Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The prophet, having foretold the destruction of Sennacherib, find in him how the enemy of Judah is wholly cut off, goes on to describe the destruction of Nineveh, and with it of his whole kingdom, and, under it, of antichrist and Satan.
He that dasheth in pieces - Rather, "the Disperser," the instrument of God, whereby he should "break her in pieces like a potter's vessel, or should scatter" her in all lands, is come up against thy face, O Nineveh, i. e., either, over against thee" , confronting her as it were, face to face, or directed against thee . From the description of the peace of Judah, the prophet turns suddenly to her oppressor, to whom, not to Judah, the rest of the prophecy is directed. Jacob and Israel are spoken of, not to . The destroyer of Nineveh "went up against the face of Nineveh," not in the presence of Judah and Jacob, who were far away and knew nothing of it. "Keep the munition." While all in Judah is now peace, all in Nineveh is tumult. God whom they had defied, saying that Hezekiah could not "turn away the face of one captain of the least of his servants" Isa 36:9, now bids them prepare to meet him whom He would send against them. "Gird up thy loins now, like a man" Job 40:7. Thou who wouldest lay waste others, now, if theft canst, keep thyself. The strength of the words is the measure of the irony. They had challenged God; He in turn challenges them to put forth all their might.
Fence thy defenses - we might say. Their strong walls, high though they were, unassailable by any then known skill of besiegers, would not be secure.
The prophet uses a kindred and allusive word, that their protection needed to be itself protected; and this, by one continued watchfulness. Watch, he adds, the way: spy out (as far as thou canst), the coming of the enemy; strengthen the loins, the seat of strength. Elsewhere they are said to be girded up for any exertion. "Fortify thy strength exceedingly." The expression is rare : commonly it is said of some part of the human frame, knees, arms, or mind, or of man by God.
The same words are strong mockery to those who resist God, good counsel to those who trust in God. "Keep the munition, for He who keepeth thee will not sleep Psa 121:3; watch the way," by which the enemy may approach from afar, for Satan approacheth, sometimes suddenly, sometimes very stealthily and subtly, "transforming himself into an angel of light." Jerome: "Watch also the way by which thou art to go, as it is said, 'Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein;' Jer 6:16, so that, having stood in many ways, we may come to that Way which saith, 'I am the Way.'" Then , "make thy loins strong," as the Saviour commands His disciples, "Let your loins be girded about" Luk 12:35, and the Apostle says, "Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth" Eph 6:14; for nothing so strengthens as the Truth. For Christ being the Truth, whose with his whole heart hath belived in Christ, is strong against himself, and hath power over the loins, the seat of the passions. Then, since this warfare is hard, he adds, be strong, "fortify thy power mightily;" resist not listlessly, but vehemently; and that, in His strength who hath strengthened our nature, taking it to Himself and uniting it with the Godhead. For without Him, strong though thou be, thou wilt avail nothing.
For the Lord hath turned away - (rather restoreth) the excellency of Jacob Speaking of what should come, as already come. For Nineveh falls, because God restores His people, whom it had oppressed. The restoration of God's favor to His Church is the season of His punishment of their enemies; as, again, His displeasure against her enemies is a token of His favor to her. When Herod was smitten by God, "the word of God grew and multiplied" Act 12:24. A long captivity was still before Judah, yet the destruction of the Assyrian was the earnest that every "oppressing city should cease" Isa 33:1.
The excellency of Jacob - The word, "excellency," is used in a good or bad sense; bad, if man takes the excellency to himself; good, as given by God. This is decisive against a modern popular rendering ; "has returned to the excellency of Jacob;" for Scripture knows of no "excellency of Jacob," except God Himself or grace from God. Jacob, if separated from God or left by Him, has no excellency, to which God could return.
As the excellency of Israel - Both the ten and the two tribes had suffered by the Assyrian. The ten had been carried captive by Shalmanezer, the two had been harassed by Sennacherib. After the captivity of the ten tribes, the name Jacob is used of Judah only. It may be then, that the restoration of God's favor is promised to each separately. Or , there may be an emphasis in the names themselves. Their forefather bore the name of Jacob in his troubled days of exile; that of Israel was given him on his return Gen 32:28. It would then mean, the afflicted people (Jacob) shall be restored to its utmost glory as Israel. The sense is the same.
