Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
With Nah 2:1 the prophecy turns to Nineveh. Nah 2:1. "A dasher in pieces comes against thee. Keep thy fortress! Look out upon the way, fortify the loins, exert thy strength greatly! Nah 2:2. For Jehovah returneth to the eminence of Jacob as to the eminence of Israel; for plunderers have plundered them, and their vines have they thrown to the ground." על־פּניך cannot be addressed to Judah, as in Nah 1:15 (Chald., Rashi, etc.). It cannot indeed be objected that in Nah 1:15 the destruction of Asshur has already been announced, since the prophet might nevertheless have returned to the time when Asshur had made war upon Judah, in order to depict its ruin with greater precision. But such an assumption does not agree with the second clause of the verse as compared with Nah 2:2, and still less with the description of the approaching enemy which follows in Nah 2:3, since this is unquestionably, according to Nah 2:5, the power advancing against Nineveh, and destroying that city. We must therefore assume that we have here a sudden change in the person addressed, as in Nah 1:11 and Nah 1:12, Nah 1:13 and Nah 1:14. The enemy is called מפיץ, "a dasher in pieces;" not a war-hammer (cf. Pro 25:18), because עלה, the standing expression for the advance of a hostile army, does not agree with this. על־פּניך, against thy face, i.e., pitching his tent opposite to the city (there is no good reason for altering the suffix into פּניך, as Ewald and Hitzig propose). Against this enemy Nineveh is to bring all possible power of resistance. This is not irony, but simply a poetical turn given to the thought, that Nineveh will not be able to repulse this enemy any more. The inf. abs. nâtsōr stands emphatically for the imperative, as is frequently the case, and is continued in the imperative. Metsūrâh is the enclosure of a city, hence the wall or fortification. צפּה־דרך, looking watchfully upon the way by which the enemy comes, to repulse it or prevent it from entering the city. הזּק מ, make the loins strong, i.e., equip thyself with strength, the loins being the seat of strength. The last clause expresses the same thought, and is merely added to strengthen the meaning. The explanatory kı̄ in Nah 2:2 (3) does not follow upon Nah 2:1 in the sense of "summon up all thy strength, for it is God in whose strength the enemy fights" (Strauss), but to Nah 2:1 or Nah 1:15. The train of thought is the following: Asshur will be utterly destroyed by the enemy advancing against Nineveh, for Jehovah will re-establish the glory of Israel, which Asshur has destroyed. שׁב (perf. proph.) has not the force of the hiphil, reducere, restituere, either here or in Psa 85:5 and Isa 52:8, and other passages, where the modern lexicons give it, but means to turn round, or return to a person, and is construed with the accusative, as in Num 10:36; Exo 4:20, and Gen 50:14, although in actual fact the return of Jehovah to the eminence of Jacob involves its restoration. גּאון יעקב, that of which Jacob is proud, i.e., the eminence and greatness or glory accruing to Israel by virtue of its election to be the nation of God, which the enemy into whose power it had been given up on account of its rebellion against God had taken away (see at Amo 6:8). Jacob does not stand for Judah, nor Israel for the ten tribes, for Nahum never refers to the ten tribes in distinction from Judah; and Oba 1:18, where Jacob is distinguished from the house of Joseph, is of a totally different character. Both names stand here for the whole of Israel (of the twelve tribes), and, as Cyril has shown, the distinction is this: Jacob is the natural name which the people inherited from their forefather, and Israel the spiritual name which they had received from God. Strauss gives the meaning correctly thus: Jehovah will so return to the eminence of His people, who are named after Jacob, that this eminence shall become the eminence of Israel, i.e., of the people of God; in other words, He will exalt the nation once more to the lofty eminence of its divine calling (כּ used in the same manner as in Sa1 25:36). This will He do, because plunderers have plundered (bâqaq, evacuare) them (the Israelites), and destroyed their vines, cast them to the ground; that He may avenge the reproach cast upon His people. The plunderers are the heathen nations, especially the Assyrians. The vines are the Israelites; Israel as a people or kingdom is the vineyard (Isa 5:1; Jer 12:10; Psa 80:9.); the vines are the families, and the branches (zemōrı̄m from zemōrâh) the members.
