Nahum 3:4
Because of the multitude of the prostitutions of the well favored harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that sells nations through her prostitutions, and families through her witchcrafts.
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(4-6) Because of the multitude.—In the idolatry and superstition of Nineveh the prophet finds the cause of her destruction. Perversion of religious instinct is frequently denounced under the same figure in Scripture. Here, however, a more literal interpretation is possible, since there is reason to believe the religious rites of Assyria were characterised, like those of Babylon, by gross sensuality. According to Herod, i. 199, the Babylonian worship of Beltis or Mylitta was connected with a system of female prostitution, which was deemed “most shameful” even by the heathen historian. Compare also the Apocryphal Book of Bar 6:43. The same deity was worshipped in Assyria. Professor Rawlinson writes: “It would seem to follow almost as a matter of course that the worship of the same identical goddess in the adjoining country included a similar usage. It may be to this practice that the prophet Nahum alludes when he denounces Nineveh as a ‘well-favoured harlot,’ the multitude of whose harlotries was notorious” (Five Great Monarchies, ii. 41).

Nahum 3:4. Because of the multitude, &c. — That is, this judgment is executed upon Nineveh because of the multitude of her whoredoms, by which idolatrous rites seem to be meant, for they are generally called whoredoms in the Scripture. Nineveh is called a well-favoured harlot, because, by her example and influence, she drew in other places to practise the same idolatries and other vices of which she was guilty. That selleth nations through her whoredoms — That makes whole nations a prey to their enemies, by encouraging them to worship idols, and thereby exposing themselves to the wrath of God: or by teaching them the arts of softness and effeminacy, and so rendering them weak and defenceless. As the violence and injustice of the Ninevites had been represented under the emblem of a lion, the prophet here paints their irregularities, their idolatry, and corruption, under the idea of a prostitute enticing men to commit lewdness.3:1-7 When proud sinners are brought down, others should learn not to lift themselves up. The fall of this great city should be a lesson to private persons, who increase wealth by fraud and oppression. They are preparing enemies for themselves; and if the Lord sees good to punish them in this world, they will have none to pity them. Every man who seeks his own prosperity, safety, and peace, should not only act in an upright, honourable manner, but with kindness to all.Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well-favored harlot - There are "multitudes of slain" because of the "multitude of whoredoms" and love of the creature instead of the Creator. So to Babylon Isaiah saith, "they (loss of children and widowhood) shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, for the great abundance of thine enchantments" Isaiah 47:9. The actual use of "enchantments," for which Babylon was so infamous, is not elsewhere attributed to the Assyrians. But neither is the word elsewhere used figuratively; nor is Assyria, in its intimate relation to Babylon, likely to have been free from the longing, universal in pagandom, to obtain knowledge as to the issue of events which would affect her. She is, by a rare idiom, entitled "mistress of enchantments," having them at her command, as instruments of power. Mostly, idolatries and estrangement from God are spoken of as "whoredoms," only in respect of those who, having been taken by God as His own, forsook Him for false gods.

But Jezebel too, of whose offences Jehu speaks under the same two titles 2 Kings 9:22, was a pagan. And such sins were but part of that larger all-comprehending sin, that man, being made by God for Himself, when he loves the creature instead of the Creator, divorces himself from God. Of this sin world empires, such as Nineveh, were the concentration. Their being was one vast idolatry of self and of "the god of this world." All, art, fraud, deceit, protection of the weak against the strong 2 Kings 16:7-9; 2 Chronicles 28:20-21, promises of good Isaiah 36:16-17, were employed, together with open violence, to absorb all nations into it. The one end of all was to form one great idol-temple, of which the center and end was man, a rival worship to God, which should enslave all to itself and the things of this world. Nineveh and all conquering nations used fraud as well as force, enticed and entangled others, and so sold and deprived them of freedom. (see Joel 3:3).

Nor are people less sold and enslaved, because they have no visible master. False freedom is the deepest and most abject slavery. All sinful nations or persons extend to others the infection of their own sins. But, chiefly, the "wicked world," manifoldly arrayed with fair forms, and "beautiful in the eyes of those who will not think or weigh how much more beautiful the Lord and Creator of all," spreads her enticements on all sides "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," "her pomps and vanities," worldly happiness and glory and majesty, and ease and abundance, deceives and sells mankind into the power of Satan. It is called well-favored (literally, good of grace), because the world has a real beauty, nor , "unless there were a grace and beauty in the things we love, could they draw us to them." They have their beauty, because from God; then are they deformed, when "things hold us back from God, which, unless they were in God, were not at all."

