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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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NAHUM 3

The reason for the destruction of Nineveh lay in their unmitigated wickedness. "This imperial city had brought such a fate upon itself by its sin and crimes (Nahum 3:1-7), and will no more be able to avert it than was the Egyptian No-Amon (Nahum 3:8-13)."F1 A terrible end will come to the city despite all of their wealth, power, and resources (Nahum 3:14-19). As Augustine said (as quoted by Barnes):

"Two sorts of love have made two sorts of cities; the earthly love of self even to contempt of God; the heavenly love of God even to contempt of self ... There are but two kinds of human society, which we may call two cities. One is of such as will live only for the flesh; the other of such as will live after the Spirit."F2

Of this city of the evil world, Nineveh is a type. We have already observed in Nah. 2 that Nineveh is particularly important because of its status as the second head of the Scarlet Beast of Rev. 13:1ff; this significance of its destruction will appear in even more bold relief under Nah. 3:8 below.


 
Verse 1
Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and rapine; the prey departeth not.

Woe to the bloody city…
In the Bible, such an expression as woe is occasionally associated with a lament (Jeremiah 22:18); But it appears here to be clearly related in nuance to a malediction ... This would suggest a rendition of `Woe be ...' rather than `Alas.'F3

The bloody city…
or city of bloods as rendered by some. Instances of the remarkable and sadistic cruelty of Nineveh have already been cited; but in this connection, we shall return again briefly to that horrible subject:

"On their monuments, we may see prisoners impaled alive, flayed, beheaded, dragged to death with ropes passed through rings in their lips, blinded by the king's own hand, hung up by hands or feet to die in slow torture. Others had their brains beaten out, their tongues torn out by the roots, while the bleeding heads of the slain were tied round the necks of the living who were reserved for further torture. The royal inscriptions boast with exultation of the number of enemies slain, and of captives carried away, and of cities leveled with the ground."F4

How amazing it is that any scholar would consider Nahum's description of such a city as in any manner unjustified. Smith wrote, "It is doubtful whether the cruelty of Nineveh exceeded that of other oriental peoples who had like power and opportunity!"F5


 
Verse 2
The noise of the whip, and the noise of the rattling of wheels, and prancing horses, and bounding chariots,

The prophet envisioned the attack upon Nineveh here.

"This and Nah. 3:3 are a superlative example of Nahum's powers of description, and form one of the most vivid battle scenes in Hebrew literature. There are the confusion and noise as the chariots and horsemen attack, the glint of sun on armor and weapons, and the huddled dead, lying in heaps about the streets."F6


 
Verse 3
the horseman mounting, and the flashing sword, and the glittering spear, and a multitude of slain, and a great heap of corpses, and there is no end of the bodies; they stumble upon their bodies;--

This is a continuation of the description of the attack, beginning at once after the utterance of doom in Nah. 3:1 -- "Woe to the bloody city!" The numbers of the dead were so great as to impede the free movement of the attackers.

"Such a ghastly scene overwhelms the imagination. Again and again, in brief staccato clauses, harsh-sounding, almost incoherent in their imagery, these two long verses of battle sounds and sighs, end strikingly with a thrice repeated `corpses ... corpses ... corpses.'"F7

The words of the prophet leave no doubt whatever that it was the will of God that such destruction should occur; but why? The answer was given at once.


 
Verse 4
because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well-favored harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts.

Whoredoms
is primarily the word for pagan idolatry, a kind of code word focused upon the shameful and licentious worship (as they called it) of idol gods. It identified idolatry by its principal and distinguishing characteristic. The term was usually applied as harlotry to the defection and apostasy of God's own people; and some scholars seem surprised that a pagan city is here called a harlot. However, even in the case of Nineveh it was an apostasy. The entire city, under the preaching of the prophet Jonah had indeed repented and turned to the worship of the true God, a phenomenon in which the king himself with all of his nobles humbled themselves before God, forsook the violence that was in their hands, clothed themselves with sackcloth, and engaged in fasting, praying for God to avert the doom of Jonah's prophetic announcement. Thus, as usually in the Bible, the term harlot applied to a falling away from the truth. That the term was applied now and then to pagan nations cannot indicate any change or variation in this essential meaning of it.