After assigning this reason for the divine purpose concerning Asshur, the prophet proceeds in Nah 2:3. to depict the army advancing towards Nineveh, viz., in Nah 2:3 its appearance, and in Nah 2:4 the manner in which it sets itself in motion for battle. Nah 2:3. "The shield of His heroes is made red, the valiant men are clothed in crimson: in the fire of the steel-bosses are the chariots, on the day of His equipment; and the cypresses are swung about. Nah 2:4. The chariots rave in the streets, they run over one another on the roads; their appearance is like the torches, they run about like lightning." The suffix attached to gibbōrēhū (His heroes) might be taken as referring to mēphı̄ts in Nah 2:1 (2); but it is more natural to refer it to Jehovah in Nah 2:2 (3), as having summoned the army against Nineveh (cf. Isa 13:3). The shields are reddened, i.e., not radiant (Ewald), but coloured with red, and that not with the blood of enemies who have been slain (Abarbanel and Grotius), but either with red colour with which they are painted, or what is still more probable, with the copper with which they are overlaid: see Josephus, Ant. xiii. 12, 5 (Hitzig). אנשׁי־חיל are not fighting men generally, i.e., soldiers, but brave men, heroes (cf. Jdg 3:29; Sa1 31:12; Sa2 11:16, equivalent to benē chayil in Sa1 18:17, etc.). מתלּעים, ἁπ. λεγ., a denom. of תּולע, coccus: clothed in coccus or crimson. The fighting dress of the nations of antiquity was frequently blood-red (see Aeliani, Var. hist. vi. 6).
(Note: Valerius observes on this: "They used Poenic tunics in battle, to disguise and hide the blood of their wounds, not lest the sight of it should fill them with alarm, but lest it should inspire the enemy with confidence.")
The ἁπ. λεγ. pelâdōth is certainly not used for lappı̄dı̄m, torches; but in both Arabic and Syriac paldâh signifies steel (see Ges. Lex.). But pelâdōth are not scythes, which would suggest the idea of scythe-chariots (Michaelis, Ewald, and others); for scythe-chariots were first introduced by Cyrus, and were unknown before his time to the Medes, the Syrians, the Arabians, and also to the ancient Egyptians (see at Jos 17:16). Pelâdōth probably denotes the steel covering of the chariots, as the Assyrian war-chariots were adorned according to the monuments with ornaments of metal.
(Note: "The chariots of the Assyrians," says Strauss, "as we see them on the monuments, glare with shining things, made either of iron or steel, battle-axes, bows, arrows, and shields, and all kinds of weapons; the horses are also ornamented with crowns and red fringes, and even the poles of the carriages are made resplendent with shining suns and moons: add to these the soldiers in armour riding in the chariots; and it could not but be the case, that when illumined by the rays of the sun above them, they would have all the appearance of flames as they flew hither and thither with great celerity." Compare also the description of the Assyrian war-chariots given by Layard in his Nineveh and its Remains, vol. ii. p. 348.)
The army of the enemy presents the appearance described בּיום הכינו, in the day of his equipment. הכין, to prepare, used of the equipping of an army for an attack or for battle, as in Jer 46:14; Eze 7:14; Eze 38:7. The suffix refers to Jehovah, like that in גּבּוריהוּ; compare Isa 13:4, where Jehovah raises an army for war with Babylon. Habberōshı̄m, the cypresses, are no doubt lances or javelins made of cypress-wood (Grotius and others), not magnates (Chald., Kimchi, and others), or viri hastati. הרעלוּ, to be swung, or brandished, in the hands of the warriors equipped for battle. The army advances to the assault (Nah 2:4), and presses into the suburbs. The chariots rave (go mad) in the streets. התהולל, to behave one's self foolishly, to rave, used here as in Jer 46:9 for mad driving, or driving with insane rapidity (see Kg2 9:20). השׁתּקשׁק, hithpalel of שׁקק, to run (Joe 2:9); in the intensive form, to run over one another, i.e., to run in such a way that they appear as though they would run over one another. חוּצות and רחבות are roads and open spaces, not outside the city, but inside (cf. Amo 5:16; Psa 144:13-14; Pro 1:20), and, indeed, as we may see from what follows, in the suburbs surrounding the inner city of citadel. Their appearance (viz., that of the chariots as they drive raving about) is like torches. The feminine suffix to מראיהן can only refer to הרכב, notwithstanding the fact that elsewhere רכב is always construed as a masculine, and that it is so here in the first clauses. For the suffix cannot refer to רחבות (Hoelem. and Strauss), because הרכב is the subject in the following clause as well as in the two previous ones. The best way probably is to take it as a neuter, so that it might refer not to the chariots only, but to everything in and upon the chariots. The appearance of the chariots, as they drove about with the speed of lightning, richly ornamented with bright metal (see on Nah 2:3), and occupied by warriors in splendid clothes and dazzling armour, might very well be compared to torches and flashing lightning. רצץ, pilel of רוּץ (not poel of רצץ, Jdg 10:8), cursitare, used of their driving with lightning-speed.
