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Bible Commentaries
Nahum 3

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verses 1-19


A woe is pronounced upon the bloody city (Nahum 3:1). Her doom is inevitable and imminent (Nahum 3:2-3), but it is well deserved and no one will bemoan her (Nahum 3:4-7). Natural strength and resources will avail no more in her case than in the case of the Egyptian No Amon (Nahum 3:8-11). In spite of her resources she will come to a terrible end, and the whole earth will rejoice because her power is departed from her (Nahum 3:12-19).

Nahum 3:1

Nahum 3:1 contains a woe upon the bloody city.

Bloody city Literally, city of blood, that is, of bloodshed, of violence. Nineveh represents the whole nation, which was founded and held together by the sword. King after king glories in the cruelties committed against conquered nations. The words of Ashur-nasir-pal may serve as an illustration: “With combat and slaughter I attacked the city, I captured it; three thousand of their fighting men I slew with the sword. Their spoil, their goods, their oxen, their sheep I carried away. Their numerous captives I burned with fire. I captured many of the soldiers alive with the hand; I cut off the hands and feet of some; I cut off the noses, the fingers, and ears of others; the eyes of numerous soldiers I put out. I built up a pyramid of the living and a pyramid of heads.… Their young men and their maidens I burned.” A kingdom thus founded and maintained lacks the elements of permanency and sooner or later must go to pieces. The epithet “bloody” is explained in the rest of Nahum 3:1.

Full of lies Since the prophet is concerned primarily with external politics, the lies and deceit condemned here are such as were practiced against other nations, though it is not improbable that they flourished also in the intercourse of Assyrians with Assyrians.

Robbery R.V., “rapine”; literally, tearing in pieces. A figure taken from the practice of the lion (Nahum 2:11-12), that tears to pieces whatever falls into his power (Psalms 7:2).

The prey departeth not Not the prey taken, in the sense that it is always plentiful, but the prey- taking, that is, robbery and oppression, never ceases. It is the one policy Assyria carried out consistently from beginning to end.

Nahum 3:2-3

Nahum 3:2-3 picture the fulfillment of the woe. The hostile army attacks and takes Nineveh, a great slaughter ensues, and the city is filled with corpses. Nahum 3:2 describes the noise of the onslaught: the cracking of the whips as the charioteers urge on the horses, the rattling of the wheels as they speed along, the prancing of the horses as they rage to and fro, and the bumping of the chariots as they rush wildly over the rugged roads, made less passable through obstacles placed in the way by the defenders. Instead of “the noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels,” we might translate, “Hark! the whip! and hark! the rattling of wheels!” (G.-K., 146b.) Nahum 3:3 depicts the sights that meet the eye. The charge is progressing; nearer and nearer the enemy approaches; one can see distinctly his various movements. In 3a, R.V. is to be preferred; and the whole description becomes more vivid if “there is” is omitted whenever, as indicated by the italics, it is not in the original.

Mounting Better, with R.V. margin, “charging”; literally, causing to ascend, that is, the horse; to urge it to greater speed. Seen are also the flashing swords and the glittering spears. Scenes representing charges of this sort are depicted on numerous reliefs in the palaces of Nineveh. The prophet describes the sequel with equal vividness. The defenders are slain; corpses are piled up in heaps; the victorious assailants stumble over them as they rush into the city.

Nahum 3:4-7

The retribution is just; no one pities her, Nahum 3:4-7.

Nahum 3:4 contains a new denunciation, justifying the judgment announced in Nahum 3:5-7. Nineveh is personified as a harlot.

Multitude of the whoredoms The figure of faithlessness to the marriage relation, when applied to Israel, is used (1) of idolatry, (2) of alliances with other nations, both being evidences of faithlessness to and lack of confidence in Jehovah. Applied to other nations it denotes improper political or commercial intercourse (Isaiah 23:17). Nahum, in this passage, refers not to idolatry or falling away from the true God, nor to protective alliances or commercial intercourse, but, as Hitzig has so well said, to “the treacherous friendship and statecraft with which the coquette in her search for conquests ensnared the smaller states.”

The well-favored harlot Not, the one receiving special favors, but “beautiful,” “good-looking.” “Beauty and charm is a point in the harlot.” With her splendor and brilliancy Nineveh dazzled and ensnared the nations.

Mistress of witchcrafts In this connection the expression does not denote black arts, but “the secret wiles which, like magical arts, do not come to the light in themselves, but only in their effects” (compare2 Kings 9:22; 2 Kings 9:22). By means of these crafty and treacherous dealings Assyria made easy victims of the other nations.