The notion that pagan Gentile nations generally were any less apostates from God than were the apostate Israelites is false. Contrary to the thesis that monotheism evolved out of polytheism, all men at one time knew God. "Knowing God, they glorified him not as God" (Romans 1:21). How did they know God? "God manifested it unto them" (Romans 1:19). Jonah had quite recently (in Nahum's time) manifested God to the Ninevites; and the very terminology of this verse is a witness to the actuality and success of Jonah's mission. (See additional studies on the subject of apostasy under the figure of a harlot in my commentary on Revelation, p. 386, and also on the state of paganism being a falling away, or an apostasy, from the knowledge of the true God even on the part of the pre-Christian Gentile nations, in my commentary on Romans, pp. 30-34.) Therefore, we must reject the view that Nineveh was an apostate (harlot) merely because "theirs was a willful ignoring of the light of nature and natural religion."F8

The application of the term "harlot" to Nineveh has provoked a number of different opinions:

Watts thought is was because, "Ishtar, her patroness, was a goddess of sex and war, and her temples were furnished with sacred prostitutes."F9 Barnes applied it only to those who "having been taken by God for his own, forsake him for false gods."F10 Keil said it meant, "the treacherous friendship and crafty politics with which the coquette ensnared smaller nations."F11 "Though commonly designations of idolatrous practices, there is evidently nothing of that kind in Nahum's use of the terms here."F12 We believe all such views are founded in the failure to see in Nineveh a city sinning against the light, a real apostate from God whom they knew in the preaching of Jonah. There is absolutely no good reason for setting aside the basic meaning of this symbol in the Old Testament. "It is correct that the figure of a harlot is a standard symbol of the Old Testament, and it usually means apostasy from Jehovah on the part of his people."F13 But Nineveh was not "God's people !" No ? The vast majority of the whole city were "God's people" after they repented and the Lord turned aside their destruction.

Well-favored harlot…
This refers to the strategic situation of the city astride the ancient trade-routes, and to the wealth and power that flowed unto her as a result.


 
Verse 5
Behold, I am against thee, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will uncover thy skirts upon thy face; and I will show the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame.

Uncover thy skirts…
This seems to have been a part of the punishment for fornication and adultery (Jer. 13:22,26f; Ezek. 16:36; and Hos. 2:8,9).F14 Also, based upon Assyrian inscriptions and monuments, Billerbeck and Jeremias' conclusion was that, It was an Assyrian method of treating female captives.F15 The execution of this terrible punishment is carried out still further in literal terms in Nah. 3:6,7.F16 Taylor and others reject as totally un-Christian any idea of shameful and humiliating punishment like that in view here. The statement of what this Deity does is poles removed from the New Testament account of God's character, e.g., in 1 John.F17 Such views are not merely inaccurate, they are founded in a remarkable blindness to what Christian teaching actually is. Taylor cited the apostle John, but apparently did not know that the apostle John also detailed in the most extravagant language the judgment of the Great Whore in Revelation (Rev. 17--18), and then depicted the saints of all ages rejoicing in her overthrow:

"Hallelujah; for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth. Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto him ... True and righteous are his judgments; for he hath judged the great harlot, her that corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged the blood of his servants at her hand" (Revelation 19:6,7,2).

"Nineveh, the well-favored harlot will be exposed for what she is, a filthy vagrant, without beauty, virtue, or friend; and such will give rise to a taunting lament by the spectators."F18


 
Verses 6, 7
And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazing-stock. And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters for thee?

These two verses merely draw out the description of the punishment indicated in Nah. 3:5.

Cast abominable filth upon thee…
This was probably what witnesses of such punishment usually did to the victims of it. Why such terrible punishment? Because, like a beautiful wanton, an image John repeats of Rome in Revelation, Nineveh had lured the nations to their death.F19

Nineveh is laid waste…
That `waste' was to be so complete that for centuries, indeed for over 2,000 years, men would not even know with certainty where it had been situated.F20

Who will bemoan her. ?
As Smith put it, Nineveh gave rise to no utterance of national passions, but to the outraged conscience of mankind.F21


 
Verse 8
Art thou better than No-amon, that was situate among the rivers, that had the waters round about her; whose rampart was the sea, [and] her wall was of the sea?