The Assyrian tries to repel this attack, but all in vain. Nah 2:5. "He remembers his glorious ones: they stumble in their paths; they hasten to the wall of it, and the tortoise is set up. Nah 2:6. The gates are opened in the rivers, and the palace is dissolved. Nah 2:7. It is determined: she is laid bare, carried off, and her maids groan like the cry of doves, smiting on their breasts." On the approach of the war-chariots of the enemy to the attack, the Assyrian remembers his generals and warriors, who may possibly be able to defend the city and drive back the foe. That the subject changes with yizkōr, is evident from the change in the number, i.e., from the singular as compared with the plurals in Nah 2:3 and Nah 2:4, and is placed beyond the reach of doubt by the contents of Nah 2:5., which show that the reference is to the attempt to defend the city. The subject to yizkōr is the Assyrian (בּליּעל, Nah 2:1), or the king of Asshur (Nah 3:18). He remembers his glorious ones, i.e., remembers that he has 'addı̄rı̄m, i.e., not merely generals (μεγιστᾶνες, lxx), but good soldiers, including the generals (as in Nah 3:18; Jdg 5:13; Neh 3:5). He sends for them, but they stumble in their paths. From terror at the violent assault of the foe, their knees lose their tension (the plural hălı̄khōth is not to be corrected into the singular according to the keri, as the word always occurs in the plural). They hasten to the wall of it (Nineveh); there is הסּכך set up: i.e., literally the covering one, not the defender, praesidium militare (Hitzig), but the tortoise, testudo.
(Note: Not, however, the tortoise formed by the shields of the soldiers, held close together above their heads (Liv. xxxiv. 9), since these are never found upon the Assyrian monuments (vid., Layard), but a kind of battering-ram, of which there are several different kinds, either a moveable tower, with a battering-ram, consisting of a light framework, covered with basket-work, or else a framework without any tower, either with an ornamented covering, or simply covered with skins, and moving upon four or six wheels. See the description, with illustrations, in Layard's Nineveh, ii. pp. 366-370, and Strauss's commentary on this passage.)
The prophet's description passes rapidly from the assault upon the city wall to the capture of the city itself (Nah 2:6). The opened or opening gates of the rivers are neither those approaches to the city which were situated on the bank of the Tigris, and were opened by the overflowing of the river, in support of which appeal has been made to the statement of Diodor. Sic. ii. 27, that the city wall was destroyed for the space of twenty stadia by the overflowing of the Tigris; for "gates of the rivers" cannot possibly stand for gates opened by rivers. Still less can it be those roads of the city which led to the gates, and which were flooded with people instead of water (Hitzig), or with enemies, who were pressing from the gates into the city like overflowing rivers (Ros.); nor even gates through which rivers flow, i.e., sluices, namely those of the concentric canals issuing from the Tigris, with which the palace could be laid under water (Vatabl., Burck, Hitzig, ed. 1); but as Luther renders it, "gates on the waters," i.e., situated on the rivers, or gates in the city wall, which were protected by the rivers; "gates most strongly fortified, both by nature and art" (Tuch, de Nino urbe, p. 67, Strauss, and others), for nehârōth must be understood as signifying the Tigris and its tributaries and canals. At any rate, there were such gates in Nineveh, since the city, which stood at the junction of the Khosr with the Tigris, in the slope of the (by no means steep) rocky bank, was to some extent so built in the alluvium, that the natural course of the Khosr had to be dammed off from the plain chosen for the city by three stone dams, remnants of which are still to be seen; and a canal was cut above this point, which conducted the water to the plain of the city, where it was turned both right and left into the city moats, but had a waste channel through the city. To the south, however, another small collection of waters helped to fill the