Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The prophet denounces a wo against Nineveh for her perfidy and violence. He musters up before our eyes the number of her chariots and cavalry; points to her burnished arms, and to the great and unrelenting slaughter which she spreads around her, Nah 3:1-3. Because Nineveh is a city wholly given up to the grossest superstition, and is an instructress of other nations in her abominable rites, therefore she shall come to a most ignominious and unpitied end, Nah 3:3-7. Her final ruin shall be similar to that of No, a famous city of Egypt, Nah 3:8-11. The prophet then beautifully describes the great ease with which the strong holds of Nineveh should be taken, Nah 3:12, and her judicial pusillanimity during the siege, Nah 3:13; declares that all her preparation, her numbers, opulence, and chieftains, would be of no avail in the day of the Lord's vengeance, Nah 3:14-17; and that her tributaries would desert her, Nah 3:18. The whole concludes with stating the incurableness of her malady, and the dreadful destruction consequently awaiting her; and with introducing the nations which she had oppressed as exulting at her fall, Nah 3:19.
Wo to the bloody city! - Nineveh: the threatenings against which are continued in a strain of invective, astonishing for its richness, variety, and energy. One may hear and see the whip crack, the horses prancing, the wheels rumbling, the chariots bounding after the galloping steeds; the reflection from the drawn and highly polished swords; and the hurled spears, like gashes of lightning, dazzling the eyes; the slain lying in heaps, and horses and chariots stumbling over them! O what a picture, and a true representation of a battle, when one side is broken, and all the cavalry of the conqueror fall in upon them, hewing them down with their swords, and trampling them to pieces under the hoofs of their horses! O! infernal war! Yet sometimes thou art the scourge of the Lord.
Because of the multitude of the whoredoms - Above, the Ninevites were represented under the emblem of a lion tearing all to pieces; here they are represented under the emblem of a beautiful harlot or public prostitute, enticing all men to her, inducing the nations to become idolatrous, and, by thus perverting them, rendering them also objects of the Divine wrath.
Mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms - Using every means to excite to idolatry; and being, by menace or wiles, successful in all.
I will discover thy skirts upon thy face - It was an ancient, though not a laudable custom, to strip prostitutes naked, or throw their clothes over their heads, and expose them to public view, and public execration. This verse alludes to such a custom.
I will cast abominable filth upon thee - I will set thee as a gazing-stock. This was a punishment precisely like our pillory. They put such women in the pillory as a gazing-stock; and then, children and others threw mud, dirt, and filth of all kinds at them.
Who will bemoan her? - In such cases, who pities the delinquent? She has been the occasion of ruin to multitudes, and now she is deservedly exposed and punished. And so it should be thought concerning Nineveh.
Art thou better than populous No - No-Ammon, or Diospolis, in the Delta, on one branch of the Nile. This is supposed to be the city mentioned by Nahum; and which had been lately destroyed, probably by the Chaldeans.
The waters round about it - Being situated in the Delta, it had the fork of two branches of the Nile to defend it by land; and its barrier or wall was the sea, the Mediterranean, into which these branches emptied themselves: so that this city, and the place it stood on, were wholly surrounded by the waters.
Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength - The land of Cush, not far from Diospolis; for it was in Arabia, on the Red Sea.
Put and Lubim - A part of Africa and Libya, which were all within reach of forming alliances with No-Ammon or Diospolis.
They cast lots for her honorable men - This refers still to the city called populous No. And the custom of casting lots among the commanders, for the prisoners which they had taken, is here referred to.
Great men were bound in chains - These were reserved to grace the triumph of the victor.
Thy strong holds - The effects of the consternation into which the Ninevites were cast by the assault on their city are here pointed out by a very expressive metaphor; the first-ripe figs, when at full maturity, fell from the tree with the least shake; and so, at the first shake or consternation, all the fortresses of Nineveh were abandoned; and the king, in despair, burnt himself and household in his own palace.
Thy people - are women - They lost all courage, and made no resistance. O vere Phrygiae, neque enim Phryges: "Verily, ye are Phrygian women, not Phrygian men." So said Numanus to the Trojans. Virg., Aen. ix.
Draw thee waters for the siege - The Tigris ran near to Nineveh, and here they are exhorted to lay in plenty of fresh water, lest the siege should last long, and lest the enemy should cut off this supply.
Go into clay, and tread the mortar - This refers to the manner of forming bricks anciently in those countries; they digged up the clay, kneaded it properly by treading, mixed it with straw or coarse grass, moulded the bricks, and dried them in the sun. I have now some of the identical bricks, that were brought from this country, lying before me, and they show all these appearances. They are compact and very hard, but wholly soluble in water. There were however others without straw, that seem to have been burnt in a kiln as ours are. I have also some fragments or bats of these from Babylon.
Make thyself many as the cankerworm - On the locusts, and their operations in their various states, see the notes on Joel 2 (note). The multitudes, successive swarms, and devastation occasioned by locusts, is one of the most expressive similes that could be used to point out the successive armies and all-destroying influences of the enemies of Nineveh. The account of these destroyers from Dr. Shaw, inserted Joel 2, will fully illustrate the verses where allusion is made to locusts.
