Calvin, Commentary on Nahum, Part 2
(... continued from Part 1)
Lecture One Hundredth 
Nahum 1:6 
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. 
    The Prophet shows here why he gave in the part noticed in the 
last lecture, such an awful description of God; it was that men 
might know, that when they shall come before his tribunal, no one 
will be able to stand unless supported by his favour. Of the 
Prophet's main object we have sufficiently spoken, nor is it 
necessary to repeat here what has been stated. It is enough to bear 
this in mind, - that as the enemies of the Church relied on their 
power; and daringly and immoderately raged against it, the judgment 
of God is here set before them, that they might understand that an 
account was to be rendered to him whose presence they were not able 
to bear. But the question has more force than if the Prophet had 
simply said, that the whole world could not stand before God: for he 
assumes the character of one adjuring. After having shown how 
terrible God is, he exclaims, "Who shall stand before his 
indignation? and who shall be able to bear his wrath?" for his 
indignation, he says, is poured forth as fire. The Hebrew 
interpreters have here toiled in vain: as the verb "natach" means to 
pour forth it seems to them an inconsistent expression, that the 
wrath of God should be poured forth as fire; for this would be more 
suitably said of some metal than of fire. But to be poured forth 
here is nothing else than to be scattered far and wide. Poured forth 
then is thy wrath as fire; that is, it advances every moment, as 
when a fire seizes a whole forest; and when it grows strong, we know 
how great is its violence, and how suddenly it spreads here and 
there. But if a different meaning be preferred, I do not much object 
to it, "His wrath, which is like fire, is poured out." 
    Some think that the Prophet alludes to lightnings, which, as it 
were, melt through the air, at least as they appear to us. But as 
the meaning of the Prophet is sufficiently evident, there is no need 
of anxiously inquiring how fire is poured out: for I have already 
mentioned, that the Prophet means no other thing than the wrath of 
God spreads itself, so that it immediately takes hold, not only of 
one city but also of the widest regions and of the whole world, and 
is therefore like fire, for it passes through here and there, and 
that suddenly. 
    He then says, that rocks are also broken or dissolved before 
him. We must be aware how great our brittleness is. Since there is 
no hardness which melts not before God, how can men, who flow away 
of themselves like water, be so daring as to set themselves up 
against him? We hence see that the madness of men is here rebuked, 
who, trusting in their own strength, dare to contend even with God, 
because they forget their own frailty. This is the import of the 
whole. It now follows - 
Nahum 1:7 
The LORD [is] good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he 
knoweth them that trust in him. 
    The Prophet expresses more clearly here what we referred to in 
our last lecture, - that God is hard and severe toward refractory 
men, and that he is merciful and kind to the teachable and the 
obedient, - not that God changes his nature, or that like Proteus he 
puts on various forms; but because he treats men according to their 
disposition. As then the Prophet has hitherto taught us, that God's 
wrath cannot be sustained by mortals; so now, that no one might 
complain of extreme rigor, he, on the other hand, shows that God 
favors what is right and just, that he is gentle and mild to the 
meek, and therefore ready to bring help to the faithful, and that he 
leaves none of those who trust in him destitute of his aid. 
    First, by saying that God is good, he turns aside whatever 
might be objected on the ground of extreme severity. There is indeed 
nothing more peculiar to God than goodness. Now when he is so 
severe, that the very mention of his name terrifies the whole world, 
he seems to be in a manner different from himself. Hence the Prophet 
now shows that whatever he had hitherto said of the dreadful 
judgment of God, is not inconsistent with his goodness. Though God 
then is armed with vengeance against his enemies he yet ceases not 
to be like himself, nor does he forget his goodness. But the Prophet 
does here also more fully confirm the Israelites and the Jews in the 
belief, that God is not only terrible to the ungodly, but that, as 
he has promised to be the guardian of his Church, he would also 
succor the faithful, and in time alleviate their miseries. Good then 
is Jehovah; and it is added for help. The intention of the Prophet 
may be hence more clearly understood, when he says that he is for 
strength in the day of distress; as though he said, - "God is ever 
ready to bring help to his people:" And he adds, "in the day of 
distress", that the faithful may not think that they are rejected, 
when God tries their patience by adversities. How much soever then 
God may subject his people to the cross and to troubles, he still 
succors them in their distress. 
    He lastly adds, "He knows them who hope in him". This to know, 
is no other thing than not to neglect them. Hence God is said to 
know them who hope in him, because he always watches over them, and 
takes care of their safety: in short, this knowledge is nothing else 
but the care of God, or his providence in preserving the faithful. 
