Calvin, Commentary on Nahum, Part 4
(... continued from Part 3)
Lecture One Hundred and Second 
    We said yesterday that some interpreters regard these words of 
the Prophet, "Ascended has the destroyer before it face, guard the 
fortress", as having a reference to Sennacherib; that is, that God 
had taken him away and made him like mist to disappear. We also 
said, that some elicit this meaning, - that Sennacherib ascended 
into Judea and filled the whole country with terror, and that he had 
at length laid it wholly waste. But I am disposed to take their 
view, who think that this is said of Nebuchodonosor, the waster of 
Nineveh: as he had been raised up by God to overturn the tyranny of 
that city, the Prophet ridicules all the efforts and preparations 
made by the Ninevites (as it is usual when a country is invaded) to 
oppose him. He therefore says, guard the fortress, "watch the way, 
confirm the loins, and strengthen thy courage greatly." But these 
are ironical expressions; as though he said, "Whatever the Ninevites 
may contrive to defend themselves against the assault of their 
enemies will be all in vain." 
    What is now subjoined has been added, in my view, in reference 
to what had already taken place, that is that God "had taken away 
the pride of Jacob, as the pride of Israel". Some give this 
rendering, "God has made to returns or to rest;" and they take 
"ge'on" in a good sense, as meaning courage or glory. The sense, 
according to these, would be, - that God, having routed the army of 
Sennacherib, or destroyed the Assyrians, would make the ancient 
glory of his people to return; for both kingdoms had fallen. They 
then understand this to have been said respecting the restoration of 
the whole people; and they who translate, "he will make to rest," 
think that continual peace is here promised to the Israelites, as 
well as to the Jews. But, on the contrary, it appears to me, that 
the Prophet shows, that it was the ripened time for the destruction 
of the city Nineveh, for God had now humbled his people. He had then 
taken away the pride of Jacob, as the pride of Israel; that is, God, 
having first corrected the pride of Israel, had also applied the 
same remedy to Judah: thus the whole people were humbled, and had 
left off their extreme height; for "ga'on", for the most part, is 
taken in a bad sense, for haughtiness or pride. This then is the 
reason why God now declares, that the ruin of Nineveh was nigh at 
hand; it was so, because the Jews and the Israelites had been 
sufficiently brought down. This sense is the most suitable. 
    And then for the same purpose is the next clause, - that "the 
emptiers had emptied", that is that robbers had pillaged them, and 
left nothing to remain for them. There is a passage in Isaiah which 
corresponds with this, where it is said, - that when the Lord had 
completed his work on mount Zion and in Jerusalem, he would then 
turn his vengeance against the Assyrians, (Isa. 10: 12:) but why 
were they not sooner destroyed? Because the Lord designed to employ 
them for the purpose of chastising the Jews. Until then the whole 
work of God was completed, that is, until he had so corrected their 
pride, as wholly to cast it down, it was not his purpose to destroy 
the Ninevites; but they were at length visited with destruction. The 
same thing does our Prophet now teach us here, - that Nebuchodonosor 
would come to demolish Nineveh, when the Lord had taken away the 
haughtiness of his people. 
    What follows, "And they have destroyed their shoots", or their 
branches, I take metaphorically, because the Israelites, as to 
outward appearances had been pulled up by the roots; for before the 
eyes of their enemies they were reduced to nothing, and their very 
roots were torn ups so that they perceived nothing left. The Lord 
indeed always preserved a hidden remnant; but this was done beyond 
the perceptions of men. But what the Prophet says metaphorically of 
the ruined branches, is to be understood of what was apparent. 
Nahum 2:3 
The shield of his mighty men is made red, the valiant men [are] in 
scarlet: the chariots [shall be] with flaming torches in the day of 
his preparation, and the fir trees shall be terribly shaken. 
