Commentaries on the Prophet Nahum 
Lecture Ninety-ninth 
Chapter 1 
Nahum 1:1 
The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the 
    Though a part of what is here delivered belongs to the 
Israelites and to the Jews, he yet calls his Book by what it 
principally contains; he calls its the burden of Nineveh. Of this 
word "masa'", we have spoken elsewhere. Thus the Prophets call their 
prediction, whenever they denounce any grievous and dreadful 
vengeance of God: and as they often threatened the Jews, it hence 
happened, that they called, by way of ridicule, all prophecies by 
this name "masa'", a burden. But yet the import of the word is 
suitable. It is the same thing as though Nahum had said that he was 
sent by God as a herald, to proclaim war on the Ninevites for the 
sake of the chosen people. The Israelites may have hence learnt how 
true and unchangeable God was in his covenant; for he still 
manifested his care for them, though they had by their vices 
alienated themselves from him. 
    He afterwards adds, "sefer chazon", the book of the vision. 
This clause signifies, that he did not in vain denounce destruction 
on the Ninevites, because he faithfully delivered what he had 
received from God. For if he had simply prefaced, that he threatened 
ruin to the Assyrian,, some doubt might have been entertained as to 
the event. But here he seeks to gain to himself authority by 
referring to God's name; for he openly affirms that he brought 
nothing of his own, but that this burden had been made known to him 
by a celestial oracle: for "chazah" means properly to see, and hence 
in Hebrew a vision is called "chazon". But the Prophets, when they 
speak of a vision, do not mean any fantasy or imagination, but that 
kind of revelation which is mentioned in Num. 14, where God says, 
that he speaks to his Prophets either by vision or by dream. We 
hence see why this was added - that the burden of Nineveh was a 
vision; it was, that the Israelites might know that this testimony 
respecting God's vengeance on their enemies was not brought by a 
mortal man, and that there might be no doubt but that God was the 
author of this prophecy. 
    Nahum calls himself an Elkoshite. Some think that it was the 
name of his family. The Jews, after their manner, say, that it was 
the name of his father; and then they add this their common gloss, 
that Elkos himself was a Prophet: for when the name of a Prophet's 
father is mentioned, they hold that he whose name is given was also 
a Prophet. But these are mere trifles: and we have often seen how 
great is their readiness to invent fables. Then the termination of 
the word leads us to think that it was, on the contrary, the proper 
name of a place; and Jerome tells us that there was in his time a 
small village of this name in the tribe of Simon. We must therefore 
understand, that Nahum arose from that town, and was therefore 
called the Elkoshite. Let us now proceed - 
Nahum 1:2 
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. 
    Nahum begins with the nature of God, that what he afterwards 
subjoins respecting the destruction of Nineveh might be more 
weighty, and produce a greater impression on the hearers. The 
preface is general, but the Prophet afterwards applies it to a 
special purpose. If he had only spoken of what God is, it would have 
been frigid at least it would have been less efficacious; but when 
he connects both together, then his doctrine carries its own force 
and power. We now apprehend the design of the Prophet. He might 
indeed have spoken of the fall of the city Nineveh: but if he had 
referred to this abruptly, profane men might have regarded him with 
disdain; and even the Israelites would have been perhaps less 
affected. This is the reason why he shows, in a general way, what 
sort of Being God is. And he takes his words from Moses; and the 
Prophets are wont to borrow from him their doctrine: and it is from 
that most memorable vision, when God appeared to Moses after the 
breaking of the tables. I have therefore no doubt but that Nahum had 
taken from Exod. 34 what we read here: he does not, indeed, give 
literally what is found there; but it is sufficiently evident that 
he paints, as it were, to the life, the image of God, by which his 
nature may be seen. 