In a number of ways No-Amon (capitalizing Amon stresses the name of their false god) was the greatest and most influential city of the pre-Assyrian world. "Here are the mightiest ruins of ancient civilization to be found anywhere on earth.F22 It came into prominence about 2,100 years B.C.; "From that time it held a leading place in Egypt."F23 It was long the capital of Egypt and was nicknamed, "The city of a hundred gates; it was the cult center of the triad of Amon, Mut and Khonsu. 'Amon' indicated the relationship between the city and its principal god."F24 The expression No-Amon is found only in this verse, indicating that Nahum connected the place with the larger drama of the Scarlet Sea-Beast already in the world for a long time; but which would be more adequately identified in later times by Daniel and the apostle John. No-Amon bore exactly the same relationship to EGYPT the first head of the Seven Headed Sea-Beast, that Nineveh bore to Assyria the second head.

As to the identity of No-Amon, it was most certainly Thebes. The verse before us might appear at first glance to indicate a delta city such as Alexandria, but the Nile was called "the sea" poetically, "as in Job 41:31, and Isa. 18:2; and with that difficulty removed, there is no doubt that the place is Thebes."F25 "The Arabs still call the Nile the sea."F26 "No had been an earlier, another Nineveh,"F27 as we have seen, the great first head of the Sea-Beast; but in Nahum's time Ashurbanipal (663 B.C.) had captured No-Amon, giving a mortal wound to the first head, but becoming itself the second head of the great, monolithic organization of men against God which has dominated the whole history of the human race, and even now, under the eighth manifestation of the 'horns," which also were part of the beast, multiple governments all over the world are the modern (and perhaps final) successors to the power and authority of the Sea-Beast. Thus, there are eschatological overtones in Nahum of the very greatest significance, as some scholars have discerned.

Those who date Nahum prior to 663 B.C. view these words as a prophecy of No-Amon's destruction; but we believe that event was past when Nahum wrote, the prophet's discernment of Nineveh's usurpation of the former status of Thebes being evident in the very denunciations uttered by the prophet. "He holds up No-Amon as an example to Nineveh of the fate that awaited them."F28


 
Verse 9
Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was infinite; Put and Lubim were thy helpers.

Some have viewed this as Nahum's warning to Nineveh that No-Amon was a lot better off regarding her defences than was Nineveh, for No-Amon (Thebes) was supported by powerful allies on all sides, whereas Nineveh had antagonized and alienated all of her political neighbors.


 
Verse 10
Yet was she carried away, she went into captivity; her young children also were dashed in pieces at the head of all the streets; and they cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains.

This fate of Thebes, although executed by Assyria, was nevertheless itself a prophecy of the fate of Nineveh. "Nahum did not interpret the fall of Thebes as a sign of Assyrian power, but as a symbol of what must happen to any nation that is against God."F29

This description of the destruction of No-Amon, coming from Nahum who was almost if not actually a contemporary of the event, indicates that it was altogether as bloody and terrible as the fate that came to Nineveh.


 
Verse 11
Thou also shalt be drunken; thou shalt be hid; thou also shalt seek a stronghold because of the enemy.

Thou also shalt be drunken…
There may be several meanings here, the one usually discerned being that Assyria, like Thebes, shall be drunken with the pride and conceit of their own power, or made drunken upon drinking the cup of the wrath of God. There is also the possibility that the drunkenness of the defenders at a key moment in the assault of the Assyrians contributed to their overthrow. It was surely the latter that was included in the condition of Assyria.

Thou shalt be hid…
These words are uncertain in the text; and Smith rendered them thus: Thou too wilt take refuge from the foe, an unaccustomed role for Assyrian armies.F30


 
Verse 12
All thy fortresses shall be [like] fig-trees with the first-ripe figs: if they be shaken, they fall into the mouth of the eater.

Thy fortresses…
These were the strongholds on the borders of Assyria, protecting the approaches to Nineveh.F31

Like. first-ripe figs ..…

"First-ripe figs, when at full maturity, fall from the tree with the least shake; so at the first shake or consternation, all the fortresses of Nineveh were abandoned; and the king, in despair, burnt himself and household in his own palace."F32

The ring of outer fortresses protecting the approaches to Nineveh were "certain mountain passes, called by Strabo `the Caspian gates,' and others cited by Xenophon as `the gates of Cilicia and Syria.'"F33


 
Verses 13, 14
Behold, thy people in the midst of thee are women; the gates of thy land are set wide open unto thine enemies: the fire hath devoured thy bars. Draw thee water for the siege; strengthen thy fortresses; go into the clay, and tread the mortar; make strong the brickkiln.