    The Prophet describes here how dreadful the Chaldeans would be 
when prepared against the Assyrians. He says, "The shield of his 
brave men is made red". Some think that their shields were painted 
red, that blood might not appear; and that the soldiers had on red 
garments, that they might not be frightened in case they were 
wounded; and this is what history records of the Lacedemonians. But 
as the habits of these nations are not much known to us, it is 
enough for us to know, that their warlike appearance is here 
described; as though he had said, that the Chaldeans would come 
against Nineveh with violent and terrible power. Hence he says, that 
"the men of his strength would be clad in scarlet"; he refers no 
doubt to the color of their dress. Some expound this of the 
Assyrians, and say that their shame is here designated; but this is 
too strained. The Prophet, I have no doubt, describes here the 
Chaldeans, and shows that they would be so armed that even their 
very appearance would put to flight their enemies, that is, the 
    For the same purpose he afterwards adds, "With fire of 
torches", or lamps, "is the chariot in the day of his expedition". 
The word "peladot" occurs nowhere else; and the Jews think that the 
letters are inverted, and that it should be "lafiydot", as this word 
is afterwards used by the Prophet in the next verse, and in the same 
sense. It is certainly evident from the context that either torches 
or lamps are meant by the Prophet. His chariot then is with the fire 
of lamps, that is, his chariots drive so impetuously that they 
appear as flames of fire, when wheels roll with such velocity. 
    And "the fir-trees, he says, are terrible shaken". Some 
translate, "are inebriated" or, "stunned;" and they apply this to 
the Assyrians, - that their great men (whom they think are here 
compared to fir-trees, or are metaphorically designated by them) 
were stunned through amazement. Astonished then shall be the 
principal men among the Assyrians; for the very sight of their 
enemies would render them, as it were, lifeless; for the verb 
"ra'al" is taken by some in the sense of infecting with poison, or 
of stupefying. But their opinion is more correct who think that 
fir-trees are to be taken for lances, though they do not 
sufficiently express the meaning of the Prophet; for he means, I 
have no doubt, that such would be the concussion among the lances, 
that it would be like that of fir-trees, tossed here and there in 
the forest. For lances, we know, are made of fir-trees, because it 
is a light wood and flexible, as when any one says in our language, 
les lances branslent. The lances then trembled, or shook in the 
hands of the soldiers, as fir-trees shake. Thus we see that the 
Prophet here continues to describe the terrible appearance of the 
Chaldeans. Let us go on - 
Nahum 2:4 
The chariots shall rage in the streets, they shall justle one 
against another in the broad ways: they shall seem like torches, 
they shall run like the lightnings. 
    He still goes on with the same subject, - that they shall be 
furious in the streets that is, that they shall he so turbulent, as 
though they were out of their minds: as furious men are wont to be 
who are impetuously carried away beyond all reason and moderation, 
so shall they also become mad in their tumult. He then says, "They 
shall hasten". The verb is derived from the hips; for he who hastens 
shakes the hips, and moves them with a quick motion; and if it be 
lawful to coin a word, it is, they shall hip; Ils remueront les 
hanches. This is what the Prophet meant. And then, "Their appearance 
shall be as lamps". He refers here to the chariots. They shall then 
be like lamps; that is they shall dazzle the eyes of beholders with 
their brightness. All these things are intended to set forth what is 
terrific. He says also, "as lightning they shall run here and there. 