    He says first, that God is jealousy; for the verb "kana'" means 
to irritate, and also to emulate, and to envy. When God is said to 
be "nako'", the Greeks render it jealous, "dzeloten", and the 
Latins, emulous, But it properly signifies, that God cannot bear 
injuries or wrongs. Though God then for a time connives at the 
wickedness of men? he will yet be the defender of his own glory. He 
calls him afterwards the avenger, and he repeats this three times, 
"Jehovah avengeth, Jehovah avengeth and possesseth wrath, he will 
avenge". When he says that God "keeps for his enemies", he means 
that vengeance is reserved for the unbelieving and the despisers of 
God. There is the same mode of speaking in use among us, Je lui 
garde, et il la garde a ses ennemis. This phrase, in our language, 
shows what the Prophet means here by saying, that God keeps for his 
enemies. And this awful description of God is to be applied to the 
present case, for he says that he proclaims war against the 
Ninevites, because they had unjustly distressed the Church of God: 
it is for this reason that he says, that God is jealous, that God is 
an avenger; and he confirms this three times, that the Israelites 
might feel assured that this calamity was seriously announced; for 
had not this representation been set before them, they might have 
thus reasoned with themselves, - "We are indeed cruelly harassed by 
our enemies; but who can think that God cares any thing for our 
miseries, since he allows them so long to be unavenged?" It was 
therefore necessary that the Prophet should obviate such thoughts, 
as he does here. We now more fully understand why he begins in a 
language so vehement, and calls God a jealous God, and an avenger. 
    He afterwards adds, that God possesses wrath. I do not take 
"chemah" simply for wrath, but the passion or he it of wrath. We 
ought not indeed to suppose, as it has been often observed, that our 
passions belong to God; for he remains ever like himself. But yet 
God is said to be for a time angry, and for ever towards the 
reprobate, for he is our and their Judge. Here, then, when the 
Prophet says, that God is the Lord of wrath, or that he possesses 
wrath, he means that he is armed with vengeance and that, though he 
connives at the sins of men, he is not yet indifferent, nor even 
delays because he is without power, or because he is idle and 
careless, but that he retains wraths as he afterwards repeats the 
same thing, "He keeps for his enemies." In short, by these forms of 
speaking the Prophet intimates that God is not to be rashly judged 
of on account of his delay, when he does not immediately execute His 
judgments; for he waits for the seasonable opportunity. But, in the 
meantime there is no reason for us to think that he forgets his 
office when he suspends punishment, or for a season spares the 
ungodly. When, therefore, God does not hasten so very quickly, there 
is no ground for us to think that he is indifferent, because he 
delays his wrath, or retains it, as we have already said; for it is 
the same thing to retain wrath, as to be the Lord of wrath, and to 
possess it. It follows - 
Nahum 1:3 
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. 
    The Prophet goes on with the same subject; and still longer is 
the preface respecting the nature of God, which however is to be 
applied, as I have said, to the special objects which hereafter he 
will state. He says here that God is slow to wrath. Though this 
saying is taken also from Moses yet the Prophet speaks here for the 
purpose of anticipating an objection; for he obviates the audacity 
of the ungodly who daringly derided God, when any evil was denounced 
on them, - "Where is the mercy of God? Can God divest himself of his 
kindness? He cannot deny himself." Thus profane men, under the 
pretence of honoring God, cast on him the most atrocious slander, 
for they deprive him of his own power and office: and there is no 
doubt but that this was commonly done by many of the ungodly in the 
age of our Prophet. Hence he anticipates this objection, and 
concedes that God is slow to wrath. There is then a concession here; 
but at the same time he says that God is great in strength, and this 
he says, that the ungodly may not flatter and deceive themselves, 
when they hear these high attributes given to God, that he is 
patient, slow to wrath, merciful, full of kindness. "Let them," he 
says, "at the same time remember the greatness of God's power, that 
they may not think that they have to do with a child." 
    We now then see the design of the Prophet: for this declaration 
- that God hastens not suddenly to wrath, but patiently defers and 
suspends the punishment which the ungodly deserve. This declaration 
would not have harmonized with the present argument, had not the 
Prophet introduced it by way of concession; as though he said, - "I 
see that the world everywhere trifle with God, and that the ungodly 
delude themselves with such Sophistries, that they reject all 
threatening. I indeed allow that God is ready to pardon, and that he 
descends not to wrath, except when he is constrained by extreme 
necessity: all this is indeed true; but yet know, that God is armed 
with his own power: escape then shall none of those who allow 
themselves the liberty of abusing his patience, notwithstanding the 
insolence they manifest towards him." 