We deform them, if we love them for our own sakes, not in Him; or for the intimations they give of Him. : "Praise as to things foul has an intensity of blame. As if one would speak of a skilled thief, or a courageous robber, or a clever cheat. So though he calls Nineveh a well-favored harlot, this will not be for her praise, (far from it!) but conveys the heavier condenmation. As they, when they would attract, use dainty babblings, so was Nineveh a skilled artificer of ill-doing, well provided with means to capture cities and lands and to persuade them what pleased herself." She selleth not nations only but families, drawing mankind both as a mass, and one by one after her, so that scarce any escape.

The adultery of the soul from God is the more grieveus, the nearer God has brought any to Himself, in priests worse than in the people, in Christians than in Jews, in Jews than in pagan; yet God espoused mankind to Him when He made him. His dowry were gifts of nature. If this be adultery, how much sorer, when betrothed by the Blood of Christ, and endowed with the gift of the Spirit!

4. Because of the multitude of the whoredoms—This assigns the reason for Nineveh's destruction.

of the well-favoured harlot—As Assyria was not a worshipper of the true God, "whoredoms" cannot mean, as in the case of Israel, apostasy to the worship of false gods; but, her harlot-like artifices whereby she allured neighboring states so as to subject them to herself. As the unwary are allured by the "well-favored harlot's" looks, so Israel, Judah (for example, under Ahaz, who, calling to his aid Tiglath-pileser, was made tributary by him, 2Ki 16:7-10), and other nations, were tempted by the plausible professions of Assyria, and by the lure of commerce (Re 18:2, 3), to trust her.

witchcrafts—(Isa 47:9, 12). Alluding to the love incantations whereby harlots tried to dement and ensnare youths; answering to the subtle machinations whereby Assyria attracted nations to her.

selleth—deprives of their liberty; as slaves used to be sold: and in other property also sale was a usual mode of transfer. Maurer understands it of depriving nations of their freedom, and literally selling them as slaves to distant peoples (Joe 3:2, 3, 6-8). But elsewhere there is no evidence that the Assyrians did this.


Because, & c.; God is just, Nineveh hath deserved all this.

The multitude of the whoredoms; her crafts and her policies, in which she resembled those lewd women; as they by their wiles abuse and deceive men, so did Nineveh, or the Assyrian kingdom, deceive, impoverish, and enslave nations by state policies: so Isaiah 23:17 Revelation 17:2. Or else, by whoredoms here may be meant idolatries, which were multiplied by the many people that served the Assyrian idols, or by their multiplying of idols, which probably they did by taking into the muster-roll of their gods those idols which the conquered nations worshipped: or whoredoms literally understood; for this sin undoubtedly did abound where wealth, luxury, ease, and long continuance of these, were to be found.

Well-favoured; the glory of their state and government, or the splendour of their idols, temples, and sacrifices, or the comeliness and beauty of the lewd and whorish women among them.

Witchcrafts; bewitching policies, and enchanting counsels, confederacies, and promised favours; or it may be literally taken for witchcrafts or necromancies, which sin abounded no doubt among the Assyrians.

Selleth; disposeth of them as imperiously and absolutely as men do slaves which they buy; or else, drawing them into the wars for pay, exposed them to slaughter by the enemies’ sword, as if they had bought their persons to sell their lives, that thereby their own countrymen and citizens might be spared and escape. Or

selleth, i.e. occasioneth them to abound in sin, for which God in his just judgment selleth them into the enemies’ hand.

Nations; whole kingdoms.

Whoredoms: see above.

