|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
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.
Verse 13. - The reason why the fortresses are so readily taken is now given. Are women. The Assyrians were essentially a brave nation, but they should be now no more able to resist the enemy than if they were women (comp. Isaiah 19:16; Jeremiah 1:37; 51:30). The gates of thy land. The various approaches and passes which lead into Assyria (comp. Jeremiah 15:7; Micah 5:6). So Strabo (11:12. 13) speaks of certain mountain passes as "the Caspian gates" and Xenophon ('Anab.' 1:4. 4) mentions "the gates of Cilicia and Syria." The famous defile that led into Greece was called Thermopylae The fire shall devour thy bars. Hitzig, Keil, and others take the "bars" metaphorically, meaning the forts and castles which defend the passes; but the literal sense is the most natural, as in the parallel passage, Jeremiah 51:30 (see note on Amos 1:5). It was the Assyrians' custom to set fire to the gates of any city that they attacked (see Bonomi, 'Nineveh and its Palaces,' pp. 178, 185, 192). "It is incontestable," says Bonomi, in another place, "that, during the excavations, a considerable quantity of charcoal, and even pieces of wood either half burnt or in a perfect state of preservation, were found in many places. The lining of the chambers also bears certain marks of the action of fire. All these things can be explained only by supposing the fall of a burning roof, which calcined the slabs of gypsum, and converted them into dust .... It must have been a violent and prolonged fire to be able to calcine not only a few places, but every part of these slabs, which were ten feet high and several inches thick. So complete a decomposition can be attributed but to intense heat" (ibid., p. 213).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Behold, thy people in the midst of thee are women,.... Or like women, weak and feeble, fearful and timorous; frightened at the first approach of the enemy; run away, and run up and down in the utmost consternation and distress, having neither skill nor courage to oppose them; some regard may be had to the effeminacy of their king; see Nahum 2:7. The sense is, they should be at once dispirited, and lose all strength of mind and body, and have neither heads nor hearts to form schemes, and execute them in their own defence; and thus should they be, even in the midst of the city, upon their own ground, where, any where, it might be thought they would exert themselves, and play the man, since their all lay at stake: this was another thing they trusted in, the multitude of their people, even of their soldiers; but these would be of no avail, since they would lose all their military skill and bravery:
the gates of thy land shall be set wide open to thine enemies: instead of guarding the passes and avenues, they would abandon them to the enemy; and, instead of securing the gates and passages, they would run away from them; and the enemy would find as easy access as if they were thrown open on purpose for them; perhaps this may respect the gates of the rivers being opened by the inundation, which threw down the wall, and made a way into the city; see Nahum 2:6,
the fire shall devour thy bars; with which their gates had been shut, but now opened, and in the enemies' hands; who would set fire to them, that the way to go in and out might be open and free.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
13. thy people—thy soldiers.
women—unable to fight for thee (Isa 19:16; Jer 50:37; 51:30).
gates on thy land—the fortified passes or entrances to the region of Nineveh (compare Jer 15:7). Northeast of Nineveh there were hills affording a natural barrier against an invader; the guarded passes through these are probably "the gates of the land" meant.
fire shall devour thy bars—the "bars" of the fortresses at the passes into Assyria. So in Assyrian remains the Assyrians themselves are represented as setting fire to the gates of a city [Bonomi, Nineveh, pp. 194, 197].
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