dust (verses 17, 18). Our security therefore depends on our godliness. Wickedness persevered in continually (verse 19) would bring on us a grievous wound, not to be healed, and the very nations now in alliance with us would clap their hands over us, exulting in the tidings of our fall Let us therefore repent of our sins as a nation, as families, and as individuals, and 'bring forth worthy fruits of repentance.'"—D.T.
Wicked nations: 3. Providence often employs one wicked nation to inflict ruin upon another.
"He that dasheth," etc. "He that dasheth in pieces is come up before thy face." "The disperser hath come up before thee" (Henderson); "A dasher in pieces comes against thee" (Keil). Who is "he that dasheth in pieces "? The Medo-Babylonish army. This mighty army, under the command of Cyaxares and Nabopolassar, composed of Modes and Babylonians, wrought the terrible destruction so graphically predicted in these chapters. And beneath its triumphant power Nineveh fell, between B.C. 626 and 608—fell to rise no more. Both these powers—the Medes and the Babylonians—were pre-eminently wicked, as bad in every respect, if not worse, than the Assyrians. These were the battle axe with which God broke in pieces the Assyrian power. As a rule, in the government of the world, God employs one wicked nation to destroy another. Who destroyed Edom and Egypt, and Persia and Moab, and Greece and Rome? These were all destroyed by the hands of wicked men. Why this? Why does not the Almighty punish wicked nations by some other way? Why does he not destroy them without any instrumentality whatever, by a mere volition; or, if he employs instrumentality, why not the blind forces of nature, or wild beasts, or poisonous reptiles? Why should he employ wicked men as his instruments? The method clearly answers certain purposes.
I. IT MAKES THE PUNISHMENT APPEAR MORE TERRIBLE. Who would not sooner die by a flash of lightning, or a pestilential blast, or a predatory beast, than in deadly conflict with a man with whom he has measured his strength? In such a death passions are roused that burn in the centre of the soul, and a terrible humiliation is felt. A wicked man can have no greater tormentor than a wicked man. The greatest tormentors of fiends are fiends. In punishing wicked men in this way the Almighty declares to their consciences that they are so wicked that the wicked shall destroy them. Those of their own flesh and blood and character shall wreak vengeance on their head.
II. IT REVEALS THE ENORMITY OF SIN. Man was made to love his brother. His social instincts, his physical relationships, and the law of interdependence, as well as the laws of God, demonstrate this. But when you see him flaming with malign emotions towards his fellows, and wrestling in a deadly conflict, what a revelation of the enormity of sin! The battlefield is at once the product and the type of hell. Such a manifestation of sin is surely hideous enough to make us stand aghast with horror and hate.
III. IT SHOWS GOD'S MASTERY OVER HUMAN ACTIONS. The wicked engage in bloody wars, and thus become the instruments in administering the just penalties of sin; not to obey the Divine will, but to gratify their own avarice, ambition, malice, and greed. They do not serve Providence by their will, but against it. God is such a Master of human souls that he "maketh the wrath of man to praise him". It is not optional with man whether he shall serve God or not; serve him he must; the option is whether he shall serve him willingly or unwillingly, as an agent or as an instrument. God links the devil himself to that providential chariot which is bearing on his great purposes to their fulfilment.
CONCLUSION. Two things should be remembered in connection with this subject.
1. That the wickedness of nations does not necessarily imply wickedness in all their members. There are good men in every nation under heaven, even in the worst. There are Noahs, Lots, Daniels, Jobs, amongst the corruptest people.
2. That the ruin of nations does not necessarily imply the ruin of all their members. Nations are but assemblages of individuals—abstractions, nothing more. They have no future existence; there is no Egypt, Persia, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Germany, Italy, England, etc; in eternity. Nor are there any Churches there, Papal or Protestant, Conformist or Nonconformist. "Public bodies and communities of men, as such, can only be rewarded and punished in this world. This world is the only season for national punishments."
"The individual culprit may sometimes
Unpunished to his after reckoning go.
Not thus collective man; for public crimes
Draw on their proper punishment below
When nations go astray, from age to age
The effects remain, a fatal heritage."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Nahum 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26