Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Judgment upon Nineveh Decreed by God - Nah 1:1-15
Jehovah, the jealous God and avenger of evil, before whose manifestation of wrath the globe trembles (Nah 1:2-6), will prove Himself a strong tower to His own people by destroying Nineveh (Nah 1:7-11), since He has determined to break the yoke which Asshur has laid upon Judah, and to destroy this enemy of His people (Nah 1:12-14).
The heading runs thus: "Burden concerning Nineveh; book of the prophecy of Nahum of Elkosh." The first sentence gives the substance and object, the second the form and author, of the proclamation which follows. משּׂא signifies a burden, from נשׂא, to lift up, to carry, to heave. This meaning has very properly been retained by Jonathan, Aquila, Jerome, Luther, and others, in the headings to the prophetic oracle. Jerome observes on Hab 1:1 : "Massa never occurs in the title, except when it is evidently grave and full of weight and labour." On the other hand, the lxx have generally rendered it λῆμμα in the headings to the oracles, or even ὅρασις, ὅραμα, ῥῆμα (Isaiah 13ff., Isa 30:6); and most of the modern commentators since Cocceius and Vitringa, following this example, have attributed to the word the meaning of "utterance," and derived it from נשׂא, effari. But נשׂא has no more this meaning than נשׂא קול can mean to utter the voice, either in Exo 20:7 and Exo 23:1, to which Hupfeld appeals in support of it, or in Kg2 9:25, to which others appeal. The same may be said of משּׂא, which never means effatum, utterance, and is never placed before simple announcements of salvation, but only before oracles of a threatening nature. Zac 9:1 and Zac 12:1 form no exception to this rule. Delitzsch (on Isa 13:1) observes, with regard to the latter passage, that the promise has at least a dark foil, and in Nahum 9:1ff. the heathen nations of the Persian and Macedonian world-monarchy are threatened with a divine judgment which will break in pieces their imperial glory, and through which they are to be brought to conversion to Jehovah; "and it is just in this that the burden consists, which the word of God lays upon these nations, that they may be brought to conversion through such a judgment from God" (Kliefoth). Even in Pro 30:1 and Pro 31:1 Massâ' does not mean utterance. The words of Agur in Pro 30:1 are a heavy burden, which is rolled upon the natural and conceited reason; they are punitive in their character, reproving human forwardness in the strongest terms; and in Pro 31:1 Massâ' is the discourse with which king Lemuel reproved his mother. For the thorough vindication of this meaning of Massâ', by an exposition of all the passages which have been adduced in support of the rendering "utterance," see Hengstenberg, Christology, on Zac 9:1, and O. Strauss on this passage. For Nineveh, see the comm. on Jon 1:2. The burden, i.e., the threatening words, concerning Nineveh are defined in the second clause as sēpher châzōn, book of the seeing (or of the seen) of Nahum, i.e., of that which Nahum saw in spirit and prophesied concerning Nineveh. The unusual combination of sēpher and châzōn, which only occurs here, is probably intended to show that Nahum simply committed his prophecy concerning Nineveh to writing, and did not first of all announce it orally before the people. On hâ'elqōshı̄ (the Elkoshite), see the Introduction.