The Prophet, at the same time, distinguishes the godly and sincere 
worshipers of God from hypocrites: when God leaves many destitute 
who profess to believe in him, he justly withholds from them his 
favour, for they do not from the heart call on him or seek him. 
    We now then understand the Prophet's meaning. He shows, on the 
one hand, that God is armed with power to avenge his enemies; And, 
on the other, he shows that God, as he has promised, is a faithful 
guardian of his Church. How is this proved? He sets before us what 
God is, that he is good; and then adds, that he is prepared to bring 
help. But he does not in vain mention this particular, - that he 
takes care of the faithful, who truly, and from the heart, hope in 
him; it is done, that they may understand that they are not 
neglected by God, and also that hypocrites may know that they are 
not assisted, because their profession is nothing else but 
dissimulation, for they hope not sincerely in God, however they may 
falsely boast of his name. It now follows - 
Nahum 1:8 
But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place 
thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies. 
    The Prophet goes on with the same subject, - that God can 
easily preserve his people, for he is armed with power sufficient to 
overcome the whole world. But the Prophet now includes the two 
things which have been mentioned: Having spoken in general of God's 
wrath, and of his goodness towards the faithful, he now applies his 
doctrine to the consolation of his chosen people. It is then a 
special application of his doctrine, when he says, "By inundation, 
he, passing through, will make a consummation in her place". There 
is a twofold interpretation of this verse. 
    Some make this distinction, - that God, as it were, in passing 
through, would consume the land of Israel and Judah, but that 
perpetual darkness would rest on his enemies. Hence they think, that 
the distress of the chosen people is distinguished from the 
overthrow of the kingdom of Asshur, for God would only for a time 
punish his own people, while he would give up profane and reprobate 
men to endless destruction. Then, by passing through, must be 
understood, according to these interpreters, a temporary distress or 
punishment; and by darkness, eternal ruin, or, so to speak, 
irreparable calamities. But the Prophet, I doubt not, in one 
connected sentence, denounces ultimate ruin on the Assyrians. By 
inundation, then, he, in passing, will make a consummation in her 
place; that is, God will suddenly overwhelm the Assyrian, as though 
a deluge should rise to cover the whole earth. He intimates, that 
God would not punish the Assyrians by degrees, as men sometimes do, 
who proceed step by step to avenge themselves, but suddenly. God, he 
says, will of a sudden thunder against the Assyrians, as when a 
deluge comes over a land. Hence this passing of God is opposed to 
long or slow progress; as though he said - "As soon as God's wrath 
shall break forth or come upon the Assyrians, it will be all over, 
for a consummation will immediately follow: by inundation, he, 
passing through, will make a consummation in her place." By place he 
means the ground; as though he had said that God would not only 
destroy the face of the land, but would also destroy the very 
grounds and utterly demolish it. A feminine pronoun is here added, 
because he speaks of the kingdom or nation, as it is usual in 
Hebrew. But it ought especially to be noticed that the Prophet 
threatens the Assyrians, that God would entirely subvert them, that 
he would not only demolish the surface, as, when fire or waters 
destroy houses, but that the Lord would reduce to nothing the land 
itself, even the very ground. 
    He adds, "And pursue his enemies shall darkness". He has 
designated the Assyrians only by a pronoun, as the Hebrews are wont 
to do; for they set down a pronoun relative or demonstrative, and it 
is uncertain of whom they speak; but they afterwards explain 
themselves. So does the Prophet in this place; for he directs his 
discourse to the Israelites and the Jews, and he begins by 
announcing God's vengeance on Nineveh and its monarchy; but now he 
speaks as of a thing sufficiently known and adds, Pursue shall 
darkness the enemies of God. By this second clause he intimates that 
the ruin of that kingdom would be perpetual. As then he had said 
that its destruction would be sudden, as God would, as it were, in a 
moment destroy the whole land; so now he cuts off from them every 
hope, that they might not think that they could within a while 
gather strength and rise again as it is the case with the wicked, 
who ever contend against God. The Prophet then shows that evil which 
God would bring on them would be without remedy. Some render the 
verb "yeradef" transitively in this form, "He will pursue his 
enemies by darkness:" but as to the meaning of the Prophet there is 
but little or no difference; I therefore leave the point undecided. 
On the subject itself there is nothing ambiguous; the import of what 
is said is, - that God would, by a sudden inundation, destroy his 
enemies, - and that he would destroy them without affording any hope 
of restoration, for perpetual darkness would follow that sudden 
deluge. He afterwards adds - 
Nahum 1:9 
What do ye imagine against the LORD? he will make an utter end: 
affliction shall not rise up the second time. 