And families through her witchcrafts: either it is an elegant illustration of the former passage, or perhaps it may intimate the seducing of some particular and eminent families to engage themselves in a hereditary and perpetual service to the Assyrian idols, or to witchcrafts, in which the devil imitated God’s institution, in taking a family to his service; so the chief families had the authority of ruling, and the burden of all idolatrous priesthood. Gr. Tholosun. de Rep. lib. 4. sect. 9, and lib. 8. c. 2. sect. 6,8. Because of the multitudes of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot,.... Meaning Nineveh; which, as it was an ancient city, was a well built one; full of stately and beautiful buildings, the seat of the kings of Assyria, and the metropolis of the nation, and abounded with wealth and riches; perhaps here may be an allusion to the name of the city, and to the signification of it; for Nineveh may have its name from the beauty of it, and be read, in Hebrew, or and may signify a beautiful or pleasant habitation; so Hillerus (x) and Cocceius (y) give the etymology of it; which agrees with its delightful situation on the banks of the river Tigris, and the stately edifices in it, as the king's palace, and others; just as Zion is said to be "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth", Psalm 48:2 and the epithet of "well favoured" well agrees with a harlot, whose beauty is engaging and ensnaring, as Lais, and others; particularly Semiramis, the wife of Ninus, from whom it is generally thought Nineveh had its name, was first a harlot, and one of exceeding beauty, who surpassed all others in it; on account of which she was beloved by the king of Assyria, and after a short time made his wife, and then he delivered the government of the kingdom to her (z); yea, Sardanapalus the Last, and at this time the present king of the Assyrians, was very effeminate, used to dress himself in women's clothes, imitate a woman's voice, and paint his face, and even his whole body; and, by other tricks and enticements of harlots, made himself more lascivious, and behaved more lewdly, than any harlot (a); in short, all the Assyrian women must be harlots, since they were obliged once in their lifetime to lie with a stranger in the temple of Venus, whom the Assyrians call Mylitta, as Herodotus (b) and Strabo (c) relate; to all which here may be an allusion: and particularly the inhabitants of this city had all the arts of address and insinuation to deceive others as harlots have; and both men and women very probably were given to whoredom and adultery in a literal sense as is generally the case where luxury and intemperance abound; and especially were grossly guilty of idolatry, which in Scripture is frequently expressed by whoredom and adultery; worshipping Bel, Nisroch and other deities and which was highly provoking to God; and therefore for these things, his judgements came upon them, before and after described:

the mistress of witchcrafts: thoroughly versed in such wicked and devilish practices, literally understood; see Isaiah 47:9 for the Assyrians, as well as the Babylonians and Chaldeans, were addicted to such diabolical arts, as appears from a passage in Theocritus (d), which Grotius has also quoted; where one is represented saying that she kept in her box or chest very pernicious poisons, which she had learned from an Assyrian guest. The allusion seems to be to philtres, and other tricks used by harlots to besot young men, and bewitch and captivate them: likewise this city and its inhabitants were well versed in all the arts of flattery, deceit, and carnal policy; and in all the charms of wealth, riches, luxury, and sensuality, the pomp of superstition and idolatry, to draw in kingdoms and nations into subjection to them:

that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts; enslaved whole kingdoms, and brought them under her power and dominion, to be her vassals; and was the instrument, not only of corporeal servitude, but of their selling themselves to work wickedness, by committing spiritual fornication or idolatry; into which multitudes were led by her influence and example, and particularly the kingdoms and families of Israel and Judah; see 2 Kings 16:10. In these whoredoms and witchcrafts, as well as in her bloodthirstiness, lies, and oppression, Nineveh was a type of the whore of Rome; see Revelation 17:1.

(x) Onomastic. Sacr. p. 304, 431, 898. (y) Comment. in Jonam, c. 1. 2. (z) Diodor. Sicul. l. 2. p. 93. 107. Ed. Rhodoman. (a) Ibid. p. 109, 110. (b) Clio, sive. l. 1. c. 199. (c) Geograph. l. 16. p. 513. (d) Pharmaceutria, sive Idyll. 2. prope finem.

Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured {c} harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts.

(c) He compares Nineveh to a harlot, who by her beauty and subtilty entices young men, and brings them to destruction.

4. multitude of the whoredoms] The phrase “whoredom” when used of Israel meant, first, infidelity to Jehovah, God of Israel, by serving other gods; then it was applied to alliances and political intercourse with other nations, partly because such trust in other nations betrayed distrust of Jehovah and falsehood to Him, and partly because the political influence of powerful states like Assyria and Babylon was naturally followed by an invasion of their customs and religious ideas, as was seen in the decline of the kingdom of Judah; and finally, mere political or commercial intercourse of one nation with another was called “whoredom,” even when the religious idea was not involved. In this weaker sense the term seems employed here, viz. of political intercourse; in Isaiah 23:17 it is used of commercial intercourse. Comp. Ezekiel 16:26-29; Ezekiel 23:40 seq.

the wellfavoured harlot] “Wellfavoured” means beautiful, though the phrase has perhaps ceased to be usual in common language; in the northern dialect “weel fa’art” is still common for good-looking. Beauty or charm is a point in the harlot; the reference perhaps is less to the splendour and riches of the imperial city than to the dazzling prestige of the empire, which fascinated weaker states and rulers, as for example in the case of Ahaz.

mistress of witchcrafts] i.e. that practiseth sorceries. Reference is to the arts of statecraft, the influences used upon the nations, which act on them like the charms and incantations and drugs of the sorceress.