Nations… families Synonymous expressions denoting the nations conquered by Assyria (Amos 3:1).

Selleth Is used here not of selling into bondage or slavery to other nations, but in the general sense of robbing of liberty, making tributary, or in the sense of consigning to ruin (Deuteronomy 32:30; Esther 7:4). A similar verb in Arabic means “ensnare,” “beguile,” and this meaning is given by several commentators to the verb in this passage.

5-7. Jehovah cannot overlook this treacherous conduct.

I am against thee See Nahum 2:13. The punishment will be according to the lex talionis. The part of a harlot she has acted, the fate of a harlot she must endure.

Discover R.V., “uncover.”

Thy skirts I will remove the skirts which form the covering of the body, and which by their gaudiness have added much to her attractiveness.

Upon thy face Or, over; so that the skirts are drawn over the face. Margin renders, “before thy face.” She must look on as she is exposed naked to the curious gaze of the bystanders. The same picture is found several times in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 13:26; Isaiah 47:3; Hosea 2:10); it may be borrowed from an ancient custom of exposing a harlot or adulteress in public (Ezekiel 16:37-40).

As she stands exposed she will be subjected to indignities of every sort.

Abominable filth Literally, abhorrence, or objects of abhorrence, applied quite frequently to idols; hence Kleinert interprets the threat as equivalent to “I will bury thee underneath thy idols” (compare Nahum 1:14); but it should be understood here in a more general sense of things that one views with abhorrence and disgust, dirt and filth. To throw these upon a person is a sign of greatest contempt.

Make thee vile The same verb is translated in Micah 7:6, “dishonor”; it means to accord contemptuous treatment, to insult (Jeremiah 14:21). Hitzig, deriving it from a different root, translates “cast carcass upon.”

Set thee as a gazingstock Literally, a sight. The treatment accorded by Jehovah will be so startling that the eyes of all who see it will be fixed upon her in malicious joy (Ezekiel 28:17-18; compare Matthew 1:19; 1 Corinthians 4:9). The picture will be so awful that the on-lookers will be horror-struck and flee in terror. In 7b the figure of the harlot is interpreted as applying to Nineveh. Without pity and sympathy she must go to her ruin.

Nahum 3:8-11

The fate of No Amon is to be the fate of Nineveh, Nahum 3:8-11.

Nineveh may boast in her strong defenses, but they will not save her. No Amon in Egypt was the equal of Nineveh in this respect, yet she suffered inglorious defeat. Nineveh can expect no better fate.

Art thou better Better protected or fortified; or, “shalt thou be better?”

that is, shalt thou have a better fate?

Populous No Better, R.V., “No-amon,” that is, No of the god Amon. No is the Old Testament name of Thebes, the capital of Upper Egypt (Jeremiah 46:25; Ezekiel 30:14), whose chief deity was Amon. It was a prominent city from very early times, and for many centuries it was the center of Egyptian civilization and power, until, in the seventh century, it fell before the Assyrian invaders. Its final capture by Ashurbanapal is in the mind of the prophet (see p. 429). The rest of Nahum 3:8 describes the location of the city.

Among the rivers The city proper lay on the eastern banks of the Nile, here about fifteen hundred feet wide. The noun is used ordinarily of the Nile; the plural might be explained as a plural of majesty, “the great river”; but it seems better to take it as including the canals receiving the water from the Nile (Exodus 7:19).

Waters round about The Nile and the canals surrounded the city, thus forming a natural defense. Perhaps moats formed a part of the fortifications, as in the case of Nineveh.

Whose rampart was the sea This translation presupposes a slight change in the original. The “sea” is the Nile which, during its overflow, resembles a sea (compare Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 19:5; Jeremiah 51:36).

Her wall was from the sea R.V., “of the sea,” that is, consisted of the sea, which would have to be understood again of the Nile but the construction is peculiar. LXX., with a very slight change, reads, “and waters were her wall,” which is to be preferred. Some consider, though on insufficient ground, the description unsuitable for Thebes; hence No Amon has been identified with Memphis and several cities in the Delta.

Nahum 3:8 describes the natural strength of the city; Nahum 3:9 points to her military resources.

Ethiopia See on Zephaniah 2:12.

Egypt At the time No Amon was threatened, Ethiopia and Egypt were one under an Ethiopian dynasty, so that the military strength of both might be summoned to the defense of Egypt.