For the emptiers have emptied them out - Their chastisement is the channel of their restoration. Unlike the world, their emptiness is their fullness, as the fullness of the world is its emptiness. The world is cast down, not to arise, for "woe to him that is alone when he falleth: for he hath not another to help him up" Ecc 4:10. The Church falleth, but "to arise" Mic 7:8 : the people is restored, because it had borne chastening Eze 36:3, Eze 36:6-7; "for the Lord hath restored the excellency of Jacob, for the emptiers have emptied them. out and marred their vinebranches" (see Psa 80:12-13), i. e., its fruit-bearing branches, that, as far as in them lay, it should not bear fruit unto God; but to cut the vine is, by God's grace, to make it shoot forth and bear fruit more abundantly.
Army is arrayed against army; the armies, thus far, of God against the army of His enemy; all without is order; all within, confusion. The assailing army, from its compactness and unity, is spoken of, both as many and one. The might is of many; the order and singleness of purpose is as of one. The shield, collectively, not shields. "His mighty men;" He, who was last spoken of, was Almighty God, as He says in Isaiah; "I have commanded My consecrated ones; I have also called My mighty ones, them that rejoice in My highness" Isa 13:3.
Is reddened - Either with blood of the Assyrians, shed in some previous battle, before the siege began, or (which is the meaning of the word elsewhere ), an artificial color, the color of blood being chosen, as expressive of fiery fierceness. The valiant men are in scarlet, for beauty and terror, as, again being the color of blood . It was especially the color of the dress of their nobles one chief color of the Median dress, from whom the Persians adopted their's . "The chariots shall be with flaming torches," literally, "with the fire of steels , or of sharp incisive instruments. Either way the words seem to indicate that the chariots were in some way armed with steel. For steel was not an ornament, nor do the chariots appear to have been ornamented with metal. Iron would have hindered the primary object of lightness and speed. Steel, as distinct from iron, is made only for incisiveness. In either way, it is probable, that scythed chariots were already in use. Against such generals, as the younger Cyrus and Alexander , they were of no avail; but they must have been terrific instruments against undisciplined armies.
The rush and noise of the British chariots disturbed for a time even Caesar's Roman troops . They were probably in use long before . Their use among the ancient Britons , Gauls and Belgians , as also probably among the Canaanites , evinces that they existed among very rude people.
The objection that the Assyrian chariots are not represented in the monuments as armed with scythes is an oversight, since these spoken of by Nahum may have been Median, certainly were not Assyrian. "In the day of His preparation" , when He musters the hosts for the battle; "and the fir-trees shall be terribly shaken;" i. e., fir-spears (the weapon being often named from the wood of which it is made) shall be made to quiver through the force wherewith they shall be hurled.
The chariots shall rage - (Or madden , as the driving of Jehu is said to be "furiously," literally, in madness) "in the streets." The city is not yet taken; so, since this takes place "in the streets and broad ways," they are the confused preparations of the besieged. "They shall justle one against another," shall run rapidly to and fro, restlessly; "their show (English margin) is like torches," leaving streaks of fire, as they pass rapidly along. "They shall run" vehemently, "like the lightnings," swift; but vanishing.
He shall recount his worthies - The Assyrian king wakes as out of a sleep, literally, "he remembers his mighty men" (as Nah 3:18; Jdg 5:13; Neh 3:5); "they stumble in their walk," literally, paths , not through haste only and eager fear, but from want of inward might and the aid of God. These whom God leads stumble not Isa 63:13. : "Perplexed every way and not knowing what they ought to do, their mind wholly darkened and almost drunken with ills, they reel to and fro, turn from one thing to another, and in all" labor in vain.
They shall make haste to the walls thereof, and the defense - (literally, "the covering") shall be prepared The Assyrian monuments leave no doubt that a Jewish writer is right in the main, in describing this as a covered shelter, under which an enemy approached the city; "a covering of planks with skins upon them; under it those who fight against the city come to the wall and mine the wall underneath, and it is a shield over them from the stones, which are cast from off the wall."
The monuments, however, exhibit this shelter, as connected not with mining but with a battering ram, mostly with a sharp point, by which they loosened the walls . Another covert was employed to protect single miners who picked out single stones with a pick-axe . The Assyrians sculptures show, in the means employed against or in defense of their engines, how central a part of the siege they formed . Seven of them are represented in one siege . The "ram" Eze 4:2 is mentioned in Ezekiel as the well-known and ordinary instrument of a siege.
Thus, Nah 2:3 describes the attack; and Nah 2:4 describes the defense; the two first clauses of Nah 2:5 describes the defense; the two last describe clauses the attack. This quick interchange only makes the whole account more vivid.
: "But what avails it to build the house, unless the Lord build it? What helps it to shut the gates, which the Lord unbarreth?" On both sides is put forth the full strength of man; there seems a stand-still to see, what will be, and God brings to pass His own work in His own way.
