Nahum 3:15
There shall the fire devour you; the sword shall cut you off, it shall eat you up like the cankerworm: make yourself many as the cankerworm, make yourself many as the locusts.
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(15, 16) The diversion of metaphor here is somewhat repugnant to modern taste. The sword, like the locust, shall devour Nineveh. Yet Nineveh is immediately afterwards compared in its numbers, destructive influence, and sudden disappearance to the locust. It is a transition like St. Paul’s “going off at a word.” The comparison of the locust suggests the thought that Nineveh herself has been a locust-pest to the world, and the direction of the metaphor is thereupon suddenly changed. A paraphrase will best bring out the meaning. (15) “Hostile swords devour thee, as a locust swarm devours. Vainly clusters together thy dense population, itself another locust-swarm. (16) Yea, as the stars of heaven for number have been thy merchants, as a pest of locusts which plunders one day and is gone the next.”

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.There - where thou didst fence thyself, and madest such manifold and toilsome preparation,

Shall the fire devour thee. - All is toil within. The fire of God's wrath falls and consumes at once. Mankind still, with mire and clay, build themselves Babels. "They go into clay," and become themselves earthly like the mire they steep themselves in. They make themselves strong, as though they thought "that their houses shall continue forever" Psalm 49:11, and say, "So, take thine ease eat, drink and be merry" Luke 12:19-20. God's wrath descends. "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee. It shall eat thee up like the canker-worm." What in thee is strongest, shall be devoured with as much ease as the locust devours the tender grass. The judgments of God, not only overwhelm as a whole, but find cut each tender part, as the locust devours each single blade.

Make thyself many as the cankerworm - As though thou wouldest equal thyself in oppressive number to those instruments of the vengeance of God, gathering from all quarters armies to help thee; yea, though thou make thy whole self one oppressive multitude, yet it shall not avail thee. Nay, He saith, thou hast essayed to do it.

15. There—in the very scene of thy great preparations for defense; and where thou now art so secure.

fire—even as at the former destruction; Sardanapalus (Pul?) perished with all his household in the conflagration of his palace, having in despair set it on fire, the traces of which are still remaining.

cankerworm—"the licking locust" [Henderson].

make thyself many as the locusts—"the swarming locusts" [Henderson]; that is, however "many" be thy forces, like those of "the swarming locusts," or the "licking locusts," yet the foe shall consume thee as the "licking locust" licks up all before it.

There; in the very fortresses.

The fire; either literally, or figuratively, the wrath of the enemy hot as fire, or the pestilence, or all together.

The sword of the Chaldeans, their wars, (after all that the Scythians have done against thee,) these shall utterly destroy thee.

It shall eat thee up: this tells us the manner how the Ninevites shall be destroyed, they shall be eaten up.

Like the canker-worm; either the enemy shall as easily eat thee up as the cankerworm eats the green herb, or thou shalt as soon be devoured as canker-worms are destroyed by storms, rain, fire, or change of weather.

Make thyself many as the cankerworm; they are innumerable, be thou so if thou canst be, all will be to no purpose.

Make thyself many as the locusts: the same irony repeated: when Ninevites have done all they can, they shall as fully and suddenly be destroyed as these vermin are. There shall the fire devour thee,.... In the strong holds, made ever so firm and secure; either the fire of divine wrath; or the fire of the enemy they should put into them; or the enemy himself, as Kimchi; and so the Targum,

"thither shall come upon thee people who are as strong as fire:''

the sword shall cut thee off; it shall eat thee up as the cankerworm: that is, the sword of the Medes and Chaldeans shall utterly destroy thee, as the cankerworm is destroyed by rain or fire; or rather, as that creature destroys all herbs, plants, and trees it falls upon, and makes clear riddance of them, so should it be with Nineveh:

make thyself many as the cankerworm; make thyself many as the locust; which go in swarms, innumerable, and make the air "heavy" in which they fly, and the earth on which they fall, as the word (y) signifies. The locust has one of its names, "arbah", in Hebrew, from the large numbers of them; so a multitude of men, and large armies, are often signified in Scripture to be like grasshoppers or locusts, for their numbers; see Judges 6:5. So Sithalces king of Thrace is represented (z) as swearing, while he was sacrificing, that he would assist the Athenians, having an army that would come like locusts, that is, in such numbers; for so the Greek scholiast on the place says the word used signifies a sort of locusts: the sense is, gather together as many soldiers, and as large an army, as can be obtained to meet the enemy, or cause him to break up the siege: and so we find (a) the king of Assyria did; for, perceiving his kingdom in great danger, he sent into all his provinces to raise soldiers, and prepare everything for the siege; but all to no purpose, which is here ironically suggested. The word in the Misnic language, as Kimchi observes, has the signification of sweeping; and some render it, "sweep as the locust" (b); which sweeps away and consumes the fruits of the earth; so sweep with the besom of destruction, as Jarchi, either their enemies, sarcastically spoken, or be thou swept by them.

(y) "aggravate", Montanus; "onerate", Tigurine version; "gravem effice te", Burkius. (z) Aristophan. in Acharnens. Acts 1. Scen. 1.((a) Diodor. Sicul. l. 2. p. 113. (b) So R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 39. 1.

There shall the fire devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off, it shall eat thee up like the {e} cankerworm: make thyself many as the cankerworm, make thyself many as the locusts.

(c) Signifying that God's judgments would suddenly destroy the Assyrians, as these vermin do with rain or change of weather.

15. There] amidst her brick moulds, shall the fire devour her, the sword cut her off. The “fire” is said of the city, the sword of the inhabitants. The remains of Nineveh shew that the city was destroyed by fire.

like the cankerworm] Perhaps: young locust, before it attains ability to fly (Nahum 3:16), as distinguished from “locust” in the end of the verse. In any case the word is a name for locust, whatever “cankerworm” may mean, Joel 1:4; Psalm 105:34. The phrase: the sword shall consume thee as the young locust, can only mean, in numbers as great as young locusts (Jeremiah 51:14)—many as the young locust though thou art. The comparison is peculiar, though the idea is amplified in the next clause. The text is possibly in disorder.

Make thyself many] The imperatives can only be concessive—many as the young locusts shouldst thou make thyself. The first “make thyself many” is masc. and the second fem., which is scarcely possible in grammar. Sept. read the last part of the verse in a shorter form, though the last clause of Nahum 3:16 seems to require it in some shape. The words are connected with Nahum 3:16.Verse 15. - There. In the very place where thou hast taken all these precautions. Shall the fire devour thee. That fire played a great part in the destruction of Nineveh is asserted by historians and proved by the remains of the city discovered in modern times (see note on ver. 13: also Herod., 1:106; Diod. Sic., 2:25-28; Athen., 12:529). The fate of the last king, who burnt himself and his palace, is a well known story (see Justin, 'Hist.,' 1:3; Eusebius, 'Chronicles,' 1:9; 14:3; 15:7; Syncell., 'Chronicles,' 1:396, edit. Dind.) (Kuabenbauer). The sword shall cut thee off. While fire destroys the buildings, the sword shall devour the inhabitants of the city. The cankerworm; literally, the licker (Joel 1:4). The locust in its earlier stage is thus described (see ver. 16). The figure implies that the destruction of Nineveh should be sudden and complete, as that wrought on vegetation by an inroad of locusts. Make thyself many. Collect thine armies, gather hosts as innumerable as the locusts, it will be all in vain. The "cankerworm" represented the enemy; the "locusts" represent the Assyrians themselves. 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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