Nahum 3:13
Behold, your people in the middle of you are women: the gates of your land shall be set wide open to your enemies: the fire shall devour your bars.
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(13) Thy people . . . are women, not in their notoriously effeminate and luxurious habits (see Layard, p. 360), but with reference to their panic-stricken condition at the time of the catastrophe. They are fearful as women (comp. Jeremiah 50:37; Jeremiah 51:30), because they find avenues laid open to the enemy, and the remaining defences consuming in the flames.

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.Behold, thy people in the midst of thee are women - Fierce, fearless, hard, iron men, such as their warriors still are portrayed by themselves on their monuments, they whom no toll wearied, no peril daunted, shall be, one and all, their whole "people, women." So Jeremiah to Babylon, "they shall become, became, women" Jeremiah 50:37; Jeremiah 51:30. He sets it before the eyes. "Behold, thy people are women;" against nature they are such, not in tenderness but in weakness and fear. Among the signs of the Day of Judgment, it stands, "men's hearts failing them for fear" Luke 21:26. Where sin reigns, there is no strength left, no manliness or nobleness of soul, no power to resist. "In the midst of thee," where thou seemest most secure, and, if anywhere, there were hope of safety. The very inmost self of the sinner gives way.

To thine enemies - (This is, for emphasis, prefixed) not for any good to thee, but "to thine enemies shall be set wide open the gates of thy land," not, "thy gates," i. e., the gates of their cities, (which is a distinct idiom), but "the gates of the land" itself, every avenue, which might have been closed against the invader, but which was "laid open." The Easterns, as well as the Greeks and Latins . See further Liddell and Scott, loc. cit.) the πύλαι τῆς Κιλικίας καὶ τῆς Συρίας pulai tēs Kilikias kai tēs Surias, Xen. Anab. i. 4. 14, the "Amsnicae Pylae" (Q. Curt. iii. 20). Pliny speaks of the "portae Caucasiae" (H. N. vi. 11) or "Iberiae" (Albaniae Ptol. v. 12.) Ibid. 15), used the word "gate" or "doors" of the mountain passes, which gave an access to a land, but which might be held against an enemy. In the pass called "the Caucasian gates," there were, over and above, doors fastened with iron bars . At Thermopylae or, as the inhabitants called them, Pylae , "gates," the narrow pass was further guarded by a wall . Its name recalls the brilliant history, how such approaches might be held by a devoted handful of men against almost countless multitudes. Of Assyria, Pliny says , "The Tigris and pathless mountains encircle Adiabene." When those "gates of the land" gave way, the whole land was laid open to its enemies.

The fire shall devour thy bars - Probably, as elsewhere, the bars of the gates, which were mostly of wood, since it is added expressly of some, that they were of the iron Psalm 107:16; Isaiah 14:2 or brass 1 Kings 4:13. : "Occasionally the efforts of the besiegers were directed against the gate, which they endeavored to break open with axes, or to set on fire by application of a torch - In the hot climate of S. Asia wood becomes so dry by exposture to the sun, that the most solid doors may readily be ignited and consumed." It is even remarked in one instance that the Assyrians "have not set fire to the gates of this city, as appeared to be their usual practice in attacking a fortified place."

So were her palaces buried as they stood, that the traces of prolonged fire are still visible, calcining the one part and leaving others which were not exposed to it, uncalcined. : "It is incontestable 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 would be absurd to imagine that the burning of a small quantity of furniture could have left on the walls marks like these which are to be seen through all the chambers, with the exception of one, which was only an open passage. 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, such as would be occasioned by the fall of a burning roof.

"Botta found on the engraved flag-stones scoria and half-melted nails, so that there is no doubt that these appearances had been produced by the action of intense and long-sustained beat. He remembers, beside, at Khorsabad, that when he detached some bas-reliefs from the earthy substance which covered them, in order to copy the inscriptions that were behind, he found there coals and cinders, which could have entered only by the top, between the wall and the back of the bas-relief. This can be easily understood to have been caused by the burning of the roof, but is inexplicable in any other manner. What tends most positively to prove that the traces of fire must be attributed to the burning of a wooden roof is, that these traces are perceptible only in the interior of the building. The gypsum also that covers the wall inside is completely calcined, while the outside of the building is nearly everywhere untouched. But wherever the fronting appears to have at all suffered from fire, it is at the bottom; thus giving reason to suppose that the damage has been done by some burning matter falling outside. In fact, not a single bas-relief in a state to be removed was found in any of the chambers, they were all pulverized."

The soul which does not rightly close its senses against the enticements of the world, does, in fact, open them, and death is come up into our windows Jeremiah 9:21, and then "whatever natural good there yet be, which, as bars, would hinder the enemy from bursting in, is consumed by the fire," once kindled, of its evil passions.

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].

Behold; this may seem strange, but attend diligently, thou shalt see how this will be.

Thy people; those thou hirest, and are thine for pay; those that are born thine, all thy warriors.

In the midst of thee; where very cowards use to be valiant, or where necessity makes cowards valiant, where they should show most valour.

Are women; weak, afraid, flee away, and hide themselves, Jeremiah 48:41 41 30. God would fill them with terror, and they shall not dare to keep their gates shut against the enemy.

The gates of thy land, the cities, but especially the strong fortified frontiers which should keep out the enemy,

shall be set wide open; shall either through fear or treachery be opened, wide opened to admit the enemy.

Thine enemies; Chaldeans, and their confederates.

The fire shall devour; when the enemy is thus admitted, he shall burn either the city or the gates and bars, he will never trust nor spare thee.

Bars; with which the gates were both shut and strengthened, 1 Samuel 23:7 Psalm 147:13. 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.

Behold, thy people in the midst of thee are women: the gates of thy land shall be set wide open unto thine enemies: the fire shall devour thy bars.
13. Dismay and paralysis seize the Assyrians before the enemy. The comparison to “women” is common, Isaiah 19:16; Jeremiah 49:22; Jeremiah 50:37; Jeremiah 51:30; also in the Assyr. inscriptions.

in the midst of thee] i.e. throughout the land, not merely in the city of Nineveh.

gates of thy land shall be set open] are set open. The gates of the land are the passes or defiles or the ways guarded by defences through which entrance is obtained into the country or advance made towards the capital.

shall devour] hath devoured. The term “bars” may be used metaphorically to describe the forts themselves; or literally, the bars of the gates of such defences. When the gates are burnt the forts fall.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). 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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