    He now adds, "By clearing he will not clear". Some translate, 
"The innocent, he will not render innocent." But the real meaning of 
this sentence is the same with that in Exod. 34; and what Moses 
meant was, that God is irreconcilable to the impenitent. It has 
another meaning at the end of the third chapter of Joel, where it is 
said, 'I will cleanse the blood which I have not cleansed.' On that 
text interpreters differ; because they regard not the change in the 
tense of the verb; for God means, that he would cleanse the filth 
and defilements of his Church, which he had not previously cleansed. 
But Moses means, that God deals strictly with sinners, so as to 
remit no punishment. By clearing then I will not clear; that is, God 
will rigidly demand an account of all the actions of men; and as 
there is nothing hid from him, so every thing done wickedly by men 
must come forth, when God ascends his tribunal; he will not clear by 
clearing, but will rigidly execute his judgment. 
    There seems to be some inconsistency in saying, - that God is 
reconcilable and ready to pardon, - and yet that by clearing he will 
not clear. But the aspect of things is different. We have already 
stated what the Prophet had in view: for inasmuch as the ungodly 
ever promise impunity to themselves, and in this confidence 
petulantly deride God himself, the Prophet answers them, and 
declares, that there was no reason why they thus abused God's 
forbearance, for he says, By clearing he will not clear, that is, 
the reprobate: for our salvation consists in a free remission of 
sins; and whence comes our righteousness, but from the imputation of 
God, and from this - that our sins are buried in oblivion? yea, our 
whole clearing depends on the mercy of God. But God then exercises 
also his judgment, and by clearing he clears, when he remits to the 
faithful their sins; for the faithful by repentance anticipate his 
judgment; and he searches their hearts, that he may clear them. For 
what is repentance but condemnation, which yet turns out to be the 
means of salvation? As then God absolves none except the condemned, 
our Prophet here rightly declares, that by clearing he will not 
clears that is, he will not remit their sins, except he tries them 
and discharges the office of a judge; in short, that no sin is 
remitted by God which he does not first condemn. But with regard to 
the reprobate, who are wholly obstinate in their wickedness, the 
Prophet justly declares this to them, - that they have no hope of 
pardon, as they perversely adhere to their own devices, and think 
that they can escape the hand of God: the Prophet tells them that 
they are deceived, for God passes by nothing, and will not blot out 
one sin, until all be brought to mind. 
    He afterwards says, that "the way of God is in the whirlwind 
and the tempest"; that is, that God, as soon as he shows himself, 
disturbs the whole atmosphere, and excites storms and tempests: and 
this must be applied to the subject in hand; for the appearance of 
God is in other places described as lovely and gracious: nay, what 
else but the sight of God exhilarated the faithful? As soon as God 
turns away his face, they must necessarily be immersed in dreadful 
darkness, and be surrounded with horrible terrors. Why then does the 
Prophet say here, that the way of God is in the whirlwind and 
storms? Even because his discourse is addressed to the ungodly, or 
to the despisers of God himself, as in Ps. 18; where we see him 
described as being very terrible, - that clouds and darkness are 
around him, that he moves the whole earth, that he thunders on every 
side, that he emits smoke frown his nostrils, and that he fills the 
whole world with fire and burning. For what purpose was this done? 
Because David's object was to set forth the judgments of God, which 
he had executed on the ungodly. So it is in this place; for Nahum 
speaks of the future vengeance, which was then nigh the Assyrians; 
hence he says, "The way of God is in the whirlwind and tempest"; 
that is, when God goes forth, whirlwinds and tempests are excited by 
his presence, and the whole world is put in confusion. 
    He adds, that the clouds are the dust of his feet. When any one 
with his feet only moves the dust within a small space, some dread 
is produced: but God moves the dust, not only in one place, - what 
then? he obscures, and thus covers the whole heaven, "The clouds 
then are the dust of his feet." We now apprehend the whole meaning 
of the Prophet, and the purpose for which this description is given. 
