The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
Verse 1. - § 1. The heading of the book. The book has a double title, the first giving the object of the prophecy, which otherwise would not be evident; the second, its author, added to give confidence in its contents. The burden; massa (Habakkuk 1:1) - a term generally used of a weighty, threatening prophecy (Isaiah 13:1), though translated by the LXX. λῆμμα here, and elsewhere ὄρασις, and ῤῆμα. Some prefer to render it "utterance," or "oracle." The word is capable of either meaning. It almost always (except, perhaps, in Zechariah 12:1) introduces a threat of judgment. Of Nineveh. The denunciation of this city is the object of the prophecy. The effect of Jonah's preaching had been only temporary; the reformation was partial and superficial; and now God's long suffering was wearied out, and the time of punishment was to come. (For an account of Nineveh, see note on Jonah 1:2.) Some critics have deemed one part of the title an interpolation; but the connection of the two portions is obvious, and without the former we should not know the object of the prophet's denunciation till Nahum 2:8. The book of the vision. This is the second title, in apposition with the former, and defining it more closely as the Book in which was written the prophecy of Nahum. It is called a "vision," because what the prophet foretold was presented to his mental sight, and stood plainly before him (comp. Isaiah 1:1). The Elkoshite; i.e. native of Elkosh, for which, see Introduction, § II.
God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.
Verses 2-6. - § 2. The prophet describes the inflexible justice of God, and illustrates his irresistible power by the control which he exercises over the material world. Verse 2. - God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; better, Jehovah is a jealous and avenging God, as Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24; Joshua 24:19. The threefold repetition of the name of Jehovah and the attribute "avenging" gives a wonderful force to this sublime description of the Divine character. God is here called jealous (ζηλωτὴς, Septuagint) anthropopothically, as ready to defend his honour against all who oppose him, as One who loves his people and punishes their oppressors. Is furious; literally, master of fury, as Genesis 37:19, "master of dreams." The Lord is full of wrath (comp. Proverbs 10:12:24; 29:22). The word used implies a permanent feeling, Hire the Greek μῆνις. He reserveth wrath. The Hebrew is simply "watching," "observing" for punishment. Septuagint, ἐξαίρων αὐτὸς τοὺς ἐχθροὺς αὐτοῦ, "himself cutting off his enemies;" Vulgate, irascens ipse inimicis ejus. God withholds his hand for a time, but does not forget. All this description of God's attributes is intended to show that the destruction of Assyria is his doing, and that its accomplishment is certain.
The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
Verse 3. - Slow to anger (Exodus 34:6, 7). Nahum seems to take up the words of Jonah (Jonah 4:2) or Joel (Joel 2:13). God is long suffering, not from weakness, but because he is great in power, and can punish when he will. Will not at all acquit the wicked; literally, holding pure will not hold pure; i.e. he will not treat the guilty as innocent. Ἀθωῶν [Alex., ἀθῶον] οὐκ ἀθωώσει (Septuagint); Mundans non faciet innocentem (comp. Exodus 20:7; Exodus 34:7). The Lord hath his way, etc. The prophet grounds his description of the majesty and might of God upon the revelation at the Exodus and at Sinai. (see Exodus 19:16-18; Psalm 18; Psalm 97.). The clouds are the dust of his feet, Large and grand as the clouds look to us, they are to God but as the dust raised by the feet in walking. As an illustration of this statement (though, of course, the fact was utterly unknown to Nahum), it has been remarked that recent scientific discovery asserts that clouds owe their beauty, and even their very existence, to the presence of dust particles in the atmosphere. The aqueous vapour, it is said, condenses on these particles, and thus becomes visible.
He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth.