The gates of the rivers shall be opened, and the palace shall be disolved - All gives way in an instant at the will of God; the strife is hushed; no more is said of war and death; there is no more resistance or bloodshed; no sound except the wailing of the captives, the flight of those who can escape, while the conquerors empty it of the spoil, and then she is left a waste. The swelling of the river and the opening made by it may have given rise to the traditional account of Ctesias, although obviously exaggerated as to the destruction of the wall. The exaggerated character of that tradition is not inconsistent with, it rather implies, a basis of truth. It is inconceivable that it should have been thought, that walls, of the thickness which Ctesias had described, were overthrown by the swelling of any river, unless some such event as Ctesias relates, that the siege was ended by an entrance afforded to the enemy through some bursting in of the river, had been true.
Nahum speaks nothing of the wall, but simply of the opening of "the gates of the river," obviously the gates, by which the inhabitants could have access to the rivers , which otherwise would be useless to them except as a wall. These "rivers" correspond to the "rivers," the artificial divisions of the Nile, by which No or Thebes was defended, or "the rivers of Babylon" Psa 137:1 which yet was washed by the one stream, the Euphrates. But Nineveh was surrounded and guarded by actual rivers, the Tigris and the Khausser, and, (assuming those larger dimensions of Nineveh, which are supported by evidences so various ) the greater Zab, which was "called the frantic Zab on account of the violence of its current." "The Zab contained (says Ainsworth ), when we saw it, a larger body of water than the Tigris, whose tributaries are not supplied by so many snow-mountains as those of the Zab." Of these, if the Tigris be now on a level lower than the rains of Nineveh, it may not have been so formerly.
The Khausser, in its natural direction, ran through Nineveh where, now as of old, it turns a mill, and must, of necessity, have been fenced by gates; else any invader might enter at will: as, in modern times, Mosul has its "gate of the bridge." A break in these would obviously let in an enemy, and might the more paralyze the inhabitants, if they had any tradition, that the river alone could or would be their enemy, as Nahum himself prophesied. Subsequently inaccuracy or exaggeration might easily represent this to be an overthrow of the walls themselves. It was all one, in which way the breach was made.
The palace shall be dissolved - The prophet unites the beginning and the end. The river-gates were opened; what had been the fence against the enemy became an entrance for them: with the river, there poured in also the tide of the people of the enemy. The palace, then, the imperial abode, the center of the empire, embellished with the history of its triumphs, sank, was disolved , and ceased to be. It is not a physical loosening of the sun-dried bricks by the stream which would usually flow harmless by; but the dissolution of the empire itself. : "The temple, that is, his kingdom was destroyed." The palaces both of Khorsabad and Kouyunjik lay near the Khausser and both bear the marks of fire .
The first word should he rendered, "And it is decreed; She shall be laid bare. It is decreed." All this took place, otherwise than man would have thought, because it was the will of God. She (the people of the city, under the figure of a captive woman) "shall be laid bare," in shame, to her reproach; "she shall be brought up" , to judgment, or from Nineveh as being now sunk low and depressed; "and her maids," the lesser cities, as female attendants on the royal city, and their inhabitants represented as women, both as put to shame and for weakness. The whole empire of Nineveh was overthrown by Nabopalassar. Yet neither was the special shame wanting, that the noble matrons and virgins were so led captives in shame and sorrow. "They shall lead her, as with the voice of doves," moaning, yet, for fear, with a subdued voice.
But Nineveh is of old like a pool of water - that is, of many peoples Rev 17:1, gathered from all quarters and settled there, her multitudes being like the countless drops, full, untroubled, with no ebb or flow, fenced in, "from the days that she hath been," yet even therefore stagnant and corrupted (see Jer 48:11), not "a fountain of living waters," during 600 years of unbroken empire; even lately it had been assailed in vain ; now its hour was come, the sluices were broken; the waters poured out. It was full not of citizens only, but of other nations poured into it. An old historian says , "The chief and most powerful of those whom Ninus settled there, were the Assyrians, but also, of other nations, whoever willed." Thus, the pool was filled; but at the rebuke of the Lord they flee. "Stand, stand," the prophet speaks in the name of the widowed city; "shut the gates, go up on the walls, resist the enemy, gather yourselves together, form a band to withstand," "but none shalt look back" to the mother-city which calls them; all is forgotten, except their fear; parents, wives, children, the wealth which is plundered, home, worldly repute. So will men leave all things, for the life of this world. "All that a man hath, will he give for his life" Job 2:4. Why not for the life to come?
