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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Nahum 2

Verses 1-4


From the declaration that the doom of Nineveh is decreed the prophet passes to a description of the carrying out of the decree. The army that is ordained to execute the judgment is already approaching (1); in imagination the prophet beholds its terrible attacks against the city, the glittering weapons, the raging chariots (3, 4). Desperate efforts are made to save the city, but in vain, and it falls (5, 6); the queen and her attendants are captured (7); the inhabitants flee (8); the city is sacked and left a desolation (9, 10).

Nahum 2:1 is addressed, like Nahum 1:14, to Assyria Nineveh.

He that dasheth in pieces Literally, he that scatters. Translated in Proverbs 25:18, “maul”; a similar word, which some think should be read here, is translated in Jeremiah 51:20, “battle-axe.” The city is exhorted to prepare for the struggle.

Keep the munition R.V., “fortress”; better, fortification, the wall around the city. This is to be guarded, lest it fall into the hands of the enemy. Some render simply “keep watch.”

Watch the way By which the enemy approaches, so as to guard against disastrous surprises.

Make thy loins strong Perhaps equivalent to gird thy loins, that is, prepare for vigorous action (compare Isaiah 5:27).

Fortify thy power mightily Collect all thy power and resources; equivalent to strain every nerve.

In Nahum 2:2 the translation of R.V. is undoubtedly to be preferred: “For Jehovah restoreth the excellency of Jacob, as the excellency of Israel; for the emptiers have emptied them out, and destroyed their vine branches.” The verse is taken by some as the continuation of Nahum 1:15, while Nahum 2:3, is thought to be the continuation of Nahum 2:1. This transposition would greatly improve the development of the thought; and the only serious objection to it is that Nahum 2:2, would be a weak conclusion of the first section of the book. In either case the thought remains essentially the same. If left in its present position, Nahum 2:2 explains why Nineveh must be destroyed: to clear the way for the exaltation of Judah; if it is placed after Nahum 1:15, it explains why Judah is exhorted to rejoice: because the excellency of Judah is about to be restored. Instead of “as the excellency of Israel” we should read “and the excellency of Israel.”

Jacob,… Israel Synonyms, both referring to the southern kingdom, which was the only one in existence in the days of Nahum.

Excellency The nation, at present oppressed and afflicted, will be restored to the position of glory and splendor enjoyed in the days of David. This restoration must be accomplished by Jehovah, for the nation is in a hopeless condition.

The emptiers The enemies who at various times plundered and desolated Judah; the chief among these were the Assyrians.

Marred [“destroyed”] their vine branches Judah is likened here to a vineyard, or, perhaps better, to a vine, whose branches have been ruthlessly destroyed (compare Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 12:10).

In Nahum 2:3 ff. (continuing Nahum 2:1) the prophet describes the attack of the besieging army.

His mighty men The soldiers of the hostile army are preparing for attack.

The shield… is made red Since this is still “in the day of his preparation,” that is, before the attack and battle, the red cannot be caused by the blood of the slain; it must be some color other than blood reflected by the shields. Some connect this passage with Josephus, Antiquities, 13: 12, 5, which mentions “shields of brass (copper)” and “shields covered with brass”; these shields are said in 1Ma 6:39 , to blaze in the sunlight “like torches of fire.” On the other hand, there may be an allusion to the custom of “anointing” shields (Isaiah 21:5), which in some cases may have taken the form of coloring them.

In scarlet Again, not a reference to blood, but to the scarlet color of the uniforms (Ezekiel 23:14).

