He that dasheth in pieces is come up before thy face: keep the munition, watch the way, make thy loins strong, fortify thy power mightily.
Verses 1-13. - Part II. THE EXECUTION OF THE DECREE; THE DESTRUCTION OF NINEVEH DESCRIBED. Verses 1-8. - § 1. Nineveh shall be besieged, because God is about to exalt his people by taking vengeance on the enemy, whose defence, howsoever formidable, is of no avail. Verse 1. - Nahum addresses Nineveh, and forewarns her of the siege she was about to undergo (see Introduction, § I.). He that dasheth in pieces; the disperser; qui dispergat (Vulgate); ἐμφυσῶν, "panting" (Septuagint). The mixed army that invested Nineveh is so called from its effect on the inhabitants of the neighbouring lands. Others translate it, "the maul," or "hammer" - an appellation of Cyaxares, which reminds one of Charles Martel and Judas Maccabaeus. Is come up before thy face. Placing his forces in thy sight, that thou mayest see his power and thine own danger. Keep the munition. The prophet urges the Ninevites to guard their fortress well. Some connect this clause with the preceding: "the disperser is come to maintain the siege;" as the Vulgate, qui custodiat obsidionem. But the other interpretation is more forcible, and suits the rest of the verse. The LXX., reading differently, gives, ἐξαιρούμενος [+ σε, Alex.] ἐκ θλίψεως, "one delivered from affliction." Watch the way, by which the enemy approaches. Make thy loins strong. Gather up thy strength, the loins being regarded as the seat of strength (2 Chronicles 10:10; Job 40:7; Ezekiel 29:7; 1 Peter 1:13). So weak, effeminate people were called in Latin elumbes, "loinless." Fortify thy power mightily; Ανδρισαι τῇ ἰσχύι σφόδρα (Septuagint). Make yourselves as strong as possible (comp. Amos 2:14).
For the LORD hath turned away the excellency of Jacob, as the excellency of Israel: for the emptiers have emptied them out, and marred their vine branches.
Verse 2. - This ruin shall fall on Nineveh because God is mindful of his chosen people, whom Assyria has oppressed. Hath turned away. It should be rendered, returneth to, or restoreth, bringeth back; reddidit (Vulgate); Isaiah 52:8; Hosea 6:11. The excellency of Jacob, as the excellency of Israel. The Lord restores the glory and honour of Jacob, the nation in its political aspect, and the high privileges of the spiritual Israel, the chosen people of God (comp. Obadiah 1:18). For. Asshur is visited because Judah has had its full measure of punishment. The emptiers have emptied them out. The plunderers (the enemy) have plundered the Jews. And marred their vine branches. The heathen have cut off the members of Israel, the Lord's vineyard. (For the metaphor "vine," comp. Psalm 80:8, etc.; Isaiah 5; Jeremiah 41:10.) Not only from what is read in the Bible (e.g.. 2 Kings 15:19; 2 Kings 16:7, etc.; 2 Kings 17:3; 18:14), but from the details in the cuneiform inscriptions, we learn that the Assyrians were a constant danger and annoyance to Israel, and harassed continually both the southern and northern provinces.
The shield of his mighty men is made red, the valiant men are in scarlet: the chariots shall be with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the fir trees shall be terribly shaken.