trenches. "The wall on the side towards the river consisted of a slightly curved line, which connected together the mouths of the trenches, but on the land side it was built at a short distance from the trenches. The wall on the river side now borders upon meadows, which are only flooded at high water; but the soil has probably been greatly elevated, and at the time when the city was built this was certainly river" (see M. v. Niebuhr, Geschichte Assurs u. Babels, p. 280; and the outlines of the plan of the ground oh which Nineveh stood, p. 284). The words of the prophet are not to be understood as referring to any particular gate, say the western, either alone, or par excellence, as Tuch supposes, but apply quite generally to the gates of the city, since the rivers are only mentioned for the purpose of indicating the strength of the gates. As Luther has correctly explained it, "the gates of the rivers, however firm in other respects, and with no easy access, will now be easily occupied, yea, have been already opened." The palace melts away, not, however, from the floods of water which flow through the open gates. This literal rendering of the words is irreconcilable with the situation of the palaces in Nineveh, since they were built in the form of terraces upon the tops of hills, either natural or artificial, and could not be flooded with water. The words are figurative. mūg, to melt, dissolve, i.e., to vanish through anxiety and alarm; and היכל, the palace, for the inhabitants of the palace. "When the gates, protected by the rivers, are broken open by the enemy, the palace, i.e., the reigning Nineveh, vanishes in terror" (Hitzig). For her sway has now come to an end.
הצּב: the hophal of נצב, in the hiphil, to establish, to determine (Deu 32:8; Psa 74:17; and Chald. Dan 2:45; Dan 6:13); hence it is established, i.e., is determined, sc. by God: she will be made bare; i.e., Nineveh, the queen, or mistress of the nations, will be covered with shame. גּלּתה is not to be taken as interchangeable with the hophal הגלה, to be carried away, but means to be uncovered, after the piel to uncover, sc. the shame or nakedness (Nah 3:5; cf. Isa 47:2-3; Hos 2:12). העלה, for העלה (see Ges. 63, Anm. 4), to be driven away, or led away, like the niph. in Jer 37:11; Sa2 2:27.
(Note: Of the different explanations that have been given of this hemistich, the supposition, which dates back as far as the Chaldee, that huzzab signifies the queen, or is the name of the queen (Ewald and Rckert), is destitute of any tenable foundation, and is no better than Hitzig's fancy, that we should read והצּב, "and the lizard is discovered, fetched up," and that this "reptile" is Nineveh. The objection offered to our explanation, viz., that it would only be admissible if it were immediately followed by the decretum divinum in its full extent, and not merely by one portion of it, rests upon a misinterpretation of the following words, which do not contain merely a portion of the purpose of God.)
The laying bare and carrying away denote the complete destruction of Nineveh. אמהתיה, ancillae ejus, i.e., Nini. The "maids" of the city of Nineveh personified as a queen are not the states subject to her rule (Theodor., Cyr., Jerome, and others), - for throughout this chapter Nineveh is spoken of simply as the capital of the Assyrian empire, - but the inhabitants of Nineveh, who are represented as maids, mourning over the fate of their mistress. Nâhag, to pant, to sigh, for which hâgâh is used in other passages where the cooing of doves is referred to (cf. Isa 38:14; Isa 59:11). כּקול יונים instead of כּיּונים, probably to express the loudness of the moaning. Tophēph, to smite, used for the smiting of the timbrels in Psa 68:26; here, to smite upon the breast. Compare pectus pugnis caedere, or palmis infestis tundere (e.g., Juv. xiii. 167; Virg. Aen. i. 481, and other passages), as an expression of violent agony in deep mourning (cf. Luk 18:13; Luk 23:27). לבבהן for לבביהן is the plural, although this is generally written לבּות; and as the י is frequently omitted as a sign of the plural (cf. Ewald, 258, a), there is no good ground for reading לבבהן, as Hitzig proposes.