    Some interpreters so consider this verse also, as though the 
Prophet had said, that the calamity of the chosen people would not 
be a destruction, as God would observe some moderation and keep 
within certain limits. The unbelieving, we know, immediately exult, 
whenever the children of God are oppressed by adverse things, as 
though it were all over with the Church. Hence the Prophet here, 
according to these interpreters, meets and checks this sort of 
petulance, "What imagine ye against God? He will indeed afflict his 
Church, but he will not repeat her troubles, for he will be 
satisfied with one affliction." They also think that the kingdom of 
Judah is here compared with the kingdom of Israel: for the kingdom 
of Israel had been twice afflicted: for, first, four tribes had been 
led away, and then the whole kingdom had been overturned. As then 
one calamity had been inflicted by Shalmanezar, and another by 
Tiglathpilezar, they suppose that there is here an implied 
comparison, as though the Prophet said, "God will spare the kingdom 
of Judah, and will not repeat his vengeance, as it happened to the 
kingdom of Israel." But this meaning is forced and too far-fetched. 
The Prophet then, I doubt not, continues here his discourse, and 
denounces perpetual ruin on the enemies of the Church. He says 
first, "What imagine ye against Jehovah?" He exults over the 
Assyrians, because they thought that they had to do only with 
mortals, and also with a mean people, and now worn out by many 
misfortunes. For we know that the kingdom of Judah had been weakened 
by many wars before the Assyrians made an irruption into the land: 
they had suffered two severe and grievous attacks from their 
neighbors, the king of Israel and the king of Syria; for then it was 
that they made the Assyrians their confederates. When therefore the 
Assyrians came against Judea, they thought that they would have no 
trouble in obtaining victory, as they engaged in war with an 
insignificant people, and as we have said, worn out by evils. But 
the Prophet shows here that the war was with the living God, and not 
with men, as they falsely thought. What then imagine ye against 
Jehovah? as though he said, "Know ye not that this people are under 
the care and protection of God? Ye cannot then attack the kingdom of 
Judah without having God as your opponent. As it is certain that 
this people are defended by a divine power, there is no reason for 
you to think that you will be victorious." At the same time, I know 
not why the Prophet's words should be confined to the tribe of 
Judah, since the purpose was to comfort the Israelites as well as 
the Jews. 
    Now this is a very useful doctrine; for the Prophet teaches us 
in general, that the ungodly, whenever they harass the Church, not 
only do wrong to men, but also fight with God himself; for he so 
connects us with himself, that all who hurt us touch the apple of 
his eye, as he declares in another place, (Zech. 2: 8.) We may then 
gather invaluable comfort from these words; for we can fully and 
boldly set up this shield against our enemies, - that they devise 
their counsels, and make efforts against God, and assail him; for he 
takes us under his protection for this end, that whenever we are 
injured, he may stand in the middle as our defender. This is one 
    Now in the second clause he adds, that he will make a complete 
end, "Rise up again shall not distress"; that is, God is able to 
reduce you to nothing, so that there will be no need to assail you 
the second time. This passage, we know, has been turned to this 
meaning, - that God does not punish men twice nor exceed moderation 
in his wrath: but this is wholly foreign to the mind of the Prophet. 
I have also said already that I do not approve of what others have 
said, who apply this passage to the Church and especially to the 
kingdom of Judah. For I thus simply interpret the words of the 
Prophet, - that God can with one onset, when it seems good to him, 
so destroy his enemies, that there will be no need of striving with 
them the second time: Il n'y faudra plus retourner, as we say in our 
language. God then will make a full end; that is, he will be able in 
one moment to demolish his enemies and the ruin will be complete, 
that is, the wasting will be entire. There will be no distress again 
or the second time; for it will be all over with the enemies of God; 
not that God observes always the same rule when he punishes his 
enemies, nor does Nahum here prescribe any general rule; but he 
simply means, that God, whenever it pleases him, instantly destroys 
his enemies. He afterwards adds - 
Nahum 1:10 
For while [they be] folden together [as] thorns, and while they are 
drunken [as] drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry. 