The chariots shall be with flaming torches R.V., “the chariots flash with steel”; literally, with fire of steel are the chariots. An obscure expression. The word peladhoth, rendered “steel” in R.V., is rendered “torches” in A.V. (compare Nahum 2:4, where the Hebrew has lappidhim); in order to get such meaning here, a transposition of the consonants must be assumed. The translation “steel” is based upon the meaning of a similar Arabic word, but in the latter language the noun seems to be a loan word from the Persian; if so, we would hardly expect to find it in Hebrew in the time of Nahum. A third translation, based upon the similarity of the noun with an Arabic verb, “to cut,” is “scythes.” This translation is made improbable by the fact that chariots furnished with scythes appear to be a later invention. Tradition ascribes the invention to Cyrus, and they are referred to for the first time in connection with the battle of Cunaxa ( Anabasis, Nahum 1:8 ; Nahum 1:10); in Jewish literature they are first mentioned in 2Ma 13:2 . From the same root “cut” there is derived the meaning “divide”; here, “fire which divides itself,” that is, flashing fire. This meaning also is doubtful. Jeremias has suggested that the word may refer to the steel coverings of Assyrian chariots or of machines used in attacks upon the walls. Following this suggestion, Cheyne proposes to change the word into hallopheth, the Assyrian halluptu, meaning “covering.” Whether the alteration is made or not, it is quite likely that Jeremias’s suggestion is correct. The text becomes smoother if “with fire” is changed into “like fire,” so that the entire clause reads, “like fire are the steel coverings of the chariots.”

Day of his preparation The attack is not yet in progress.

Fir trees Better, R.V., “cypress spears.”

Terribly shaken The verb occurs only here in the Old Testament, but the cognate languages establish the meaning “to move tremblingly,” “to reel.” Here the reference is to the swinging of the spears by the excited warriors. LXX. and Peshitto read “horsemen” or “horses,” and in view of the peculiar expression “fir trees” in the sense of spears made of fir or cypress wood many consider that the original; if so, the verb refers to the restless movements of the cavalry.

Nahum 2:4 describes the furious charge.

The chariots Of the attacking army.

Shall rage Better, R.V., “rage.” It is a description of something present to the mental vision of the prophet. The verb means “to behave foolishly,” “to rave”; here it is used of mad driving (Jeremiah 46:9; compare 2 Kings 9:20), parallel to and synonymous with “rush to and fro” in the next clause.

In the streets… broad ways Or, places. Not the streets and open places within the city, but those outside the city walls, where the battle rages. The defenders try to prevent the besiegers from getting inside.

Torches As the steel-covered chariots race to and fro in the light of the sun they look like flaming torches.

Like the lightnings With lightning-like rapidity they speed from place to place, driving back or treading down the defenders.

Verse 6

Nahum 2:7 seems to picture a scene in the palace subsequent to the fall of the city, but certainty is impossible, since the text is in several places very obscure, as a comparison of A.V. with R.V. will readily show. R.V. reads, “And it is decreed: she is uncovered, she is carried away; and her handmaids moan as with the voice of doves, beating upon their breasts.” The first difficulty is in the Hebrew huzzabh, which A.V. takes as a proper noun, while R.V. translates it as a verb form, “it is decreed,” that is, by Jehovah. According to the Revisers, the rest of Nahum 2:7 contains the substance of the decree. “She” they seem to interpret of Nineveh (8), personified as a queen; the “handmaids” are the inhabitants mourning over the fate of their city. It is very doubtful, however, that huzzabh can be translated “it is decreed”; and even if it could be thus translated, the statement of the decree in the midst of the description of the fall of the city sounds peculiar. The tone of the entire verse suggests that it is descriptive of the fate of the queen and of the mourning of her attendants. Therefore, from the earliest times, huzzabh has been interpreted as in some way denoting the queen, either as a proper name, or as an epithet descriptive of her. As a proper name it is not known otherwise; it might, perhaps, be a foreign name; as an epithet it is difficult of explanation in its present form. Kimchi connected it with the verb used in Psalms 45:9, “at thy right hand doth stand the queen”; hence the queen might be called “the one standing”; but, aside from the peculiarity of such expression, the form of the verb used here would remain unexplained. Hitzig changes the vowel points and reads “the lizard,” and he suggests that this name is applied to the queen because she, like this “creature which takes refuge in holes,” has taken refuge in out-of-the-way places in the palace. Some, following the usage of the Arabic, suggest the meaning “litter” (Isaiah 66:20), and then “the lady carried in the litter,” that is, the queen. All these suggestions are ingenious but improbable. Others think that the noun “queen” has dropped out or that huzzabh is a corruption of that noun. The difficulty is still unsolved, but the probability is that the subject of the verbs in 7a is the queen.

Led away captive Better, R.V., “uncovered,” or discovered, in the secret place where she sought to hide.