Thou hast multiplied thy merchants - Like Tyre, this city was a famous resort for merchants; but the multitudes which were there previously to the siege, like the locusts, took the alarm, and fled away.
Thy crowned are as the locusts - Thou hast numerous princes and numerous commanders.
Which camp in the hedges in the cold day - The locusts are said to lie in shelter about the hedges of fertile spots when the weather is cold or during the night; but as soon as the sun shines out and is hot, they come out to their forage, or take to their wings.
Thy shepherds slumber - That is, the rulers and tributary princes, who, as Herodotus informs us, deserted Nineveh in the day of her distress, and came not forward to her succor.
Diodorus Siculus says, lib. ii., when the enemy shut up the king in the city, many nations revolted, each going over to the besiegers, for the sake of their liberty; that the king despatched messengers to all his subjects, requiring power from them to succor him; and that he thought himself able to endure the siege, and remained in expectation of armies which were to be raised throughout his empire, relying on the oracle that the city would not be taken till the river became its enemy. See the note on Nah 2:6.
There is no healing of thy bruise - Thou shalt never be rebuilt.
All that hear the bruit of thee - The report or account.
Shall clap the hands - Shall exult in thy downfall.
For upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed - Thou hast been a universal oppressor, and therefore all nations rejoice at thy fall and utter desolation.
Bp. Newton makes some good remarks on the fall and total ruin of Nineveh.
"What probability was there that the capital city of a great kingdom, a city which was sixty miles in compass, a city which contained so many thousand inhabitants, a city which had walls a hundred feet high, and so thick that three chariots could go abreast upon them, and which had one thousand five hundred towers, of two hundred feet in height; what probability was there that such a city should ever be totally destroyed? And yet so totally was it destroyed that the place is hardly known where it was situated. What we may suppose helped to complete its ruin and devastation, was Nebuchadnezzar's enlarging and beautifying Babylon, soon after Nineveh was taken. From that time no mention is made of Nineveh by any of the sacred writers; and the most ancient of the heathen authors, who have occasion to say any thing about it, speak of it as a city that was once great and flourishing, but now destroyed and desolate. Great as it was formerly, so little of it is remaining, that authors are not agreed even about its situation. From the general suffrage of ancient historians and geographers, it appears to have been situated upon the Tigris, though others represent it as placed upon the Euphrates. Bochart has shown that Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Ammianus Marcellinus, all three speak differently of it; sometimes as if situated on the Euphrates, sometimes as if on the Tigris; to reconcile whom he supposes that there were two Ninevehs; and Sir John Marsham, that there were three; the Syrian upon the Euphrates, the Assyrian on the Tigris, and a third built afterwards upon the Tigris by the Persians, who succeeded the Parthians in the empire of the East, in the third century, and were subdued by the Saracens in the seventh century after Christ. But whether this latter was built in the same place as the old Nineveh, is a question that cannot be decided.
"There is a city at this time called Mosul, situate upon the western side of the Tigris; and on the opposite eastern shore are ruins of great extent, which are said to be those of Nineveh.
"Dr. Prideaux, following Thevenot, observes that Mosul is situated on the west side of the Tigris, where was anciently only a suburb of the old Nineveh; for the city itself stood on the east side of the river, where are to be seen some of its ruins of great extent even to this day. Even the ruins of old Nineveh, as we may say, have been long ago ruined and destroyed; such an utter end hath been made of it, and such is the truth of the Divine predictions!
"These extraordinary circumstances may strike the reader more strongly by supposing only a parallel instance. Let us then suppose that a person should come in the name of a prophet, preaching repentance to the people of this kingdom, or otherwise denouncing the destruction of the capital city within a few years. 'With an overflowing flood will God make an utter end of the place thereof; he will make an utter end: its place may be sought, but it shall never be found.' I presume we should look upon such a prophet as a madman, and show no farther attention to his message than to deride and despise it. And yet such an event would not be more strange and incredible than the destruction and devastation of Nineveh; for Nineveh was much the larger, stronger, and older city of the two. And the Assyrian empire had subsisted and flourished more ages than any form of government in this country; so there is no objecting the instability of Eastern monarchies in this case. Let us then since this event would not be more improbable and extraordinary than the other, suppose again, that things should succeed according to the prediction; that the floods should arise, and the enemies should come; the city should be overthrown and broken down, be taken and pillaged, and destroyed so totally that even the learned could not agree about the place where it was situated. What would be said or thought in such a case? Whoever of posterity should read and compare the prophecy and event together, must they not, by such an illustrious instance, be thoroughly convinced of the providence of God, and of the truth of his prophet, and be ready to acknowledge, 'Verily, this is the word which the Lord hath spoken; verily, there is a God who judgeth the earth?"' - See Bp. Newton, vol. i., dissert. 9.