The description of the divine justice, and its judicial manifestation on the earth, with which Nahum introduces his prophecy concerning Nineveh, has this double object: first of all, to indicate the connection between the destruction of the capital of the Assyrian empire, which is about to be predicted, and the divine purpose of salvation; and secondly, to cut off at the very outset all doubt as to the realization of this judgment. Nah 1:2. "A God jealous and taking vengeance is Jehovah; an avenger is Jehovah, and Lord of wrathful fury; an avenger is Jehovah to His adversaries, and He is One keeping wrath to His enemies. Nah 1:3. Jehovah is long-suffering and of great strength, and He does not acquit of guilt. Jehovah, His way is in the storm and in the tempest, and clouds are the dust of His feet." The prophecy commences with the words with which God expresses the energetic character of His holiness in the decalogue (Exo 20:5, cf. Exo 34:14; Deu 4:24; Deu 5:9; and Jos 24:19), where we find the form קנּוא for קנּא. Jehovah is a jealous God, who turns the burning zeal of His wrath against them that hate Him (Deu 6:15). His side of the energy of the divine zeal predominates here, as the following predicate, the three-times repeated נקם, clearly shows. The strengthening of the idea of nōqēm involved in the repetition of it three times (cf. Jer 7:4; Jer 22:29), is increased still further by the apposition ba'al chēmâh, possessor of the wrathful heat, equivalent to the wrathful God (cf. Pro 29:22; Pro 22:24). The vengeance applies to His adversaries, towards whom He bears ill-will. Nâtar, when predicated of God, as in Lev 19:18 and Psa 103:9, signifies to keep or bear wrath. God does not indeed punish immediately; He is long-suffering (ארך אפּים, Exo 34:6; Num 14:18, etc.). His long-suffering is not weak indulgence, however, but an emanation from His love and mercy; for He is gedōl-kōăch, great in strength (Num 14:17), and does not leave unpunished (נקּה וגו after Exo 34:7 and Num 14:18; see at Exo 20:7). His great might to punish sinners, He has preserved from of old; His way is in the storm and tempest. With these words Nahum passes over to a description of the manifestations of divine wrath upon sinners in great national judgments which shake the world (שׂערה as in Job 9:17 = סערה, which is connected with סוּפה in Isa 29:6 and Psa 83:16). These and similar descriptions are founded upon the revelations of God, when bringing Israel out of Egypt, and at the conclusion of the covenant at Sinai, when the Lord came down upon the mountain in clouds, fire, and vapour of smoke (Exo 19:16-18). Clouds are the dust of His feet. The Lord comes down from heaven in the clouds. As man goes upon the dust, so Jehovah goes upon the clouds.
"He threateneth the sea, and drieth it up, and maketh all the rivers dry up. Bashan and Carmel fade, and the blossom of Lebanon fadeth. Nah 1:5. Mountains shake before Him, and the hills melt away; the earth heaveth before Him, and the globe, and all the inhabitants thereon. Nah 1:6. Before His fury who may stand? and who rise up at the burning of His wrath? His burning heat poureth itself out like fire, and the rocks are rent in pieces by Him." In the rebuking of the sea there is an allusion to the drying up of the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through (cf. Psa 106:9); but it is generalized here, and extended to every sea and river, which the Almighty can smite in His wrath, and cause to dry up. ויּבּשׁהוּ for וייבּשׁהוּ, the vowelless י of the third pers. being fused into one with the first radical sound, as in ויּדּוּ in Lam 3:53 (cf. Ges. 69, Anm. 6, and Ewald 232-3). Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon are mentioned as very fruitful districts, abounding in a vigorous growth of vegetation and large forests, the productions of which God could suddenly cause to fade and wither in His wrath. Yea more: the mountains tremble and the hills melt away (compare the similar description in Mic 1:4, and the explanation given there). The earth lifts itself, i.e., starts up from its place (cf. Isa 13:13), with everything that dwells upon the surface of the globe. תּשּׂא from נשׂא, used intransitively, "to rise," as in Psa 89:10 and Hos 13:1; not conclamat s. tollit vocem (J. H. Michaelis, Burk, Strauss). תּבל, lit., the fertile globe, always signifies the whole of the habitable earth, ἡ οἰκουμένη; and יושׁבי בהּ, not merely the men (Ewald), but all living creatures (cf. Joe 1:18, Joe 1:20). No one can stand before such divine wrath, which pours out like consuming fire (Deu 4:24), and rends rocks in pieces (Kg1 19:11; Jer 23:29; cf. Jer 10:10; Mal 3:2).