At the conquest of Nineveh the numerous inhabitants flee, and the rich city is plundered. Nah 2:8. "And Nineveh like a water-pond all her days. And they flee! Stand ye, O stand! and no one turns round. Nah 2:9. Take silver as booty, take ye gold! And no end to the furnishing with immense quantity of all kinds of ornamental vessels. Nah 2:10. Emptying and devastation! and the heart has melted, and trembling of the knees, and labour pain in all loins, and the countenance of every one withdraws its ruddiness." Nineveh is compared to a pool, not merely with reference to the multitude of men who had gathered together there, but, as water is everywhere an element of life, also with reference to the wealth and prosperity which accrued to this imperial city out of the streaming together of so many men and so many different peoples. Compare Jer 51:13, where Babel is addressed as "Thou that dwellest on many waters, art rich in many treasures." מימי היא, since the days that she exists. היא = אשׁר היא, the relation being indicated by the construct state; מן הוא in Isa 18:2 is different. But they flee. The subject to נסים is not the waters, although nūs is applied to water in Psa 104:7, but, as what follows shows, the masses of men who are represented as water. These flee away without being stopped by the cry "Stand ye" (i.e., remain), or even paying any attention to it. Hiphnâh, lit., "to turn the back" (‛ōreph, Jer 48:39), to flee, but when applied to a person already fleeing, to turn round (cf. Jer 46:5). In Nah 2:9 the conquerors are summoned to plunder, not by their generals, but by God, who speaks through the prophet. The fact is hereby indicated, "that this does not happen by chance, but because God determines to avenge the injuries inflicted upon His people" (Calvin). With ואין קצה the prophecy passes into a simple description. There is no end lattekhūnâh, to the furnishing with treasures. Tekhūnâh, from kūn, not from tâkhan, lit., the setting up, the erection of a building (Eze 43:11); here the furnishing of Nineveh as the dwelling-place of the rulers of the world, whilst in Job 23:3 it is applied to the place where the throne of God has been established. In כּבד the ל might be thought of as still continuing in force (Ewald, Hitzig), but it answers better to the liveliness of the description to take כּבד as beginning a fresh sentence. כּבד written defectively, as in Gen 31:1 : glory, equivalent to the great amount of the wealth, as in Genesis (l.c.). Kelē chendâh, gold and silver vessels and jewels, as in Hos 13:15. That there were immense treasures of the precious metals and of costly vessels treasured up in Nineveh, may be inferred with certainty from the accounts of ancient writers, which border on the fabulous.
(Note: For proofs, see Layard's Nineveh, ii. 415ff., and Movers, Phnizier (iii. 1, pp. 40, 41). After quoting the statements of Ctesias, the latter observes that "these numbers are indeed fabulous; but they have their historical side, inasmuch as in the time of Ctesias the riches of Nineveh were estimated at an infinitely greater amount than the enormous treasures accumulated in the treasuries of the Persian empire. That the latter is quite in accordance with truth, may be inferred from the fact that the conquerors of Nineveh, the Medes and Chaldaeans, of whose immense booty, in the shape of gold, silver, and other treasures, even the prophet Nahum speaks, furnished Ecbatana and Babylon with gold and silver from the booty of Nineveh to an extent unparalleled in all history.")
Of all these treasures nothing was left but desolate emptiness. This is expressed by the combination of three synonymous words. Būqâh and mebhūqâh are substantive formations from būq = bâqaq, to empty out, and are combined to strengthen the idea, like similar combinations in Zep 1:15; Eze 33:29, and Isa 29:2. Mebhullâqâh is a synonymous noun formed from the participle pual, and signifying devastation (cf. Isa 24:1, where even bâlaq is combined with bâqaq). In Nah 2:11 the horror of the vanquished at the total devastation of Nineveh is described, also in short substantive clauses: "melted heart" (nâmēs is a participle), i.e., perfect despondency (see Isa 13:7; Jos 7:5); trembling of the knees, so that from terror men can hardly keep upon their feet (pı̄q for pūq; it only occurs here). Chalchâlâh formed by reduplication from chı̄l: spasmodic pains in all loins, like the labour pains of women in childbirth (cf. Isa 21:3). Lastly, the faces of all turning pale (see at Joe 2:6).