Verse 3. - The prophet describes, as though himself an eyewitness, the army advancing against Nineveh. The shield of his mighty men is made red. "His heroes" may be either God's heroes, as sent by him to war against the evil city, or those of the "dasher in pieces" of ver. 1. The shields of the early Assyrians were usually circular or oval in shape, formed of wicker work, with a central boss of wood or metal. In the latest period they were made straight at bottom and rounded only at top (Rawlinson's 'Anc. Mon.,' 1:440). Some bronze shields have been brought to England from Nineveh; these are circular, about two feet and a half in diameter, the rim bending inwards, and forming a deep groove round the edge. The handles are of iron, and fastened by six bosses or nails, the heads of which form an ornament on the outer face of the shield (Layard, 'Discoveries,' p. 194). There were used also in sieges tall oblong shields, sufficient to protect the entire body, constructed of wicker work or the hides of animals (Bonomi, 'Nineveh and its Discoveries,' p. 320, etc.). The shields are said to be "made red," either because they were really so coloured (though the monuments have not confirmed this opinion), or else because of the polished copper with which they were sometimes covered (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 13:12. 5). Septuagint, pointing differently, ὅπλα δυναστείας αὐτῶν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων, "the arms of their power from among men." Are in scarlet. The word rendered "scarlet" is found nowhere else. Septuagint, mistaking the word, ἐμπαίζοντας ἐν πυρί, "sporting in fire:" Vulgate, in coccineis. It is derived from the term applied to the coccus, or worm which was used in dyeing to give to cloth a deep scarlet colour (Henderson). Some have seen in the colour of the soldiers' garments an emblem of the Divine wrath of which they were the appointed ministers. This colour was much affected by combatants in old times as in modern days. Professor Edwards quotes Aelian, 'Var. Hist.' 6:6, "it was necessary to enter into battle clothed in purple, that the colour might denote a certain dignity, and if drops of blood from wounds were sprinkled on it, it became terrible to the enemy" (comp. Xen., 'Cyrop.,' 1:3, 2). Red or purple seems to have been the favourite colour of the Medea and Babylonians (Ezekiel 23:14), blue or violet that of the Assyrians (Ezekiel 23:6; Ezekiel 28:23, etc.) (Orelli). The chariots shall be with flaming torches; literally, are with fire of steels; i.e. flash with steel, and so the clause should be translated, as in the Revised Version. Commentators generally refer the description to the steel bosses of the wheels; but the Assyrian chariots (and those of the Medes and Chaldeans were not dissimilar) were conspicuous for shining metal, hung round with gleaming weapons and figures of the heavenly bodies, carrying bright armed warriors, the homes covered with trappings, which flashed under the sunshine, and fastened to poles of glittering steel. There is no trace in the monuments of chariots armed with scythes, which seem to have been unknown before the time of Cyrus. They are first mentioned in 2 Macc. 13:2 (see Livy, 37:41). The word peladoth, translated "torches," is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον. The LXX. renders it, αἱ ἡνίαι, "the reins," whence Jerome obtained his version, igneae habenae curruum; but it means, "things made of iron or steel,"and by critics uninstructed in monumental discoveries was naturally referred to the scythes with which chariots were armed in later times, instead of to the gleaming metal with which they were adorned. In the day of his preparation. When the Lord marshals the host for battle, as Isaiah 13:4. The fir trees shall be terribly shaken, i.e. the spears with their fir or cypress shafts are brandished. So Homer often calls the spear "the ash," from the material of which the handle was made (comp. 'Il.,' 16:143; 22:225, etc.). The Septuagint rendering is very far from the present text, Οἱ ἱππεῖς θορυβηθήσονται, "The horsemen shall be thrown into confusion." Nor is the Vulgate any better, Agitatores cosopiti sunt, which is explained to mean that the invaders are so carried away by their courage and fury, that they act as if intoxicated. "Sensus utique non spernedus," says a Roman Catholic commentator, "at unum desidero, ut scil. ex verbo ipso fluat" - which is certainly not the case. The text is possibly corrupt, and might be corrected from the Septuagint. Certainly there seems to be no other passage in the Hebrew Scriptures where the metaphor of "cypress" is used for "a spear." After the mention of the chariots, it is not unnatural that the writer should proceed, "and the riders are in active motion," urging their horses with hand and whip and gesture (see Knabenbauer, in loc.).
The chariots shall rage in the streets, they shall justle one against another in the broad ways: they shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightnings.