Of the same import is what follows - 
Nahum 1:4 
He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the 
rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon 
    Nahum continues his discourse, - that God, in giving proof of 
his displeasure, would disturb the sea or make it dry. There may be 
here an allusion to the history, described by Moses; for the 
Prophets, in promising God's assistance to his people, often remind 
them how God in a miraculous manner brought up their fathers from 
Egypt. As then the passage through the Red Sea was in high repute 
among the Jews, it may be that the Prophet alluded to that event, 
(Exod. 14: 22.) But another view seems to me more probable. We 
indeed know how impetuous an element is that of the sea; and hence 
in Jer. 5, God, intending to set forth his own power, says, that it 
is in his power to calm the raging of the sea, than which nothing is 
more impetuous or more violent. In the same manner also is the 
majesty of God described in Job 28. The meaning of this place, I 
think, is the same, - that "God by his chiding makes the sea dry", 
and that he can "dry up the rivers". That the prophet connects 
rivers with the sea, confirms what I have just said, - that the 
passage through the Red Sea is not here referred to; but that the 
object is to show in general how great is God's power in governing 
the whole world. 
    To the same purpose is what he adds, "Bashan shall be weakened, 
and Carmel, and the branch of Lebanon shall be weakened", or 
destroyed. By these words he intimates, that there is nothing so 
magnificent in the world, which God changes not, when he gives 
proofs of his displeasure; as it is said in Ps. 104:, 'Send forth 
thy Spirit, and they shall be renewed;' and again, 'Take away thy 
Spirit,' or remove it, 'and all things will return to the dust;' 
yea, into nothing. So also Nahum says in this place, "As soon as God 
shows his wrath, the rivers will dry up, the sea itself will become 
dry, and then the flowers will fade and the grass will wither;" that 
is, though the earth be wonderfully ornamented and replenished, yet 
all things will be reduced to solitude and desolation whenever God 
is angry. And he afterwards adds - 
Nahum 1:5 
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. 
    Nahum continues still on the same subject, - that when God 
ascended his tribunal and appeared as the Judge of the world, he 
would not only shake all the elements, but would also constrain them 
to change their nature. For what can be less consonant to nature 
than for mountains to tremble, and for hills to be dissolved or to 
melt? This is more strange than what we can comprehend. But the 
Prophet intimates that the mountains cannot continue in their own 
strength, but as far as they are sustained by the favor of God. As 
soon, then, as God is angry, the mountains melt like snow, and flow 
away like water. And all these things are to be applied to this 
purpose, and are designed for this end, - that the wicked might not 
daringly despise the threatening of God, nor think that they could, 
through his forbearance, escape the punishment which they deserved: 
for he will be their Judge, however he may spare them; and though 
God is ready to pardon, whenever men hate themselves on account of 
their sins, and seriously repent; he will be yet irreconcilable to 
all the reprobate and the perverse. "The mountains, then, before him 
tremble, and the hills dissolve" or melt. 
    This useful instruction may be gathered from these words, that 
the world cannot for a moment stand, except as it is sustained by 
the favour and goodness of God; for we see what would immediately 
be, as soon as God manifests the signals of his judgment. Since the 
very solidity of mountains would be as snow or wax, what would 
become of miserable men, who are like a shadow or an apparition? 
They would then vanish away as soon as God manifested his wrath 
against them, as it is so in Ps. 39, that men pass away like a 
shadow. This comparison ought ever to be remembered by us whenever a 
forgetfulness of God begins to creep over us, that we may not excite 
his wrath by self-complacencies, than which there is nothing more 
pernicious. "Burned, then shall be the earth, and the world, and all 
who dwell on it". 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou settest before us here as in a 
mirror how dreadful thy wrath is, we may be humbled before thee, and 
of our ownselves cast ourselves down, that we may not be laid 
prostrate by thy awful power, - O grant, that we may by this 
instruction be really prepared for repentance, and so suppliantly 
deprecate that punishment which we daily deserve through our 
transgressions, that in the meantime we may be also transformed into 
the image of thy Son, and put off all our depraved lusts, and be 
cleansed from our vices, until we shall at length appear in 
confidence before thee, and be gathered among thy children, that we 
may enjoy the eternal inheritance of thy heavenly kingdom, which has 
been obtained for us by the blood of thy Son. Amen. 

Calvin's Commentary on Nahum, Part 1

(Continued in Part 2...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-06: cvnhm-01.txt