But the wrath of God does not fall upon those who trust in the Lord; it only falls upon His enemies. With this turn Nahum prepares the way in Nah 1:7. for proclaiming the judgment of wrath upon Nineveh. Nah 1:7. "Good is Jehovah, a refuge in the day of trouble; and He knoweth those who trust in Him. Nah 1:8. And with an overwhelming flood will He make an end of her place, and pursue His enemies into darkness." Even in the manifestation of His wrath God proves His goodness; for the judgment, by exterminating the wicked, brings deliverance to the righteous who trust in the Lord, out of the affliction prepared for them by the wickedness of the world. The predicate טוב is more precisely defined by the apposition למעוז וגו, for a refuge = a refuge in time of trouble. The goodness of the Lord is seen in the fact that He is a refuge in distress. The last clause says to whom: viz., to those who trust in Him. They are known by Him. "To know is just the same as not to neglect; or, expressed in a positive form, the care or providence of God in the preservation of the faithful" (Calvin). For the fact, compare Psa 34:9; Psa 46:2; Jer 16:19. And because the Lord is a refuge to His people, He will put an end to the oppressor of His people, viz., Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, and that with an overwhelming flood. Sheteph, overwhelming, is a figure denoting the judgment sweeping over a land or kingdom, through the invasion of hostile armies (cf. Isa 8:7; Dan 11:26, Dan 11:40). עבר, overflowed by a river (cf. Isa 8:8; Hab 3:10; Dan 11:40). עשׂה כלה, to put an end to anything, as in Isa 10:23. מקומהּ is the accusative of the object: make her place a vanishing one. כּלה, the fem. of כּלה, an adjective in a neuter sense, that which is vanishing away. The suffix in מקומהּ refers to Nineveh in the heading (Nah 1:1): either Nineveh personified as a queen (Nah 2:7; Nah 3:4), is distinguished from her seat (Hitzig); or what is much more simple, the city itself is meant, and "her place" is to be understood in this sense, that with the destruction of the city even the place where it stood would cease to be the site of a city, with which March aptly compares the phrase, "its place knoweth man no more" (Job 7:10; Job 8:18; Job 20:9). איביו are the inhabitants of Nineveh, or the Assyrians generally, as the enemies of Israel. ירדּף־חשׁך, not darkness will pursue its enemies; for this view is irreconcilable with the makkeph: but to pursue with darkness, chōshekh being an accusative either of place or of more precise definition, used in an instrumental sense. The former is the simpler view, and answers better to the parallelism of the clauses. As the city is to vanish and leave no trace behind, so shall its inhabitants perish in darkness.
The reason for all this is assigned in Nah 1:9. Nah 1:9. "What think ye of Jehovah? He makes an end; the affliction will not arise twice. Nah 1:10. For though they be twisted together like thorns, and as if intoxicated with their wine, they shall be devoured like dry stubble. Nah 1:11. From thee has one come out, who meditated evil against Jehovah, who advised worthlessness." The question in Nah 1:9 is not addressed to the enemy, viz., the Assyrians, as very many commentators suppose: "What do ye meditate against Jehovah?" For although châshabh 'el is used in Hos 7:15 for a hostile device with regard to Jehovah, the supposition that 'el is used here for ‛al, according to a later usage of the language, is precluded by the fact that חשׁב על is actually used in this sense in Nah 1:11. Moreover, the last clause does not suit this view of the question. The word, "the affliction will not stand up, or not rise up a second time," cannot refer to the Assyrians, or mean that the infliction of a second judgment upon Nineveh will be unnecessary, because the city will utterly fall to the ground in the first judgment, and completely vanish from the earth (Hitzig). For צרה points back to בּיום צרה, and therefore must be the calamity which has fallen upon Judah, or upon those who trust in the Lord, on the part of Nineveh or Asshur (Marck, Maurer, and Strauss). This is confirmed by Nah 1:11 and Nah 1:15, where this thought is definitely expressed. Consequently the question, "What think ye with regard to Jehovah?" can only be addressed to the Judaeans, and must mean, "Do ye think that Jehovah cannot or will not fulfil His threat upon Nineveh?" (Cyr., Marck, Strauss). The prophet addresses these words to the anxious minds, which were afraid of fresh invasions on the part of the Assyrians. To strengthen their confidence, he answers the question proposed, by repeating the thought expressed in Nah 1:8. He (Jehovah) is making an end, sc. of the enemy of His people; and he gives a further reason for this in Nah 1:10. The participial clauses עד סירים to סבוּאים are to be taken conditionally: are (or were) they even twisted like thorns. עד סירים, to thorns = as thorns (עד is given correctly by J. H. Michaelis: eo usque ut spinas perplexitate aequent; compare Ewald, 219). The comparison of the enemy to thorns expresses "firmatum callidumque nocendi studium" (Marck), and has been well explained by Ewald thus: "crisp, crafty, and cunning; so that one