Nahum 3:16
You have multiplied your merchants above the stars of heaven: the cankerworm spoils, and flees away.
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(16) Spoileth.—Better, spreads itself out: swarms out to spoil.

Nahum 3:16-17. Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars —

Thou hast drawn more merchants to thee than there are stars in the heavens. This is a hyperbolical expression, to signify the great number of them. The canker-worm spoileth, and fleeth away — As the locusts destroy the fruits of the earth, and then fly away to another place; so shall thy soldiers pillage all the wealth thou hast gained by traffic, and then leave thee. Thy crowded (or, thy princes) are as the locusts, &c. — For as they fly away when the heat comes on, so thy princes and captains will fly away from the heat of battle, or danger.3:8-19 Strong-holds, even the strongest, are no defence against the judgments of God. They shall be unable to do any thing for themselves. The Chaldeans and Medes would devour the land like canker-worms. The Assyrians also would be eaten up by their own numerous hired troops, which seem to be meant by the word rendered merchants. Those that have done evil to their neighbours, will find it come home to them. Nineveh, and many other cities, states, and empires, have been ruined, and should be a warning to us. Are we better, except as there are some true Christians amongst us, who are a greater security, and a stronger defence, than all the advantages of situation or strength? When the Lord shows himself against a people, every thing they trust in must fail, or prove a disadvantage; but he continues good to Israel. He is a strong-hold for every believer in time of trouble, that cannot be stormed or taken; and he knoweth those that trust in Him.Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven - Not numerous only but glorious in the eyes of the world, and, as thou deemest, safe and inaccessible; yet in an instant all is gone.

The commerce of Nineveh was carried back to prehistoric times, since its rivers bound together the mountains of Armenia with the Persian gulf, and marked out the line, by which the distant members of the human family should supply each others' needs. "Semiramis" they say , "built other cities on the Euphrates and the Tigris, where she placed emporia for those who convey their goods from Media and Paraetacene. Being mighty rivers and passing through a populous country, they yield many advantages to those employed in commerce; so that the places by the river are full of wealthy emporia." The Phoenicians traced back their Assyrian commerce (and as it seems, truly) to those same prehistoric times, in which they alleged, that they themselves migrated from the Persian gulf. They commenced at once, they said , the long voyages, in which they transported the wares of Egypt and Assyria. The building of "Tadmor in the wilderness" 1 Kings 9:18 on the way to Tiphsach (Thapsacus) the utmost bound of Solomon's dominions (1 Kings 5:4 1 Kings 4:24), connected Palestine with that commerce.

The great route for couriers and for traffic, extending for 1,500 or 1,600 miles in later times, must have lain through Nineveh, since, although no mention is made of the city which had perished, the route lay across the two rivers , the greater and lesser Zab, of which the greater formed the Southern limit of Nineveh. Those two rivers led up to two mountain-passes which opened a way to Media and Agbatana; and pillars at the summit of the N. pass attest the use of this route over the Zagros chain about 700 b.c. . Yet a third and easier pass was used by Nineveh, as is evidenced by another monument, of a date as yet undetermined . Two other lines connected Nineveh with Syria and the West. Northern lines led doubtless to Lake Wan and the Black Sea . The lists of plunder or of tribute, carried off during the world-empire of Egypt, before it was displaced by Assyria, attest the extensive imports or manufactures of Nineveh ; the titles of "Assyrian nard, Assyrian amomum, Assyrian odors, myrrh, frankincense , involve its trade with the spice countries: domestic manufactures of hers apparently were purple or dark-blue cloaks, embroidery, brocades, and these conveyed in chests of cedar; her metallurgy was on principles recognized now; in one practical point of combining beauty with strength, she has even been copied .

A line of commerce, so marked out by nature in the history of nations, is not changed, unless some preferable line be discovered. Empires passed away, but, at the end of the 13th century a.d., trade and manufacture continued their accustomed course and habitation. The faith in Jesus had converted the ancient paganism; the heresy of Mohammedanism disputed with the faith for the souls of men; but the old material prosperity of the world held its way. Mankind still wanted the productions of each others' lands. The merchants of Nineveh were to be dispersed and were gone: itself and its remembrance were to be effaced from the earth, and it was so; in vain was a new Nineveh built by the Romans; that also disappeared; but so essential was its possession for the necessities of commerce, that Mosul, a large and populous town, arose over against its mounds, a city of the living over-against its buried glories; and, as our goods are known in China by the name of our great manufacturing capital, so a delicate manufacture imposed on the languages of Europe (Italian, Spanish, French, English, German) the name of Mosul .