Verse 4. - The great physical changes and convulsions in the world are tokens of God's wrath on sinful nations. He rebuketh the sea, as at the passage of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21; Psalm 106:9). This is a sign of omnipotence (comp. Luke 8:24). All the rivers. A generalization from the miracle at the Jordan (Joshua 3; comp. Psalm evil 33; Isaiah 1:2). Septuagint, ποταμοὺς ἐξερημῶν, "making rivers desolate;" Vulgate, flumina ad desertum deducens. Bashan (see note on Amos 4:1). Carmel (see on Amos 1:2). Flower of Lebanon. This district was famous, not only for its cedars, but also for its vines and flowers (comp. Hosea 14:7; Song of Solomon 4:11). These three regions are mentioned as remarkable for their fertility, and they occur most naturally to the mind of a native of Galilee, as was Nahum. They also geographically are the eastern, western, and northern boundaries of the land. They are used here proverbially to express the truth that God can cause the most luxuriant regions to wither at his word.
The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein.
Verse 5. - The mountains quake. The mountains, the very emblems of stability, tremble before him (Adios 8:8). The hills melt; Οἱ βουνοὶ ἐσαλεύθησαν, "The hills were shaken" (Septuagint). The hills dissolve like wax or anew at his presence (see Amos 4:13; Micah 1:4). Burned; Septuagint, ἀνεστάλη, "recoils," "is upheaved," as by an earthquake. This rendering has the greatest authority. The world; i.e. the habitable world, and all living creatures therein (Joel 1:18-20). Nature animate and inanimate is represented as actuated by the terror of conscious guilt.
Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.
Verse 6. - Who can stand? (Psalm 76:7; Joel 2:11; Malachi 3:2; comp. Revelation 6:17). His fury is poured out like fire (Deuteronomy 4:24); like the brimstone and fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24), or like the molten lava that issues from a volcano (Jeremiah 7:20). Septuagint (reading differently), ὁ θυμὸς αὐτοῦ τήκει ἀρχάς: consumit principatus (Jerome). Are thrown down; rather, are rent asunder (comp. 1 Kings 19:11; Jeremiah 23:29). If such is the power of God, how shall Assyria resist it?
The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.
Verses 7-11. - § 3. The prophet prepares the way for proclaiming the punishment of Nineveh lay deriding that the wrath of God falls not on those who trust in him, but is reserved for his enemies. Verse 7. - The Lord is good. The Targum adds unnecessarily, "for Israel" (Psalm 25:8). He is "good," in that he is a stronghold in the day of trouble, as in the perilous time when the Assyrians attacked Judaea (comp. Psalm 27:1; Jeremiah 16:19). He knoweth; loves and cares for (Psalm 1:6; Psalm 37:18; temp. 2 Timothy 2:19; and see note on Amos 3:2).
But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies.
Verse 8. - With an overrunning flood. This may be merely a metaphor to express the utter devastation which should overwhelm Nineveh, as the invasion of a hostile army is often thus depicted (comp. Isaiah 8:7; Daniel 11:26, 40); or it may be an allusion to the inundation which aided the capture of the city (see note on Nahum 2:6). Of the place thereof; i.e. of Nineveh, not named, but present to the prophet's mind, and understood from the heading (ver. 1). (For the utter destruction of Nineveh, comp. Zephaniah 2:13, etc.) The LXX. has, τοὺς ἐπένειρομένους ("those that rise up"). The Chaldee has a similar reading, with the meaning that God would exterminate those who rise up against him. Darkness shall pursue his enemies. So the Septuagint and Vulgate. But it is better rendered, He shall pursue his enemies into darkness, so that they disappear from the earth. If this is the meaning of the clause, it resembles the termination of many Assyrian inscriptions which record the defeat of a hostile chieftain: "and no one has seen any trace of him since."
What do ye imagine against the LORD? he will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time.