Thus will the mighty city be destroyed, with its men of war and booty. Nah 2:11. "Where is the dwelling of the lions and the feeding-place of the young lions, where the lion walked, the lioness, the lion's whelp, and no one frightened? Nah 2:12. The lion robbing for the need of his young ones, and strangling for his lionesses, and he filled his dens with prey, and his dwelling-places with spoil. Nah 2:13. Behold, O come to thee, is the saying of Jehovah of hosts, and I cause her chariots to turn in smoke, and thy young lions the sword devours; and I cut off thy prey from the earth, and the voice of thy messengers shall be heard no more." The prophet, beholding the destruction in spirit as having already taken place, looks round for the site on which the mighty city once stood, and sees it no more. This is the meaning of the question in Nah 2:11. He describes it as the dwelling-place of lions. The point of comparison is the predatory lust of its rulers and their warriors, who crushed the nations like lions, plundering their treasures, and bringing them together in Nineveh. To fill up the picture, the epithets applied to the lions are grouped together according to the difference of sex and age. אריה is the full-grown male lion; לביא, the lioness; כּפיר, the young lion, though old enough to go in search of prey; גּוּר אריה, catulus leonis, the lion's whelp, which cannot yet seek prey for itself. וּמרעה הוּא, lit., "and a feeding-place is it," sc. the dwelling-place (הוּא pointing back to מעון) in this sense: "Where is the dwelling-place which was also a feeding-place for the young lions?" By the apposition the thought is expressed, that the city of lions was not only a resting-place, but also afforded a comfortable living. אשׁר is to be taken in connection with the following שׁם: in the very place where; and hâlakh signifies simply to walk, to walk about, not "to take exercise," in which case the kal would stand for piel. The more precise definition follows in ואין מחריד, without any one terrifying, hence in perfect rest and security, and undisturbed might (cf. Mic 4:4; Lev 26:6; Deu 28:26, etc.). Under the same figure Nah 2:12 describes the tyranny and predatory lust of the Assyrians in their wars. This description is subordinate in sense to the leading thought, or to the question contained in the previous verse. Where is the city now, into which the Assyrians swept together the booty of the peoples and kingdoms which they had destroyed? In form, however, the verse is attached poetically in loose apposition to Nah 2:12. The lion, as king of the beasts, is a very fitting emblem of the kings or rulers of Assyria. The lionesses and young lions are the citizens of Nineveh and of the province of Assyria, the tribe-land of the imperial monarchy of Assyria, and not the queens and princes, as the Chaldee explains it. Gōrōth with the o-inflection for gūrōth, as in Jer 51:38. Chōrı̄m, holes for hiding-places, or caves, not only applies to the robbers, in which character the Assyrians are exhibited through the figure of the lion (Hitzig), but also to the lions, which carry their prey into caves (cf. Bochart, Hieroz. i. 737). This destruction of Nineveh will assuredly take place; for Jehovah the Almighty God has proclaimed it, and He will fulfil His word. The word of God in Nah 2:13 stamps the foregoing threat with the seal of confirmation. הנני אליך, behold I (will) to thee (Nineveh). We have not to supply אבוא here, but simply the verb. copul., which is always omitted in such sentences. The relation of the subject to the object is expressed by אל (cf. Nah 3:5; Jer 51:25). הבערתּי בעשׁן, I burn into smoke, i.e., so that it vanishes into smoke (cf. Psa 37:20). רכבּהּ, her war-chariots, stands synecdochically for the whole of the apparatus of war (Calvin). The suffix in the third person must not be altered; it may easily be explained from the poetical variation of prophetic announcement and direct address. The young lions are the warriors; the echo of the figure in the previous verse still lingers in this figure, as well as in טרפּך. The last clause expresses the complete destruction of the imperial might of Assyria. The messengers of Nineveh are partly heralds, as the carriers of the king's commands; partly halberdiers, or delegates who fulfilled the ruler's commands (cf. Kg1 19:2; Kg2 19:23). The suffix in מלאככה is in a lengthened form, on account of the tone at the end of the section, analogous to אתכה in Exo 29:35, and is not to be regarded as an Aramaeism or a dialectical variation (Ewald, 258, a). The tsere of the last syllable is occasioned by the previous tsere. Jerome has summed up the meaning very well as follows: "Thou wilt never lay countries waste any more, nor exact tribute, nor will thy messengers be heard throughout thy provinces." (On the last clause, see Eze 19:9.)