These verses are a taunting announcement of doom.

Thy people. are women ..…
What was meant is that the strongest and most valiant of their soldiers would be as ineffective against the foe coming upon them, as a company of untrained women, frightened and fleeing from the enemy.

Draw water. go into clay ... tread the mortar ... etc…
has the thought that, All your frenzied preparations are useless, the doom of the city is already sealed. All of this was bitter irony, for it was far too late to make preparations. Such terror will be upon the defenders of Nineveh that they will be unable to act the part of men.F34


 
Verse 15
There shall the fire devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off; it shall devour thee like the canker-worm: make thyself many as the canker-worm; make thyself many as the locust.

It is a feature of Hebrew prophecy that sometimes a figure of speech (as the simile here) is used with multiple meanings. In the first part of this verse, the sword of vengeance is compared to the locust plague; but in the second half of Nah. 3:15, and in Nah. 3:16, the Assyrians themselves are likened to locusts. "Having already applied it to the ravages of the invading army (Nah. 3:15a), he then uses it (Nahum 3:15-16) to describe the number of Nineveh's citizens."F35


 
Verse 16
Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven: the canker-worm ravageth, and fleeth away.

Above the stars of heaven…
Nothing but a great swarm of locusts, or the stars of heaven, could be compared to the teeming population of Nineveh.

The cankerworm ravageth, and fleeth away…
This did not mean that the conquering army would ravage Nineveh and then go away, but that the locust-population of Nineveh itself, so long the ravaging power on the earth, would disappear, after the manner of all great locust plagues which come ultimately to their end.


 
Verse 17
Thy princes are as the locusts, and thy marshals as the swarms of grasshoppers, which encamp in the hedges in the cold day, but when the sun ariseth they flee away, and their place is not known where they are.

The fleeing away of the princes and merchants here is not an indication of their escaping from the invading enemy.

It just means that, like all locusts, their time was limited, and that they would soon be gone, forever. "This passage does not promise deliverance from danger by flight, but threatens destruction."F36


 
Verse 18
Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria; thy nobles are at rest; thy people are scattered upon the mountains, and there is none to gather them.

Slumber. rest ..…
The mighty men of Assyria are dead. The judgment of God has fallen upon them. The thought that, they slumber and take their easeF37 is not in the passage. Sleep here must be taken in the sense of death.F38

Scattered upon the mountains…
Nineveh was shut in on the north by very rugged, impassable mountains. None to gather them shows the finality of their doom and the impossibility of their resurgence at some later period.


 
Verse 19
There is no assuaging of thy hurt: thy wound is grievous: all that hear the report of thee clap their hands over thee; for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?

There is no assuaging of thy hurt…
is sometimes rendered no healing of thy bruise. The finality and permanence of the destruction of Nineveh appears repeatedly through the prophecy. Note the following:

I will make thy grave, for thou art vile (Nahum 1:14).

The wicked one shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off (Nahum 1:15).

She is carried away (Nahum 2:7).
She is empty, and void, and waste (Nahum 2:10).
Where is the den of lions? (Nahum 2:11).
The voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard (Nahum 2:13).
I will set thee as a gazing-stock (Nahum 3:6).
Nineveh is laid waste (Nahum 3:7).
Thou shalt be hid (Nahum 3:11).
Fire shall devour thee (Nahum 3:15).
The sword shall cut thee off (Nahum 3:15).
Their place is not known where they are (Nahum 3:17).
There is no assuaging of thy hurt (Nahum 3:19).
"So exactly was all this fulfilled, that for ages the very site of Nineveh was lost, until in the 19th century, A.D., Layard and Robinson made excavations and discoveries that brought to light the ruins of a metropolis so vast that none could longer doubt the declarations of Jonah and Nahum in regard to its splendor and magnificence."F39

"The striking fulfillment of Nahum's prophecy in the disappearance of Nineveh from the face of the earth is a seal upon the abiding truth of his message. Here is no mere piece of antiquity, but a confirmed Word of God."F40