Verse 9. - The prophet suddenly addresses both Jews and Assyrians, encouraging the former by the thought that God can perform what he promises, and warning the latter that their boasting (comp. Isaiah 10:9, etc.; Isaiah 36:20) was vain. What do ye imagine against the Lord? Quid cogitatis contra Dominum? (Vulgate). This rendering regards the question as addressed to the Assyrians, demanding of them what it is that they dare to plot against God; do they presume to fight against him, or to fancy that his threats will not be accomplished? But the sentence is best translated, What think ye of the Lord? Τί λογίζεσθε ἐπὶ τὸν Κύριον; "What devise ye against the Lord?" (Septuagint). This is addressed not only to the Jews in the sense, "Do ye think that he will not accomplish his threat against Nineveh?" but to the Assyrians also. He will make an utter end. This denunciation is repeated from ver. 8 to denote the absolute certainty of the doom. Affliction shall not rise up the second time. The Assyrians shall never again have the power of oppressing Judah as they have ruined Israel there shall be no repetition of Sennacherib's invasion. Septuagint, Οὐκ ἐκδικήσει δὶς ἐπιτοαυτὸ ἐν θλίψει: Non vindicabit bis in idipsura (Jerome). From this text the Fathers take occasion to discuss the question how it is that God does not punish twice for the same sin.
For while they be folden together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry.
Verse 10. - While they be folden together as thorns. The clause is conditional: "Though they be interwined as thorns." Though the Assyrians present an impenetrable front, which seems to defy attack. (For the comparison of a hostile army to briers and thorns, see Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 27:4; Henderson.) And while they are drunken as drunkards; and though they be drunken with their drink, regarding themselves as invincible, and drenched with wine, and given up to luxury and excess. There may be an allusion to the legend current concerning the destruction of Nineveh. Diodorus (2:26) relates that, after the enemy had been thrice repulsed, the King of Nineveh was so elated that he gave himself up to festivity, and allowed all his army to indulge in the utmost licence, and that it was while they were occupied in drunkenness and feasting they were surprised by the Medes under Cyaxares, and their city taken. An account of such a feast, accompanied with sketehes from the monuments, is given in Bonomi, 'Nineveh and its Discoveries,' p. 187, etc. We may compare the fate of Belshazzar (Daniel 5:1, etc.). They shall be devoured as stubble fully dry; like worthless refuse, fit only for burning (Exodus 15:7; Isaiah 5:24; Joel 2:5; Obadiah 1:18). The LXX. renders this verse differently, "Because to its foundation it shall be dried up (χερσωθήσεται: redigentur in vepres, Jerome), and as bind weed (σμῖλαξ) intertwined it shall be devoured, and as stubble fully dry."
There is one come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the LORD, a wicked counseller.
Verse 11. - The reason of the destruction and of the punishment is told. There is one come out of thee. Nineveh is addressed; and we need not refer the words entirely to Sennacherib and his impious threats, but may take them generally as expressing the arrogant impiety of the Assyrians and their attitude towards Jehovah. A wicked counseller; literally, a councilor of Belial; i.e. of worthlessness. The expression, perhaps primarily applied to Sennacherib, also regards the plans prepared by the Assyrians for destroying the people of God, a type of the world arrayed against piety.
Thus saith the LORD; Though they be quiet, and likewise many, yet thus shall they be cut down, when he shall pass through. Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more.
Verses 12-15. - § 4. The destruction of Nineveh is emphatically announced, and Zion is depicted as rejoicing at the news of its ruin, and celebrating her feasts in safety. Verse 12. - Thus saith the lord. An expression used to introduce a solemn declaration. Though they (the Assyrians) be quiet. Shalem has this meaning elsewhere, as Genesis 34:21; but this is unsuitable here, where it must be translated, "in full strength," "unimpaired," "complete," like the thorn hedge in ver. 10. Vulgate, Si perfecti fuerint. Though they be unbroken in strength, and likewise (on that account) many in number. Septuagint, Τάδε λέγει Κύριος κατάρχων ὑδάτων πολλῶν, "Thus saith the Lord, ruling over many waters." So the Syriac and Arabic. Jerome interprets "the waters" to mean the heavenly powers (Psalm 148:4). Yet thus (though such is their state) shall they be cut down. The verb is used of the mowing of a fold or the shearing of sheep, and implies complete destruction. When he shall pass through; better, and he shall pass away. The number is changed, but the same persons are meant, spoken of as one to show their insignificance and complete annihilation. Septuagint "Thus shall they be dispersed [διασταλήσουται: dividentur, Jerome], and the report of thee shall no more be heard therein." The following clause is not translated. Though I have afflicted thee. The Lord addresses Judah, referring to the oppression of Judaea by the Assyriaus in the times of Ahaz and Hezekiah (2 Kings 16:18; 2 Chronicles 28:20, etc.; 32.). I will afflict thee no more; according to the promise in ver. 9. This is further confirmed in what follows.