Infinite Literally, without end (Nahum 2:9; Nahum 3:3; Isaiah 2:7).

Put and Lubim The latter are the Libyans, the people settled west of Lower Egypt, who had succeeded in securing a strong foothold in the Delta itself. Put is mentioned several times in the Old Testament (Genesis 10:6; Ezekiel 27:10; Ezekiel 38:5), but opinions differ as to its location. It has been identified with the Egyptian Punt, corresponding to the modern Abyssinian and Somali coast in Eastern Africa, a country to which Egyptian kings undertook expeditions (see on Zephaniah 3:10). Against this identification it has been urged that this district never supplied Egypt with soldiers, which assertion can neither be proved nor disproved. LXX. sometimes translates “Libyans”; for this reason, and because sometimes the two are named together, some hold that they are closely connected. Put has been thought to denote all the peoples west of Lower Egypt, while the Libyans, in the narrower sense, were the tribes immediately west of the Delta; others make Put a distinct tribe west of Libya. Other identifications, which have found some support in an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar, make Put an island of the Mediterranean or the coast of Asia Minor, whence later Egyptian kings secured mercenaries.

Thy helpers Whatever the exact location of Put, it, with Libya, furnished soldiers for the defense of Thebes. LXX. and other ancient versions read “her helpers,” which, in parallelism with “her strength,” is preferable.

10. In spite of her natural strength and her limitless resources No Amon fell (p. 429), and her treasures were carried to Assyria.

Her young children also were dashed in pieces A barbarous custom, not uncommon in ancient warfare (Hosea 13:16; Isaiah 13:16); another cruel practice was to rip up pregnant women (Amos 1:13; Hosea 13:16), in order to exterminate all male children, and thus prevent future revolts. The “top” or “head” of the streets (Isaiah 51:20) is probably the place where several streets meet, the public square, where many might see the execution.

Cast lots for her honorable men The captured nobles were distributed as slaves (see on Joel 3:3; Obadiah 1:11).

Her great men were bound in chains The inscription of Ashurbanapal states that his commanders in Egypt “captured the rebellious kings and laid their hands and feet in iron chains and iron bonds.”

11. As Thebes with all her magnificence and splendor became a heap of ruin, so Nineveh must fall under the angry blows of Jehovah.

Be drunken From the deep draught she must take from the cup of Jehovah’s wrath (Habakkuk 2:16; Obadiah 1:16). A figure of stupefaction caused by calamity (Isaiah 51:17 ff.).

Shalt be hid So that no one can see a trace of her. Nineveh will be reduced to nothing, will vanish completely (Nahum 1:8; Nahum 2:11; Obadiah 1:16). Some render, “thou shalt be shrouded in darkness,” that is, shalt swoon or faint, as a result of the powerful draught (Isaiah 51:20). Either interpretation gives acceptable sense.

Shalt seek strength R.V., “a stronghold.” As the enemy presses nearer she will seek protection and shelter, but in vain; she, like No Amon, will be utterly ruined? Nahum 3:12-19

Vain struggles of Nineveh, Nahum 3:12-19.

The description of the hopeless struggle begins with Nahum 3:11; but it seems better to regard that verse as the concluding portion of the preceding section, threatening Nineveh with a fate similar to that of No Amon. Desperate efforts are made to save the city, but all in vain. Rapidly the enemy advances, and the city goes down before him; all the earth rejoices over her downfall. 12. The fortresses throughout the land fall almost without a blow. Strongholds [“fortresses”] Not the fortifications of Nineveh, but the strongholds scattered throughout the land to protect the capital.

Like fig trees The tertium comparationis is the ease with which they are taken. It requires only a feeble shaking, and down come the figs (Isaiah 28:4); so it requires only a feeble assault and the fortresses capitulate, and the cowardly defenders become an easy prey.

First-ripe figs See on Hosea 9:10.

13. The news of the resistless advance of the invader causes consternation everywhere, even in the capital.

In the midst of thee In Nineveh.

Thy people… are women The people, including the soldiers, are so terrified by the approach of the enemy that strength and courage fail them; they become feeble like women. The Assyrians were considered the most warlike nation of the time; the transformation is therefore the more startling. The figure is not uncommon in the Old Testament (compare Isaiah 19:16; Jeremiah 50:37; Jeremiah 51:30), and it is found also in the inscriptions. In Nahum 3:13 b the prophet reiterates the cause of the terror. The tenses of R.V. are to be preferred.