    He goes on with this same subject, - that Gods when he pleases 
to exercise his power, can, with no difficulty, consume his enemies: 
for the similitude, which is here added, means this, - that nothing 
is safe from God's vengeance; for by perplexed thorns he understands 
things difficult to be handled. When thorns are entangled, we dare 
not, with the ends of our fingers, to touch their extreme parts; for 
wherever we put our hands, thorns meet and prick us. As then 
pricking from entangled thorns make us afraid, so none of us dare to 
come nigh them. Hence the Prophet says, they who are as entangled 
thorns; that is "However thorny ye may be, however full of poison, 
full of fury, full of wickedness, full of frauds, full of cruelty, 
ye may be, still the Lord can with one fire consume you, and consume 
you without any difficulty." They were then as entangled thorns. 
    And then, "as drunken by their own drinking". If we read so, 
the meaning is, - God or God's wrath will come upon you as on 
drunker men; who, though they exult in their own intemperance, are 
yet enervated, and are not fit for fighting, for they have weakened 
their strength by extreme drinking. There seems indeed to be much 
vigor in a drunken man, for he swaggers immoderately and foams out 
much rage; but yet he may be cast down by a finger; and even a child 
can easily overcome a drunken person. It is therefore an apt 
similitude, - that God would manage the Assyrians as the drunken are 
wont to be managed; for the more audacity there is in drunken men, 
the easier they are brought under; for as they perceive no danger, 
and are, as it were, stupefied, so they run headlong with greater 
impetuosity. "In like manners" he says, "extreme satiety will be the 
cause of your ruin, when I shall attack you. Ye are indeed very 
violent; but all this your fury is altogether drunkenness: Come, he 
says, to you shall the vengeance of God as to those drunken with 
their own drinking." 
    Some render the last words, "To the drunken according to their 
drinking;" and this sense also is admissible; but as the Prophet's 
meaning is still the same, I do not contend about words. Others 
indeed give to the Prophet's words a different sense: but I doubt 
not but that he derides here that haughtiness by which the Assyrians 
were swollen, and compares it to drunkenness; as though he said, "Ye 
are indeed more than enough inflated and hence all tremble at your 
strength; but this your excess rather debilitates and weakens your 
powers. When God then shall undertake to destroy you as drunken men, 
your insolence will avail you nothing; but, on the contrary, it will 
be the cause of your ruin as ye offer yourselves of your own accord; 
and the Lord will easily cast you down, as when one, by pushing a 
drunken man, immediately throws him on the ground." 
    And these comparisons ought to be carefully observed by us: for 
when there seems to be no probability of our enemies being 
destroyed, God can with one spark easily consume them. How so? for 
as fire consumes thorns entangled together, which no man dares to 
touch, so God can with one spark destroy all the wicked, however 
united together they may be. And the other comparison affords us 
also no small consolation; for when our enemies are insolent, and 
throw out high swelling words, and seem to frighten and to shake the 
whole world with their threatening, their excess is like 
drunkenness; there is no strength within; they are frantic but not 
strong, as is the case with all drunken men. 
    And he says, "They shall be devoured as stubble of full 
dryness." "Mala'" means not only to be full, but also to be perfect 
or complete. Others render the words, "As stubble full of dryness," 
but the sense is the same. He therefore intimates, that there would 
be nothing to prevent God from consuming the enemies of his Church; 
for he would make dry their whole vigor, so that they would differ 
nothing from stubble, and that very dry, which is in such a state, 
that it will easily take fire. It follows - 
Nahum 1:11 
There is [one] come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the 
LORD, a wicked counselor. 
    The Prophet now shows why God was so exceedingly displeased 
with the Assyrians, and that was, because he would, as a protector 
of his Church, defend the distressed against those who unjustly 
oppressed them. The Prophet then designed here to give the Jews a 
firm hope, so that they might know that God had a care for their 
safety; for if he had only threatened the Assyrians without 
expressing the reason, of what avail could this have been to the 
Jews? It is indeed gratifying and pleasing when we see our enemies 
destroyed; but this would be a cold and barren comfort, except we 
were persuaded that it is done by God's judgment, because he loves 
us, because he would defend us, having embraced us with paternal 
love; but when we know this, we then triumph even when in extreme 
evils. We are indeed certain of our salvation, when God testifies, 
and really proves also, that he is not only propitious to us, but 
that our salvation is an object of his care. This is the Prophet's 
design when he thus addresses Nineveh. 
    "From thee has gone forth a devisor of evil against Jehovah, an 
impious adviser". The manner of speaking is much more emphatical, 
when he says, that the Assyrians consulted against God, than if he 
had said, that they had consulted against the Jews, or consulted 
against the chosen people of God. 