would rather not go near them, or have anything to do with them" (cf. Sa2 23:6 and Mic 7:4). כּסבאם סבוּאים, not "wetted like their wet" (Hitzig), nor "as it were drowned in wine, so that fire can do no more harm to them than to anything else that is wet" (Ewald); for סבא neither means to wet nor to drown, but to drink, to carouse; and סבוּא means drunken, intoxicated. סבא is strong unmixed wine (see Delitzsch on Isa 1:22). "Their wine" is the wine which they are accustomed to drink. The simile expresses the audacity and hardiness with which the Assyrians regarded themselves as invincible, and applies very well to the gluttony and revelry which prevailed at the Assyrian court; even if the account given by Diod. Sic. (ii. 26), that when Sardanapalus had three times defeated the enemy besieging Nineveh, in his great confidence in his own good fortune, he ordered a drinking carousal, in the midst of which the enemy, who had been made acquainted with the fact, made a fresh attack, and conquered Nineveh, rests upon a legendary dressing up of the facts. אכּלוּ, devoured by fire, is a figure signifying utter destruction; and the perfect is prophetic, denoting what will certainly take place. Like dry stubble: cf. Isa 5:24; Isa 47:14, and Joe 2:5. מלא is not to be taken, as Ewald supposes (279, a), as strengthening יבשׁ, "fully dry," but is to be connected with the verb adverbially, and is simply placed at the end of the sentence for the sake of emphasis (Ges., Maurer, and Strauss). This will be the end of the Assyrians, because he who meditates evil against Jehovah has come forth out of Nineveh. In ממּך Nineveh is addressed, the representative of the imperial power of Assyria, which set itself to destroy the Israelitish kingdom of God. It might indeed be objected to this explanation of the verse, that the words in Nah 1:12 and Nah 1:13 are addressed to Zion or Judah, whereas Nineveh or Asshur is spoken of both in what precedes (Nah 1:8 and Nah 1:10) and in what follows (Nah 1:12) in the third person. On this ground Hoelem. and Strauss refer ממּך also to Judah, and adopt this explanation: "from thee (Judah) will the enemy who has hitherto oppressed thee have gone away" (taking יצא as fut. exact., and יצא מן as in Isa 49:17). But this view does not suit the context. After the utter destruction of the enemy has been predicted in Nah 1:10, we do not expect to find the statement that it will have gone away from Judah, especially as there is nothing said in what precedes about any invasion of Judah. The meditation of evil against Jehovah refers to the design of the Assyrian conquerors to destroy the kingdom of God in Israel, as the Assyrian himself declares in the blasphemous words which Isaiah puts into the mouth of Rabshakeh (Isa 36:14-20), to show the wicked pride of the enemy. This address merely expresses the feeling cherished at all times by the power of the world towards the kingdom of God. It is in the plans devised for carrying this feeling into action that the יעץ בּליּעל, the advising of worthlessness, consists. This is the only meaning that בּליּעל has, not that of destruction.
The power of Nineveh will be destroyed, to break the yoke laid upon Judah. Nah 1:12. "Thus saith Jehovah, Though they be unconsumed, and therefore numerous, yet are they thus mowed down, and have passed away. I have bowed thee down, I will bow thee down no more. Nah 1:13. And now shall I break his yoke from off thee, and break thy fetters in pieces. Nah 1:14. And Jehovah hath given commandment concerning thee, no more of thy name will be sown: from the house of thy God I cut off graven image and molten work: I prepare thy grave; for thou art found light." To confirm the threat expressed in Nah 1:8-11, Nahum explains the divine purpose more fully. Jehovah hath spoken: the completeness and strength of her army will be of no help to Nineveh. It is mowed down, because Judah is to be delivered from its oppressor. The words שׁלמים to ועבר refer to the enemy, the warlike hosts of Nineveh, which are to be destroyed notwithstanding their great and full number. Shâlēm, integer, with strength undiminished, both outwardly and inwardly, i.e., both numerous and strong. וכן רבּים, and so, i.e., of such a nature, just because they are of full number, or numerous. וכן נגוזּוּ, and so, i.e., although of such a nature, they will nevertheless be mowed down. גּזז, taken from the mowing of the meadows, is a figure denoting complete destruction. ועבר is not impersonal, actum est, sc. de iis, but signifies it is away, or has vanished. The singular is used with special emphasis, the numerous army being all embraced in the unity of one man: "he paints the whole people as vanishing away, just as if one little man were carried off" (Strauss). With וענּתך the address turns to Judah. The words are not applicable to the Assyrians, to whom Abarbanel, Grotius, Ewald, and Hitzig refer this clause; for Asshur is not only bowed down or chastened, but utterly destroyed. ענּתך refers to the oppression which Judah had suffered from the Assyrians in the time of Ahaz and Hezekiah. This shall not be repeated, as has already been promised in Nah 1:9. For now will the Lord break the yoke which this enemy has laid upon