Brought up R.V., “carried away,” into exile. A.V. is to be preferred; she is dragged up from her hiding place.

Lead her Better, R.V., “moan.”

As with the voice of doves The sighs and wails of mourners are often compared to the mourning of doves (Isaiah 59:11; Ezekiel 7:16). The comparison is found also in Arabic and Assyrian; in the latter language the dove is called summatu, “she who mourns.”

Tabering R.V., “beating.”

Upon their breasts A common gesture of grief or despair among the Jews (Josephus, Antiquities, 16: 7, 5; Luke 18:13; Luke 23:27).

Verse 8

Nahum 2:8 describes the precipitate flight of the inhabitants.

Like a pool of water Nineveh, now named for the first time in the prophecy proper, is likened to a pool of water, because in the city were gathered multitudes of individuals, as there are multitudes of drops of water in a pool. Nowack may be right in regarding the Hebrew translated “of old,” or “from of old,” due to dittography. With it omitted, the first clause reads, “Nineveh, like a pool of water is she.” The comparison is carried out in the rest of the verse.

They… flee away The artificial pool is surrounded by a dam; when it bursts, the waters rush out; thus, with its walls battered down, the inhabitants of Nineveh scatter in every direction, and, though urged to stop, they pay no attention to the cry (Jeremiah 46:5).

Verses 9-10

9, 10. The sack of the city. The prophet summons the victors to plunder.

Silver,… gold Immense quantities of these were carried to Nineveh by the Assyrian kings.

None end of the store The truth of this statement is established by the inscriptions, which enumerate again and again the enormous treasures brought to Nineveh by her victorious armies (see pp.


Glory out of all the pleasant furniture R.V., “the glory of all goodly furniture.” An obscure phrase, whose grammatical connection is not quite clear; perhaps it is to be understood as in apposition to the preceding “store.” If so, instead of “glory” we would better read with R.V. margin, “wealth.” “Furniture” also cannot be taken in the narrow sense of that term; it must include jewels, costly vessels, rich apparel in fact, everything that men consider precious; all these will be found in great abundance. The peculiarity of the present Hebrew text has led Marti to emend it so as to read, “Take for yourselves the abundance of all kinds of precious things.” Nahum 2:10 concludes the description.

Empty,… void,… waste In the original a forceful play upon words, which cannot be reproduced in English (compare Zephaniah 1:15; Isaiah 24:1). With these three words, similar in meaning and sound, the prophet depicts the utter desolation of Nineveh. The few who have remained behind are paralyzed with terror.

Heart melteth Their courage gives out completely.

The knees smite together Their whole body trembles as a result of terror.

Much pain R.V., “anguish.”

Is in all loins As in the case of a woman in childbirth (see on Micah 4:9; Isaiah 21:3).

The faces of them all gather blackness R.V., “are waxed pale” (see on Joel 2:6).

Verse 11


11. The prophet rejoices because the wicked city, the oppressor of Judah, is no more.

Where is the dwelling of the lions He very aptly likens Nineveh to a den of lions. The point of comparison is the cruelty and rapacity of her kings and warriors. Like lions they went about, seeking whom they might devour, and with the plunder they filled their den; “and there was none that moved the wing, or that opened the mouth, or chirped” (Isaiah 10:14). The cruelty and lust of the Assyrian conquerors is further described in Nahum 2:12; but the end has come. 13. Jehovah can endure the outrages no longer. The lions, their den, and the plunder heaped up there will be destroyed.

Burn her chariots in the smoke Burn the chariots so that they will go up in smoke. LXX. and Peshitto have the pronoun of the second person, “thy,” and this is preferable; they also read “multitude” in the place of “chariots,” which involves the transposition of two consonants; but in this case the Hebrew is preferable. A slight change would give “thy den,” which would be very appropriate in this connection.

Thy prey The magnificence, splendor, and glory made possible by the prey taken in military expeditions.

The voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard The power of the empire having vanished, no more messengers will be sent to the subdued nations to issue orders or demand tribute (Ezekiel 19:9). For more than two centuries had the Hebrews suffered much from the Assyrian armies.

No wonder that with the doom of the world power so near the prophet breaks into a song of triumph.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nahum 2". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.