The gates of thy land shall be set [“are”] wide open The entrance into the land and the roads to the capital. These were barred by strongholds and fortresses (Nahum 3:12), but since the latter have fallen the gates are wide open and the enemy can advance unhindered.

Fire shall devour [“hath devoured”] thy bars Bars prevent the entrance into fortified towns (see on Amos 1:5); here the term seems to be used metaphorically of the fortresses themselves (Jeremiah 51:30), which are intended to bar the way to the capital.

With these burned, so that the enemy can advance unhindered, a siege is inevitable; the prophet urges the people in Nahum 3:14 to make preparations for it. One cannot fail to see the irony of the appeal, for the prophet immediately proceeds to make plain that all efforts will be futile.

Draw thee waters for the siege In a prolonged siege the ordinary water supply may prove insufficient; for this emergency they are to prepare themselves by storing up water. Billerbeck, on the basis of Assyrian representations (compare, for example, Layard, Nineveh and Its Remains, 2: 32), thinks that the water was to be used in the defense, to be poured, perhaps boiling, upon the heads of the assaulters. That this was one means of defense is quite probable; that the illustration in Layard or the expression in Nahum refers to it is more than doubtful.

Fortify thy strongholds R.V., “strengthen thy fortresses.” Improve the fortifications, the towers, walls, etc. How this is to be done is stated in the rest of the verse.

Clay,… mortar Since it was exceedingly difficult to secure stone for building purposes, brick, sometimes burned, more often only sun-dried, was used as a common building material in Assyria, even in the construction of fortifications; and the excavations have shown that brick was used very extensively in the fortifications of Nineveh. The people are urged to make bricks, for the strengthening of the defenses already existing, for the erection of new ones, and for the repairing of possible breaches. The two exhortations are practically identical in meaning (Isaiah 41:25); they are to tread the clay of which the bricks are to be made, so as to prepare it for the brickmaker.

Make strong the brickkiln Should be translated with margin R.V., “lay hold of the brick mold” (2 Samuel 12:31); having prepared the clay, they are to make the bricks.

Verses 15-17

15. Nothing can save the city.

There Is understood best, as commonly, in a local sense; in that very place, fortified with extraordinary care, and even while attempting to add to its strength destruction will come. Fire shall devour the city (compare Rogers, History of Babylonia and Assyria, 2: 292), while the inhabitants are cut down in a terrible slaughter.

Like the cankerworm Utterly and completely (see on Joel 1:4; Joel 1:7; Joel 1:11).

With Nahum 3:15 b begins a new thought, continued in Nahum 3:16; but down to the end of Nahum 3:17 the details of interpretation are more or less uncertain. LXX. omits one of the imperative clauses in 15b; if both are retained the second must be considered a repetition for the sake of emphasis. Since both exhortations are addressed to Nineveh, both imperatives should be read as feminines, though in the present text one is masculine. The exact force of the verses and the exact relation of the separate clauses to one another are uncertain, but it seems best, on the assumption that the present Hebrew text is substantially correct, to understand 15b as a new ironical exhortation to strengthen the defenses, by summoning a greater number of defenders.

Make thyself many as the cankerworm,… locusts For the names see on Joel 1:4. The soldiers are to be increased in number until they resemble a swarm of locusts. According to the present Hebrew text the prophet continues in Nahum 3:16, again in a spirit of sarcasm: There is no need for advice; thou hast already multiplied thy numbers until they are more than the stars of heaven, but the multitudes are not soldiers prepared to fight and to beat back the attack.

Merchants The very location of Nineveh made her a prominent commercial center from a very early period; this helped to increase her wealth and splendor, but merchants, unaccustomed to hardships and often reared in luxury, do not make the best soldiers.

A more satisfactory sense would be had if the perfect of Nahum 3:16 a were changed into an imperative, and if the three imperatives, “make thyself many… , make thyself many… , (Nahum 3:15 b) multiply” (Nahum 3:16 a), were taken in a concessive sense, “though thou shouldst make thyself many… , though thou shouldst make thyself many… , though thou shouldst multiply” (G.-K., 110a). To these clauses, forming the protasis, Nahum 3:16-17 would be the apodosis; even the great numbers shall vanish away.

Nahum 3:16-17 , which belong closely together, picture the sudden disappearance of the defenders of Nineveh; they point, therefore, to the sequel of the siege the time when the enemy has entered the city. Again the prophet employs the figure of the swiftly moving swarms of locusts.