"The reader should keep in mind the perspective of the book. Nineveh is no ordinary city ... nor is Assyria just another degenerating civilization. They stand for the ultimate supernatural evil that frustrates and suppresses the purposes and people of God. Their defeat is a sign of the victory of God and the basis of hope that his power and justice will ultimately conquer all evil."F41

"In the overthrow of this kingdom, there is a prophecy of the destruction of all anti-Christian powers."F42

We have cited these quotations as examples of the vivid and startling impression this prophecy makes upon one who reads and studies it. One who understands Nahum knows that supernatural prophecy is a fact and that we have here an incontrovertible example of it.

Commentators, ancient and modern alike, have, at the end of their studies of Nahum, paused to contemplate the eternal power and majesty of God. We cite one other example:

What probability was there that the capital city of a great kingdom, a city sixty miles in compass, a city with so vast a population, a city with walls a hundred feet high, and so thick that three chariots could drive abreast upon them, and which had fifteen hundred towers, of two hundred feet in height ... what probability was there that such a city should ever be totally destroyed?F43

And not merely destroyed, but lost and hidden from all the peoples of the earth for over two thousand years! We cannot leave this without observing that the author of this prophecy spoke the true Word of God, and that such a fact is obvious. Fiddling around with the date of the prophecy and attempting to make it a pretended oracle after the events prophesied had already occurred are absolutely frustrated by the addition of Nah. 3:19, "There is no assuaging of thy hurt." This most singular and overwhelming aspect of the whole prophecy was a prophetic Word of God and could not have been otherwise, no matter what date might be assigned to Nahum's life and writing. This is also the pledge and seal that all of the prophecy is bona fide, a true revelation of future events, by the prophetic inspiration of the prophet through the power of God.


Footnotes for Nahum 3
1: C. F. Keil, Commentary on Old Testament, Vol. 10, Nahum (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 9.
2: Albert Barnes, Notes on Minor Prophets Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1950), p. 148.
3: Edward R. Dalglish, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 242.
4: W. J. Deane, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 14 Nahum (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 40.
5: J. W. Powis Smith, International Critical Commentary, Nahum (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1911), p. 335.
6: Alexander Fraser, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 765,
7: E. M. Blaiklock, The New Layman's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 1002,
8: W. J. Deane, op. cit., p. 41.
9: John D. W. Watts, Cambridge Bible Commentary, Nahum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 116.
10: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 150.
11: C. F. Keil, op. cit., p. 30.
12: J. M. Powis Smith, op. cit., p. 338.
13: Albertus Pieters, Studies in Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 250.
14: J. M. Powis Smith, op. cit., p. 338.
15: Ibid.
16: C. F. Keil, op. cit., p. 31.
17: Charles L. Taylor, Jr., The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VI (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 966.
18: Edward R. Dalglish, op. cit., p. 243.
19: E. M. Blaiklock, op. cit., p. 1002.
20: Homer Hailey, Commentary on Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), p. 266.
21: E. M. Blaiklock, op. cit., p. 1003.
22: J. M. Powis Smith, op. cit., p. 343.
23: Ibid.
24: Carl E. DeVries, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), p. 1211.
25: M. G. Kyle, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago: Howard-Severance Co., 1915), p. 2153.
26: George Adam Smith, The Twelve Prophets (Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham), p. 110.
27: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 152.
28: C. F. Keil, op. cit., p. 34.
29: John D. W. Watts, op. cit., p. 119.
30: J. M. Powis Smith, op. cit., p. 345.
31: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), p. 826.
32: Adam Clarke, Commentary, Vol. IV (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), p. 740.
33: W. J. Deane, op. cit., p. 43.
34: J. M. Powis Smith, op. cit., p. 346.
35: Alexander Fraser, op. cit., p. 766.
36: C. F. Keil, op. cit., p. 39.
37: John D. W. Watts, op. cit., p. 120.
38: George Adam Smith, op. cit., p. 112.
39: H. A. Ironside, Notes on the Minor Prophets (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1909), p. 266.
40: Alexander Fraser, op. cit., p. 766.
41: John D. W. Watts, op. cit., p. 120.
42: W. J. Deane, op. cit., p. 45.
43: Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 741.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Nahum 3". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=na&chapter=003>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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