    But though this was said of the Jews, let us yet remember that 
it belongs also to us. The Prophet confirms the doctrine which I 
lately alluded to, that whenever the ungodly cause trouble to us, 
they carry on war with God himself, that whenever they devise any 
evil against us, they run headlong against him. For God sets up 
himself as a shield, and declares, that he will protect under the 
shadow of his wings all those who commit themselves to his 
protection. If we then lie hid under the guardianship of God, and 
flee to him in all our adversities, and while patiently enduring all 
wrongs, implore his protection and help, whosoever then will rise up 
against us will have God as his enemy. Why so? because he consults 
against him. And this reason shows, that whatever the Prophet has 
hitherto said against the Assyrians ought to be extended 
indiscriminately to all the enemies of the Church. For why did God 
threaten the Assyrians with a sudden inundation and with perpetual 
darkness? The reason is here subjoined, - because they consulted 
against him and his Church. The same thing then will also happen to 
our enemies, provided we remain quiet, as it has been said, under 
the protection of God. 
    But when he says that he "had gone forth from that city who 
contrived evil against Jehovah", - this ought not to be confined to 
Sennacherib, but must rather be viewed as common to all the 
Assyrians; as though he said, "Thou produces the fruit which thou 
shalt eat; for from thee will arise the cause of thy ruin. There is 
no reason for thee to expostulate with God, as though he cruelly 
raged against thee; for from thee has gone forth he who devised evil 
against Jehovah: thou reapest now the reward worthy of thy bringing 
forth; for where have originated counsels against the Church of God, 
except in thine own bosom, and in thine own bowels? The evil then 
which has proceeded from thee shall return on thine own head." 
    He then adds, "An impious consulter", or counselor, "yo'etz 
beliya'al". Respecting the word "beliya'al", the Hebrews themselves 
are not agreed. There are those who suppose it to be a compound 
word, "bal ya'al", "It profits not"; and they think that it is 
applied to designate things of nought as well as men of nought. 
There are others who, like Jerome, render it, "Without a yoke", but 
without reason. Then beliya'al is properly a vain thing, which is 
wholly unsubstantial; and so it designates a man in whom there is no 
integrity. It is also applied to all the wicked, and to their 
crimes: hence a thing or work of Belial is said to be any heinous 
sin or a detestable crime; and the man who acts perversely and 
wickedly is called Belial. And Paul takes Belial simply for the very 
gravity of Satan, and of all the wicked; for he opposes Belial to 
Christ, (2 Cor. 6: 15.) We now then understand the meaning of the 
Prophet to be this, - that God denounces war on the Assyrians, 
because they made war unjustly on his people, and consulted not only 
against the Jews, but also against God, who had taken them, as it 
has been stated, under his own keeping and protection. It follows - 
Nahum 1:12 
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. 
    The Prophet pursues here the same subject; but expresses more 
clearly what might have been doubtful, - that whatever strength 
there might be in the Assyrians, it could not resist the coming of 
God's vengeance. For "thus saith Jehovah, Though they be quiet and 
also strong", &c. I cannot now finish this subject, but will only 
say this, - The Prophet intimates that though Nineveh promised to 
itself a tranquil state, because it was well fortified, and had a 
wide and large extent of empire, yet this thy peace, he says, or 
this thy confidence and security, shall not be an impediment, that 
the hand of God should not be extended to thee. Though, then, they 
be many or strong &c.; for we can render "rabim" strong as well as 
many; but either would suit this place; for we understand the 
Prophet's meaning to be, that all God's enemies would be cut off, 
however secure they might be, while depending on their own strength 
and fortresses. The rest to-morrow. 
Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as thou sees thy enemies at this 
day raging with cruel, yea, with diabolic fury against thy Church, 
we may find thee to be the same as the faithful in all former ages 
had found thee, even a defender of the safety of those who truly, 
and with a sincere heart, called on thee, and sought thee in extreme 
necessity; and do thou, at this day, stretch forth thine hand, and 
so restrain the fury which thou sees is against all thy servants and 
thy children, that the wicked may at length really find, even to 
their ruin, that they fight not with miserable mortals, disheartened 
and without defense, but with thine ineffable power, that they may 
be confounded, though not ashamed, and that, however they may 
glamour against thee and thine invincible hand, they may yet become 
an example and a manifest evidence, that thou art not only faithful 
in thy promises, but also armed with power, by which thou canst 
execute whatsoever thou hast promised respecting the preservation of 
thy Church, until thou at length gatherest us into that blessed 
rest, which has been provided for us by the blood of thy Son. Amen. 

Calvin's Commentary on Nahum, Part 2

(Continued in Part 3...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-06: cvnhm-02.txt