For now will I break his yoke from off thee, and will burst thy bonds in sunder.
Verse 13. - His yoke. The yoke of Assyria, probably referring to the vassalage of Judah (2 Kings 18:14; 2 Chronicles 33:11). (For the metaphor of "yoke" denoting subjugation, setup. Leviticus 26:13; Jeremiah 27:2; Ezekiel 34:27.) Jeremiah (Jeremiah 30:8) seems to use these words of Nahum to announce the deliverance of Israel from captivity. Burst thy bonds in sunder; by the final overthrow of the Assyrian power (Psalm 2:3; Jeremiah 2:20).
And the LORD hath given a commandment concerning thee, that no more of thy name be sown: out of the house of thy gods will I cut off the graven image and the molten image: I will make thy grave; for thou art vile.
Verse 14. - Concerning thee. The prophet addresses the Assyrian, and announces God's purpose concerning him. That no more of thy name be sown. There is no special reference to Sennacherib in this or the next clause, but the prophet means that the Assyrian people and name shall become extinct. Out of the house of thy gods (Isaiah 37:38, whore the murder of Sennacherib in the temple of Nisroch is mentioned). An account of the religion of the Assyrians will be found in Layard, 'Nineveh and its Remains,' vol. 2 ch. 7. Graven image; carved out of wood or stone. Molten; cast in metal. The two terms comprise every kind of idol, as in Deuteronomy 27:15; Judges 17:3. The Assyrians used to destroy the images of the gods worshipped by conquered nations (2 Kings 19:18). Bonomi ('Nineveh and its Palaces,' p. 163) gives a picture of soldiers cutting up the image of some foreign deity, and carrying away the pieces. So should it now be done unto their gods. I will make thy grave. I will consign thee, O Assyrian, and thy idols to oblivion (Ezekiel 32:22, etc.). It is not, "I will make it, the temple, thy grave," as those who see a reference to the death of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:37) render it; but, "I prepare thy grave" - I doom thee to destruction. The reason is given: For thou art vile; quia inhonoratus es (Vulgate): ὅτι ταχεῖς, "for they are swift" (Septuagint). The word is also translated "light," weighed in the balances, and found wanting, as Daniel 5:27.
Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off.
Verse 15. - The second chapter commences here in the Hebrew and Syriac; the Anglican follows the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Chaldee Versions. This seems most agreeable to the method of the prophecy, wherein threat is succeeded by promise, denunciation of the enemy by declaration of comfort to Judah (comp. Nahum 1:6, 7, 12, and 13; so here vers. 14 and 15). The prophet announces the joy with which Judah receives the news of the overthrow of Nineveh. Behold upon the mountains, etc. Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7) uses these words to proclaim the coming of Messiah (comp. Isaiah 40:9; Romans 10:15). The messengers come from the East across the mountains of Palestine, announcing the fall of Nineveh and the consequent peace and security of Judah - a type of the overthrow of God's enemies and the safety of his Church. There may be an allusion to the custom of spreading tidings by beacon fires. Keep thy solemn feasts. Judah is exhorted to resume the observation of her solemnities, which were interrupted during the enemy's occupation of the country, or which could not be properly attended by the distant inhabitants. Judah must offer her praises and thanksgivings for deliverance, and perform the vows which she made unto the Lord in the time of peril. The wicked (Hebrew, Belial) shall no more pass through thee. Belial is here the adversary, the opposing army (see ver. 11).