Even early in this century, under a mild governor, an important commerce passed through Mosul, from India, Persia, Kurdistan, Syria, Natolia, Europe . And when European traffic took the line of the Isthmus ef Suez, the communication with Kurdistan still secured to it an important and exclusive commerce. The merchants of Nineveh were dispersed and gone. The commerce continued over-against its grave.

The cankerworm spoileth and fleeth away - Better, "the locust hath spread itself abroad (marauded) and is flown." The prophet gives, in three words, the whole history of Nineveh, its beginning and its end. He had before foretold its destruction, though it should be oppressive as the locust; he had spoken of its commercial wealth; he adds to this, that other source of its wealth, its despoiling warfares and their issue. The pagan conqueror rehearsed his victory, "I came, saw, conquered." The prophet goes further, as the issue of all human conquest, "I disappeared." The locust (Nineveh) spread itself abroad (the word is always used of an inroad for plunder , destroying and wasting, everywhere: it left the world a desert, and was gone. Ill-gotten wealth makes one poor, not rich. Truly they who traffic in this world, are more in number than they who, seeking treasure in heaven, shall shine as the stars forever and ever. "For many are called, but few, are chosen." And when all the stars of light "shall abide and praise God Psalm 148:3, these men, though multiplied like the locust, shall, like the locust, pass away, destroying and destroyed. They abide for a while in the chillness of this world; when the Sun of righteousness ariseth, they vanish. This is the very order of God's Providence. As truly as locusts, which in the cold and dew are chilled and stiffened, and cannot spread their wings, fly away when the sun is hot and are found no longer, so shalt thou be dispersed and thy place not anymore be known . It was an earnest of this, when the Assyrians, like locusts, had spread themselves around Jerusalem in a dark day of trouble and of rebuke and of blasphemy Isaiah 37:3, God was entreated and they were not. Midian came up like the grasshopper for multitude Judges 6:4-5; Judges 7:12. In the morning they had fled Judges 7:21. What is the height of the sons of hen? or how do they spread themselves abroad?" At the longest, after a few years it is but as the locust spreads himself and flees away, no more to return.

16. multiplied thy merchants—(Eze 27:23, 24). Nineveh, by large canals, had easy access to Babylon; and it was one of the great routes for the people of the west and northwest to that city; lying on the Tigris it had access to the sea. The Phœnicians carried its wares everywhere. Hence its merchandise is so much spoken of.

the cankerworm spoileth, and fleeth away—that is, spoiled thy merchants. The "cankerworm," or licking locust, answers to the Medo-Babylonian invaders of Nineveh [G. V. Smith]. Calvin explains less probably, "Thy merchants spoiled many regions; but the same shall befall them as befalls locusts, they in a moment shall be scattered and flee away." Maurer, somewhat similarly, "The licking locust puts off (the envelope in which his wings had been folded), and teeth away" (Na 2:9; compare Joe 1:4). The Hebrew has ten different names for the locust, so destructive was it.

Thou hast multiplied for number; and, as the word may import, thou hast greatened them, thou reliest on their purse and interest.

Thy merchants; either literally, or figuratively, thy great men, princes, and rulers, which sold and bought, Nahum 3:4; or thy confederates, who by virtue of such leagues have free commerce with thee; and this is most likely to be the meaning.

Above the stars; proverbially taken for a very great number.