Verse 4. - The chariots shall rage in the streets. The chariots rave, dash madly (Jeremiah 46:9) about the open ways in the suburbs, or in the plains of the country. The description still appertains to the besiegers, who are so numerous that to the Ninevites, looking from their walls, their chariots seem to dash against one another. They shall seem - their appearance is - like torches. Thus is described the gleaming of the chariots and the armour (see on ver. 3; 1 Macc. 6:39, "Now when the sun shone upon the shields of gold and brass, the mountains glistered therewith, and shined like lamps of fire").
He shall recount his worthies: they shall stumble in their walk; they shall make haste to the wall thereof, and the defence shall be prepared.
Verse 5. - The prophet turns to the Ninevites and their preparations for defence. He shall recount his worthies; he remembers his nobles. The King of Nineveh calls to mind the mighty captains who have often led his armies to victory, and sends them to defend the walls (comp. Nahum 3:18). The LXX., anticipating the next clause, adds here, καὶ φεύξονται ἡμέρας, "and they shall flee by day." They shall stumble in their walk. In their fear and baste, or half drunken, they totter and stumble as they hasten to the walls of the city. The defence shall be prepared; literally, the covering is prepared. If this refers to the operations of the Ninevites, it means some kind of breastwork or fascine erected between the towers; but it most probably depicts the sight that meets their eyes from the wails. They see the besiegers bringing up their mantelets and towers. As used by the Assyrians, the machine called "the covering" is either a wooden tower or a wicker mantelet in which was suspended a battering ram. It stood on four or six wheels, and the larger sort had archers posted in the various stories, both to annoy the enemy and to defend the engine. The rams were provided with lance headed extremities, and must have rather picked at and loosened the courses of bricks of which the walls were composed than battered them down (see Bonomi, 'Nineveh and its Palaces,' pp. 160, 234, 243, etc. Layard, 'Nineveh,' ch. 5. p. 376, etc., figs. 57, 58). The Septuagint rendering applies rather to the besieged, Ἐτοιμάσουσι τὰς προφυλακὰς αὐτῶν, "They shall prepare their defences."
The gates of the rivers shall be opened, and the palace shall be dissolved.
Verse 6. - All defence is vain. The prophet describes the last scene. The gates of the rivers shall be (are) opened. The simplest explanation of this much disputed clause is, according to Strauss and others, the following: The gates intended are those adjacent to the streams which encircled the city, and which were therefore the best defended and the hardest to capture. When these were carried, there was no way of escape for the besieged. But, as Rosenmuller remarks, it would have been an act of folly in the enemy to attack just that part of the city which was most strongly defended by nature and art. We are, therefore, induced to take "the gates of the rivers," not literally, but as a metaphorical expression (like "the windows of heaven," Genesis 7:1 l; Isaiah 24:18) for an overwhelming flood, and to see in this a reference to the fact mentioned by Diod. Sic. (2:27), that the capture of Nineveh was owing to a great and unprecedented inundation, which destroyed a large portion of the fortifications, and laid the city open to the enemy. "At the northwest angle of Nineveh," says Professor Rawlinson, "there was a sluice or flood gate, intended mainly to keep the water of the Khosr-su, which ordinarily filled the city moat, from flowing off too rapidly into the Tigris, but probably intended also to keep back the water of the Tigris, when that stream rose above its common level. A sudden and great rise in the Tigris would necessarily endanger this gate, and if it gave way beneath the pressure, a vast torrent of water would rush up the moat along and against the northern wall, which may have been undermined by its force, and have fallen in" (Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 2. p. 397, edit. 1871). The suggestion that the course of its rivers was diverted, and that the enemy entered the town through the dried channels, has no historical basis. Dr. Pusey explains the term to mean the gates by which the inhabitants had access to the rivers. But these would be well guarded, and the open. ing of them would not involve the capture of the city, which the expression in the text seems to imply. The LXX. gives, πόλεων διηνοίχθησαν, "The gates of the cities were opened." The palace shall be (is) dissolved; or, melteth away. Some take this to signify that the hearts of the in. habitants melt with fear, or the royal power vanishes in terror. That the clause is to be taken literally, to denote the destruction of the royal palace by the action of the waters, seems to be negatived by the fact that the Assyrian palaces were built on artificial mounds of some thirty or forty feet in elevation, composed of sun-dried bricks united into a solid mass, and were thus secured from the effects of an inundation (see Bosoms, 'Nineveh and its Discoveries,' p. 129, etc.). There is evidence, too, that fire played a great part in the destruction of the temples and palaces (see note on Nahum 3:13).