Nahum 3:16 b is the introduction to Nahum 3:17, calling attention to the point which the speaker desires to emphasize, the rapidity with which the locusts move; in Nahum 3:17 the application is made.

The cankerworm spoileth, and fleeth away If this is the right translation, the cankerworm represents the enemy who plunders the city and then withdraws quickly. In the sense of spoiling the verb is not uncommon; but since in Nahum 3:15; Nahum 3:17 the Ninevites are likened to locusts, it seems better to understand here also the cankerworms as representing the Ninevites. If so, another meaning of the verb must be sought. It is used quite frequently in the sense of stripping off a garment; applied to the locusts it may refer to the stripping off of the skin that confines the wings, which enable them to fly. Margin R.V., “spreadeth himself.” The transformation progresses very rapidly; hardly has the locust freed his wings when away he flies. In this connection A.B. Davidson calls attention to Tennyson’s lines:

To-day I saw the dragon-fly

Come from the wells where he did lie;

An inner impulse rent the veil

Of his old husk;

from head to tail

Come out clear plates of sapphire mail.

He dried his wings;

like gauze they grew,

Through crofts and pastures wet with dew,

A living flash of light he flew.

17. With the same swiftness the Ninevites will disappear. This interpretation of Nahum 3:17 is preferable to that which, omitting 16b entirely, co-ordinates 17 with the concessive clauses of 15b and 16a, and sees the apodosis in Nahum 3:18. Crowned [“princes”] A word of uncertain meaning, which occurs only here in the Old Testament; it is thought to be an Assyrian loan word denoting some prominent official. Wellhausen compares it with one found in Zechariah 9:6, and Deuteronomy 23:2, “bastard” or “bastard race,” that is, a man of uncertain, impure origin; but this sense is not suitable here. Captains [“marshals”] Hebrews tiphsar, found again in Jeremiah 51:27, where it denotes a high official. It also is probably an Assyrian loan word; it resembles the Assyrian dupsharru, “the tablet writer,” who occupied a prominent place during the reign of the literary Ashurbanapal. Here it cannot be used in this narrow sense, but in the more general sense of high official (compare Judges 5:14).

Locusts See on Joel 1:4.

Great grasshoppers R.V., “swarms of grasshoppers”; literally, grasshopper of grasshopper. A peculiar construction which may be due to the accidental repetition of the one word “grasshopper” or “swarm of grasshoppers” (compare Amos 7:1); the sense is “like grasshoppers.” The point of comparison is the suddenness with which they disappear.

In the cold day The cold stiffens the wings of the locusts, therefore on a cold day they settle down in a sheltered spot.

When the sun ariseth they flee away Under the warm rays of the sun they revive, and immediately they disappear, without leaving a trace behind. So the inhabitants of Nineveh will vanish without leaving behind them a trace.

Verse 18

18. Whither they will go is here stated.

King of Assyria Since the city is thought of as destroyed she can no longer be addressed; therefore the prophet turns to the king either as an individual or as a personification of the remnant of the Assyrian power. In view of the fact that throughout the rest of the chapter Nineveh is addressed, some consider the transition to the king strange, and they consider the words a later insertion, but for the reason just stated it seems quite natural that the king should be addressed. Marti thinks that the words are a corruption from the original “woe unto thee.”

Shepherds… nobles The rulers and heads of the people.

Slumber… shall dwell in the dust [“are at rest”] A euphemistic description of the slumber and sleep of death. For the use of the first verb in this sense compare Jeremiah 51:57; Psalms 76:5, etc. The second verb means literally to dwell; a slight change, favored by LXX., would give “lie down,” that is, in rest or sleep. With the leaders dead, the people scatter like a flock of sheep without a shepherd (Zechariah 13:7; 1 Kings 22:17), and there is no one to gather them. As a matter of fact, the destruction of Nineveh in 607-606 marked the dissolution of Assyria; the Scythians and Chaldeans divided the empire between them.

In Nahum 3:19 a the prophet repeats that the condition is hopeless; the hurt (Lamentations 2:11; Psalms 60:2) is incurable; they cannot recover from the blow by their own efforts (Jeremiah 14:17; Jeremiah 30:12), and no one is anxious to become their physician; on the contrary, all rejoice and glory in the misfortune that has befallen them.

Clap the hands An expression of joy (Isaiah 55:12), here of malicious joy. The rejoicing is universal, because all have suffered from the oppression and violence of Assyria.

With the threats of Nahum compare Zephaniah 2:13-15.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nahum 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/nahum-3.html. 1874-1909.
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