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 thing. 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. Prayer. 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 .