And Huzzab shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up, and her maids shall lead her as with the voice of doves, tabering upon their breasts.
Verse 7. - And Huzzab. The Anglican rendering (which has the authority of the Jewish commentators, and is endorsed by Ewald and Ruckert) takes Huzzab as an appellative, either the name of the Queen of Nineveh, or a symbolical name for Nineveh itself, as Sheshach, Peked, and Merathaim were for Babylon (see Jeremiah 25:26: 1:21; 51:41; Ezekiel 23:23), which was formed or adopted by Nahum for the purpose of describing its character. Huzzab may mean "established," "act firm" (Genesis 28:12), and confident in its strength; pual from natsab," to set," "to fix" (Wordsworth). We may dismiss the idea that Huzzab is the name of the queen. Such a personage is unknown to history; and there is no reason why she should be mentioned rather than the king; and persona are not introduced by name in prophecy except for some very special reason, as Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28). The alternative rendering, "it is decreed," adopted by Keil, Pusey, and many modern commentators, is unexampled, and comes in baldly, and not at all according to the prophet's manner. Henderson joins the clause with the proceiling, thus: "The palace is dissolved, though firmly established." The Septuagint gives, Ἡ ὑπόστασις ἀπεκαλύφθη, "The hidden treasures are revealed," or, "The foundation is exposed;" Vulgate, Miles captivus abductus est. It seems best to take Huzzab as an appellative representing either Nineveh or Assyria, as the country between the Upper and Lower Zab (Rawlinson, in 'Dictionary of the Bible'), or as meaning "firm," "bold." Thus Egypt is called Rahab, "arrogant" (Isaiah 30:7); the King of Assyria, Jareb, "contentious" (Hosea 5:13); Jerusalem, Ariel, "God's lion" (Isaiah 29:1). Shall be led away captive; better, is laid bare. She, the queen of nations, is stripped of her adornments and igno miniously treated. She shall be brought up. She is carried away into captivity. "Brought up" may mean brought up to judgment, as Nahum 3:5; Isaiah 47:2, 3 (Pusey). Her maids shall lead her; rather, her handmaids moan. The inhabitants of Nineveh, personified as a queen, or the lesser cities of her empire, follow their mistress mourning. As with the voice of doves (comp. Isaiah 38:14; Isaiah 59:11; Ezekiel 7:16), They shall not only show the outward tokens of sorrow, but shall mourn inwardly in their hearts, as the LXX. renders the whole clause, καθὼς περιστεραὶ φθεγγόμενει ἐν καρδίαις αὐτῶν "as down moaning in their hearts." Tabering; beating on a tabret. (For smiting the breast in token of sorrow, setup. Luke 18:13; Luke 23:48; Homer, 'Il.,' 18:31, Ξεροὶ δὲ πἇσαι Στήθεα πεπλήψοντο.)
But Nineveh is of old like a pool of water: yet they shall flee away. Stand, stand, shall they cry; but none shall look back.
Verse 8. - The prophet compares the past and present condition of Nineveh. But Nineveh is of old like a pool of water; and (or, though) Nineveh hath been like a pool of water all her days. Others, altering the points in accordance with the Septuagint and Vulgate, translate, "But as for Nineveh, her waters are like a pool of water." This is what she has come to, for "her waters" represent herself. She is compared to a pool or reservoir (Nehemiah 2:15; Nehemiah 3:15) from the multitude of her inhabitants gathered from all parts of the world, and streaming unto her, both as tributary and for commercial purposes (comp. Jeremiah 51:13; Revelation 17:1, 15). Yet they shall flee away. In spite of their numbers, the multitudes represented by "the waters" fly before the enemy. In vain the captains cry, Stand, stand. They pay no attention. None shall look back. No one of the fugitives turns rounder gives a thought to anything but his own safety.