Take ye the spoil of silver, take the spoil of gold - Nineveh had not hearkened of old to the voice of the prophet, but had turned back to sin; it cannot hearken now, for fear. He turns to the spoiler to whom God's judgments assigned her, and who is too ready to hear. The gold and silver, which the last Assyrian King had gathered into the palace which he fired, was mostly removed (the story says, treacherously) to Babylon. Arbaces is said to have borne this and to have removed the residue, to the amount of many talents, to Agbatana, the Median capital . "For there is none end of the store." Nineveh had stored up from her foundation until then, but at last for the spoiler. "When thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled" Isa 33:1. Many "perish and leave their wealth to others" Psa 49:10. "The wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just" Pro 13:22. "And glory out of all the pleasant furniture," (literally as in the margin, "glory out of all vessels of desire") i. e., however large the spoil, it would be but a portion only; yet all their wealth, though more than enough for the enemy and for them, could not save them. Her "glory," was but a "weight" to weigh her down, that she should not rise again Zac 5:8; Exo 15:10. Their wealth brought on the day of calamity, availed not therein, although it could not be drawn dry even by the spoiler. Jerome: "They could not spoil so much as she supplied to be spoiled."
She is empty and void and waste - The completeness of her judgment is declared first under that solemn number, Three, and the three words in Hebrew are nearly the same , with the same meaning, only each word fuller than the former, as picturing a growing desolation; and then under four heads (in all seven) also a growing fear. First the heart, the seat of courage and resolve and high purpose, melteth; then the knees smite together, tremble, shake, under the frame; then, much pain is in all loins, literally, "strong pains as of a woman in travail," writhing and doubling the whole body, and making it wholly powerless and unable to stand upright, shall bow the very loins, the seat of strength Pro 31:17, and, lastly, the faces of them all gather blackness (see the note at Joe 2:6), the fruit of extreme pain, and the token of approaching dissolution.
Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions? - Great indeed must be the desolation, which should call forth the wonder of the prophet of God. He asks "where is it?" For so utterly was Nineveh to be effaced, that its place should scarcely be known, and now is known by the ruins which have been buried, and are dug up. The messengers of her king had asked, "Where are the gods of Hamath and of Arpad? of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?" Kg2 18:34. And now of her it is asked, "Where is Nineveh?" It had "destroyed utterly all lands," and now itself is utterly destroyed. The lion dwelt, fed, walked there, up and down, at will; all was spacious and secure; he terrified all, and none terrified him; he tore, strangled, laid up, as he willed, booty in store; but when he had filled it to the full, he filled up also the measure of his iniquities, and his sentence came from God. Nineveh had set at nought all human power, and destroyed it; now, therefore, God appears in His own Person.
Behold I, Myself, am against thee - (Literally, "toward thee"). God, in His long-suffering, had, as it were, looked away from him; now He looked toward (as in Psa 37:20) him, and in His sight what wicked one should stand? "Saith the Lord of hosts," whose power is infinite and He changes not, and all the armies of heaven, the truly angels and evil spirits and men are in His Hand, whereto He directs or overrules them. "And I will burn her chariots in the smoke." The Assyrian sculptures attest how greatly their pride and strength lay in their chariots. They exhibit the minute embellishment of the chariots and horses . Almost inconceivably light for speed, they are pictured as whirled onward by the two or, more often, three powerful steeds with eye of fire , the bodies of the slain (or, in peace, the lion ) under their feet, the mailed warriors, with bows stretched to the utmost, shooting at the more distant foe.
Sennacherib gives a terrific picture of the fierceness of their onslaught. "The armor, the arms, taken in my attacks, swam in the blood of my enemies as in a river; the war-chariots, which destroy man and beast, had, in their course, crushed the bloody bodies and limbs" . All this their warlike pride should be but fuel for fire, and vanish in smoke, an emblem of pride, swelling, mounting like a column toward heaven, disappearing. Not a brand shall then be saved out of the burning; nothing half-consumed; but the fire shall burn, until there be nothing left to consume, as, in Sodom and Gomorrah, "the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace. And the sword of the vengeance of God shall devour the young lions" Gen 19:28, his hope for the time to come, the flower of his youth; "and I will cut off thy prey," what thou hast robbed, and so that thou shouldest rob no more, but that thy spoil should utterly cease from "the earth, and the voice of thy messengers shall be no more heard," such as Rabshakeh, whereby they insulted and terrified the nations and blasphemed God.