The canker-worm spoileth, and fleeth away: this seems an abrupt speech, and may be thus made up: Whatever thou thinkest of these, which thou both multipliedst and magnifiest, I tell thee, O Nineveh, they are like the canker-worm and locust, which spoil wherever they come, and do the greater mischief where they are greater in number, for they come for spoil; while they get by thee they continue with thee, and when no more is to be gotten, they take wing and fly away, leaving waste and stench behind them: so will these serve thee, O Nineveh. Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven,.... A hyperbolical expression, setting forth the great number of merchants that were in Nineveh, and in the land of Assyria; who either were the natives of the place, or came thither for the sake of merchandise, which serve to enrich a nation, and therefore are encouraged to settle; and from whom, in a time of war, much benefit might be expected; being able to furnish with money, which is the sinews of war, as well as to give intelligence of the designs of foreign princes, they trading abroad:

the cankerworm spoileth, and flieth away; or "puts off" (c) its clothes, disrobes and changes its form; or breaks out with force, as the Septuagint, out of its former worm state, and appears a beautiful butterfly, and then flies away. The word is rendered a caterpillar, Psalm 105:34 and what we translate "spoileth" is used of stripping, or putting off of clothes, 1 Samuel 19:24 and the sense may be, that though their merchants were multiplied above the stars of heaven, in which there may be an allusion to the increase of caterpillars, Nahum 3:15 yet, as the caterpillar drops its clothes, and flies away, so their merchants, through fear of the enemy, would depart in haste, or be suddenly stripped of their riches, which make themselves wings, and fly away, Proverbs 23:5. These merchants, at their beginning, might be low and mean, but, increasing, adorning, and enriching themselves in a time of peace, fled away in a time of war: or, "spreads itself" (d), and "flies away"; so these creatures spread themselves on the earth, and devour all they can, and then spread their wings, and are gone; suggesting that in like manner the merchants of Nineveh would serve them; get all they could by merchandise among them, and then betake themselves elsewhere and especially in a time of war, which is prejudicial to merchandise; and hence nothing was to be expected from them, or any dependence had upon them.

(c) "exspoliavit", De Dieu; "proprie est, exuere, vestem detrahere et exspoliare", De Dieu. (d) "Diffundit se", Munster, so the Targum; "effunditur", Cocceius.

Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven: the cankerworm spoileth, and fleeth away.
16. spoileth] lit. strips off, i.e. probably its skin or shard, which confines its wings. If this be the sense Tennyson’s lines finely express it—

To-day I saw the dragon-fly

Come from the wells where he did lie.