Take ye the spoil of silver, take the spoil of gold: for there is none end of the store and glory out of all the pleasant furniture.
Verses 9-13. - § 2. The city is plundered, and henceforth lies waste, in terrible contrast with its former excellency, Verse 9. - The prophet calls on the invaders to come and gather the spoil of the city, which God gives into their hands. Take ye the spoil. Fabulous stories are told of the amount of the precious metals stored in Nineveh and Babylon. "Sardanapalus is said to have placed a hundred and fifty golden beds, and as many tables of the same metal, on his funeral pile, besides gold and silver vases and ornaments in enormous quantities, and purple and many-coloured raiments (Athen., lib. 12.). According to Diodorus, the value of the gold taken from the temple of Bolus alone by Xerxes amounted to above 7350 Attic talents, of £21,000,000 sterling money" (Layard, 'Nineveh,' 2:416, etc.; comp. Daniel 3:1, where the size of the golden image or pillar, sixty cubits high and six cubits broad, shows how plentiful was gold in these countries). Bonomi: "The riches of Nineveh are inexhaustible, her vases and precious furniture are infinite, copper constantly occurs in their weapons, and it is most probable a mixture of it was used in the materials of their tools. They had acquired the art of making glass.... The well known cylinders are a sufficient proof of their skill in engraving gems. Many beautiful specimens of carving in ivory were also discovered .... The condition of the ruins is highly corroborative of the sudden destruction that came upon Nineveh by fire and sword .... It is evident from the ruins that both Khorsabad and Nimroud were sacked and then set on fire. Neither Botta nor Layard found any of that store of silver and gold and 'pleasant furniture' which the palaces contained; scarcely anything, even of bronze, escaped the spoiler" ('Nineveh and its Discoveries,' pp. 334, 336). There is none end of the store; Vulgate, Non finis est divitiarum; Septuagint, οὐκ η΅ν πέρας τοῦ κόσμου αὐτῆς, "There was no end of her ornament." And glory out of all the pleasant furniture; literally, vessels of desire. It is plainer to translate, There is abundance of all precious furniture.
She is empty, and void, and waste: and the heart melteth, and the knees smite together, and much pain is in all loins, and the faces of them all gather blackness.
Verse 10. - She is empty, and void, and waste. Bukahum bukah, um bulakah. The three words are of very similar meaning and sound, and express most forcibly the utter ruin of the city. A Latin commentator has endeavoured to imitate the Hebrew paronomasia by rendering them, "vacuitas, evacuatio, evanidatio" - a translation more ingenious than classical. The paronomasia is better rendered by "vastitas, vastitia, vacuitas," and the German, "leer und ausgeleert und verheert." "Sack and sacking and ransacking" (Gandell). An analogous combination of words is found in Isaiah 24:3, 4; Isaiah 29:2, 3; Ezekiel 33:29; Zephaniah 1:15. Septuagint, ἐκτιναγμὸς, καὶ ἀνατιναγμὸς καὶ ἐκβρασμός, "thrusting forth and spurning and tumult." The heart melteth. A common expression for fear and despondency (Joshua 7:5; Isaiah 13:7; Ezekiel 21:7). The knees smite together (Daniel 5:6). So in Homer continually, λύτο γούνατα. Much pain is in all loins. The anguish as of childbirth. Septuagint, ὠδῖνες, "labour pains," in contrast with the injunction in ver. 1 (comp. Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 21:3; Jeremiah 30:6). Gather blackness (Joel 2:6); or, Withdraw their colour; i.e. wax pale. But the Hebrew rather implies that the faces assume a livid hue, like that of coming death. Hence the LXX. renders, ὡς πρόσκαυμα χύτρας, as the burning of an earthen vessel, which is blackened by the fire; and Jerome, sicut nigredo ollae (comp. Jeremiah 30:6).
Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feedingplace of the young lions, where the lion, even the old lion, walked, and the lion's whelp, and none made them afraid?
Verse 11. - The prophet asks, as if in consternation at the complete collapse of the great city - Where is the site of Nineveh? Where is the dwelling (den) of the lions? The lion is a natural symbol of Assyria, both from that animal's cruel, predatory; ravenous habits, and from its use as the chief national emblem. Nergal, the war god, has a winged lion with a man's face as his emblem. See the figure in Rawlinson, 'Anc. Mon.,' 1:173, who adds (p. 308) that the lion is accepted as a true type of the people, blood, ravin, and robbery being their characteristics in the mind of the prophet. The feeding place of the young lions may mean the subject lands whence they took their prey. And the old lion; rather, the lioness. The lion is designated by different names, which may, perhaps, refer to the various satraps and chieftains of the Assyrian kingdom. There are the full-grown male lion, the lioness, the young lion able to seek its own food, and the whelp too young to find its own living. Instead of" the lioness." the LXX., Vulgate, and Syriac, reading differently, give, ταῦεἰσελθεῖν, ut ingrederetur, "that the lion's whelp should enter there." And none made them afraid. They lived in perfect security, without fear or care, irresistible in might (Leviticus 26:6; Micah 4:4; Zephaniah 3:13).
The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for his lionesses, and filled his holes with prey, and his dens with ravin.
Verse 12. - The figure of the lieu is continued, and this verse, in loose apposition to the preceding, may be best explained by continuing the interrogation in thought - Where is now the lion that used to tear in pieces, etc.? The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps. The Assyrian monarch provided for his children and dependents by plundering other nations. His lionesses may mean his wives and concubines. It was the custom both with the Persians and Assyrians to assign towns and provinces to their favourites. Xenophon ('Anab.,' 1:4. 10) mentions certain villages as set apart for the girdle of Queen Parysatis. A Lapide quotes Cicero, 'Verr.,' 2:3. 33, "They say that the barbarian kings of the Persians and Syrians [i.e. Assyrians] are wont to have many wives, to whom they assign cities in this fashion - this city is to provide a girdle for her waist, that a necklace, that again to dress her hair; and so they have whole nations, not only privy to their lusts, but also abettors of them" (see Arnold's note on Thucydides, 1:138; temp. 2 Macc. 4:30).
Behold, I am against thee, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will burn her chariots in the smoke, and the sword shall devour thy young lions: and I will cut off thy prey from the earth, and the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard.
Verse 13. - I am against thee. The destruction shall be surely accomplished, because God himself directs it. Literally, I to thee (Nahum 3:5; Jeremiah 51:25; Ezekiel 38:3). The Lord of hosts (sabaoth), Lord of the forces of heaven and earth, and therefore omnipotent. Κύριος παντοκράτωρ (Septuagint): I will burn her chariots in the smoke. "Chariots" stand for the whole apparatus of war and military power. Sop-tuagint for "chariots" gives πλῆθος, "multitudes." Thy young lions. Thy fighting men, the metaphor being continued. Cut off thy prey. Thou shalt no more be able to pillage other countries. Thy messengers. These are the heralds who carried the king's commands to his lieutenants, or those, like the imperious Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:17, etc.; 2 Kings 19:23), who summoned nations to surrender, and imposed tributes. "O Nineveh," writes St. Jerome, "thou shalt suffer all that has been spoken. I the Lord will burn to ashes thy chariots, and will cause thy nobles and satraps to be devoured by the sword; never again shalt thou lay countries waste, nor exact tribute, nor will thy emissaries' voice be heard throughout thy provinces."