That selleth nations] The expression to sell, viz. into bondage, appears used in a general sense, to deliver over, i.e. to destruction, as Esther 7:4; cf. Isaiah 50:1; Isaiah 52:3. The common Arab. verb to which Hitzig appeals, to use guile, craft, to beguile, is not a trans. verb but requires a prep. after it, and in any case its use is improbable.

And families] i.e. peoples, as Amos 3:1-2, “the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt.” Cf. Jeremiah 1:15.

4–7. Moral reason of Nineveh’s downfall

Nahum 3:4-7 give the explanation of this overwhelming disaster. There is a pause, however, between Nahum 3:3-4; the close connexion of R.V. is rather unnatural. Nahum 3:4 seq. proceeds with more calmness.Verse 4. - The cause is given that has brought this punishment. Because of the multitude of the whoredoms. This term is commonly applied to idolatry, the swerving from the true God and turning to false deities; and it is thought that it cannot be used in that sense here, as Assyria had always worshipped idols, and could not be said to have forsaken or proved false to the Lord. Hence Hitzig, Keil, and others refer the term to the treacherous friendship and crafty politics by which Nineveh ensnared other states, seeking really only her own interests (comp. Isaiah 23:17). But this habit of treachery has been already mentioned in ver. 1 (where see note); and, as Knabenbauer remarks, the Assyrians used no meretricious blandishments to effect their conquests, but the cruel arts of war and the stern ordeal of the sword. It is scarcely probable that the prophet would omit idolatry among the crimes of the Assyrians that called for vengeance, as all their wars were carried on in the name of their gods, and the monarchs professed to be under Divine protection and influence. The term "whoredom" is applied to the idolatry, not only of the Israelites, but to that of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:22), who was always a heathen. The idolatry of the Assyrians may very well be so called, because it was a wilful ignoring of the light of nature and natural religion (see Wisd. 13:1; Romans 1:19, etc.). They were careful, too, wherever they carried their arms, to erect there symbols of their deities, and to compel conquered nations to receive them and pay them Divine honour. With this idolatrous worship was associated that gross immorality which even Herodotus (1:199) termed utterly disgraceful (comp. Baruch 6:43). Rightly is Nineveh called the well favoured harlot; for her splendour and magnificence were unsurpassed, dazzling all beholders and hiding the rottenness that lay below the surface. The mistress of witchcrafts. She was skilful in employing every art to seduce nations to her side. We hear much of magic in connection with Babylon and the Chaldeans, but not in reference especially to Assyria. The expression here is metaphorical, alluding to the secret practices which she employed to gain her ends and to make her rule attractive (comp. Revelation 18:2, 3). That selleth nations. Depriving them of freedom and making them tributary, or, in some cases, actually selling the inhabitants as slaves (comp. Deuteronomy 32:30; Judges 2:14; Joel 3:3; Amos 1:6, 7). Families. Not only nations in the aggregate, but smaller bodies, individuals, so that none escape. Septuagint, λαούς, "peoples." The Ninevites believed in God, since they hearkened to the preaching of the prophet sent to them by God, and humbled themselves before God with repentance. They proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth (penitential garments: see at Joel 1:13-14; 1 Kings 21:27, etc.), "from their great one even to their small one," i.e., both old and young, all without exception. Even the king, when the matter (had-dâbhâr) came to his knowledge, i.e., when he was informed of Jonah's coming, and of his threatening prediction, descended from his throne, laid aside his royal robe ('addereth, see at Joshua 7:21), wrapt himself in a sackcloth, and sat down in ashes, as a sign of the deepest mourning (compare Job 2:8), and by a royal edict appointed a general fast for man and beast. ויּזעק, he caused to be proclaimed. ויּאמר, and said, viz., through his heralds. מפּעם הם, ex decreto, by command of the king and his great men, i.e., his ministers (פעם equals פעם, Daniel 3:10, Daniel 3:29, a technical term for the edicts of the Assyrian and Babylonian kings). "Man and beast (viz., oxen and sheep) are to taste nothing; they are not to pasture (the cattle are not to be driven to the pasture), and are to drink no water." אל, for which we should expect לא, may be explained from the fact that the command is communicated directly. Moreover, man and beast are to be covered with mourning clothes, and cry to God bechozqâh, i.e., strongly, mightily, and to turn every one from his evil ways: so "will God perhaps (מי יודע) turn and repent (yâshūbh venicham, as in Joel 2:14), and desist from the fierceness of His anger (cf. Exodus 32:12), that we perish not." This verse (Jonah 3:9) also belongs to the king's edict. The powerful impression made upon the Ninevites by Jonah's preaching, so that the whole city repented in sackcloth and ashes, is quite intelligible, if we simply bear in mind the great susceptibility of Oriental races to emotion, the awe of one Supreme Being which is peculiar to all the heathen religions of Asia, and the great esteem in which soothsaying and oracles were held in Assyria from the very earliest times (vid., Cicero, de divinat. i. 1); and if we also take into calculation the circumstance that the appearance of a foreigner, who, without any conceivable personal interest, and with the most fearless boldness, disclosed to the great royal city its godless ways, and announced its destruction within a very short period with the confidence so characteristic of the God-sent prophets, could not fail to make a powerful impression upon the minds of the people, which would be all the stronger if the report of the miraculous working of the prophets of Israel had penetrated to Nineveh. There is just as little to surprise us in the circumstance that the signs of mourning among the Ninevites resemble in most respects the forms of penitential mourning current among the Israelites, since these outward signs of mourning are for the most part the common human expressions of deep sorrow of heart, and are found in the same or similar forms among all the nations of antiquity (see the numerous proofs of this which are collected in Winer's Real-wrterbuch, art. Trauer; and in Herzog's Cyclopaedia). Ezekiel (Ezekiel 26:16) depicts the mourning of the Tyrian princes over the ruin of their capital in just the same manner in which that of the king of Nineveh is described here in Jonah 3:6, except that, instead of sackcloth, he mentions trembling as that with which they wrap themselves round. The garment of haircloth (saq) worn as mourning costume reaches as far back as the patriarchal age (cf. Genesis 37:34; Job 16:15). Even the one feature which is peculiar to the mourning of Nineveh - namely, that the cattle also have to take part in the mourning - is attested by Herodotus (9:24) as an Asiatic custom.