Judah. ועתּה, but now, is attached adversatively to ענּתך. The suffix to מטהוּ refers to the enemy, which has its seat in Nineveh. For the figure of the yoke, cf. Lev 26:13; Jer 27:2; Jer 28:10; Eze 34:27, etc.; and for the fact itself, Isa 10:27. The words do not refer to the people of the ten tribes, who were pining like slaves in exile (Hitzig); for Nahum makes no allusion to them at all, but to Judah (cf. Nah 1:15), upon whom the Assyrians had laid the yoke of tribute from the time of Ahaz. This was first of all shaken off in the reign of Hezekiah, through the overthrow of Sennacherib; but it was not yet completely broken, so long as there was a possibility that Assyria might rise again with new power, as in fact it did in the reign of Manasseh, when Assyrian generals invaded Judah and carried off this king to Babylon (Ch2 33:11). It was only broken when the Assyrian power was overthrown through the conquest and destruction of Nineveh. This view, which is required by the futures 'eshbōr and 'ănattēq, is confirmed by Nah 1:14, for there the utter extermination of Assyria is clearly expressed. Vetsivvâh is not a perfect with Vav rel.; but the Vav is a simple copula: "and (= for) Jehovah has commanded." The perfect refers to the divine purpose, which has already been formed, even though its execution is still in the future. This purpose runs thus: "Of thy seed shall no more be sown, i.e., thou wilt have no more descendants" ("the people and name are to become extinct," Strauss; cf. Isa 14:20). It is not the king of Assyria who is here addressed, but the Assyrian power personified as a single man, as we may see from what follows, according to which the idols are to be rooted out along with the seed from the house of God, i.e., out of the idol temples (cf. Isa 37:38; Isa 44:13). Pesel and massēkhâh are combined, as in Deu 27:15, to denote every kind of idolatrous image. For the idolatry of Assyria, see Layard's Nineveh and its Remains, ii. p. 439ff. אשׂים קברך cannot mean, "I make the temple of thy god into a grave," although this meaning has already been expressed in the Chaldee and Syriac; and the Masoretic accentuation, which connects the words with what precedes, is also founded upon this view. If an object had to be supplied to אשׂים from the context, it must be pesel ūmassēkhâh; but there would be no sense in "I make thine idol into a grave." There is no other course left, therefore, than to take קברך as the nearest and only object to אשׂים, "I lay, i.e., prepare thy grave," כּי קלּות, because, when weighed according to thy moral worth (Job 31:6), thou hast been found light (cf. Dan 5:27). Hence the widespread opinion, that the murder of Sennacherib (Isa 37:38; Kg2 19:37) is predicted here, must be rejected as erroneous and irreconcilable with the words, and not even so far correct as that Nahum makes any allusion to that event. He simply announces the utter destruction of the Assyrian power, together with its idolatry, upon which that power rested. Jehovah has prepared a grave for the people and their idols, because they have been found light when weighed in the balances of righteousness.
Judah hears the glad tidings, that its oppressor is utterly destroyed. A warlike army marches against Nineveh, which that city cannot resist, because the Lord will put an end to the oppression of His people. Nah 1:15. "Behold, upon the mountains the feet of the messengers of joy, proclaiming salvation! Keep thy feasts, O Judah; pay thy vows: for the worthless one will no more go through thee; he is utterly cut off." The destruction of the Assyrian, announced in Nah 1:14, is so certain, that Nahum commences the description of its realization with an appeal to Judah, to keep joyful feasts, as the miscreant is utterly cut off. The form in which he utters this appeal is to point to messengers upon the mountains, who are bringing the tidings of peace to the kingdom of Judah. The first clause is applied in Isa 52:7 to the description of the Messianic salvation. The messengers of joy appear upon the mountains, because their voice can be heard far and wide from thence. The mountains are those of the kingdom of Judah, and the allusion to the feet of the messengers paints as it were for the eye the manner in which they hasten on the mountains with the joyful news. מבשּׂר is collective, every one who brings the glad tidings. Shâlōm, peace and salvation: here both in one. The summons, to keep feasts, etc., proceeds from the prophet himself, and is, as Ursinus says, "partim gratulatoria, partim exhortatoria." The former, because the feasts could not be properly kept during the oppression by the enemy, or at any rate could not be visited by those who lived at a distance from the temple; the latter, because the chaggı̄m, i.e., the great yearly feasts, were feasts of thanksgiving for the blessings of salvation, which Israel owed to the Lord, so that the summons to celebrate these feasts involved the admonition to thank the Lord for His mercy in destroying the hostile power of the world. This is expressed still more clearly in the summons to pay their vows. בּליּעל, abstract for concrete = אישׁ בל, as in Sa2 23:6 and Job 34:18. נכרת is not a participle, but a perfect in pause.