An inner impulse rent the vail

Of his old husk; from head to tail

Came 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.Verse 16. - Its extensive commercial relations shall not save it. Thou hast multiplied thy merchants. Nineveh was most favourably situated for carrying on commerce with other countries. The roads from Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and Phoenicia, that led into Media, Persia, and the interior of Asia, converged at Nineveh, and brought thither merchandise from all lands; and the Assyrians themselves exported their own produce and manufactures to the far West. Among these are enumerated textile fabrics, carpets, dyed attire, and embroidered work, carvings in ivory, gems, spices (see Rawlinson, 'Anc. Mon.,' 2:179, etc.; Layard, 'Nineveh,' 2:414, etc.). The cankerworm spoileth; or, spreadeth itself for plunder; Vulgate, expansus est; Septuagint, ὥρμησεν, "attacked." The cankerworm (see note on ver. 15) are the enemy,who spread themselves over the rich produce of Nineveh, and then flee away laden with spoil. Pusey makes the cankerworm represent Nineveh. She spread herself everywhere wasting and plundering, and now she is gone, has disappeared. But the former explanation better suits the comparison in ver. 15, where "the licker" is the enemy; and it is most natural that the prophet should allude to the fate of that commercial wealth which he has just mentioned, as in previous verses he contrasts the riches and power of Nineveh with the ruin that awaits them. On the rising of the dawn of the very next day, God appointed a worm, which punctured the miraculous tree so that it withered away; and when the sun arose He also appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun smote upon Jonah's head, so that he fainted away. Chărı̄shıth, from chârash, to be silent or quiet, is to be taken when used of the wind in the sense of sultry, as in the Chaldee (lxx συγκαίων). The meaning ventus, qualis flat tempore arandi, derived from chârish, the ploughing (Abulw.), or autumnal east wind (Hitzig), is far less suitable. When Jonah fainted away in consequence of the sun-stroke (for hith‛allēph, see at Amos 8:13), he wished himself dead, since death was better for him than life (see Jonah 4:3). ישׁאל את־נפשׁו למוּת, as in 1 Kings 19:4, "he wished that his soul might die," a kind of accusative with the infinitive (cf. Ewald, 336, b). But God answered, as in Jonah 4:4, by asking whether he was justly angry. Instead of Jehovah (Jonah 4:4) we have Elohim mentioned here, and Jehovah is not introduced as speaking till Jonah 4:9. We have here an intimation, that just as Jonah's wish to die was simply an expression of the feelings of his mind, so the admonitory word of God was simply a divine voice within him setting itself against his murmuring. It was not till he had persisted in his ill-will, even after this divine admonition within, that Jehovah pointed out to him how wrong his murmuring was. Jehovah's speaking in Jonah 4:9 is a manifestation of the divine will by supernatural inspiration. Jehovah directs Jonah's attention to the contradiction into which he has fallen, by feeling compassion for the withering of the miraculous tree, and at the same time murmuring because God has had compassion upon Nineveh with its many thousands of living beings, and has spared the city for the sake of these souls, many of whom have no idea whatever of right or wrong. Chastâ: "Thou hast pitied the Qiqayon, at which thou hast not laboured, and which thou hast not caused to grow; for (שׁבּן equals אשׁר בּן) son of a night" - i.e., in a night, or over night - "has it grown, and over night perished, and I should not pity Nineveh?" ואני is a question; but this is only indicated by the tone. If Jonah feels pity for the withering of a small shrub, which he neither planted nor tended, nor caused to grow, shall God not have pity with much greater right upon the creatures whom He has created and has hitherto sustained, and spare the great city Nineveh, in which more than 120,000 are living, who cannot distinguish their right hand from the left, and also much cattle? Not to be able to distinguish between the right hand and the left is a sign of mental infancy. This is not to be restricted, however, to the very earliest years, say the first three, but must be extended to the age of seven years, in which children first learn to distinguish with certainty between right and left, since, according to M. v. Niebuhr (p. 278), "the end of the seventh year is a very common division of age (it is met with, for example, even among the Persians), and we may regard it as certain that it would be adopted by the Hebrews, on account of the importance they attached to the number seven." A hundred and twenty thousand children under seven years of age would give a population of six hundred thousand, since, according to Niebuhr, the number of children of the age mentioned is one-fifth the whole population, and there is no ground for assuming that the proportion in the East would be essentially different. This population is quite in accordance with the size of the city.

(Note: "Nineveh, in the broader sense," says M. v. Niebuhr, "covers an area of about 400 English square miles. Hence there were about 40,000 persons to the square mile. Jones (in a paper on Nineveh) estimates the population of the chief city, according to the area, at 174,000 souls. So that we may reckon the population of the four larger walled cities at 350,000. There remain, therefore, for the smaller places and the level ground, 300,000 men on about sixteen square miles; that is to say, nearly 20,000 men upon the square mile." He then shows, from the agricultural conditions in the district of Elberfeld and the province of Naples, how thoroughly this population suits such a district. In the district of Elberfeld there are, in round numbers, 22,000 persons to the square mile, or, apart from the two large towns, 10,000. And if we take into account the difference in fertility, this is about the same density of population as that of Nineveh. The province of Naples bears a very great resemblance to Nineveh, not only in the kind of cultivation, but also in the fertility of the soil. And there, in round numbers, 46,000 are found to the square mile, or, exclusive of the capital, 22,000 souls.)

Children who cannot distinguish between right and left, cannot distinguish good from evil, and are not yet accountable. The allusion to the multitude of unaccountable children contains a fresh reason for sparing the city: God would have been obliged to destroy so many thousand innocent ones along with the guilty. Besides this, there was "much cattle" in the city. "Oxen were certainly superior to shrubs. If Jonah was right in grieving over one withered shrub, it would surely be a harder and more cruel thing for so many innocent animals to perish" (Calvin). "What could Jonah say to this? He was obliged to keep silence, defeated, as it were, by his own sentence" (Luther). The history, therefore, breaks off with these words of God, to which Jonah could make no reply, because the object of the book was now attained, - namely, to give the Israelites an insight into the true nature of the compassion of the Lord, which embracers all nations with equal love. Let us, however, give heed to the sign of the prophet Jonah, and hold fast to the confession of Him who could say of Himself, "Behold, a greater than Jonah is here!"

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