In the spiritual sense, Nineveh being an image of the world, the prophecy speaks of the inroad made upon it through the Gospel, its resistance, capture, desolation, destruction. First, He that "ruleth with a rod of iron," came and denounced "woe to it because of offenses;" then His mighty ones in His Name. Their shield is red, "the shield of faith," kindled and glowing with love. Their raiment too is red, because they wash it in the Blood of the Lamb, and conquer through the Blood of the Lamb, and many shed their own blood "for a witness to them." "The day of His preparation" is the whole period, until the end of the world, in which the Gospel is preached, of which the prophets and apostles speak, as the day of salvation Isa 49:8; Co2 6:2; to the believing world a day of salvation; to the unbelieving, of preparation for judgment. All which is done, judgments, mercy, preaching, miracles, patience of the saints, martyrdom, all which is spoken, done, suffered, is part of the one preparation for the final judgment. The chariots, flashing with light as they pass, are "the chariots of salvation" Hab 3:8, bearing the brightness of the doctrine of Christ and the glory of His truth throughout the world, enlightening while they wound; the "spears" are the word of God, slaying to make alive.
On the other hand, in resisting, the world clashes with itself. It would oppose the Gospel, yet knows not how; is "maddened with rage, and gnashes its teeth, that it can prevail nothing" . On the broad ways which lead to death, where "Wisdom uttereth her voice" and is not heard, it is hemmed in, and cannot find a straight path; its chariots dash one against another, and yet they breathe their ancient fury, and run to and fro like lightning, as the Lord saith, "I beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven" Luk 10:18. Then shall they "remember their mighty ones," all the might of this world which they ascribed to their gods, their manifold triumphs, whereby in pagan times their empire was established; they shall gather strength against strength, but it shall be powerless and real weakness. While they prepare for a long siege, without hand their gates give way; the kingdom falls, the world is taken captive by a blessed captivity, suddenly, unawares, as one says in the second century ; "Men cry out that the state is beset, that the Christians are in their fields, in their forts, in their islands!" These mourn over their past sins, and beat their breasts, in token of their sorrow; yet sweeter shall be the plaint of their sorrow, than any past joy.
Sit they shall mourn as doves, and their mourning is as melody and the voice of praise in the ear of the Most High. One part of the inhabitants of the world being thus blessedly taken, the rest are fled. So in all nearness of God's judgments, those who are net brought nearer, flee further. "They flee, and look not back, and none heareth the Lord speaking, "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings" Jer 3:22. So then, hearing not His Voice, stand, stand, they flee away from His presence in mercy, into darkness for ever. Such is the lot of the inhabitants of the world; and what is the world itself? The prophet answers what it has been. A pool of water, into which all things, the riches and glory, and wisdom, and pleasures of this world, have flowed in on all sides, and which gave back nothing. All ended in itself. The water came from above, and became stagnant in the lowest part of the earth. "For all the wisdom of this world, apart from the sealed fountain of the Church, and of which it cannot be said, the streams thereof make glad the city of God nor are of those waters which, above the heavens, praise the Name of the Lord, however large they may seem, yet are little, and are enclosed in a narrow bound" Luk 10:18.
These either are hallowed to God, like the spoils of Egypt, as when the eloquence of Cyprian was won through the fishermen , or the gold and silver are offered to Him, or they are left to be wasted and burned up. "All which is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, all under the sun," remain here. : "If they are thine, take them with thee. When be dieth, he shall carry nothing away, his glory shall not descend after him" Psa 49:17. True riches are, not wealth, but virtues, which the conscience carries with it, that it may be rich forever." The seven-fold terrors Nah 2:10, singly, may have a good sense , that the stony heart shall be melted, and the stiff knees, which before were not bent to God, be bowed in the Name of Jesus. Yet more fully are they the deepening horrors of the wicked in the Day of Judgment, when "men's hearts shall fail them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth" Luk 21:26, closing with the everlasting confusion of face, "the shame and everlasting contempt," to which the wicked shall rise.
As the vessel over the fire is not cleansed, but blackened, so through the judgments of God, whereby the righteous are cleansed, the wicked gather but fresh defilement and hate. Lastly, the prophet asks, "Where is the dwelling of those who had made the world a den of ravin, where the lion," even the devil who is "a roaring lion," and all antichrists Jo1 2:18, destroyed at will; where Satan made his dwelling in the hearts of the worldly, and "tore in pieces for his whelps," i. e., killed souls of men and gave them over to inferior evil spirits to be tormented, and "filled his holes with prey," the pit of hell with the souls which he deceived? . The question implies that they shall not be. "They which have seen him shall say, Where is he?" Job 20:7. God Himself answers, that He Himself will come against it to judgment, and destroy all might arrayed against God; and Christ shall "smite the Wicked one with the rod of His Mouth" Isa 11:4, and the "sharp two-edged sword out of His mouth shall smite all nations" Rev 1:16; Rev 19:15, Rev 19:21, "and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever" Rev 14:11; and it should no more oppress, nor "any messenger of Satan" go forth to harass the saints of God.