(Note: Herodotus relates that the Persians, when mourning for their general, Masistios, who had fallen in the battle at Platea, shaved off the hair from their horses, and adds, "Thus did the barbarians, in their way, mourn for the deceased Masistios." Plutarch relates the same thing (Aristid. 14 fin. Compare Brissonius, de regno Pers. princip. ii. p. 206; and Periz. ad Aeliani Var. hist. vii. 8). The objection made to this by Hitzig - namely, that the mourning of the cattle in our book is not analogous to the case recorded by Herodotus, because the former was an expression of repentance - has no force whatever, for the simple reason that in all nations the outward signs of penitential mourning are the same as those of mourning for the dead.)

This custom originated in the idea that there is a biotic rapport between man and the larger domestic animals, such as oxen, sheep, and goats, which are his living property. It is only to these animals that there is any reference here, and not to "horses, asses, and camels, which were decorated at other times with costly coverings," as Marck, Rosenmller, and others erroneously assume. Moreover, this was not done "with the intention of impelling the men to shed hotter tears through the lowing and groaning of the cattle" (Theodoret); or "to set before them as in a mirror, through the sufferings of the innocent brutes, their own great guilt" (Chald.); but it was a manifestation of the thought, that just as the animals which live with man are drawn into fellowship with his sin, so their sufferings might also help to appease the wrath of God. And although this thought might not be free from superstition, there lay at the foundation of it this deep truth, that the irrational creature is made subject to vanity on account of man's sins, and sighs along with man for liberation from the bondage of corruption (Romans 8:19.). We cannot therefore take the words "cry mightily unto God" as referring only to the men, as many commentators have done, in opposition to the context; but must regard "man and beast" as the subject of this clause also, since the thought that even the beasts cry to or call upon God in distress has its scriptural warrant in Joel 1:20.

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