    In short, he intimates, that the impetuosity of the Chaldeans 
would be so violent as to surpass what is commonly witnessed among 
men, that it would be, as it were, a species of fury and madness 
sent down from above. Thus, then, they were to be like lightning and 
flames of fire, that they might exceed every thing human. But these 
forms of speech, though they are hyperbolical, were not yet used 
without reason; for we may easily conjecture how great was then the 
security of the city Nineveh, and how incredible was the event of 
its ruin. That monarchy was then preeminent over every other in the 
whole world, and no one could have thought that it could ever be 
assailed. Since then it was difficult to persuade the Jews that ruin 
was nigh the Assyrians, it was necessary for the Prophet to 
accumulate these various forms of expressions, by which he sets 
forth the power of God in the destruction of the Assyrians. It 
afterwards follows - 
Nahum 2:5 
He shall recount his worthies: they shall stumble in their walk; 
they shall make haste to the wall thereof, and the defense shall be 
    Some interpreters explain this also of the Chaldeans: The king 
of Babylon then shall remember his mighty men; that is, shall 
recount his forces and whatever strength he will have under his 
power; all this he will collect to make war with Nineveh and the 
Assyrians. Others think that there is here a transposition in the 
words, (which is too strained,) "Mighty men shall remember," as 
though it were a change of number. But I take the words of the 
Prophet simply as they are, - that he will remember mighty men: but 
this, as I think, refers to the Assyrians. He then, that is, either 
the king of Nineveh, or the people, will remember the mighty men; 
that is, he will gather from every quarter his forces and will omit 
nothing which may avail for defense; as it is usually done in great 
danger and in extremities: for they were noted then as warlike men; 
and every one who had any skill, every one who was endued with 
courage, every one who was trained up in arms, all these were 
mustered, that they might give help. So then the Prophet says, that 
such would be the dread in the land of Assyria, that they would 
collect together whatever force they had, to defend themselves 
against their enemies. The king then shall remember his mighty men, 
that is, he will muster all the subsidies within his reach. 
    Then he says, "They shall stumble in their march"; that is, the 
mighty men, when gathered, shall tremble and stumble like the blind: 
and this will be occasioned by fear; so that like men astounded, 
they will move to and fro, and have no certain footing. The Prophet 
then declares here two things, that the Assyrians would be diligent 
in gathering forces to repel the assault of their enemies, - but 
that yet they would effect nothing, for trembling would seize the 
minds of all, so that mighty men would stumble in their marches. 
They shall stumble, and then it is said, they shall hasten to its 
wall, that is, they shall ascend the wall; and it is added, Prepared 
shall be the covering, as it is usual in defending cities. Some 
apply this to the Chaldeans; prepared shall be the covering, that 
is, when they shall come to the wall. It was indeed usual, as it is 
well known from histories, for those who approached a wall to defend 
themselves either with turrets or hurdles. But the Prophet, I doubt 
not, intimates, that the Assyrians would come with great trembling 
to meet their enemies, but without any success. However then they 
might defend themselves, their enemies would yet prevail. He 
therefore subjoins - 
Nahum 2:6 
The gates of the rivers shall be opened, and the palace shall be 
    By the gates of the rivers the Prophet means that part of the 
city which was most fortified by the river Tigris; for the Tigris 
flowed close by the city. As then the Tigris was like the strongest 
defense, (for we know it to have been a most rapid river,) the 
Prophet ridicules the confidence of the Ninevites, who thought that 
the access of enemies could be wholly prevented in that part where 
the Tigris flowed. The gates then of the rivers are opened; that is, 
your river shall not prevent your enemies from breaking through and 
penetrating into your city. 
    We hence see, that the Prophet removes all the hindrances which 
might have seemed available to keep off enemies; and he did so, not 
so much for the sake of Nineveh as for the sake of his chosen 
people, that the Israelites and Jews might know, that that city was 
no less in the power of God than any other; for God can no less 
easily pass through rivers than go along the plain, where there is 
no obstacle. We now see why the Prophet says, that the gates of the 
rivers were opened: and then he adds, The palace is dissolved; that 
is, there will be no impediment to prevent the approach of enemies; 
for all the fortresses will melt away, and that of themselves, as 
though they were walls of paper, and the stones, as though they were 
water. He afterwards adds - 
Nahum 2:7 
And Huzzab shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up, and 
her maids shall lead [her] as with the voice of doves, tabering upon 
their breasts. 
    There is some ambiguity in these words, and many interpreters 
think that "hutzav" to be the name of the queen. The queen then they 
say, of the name of Hutzav, is drawn away into exile; she is bidden 
to ascend, that she might migrate to a hostile land. But this view 
is too strained; nor was there any reason to suppose the word to be 
a proper name, except that there was a wish to say something, and 
that there was no other conjecture more probable. But I regard their 
opinion more correct, who refer this to the state of the kingdom; 
and there is here, I have no doubt, a personification, which is 
evident if we attend to the meaning. If any one prefers to regard 
the queen as intended, it would yet be better to take "hotzav" in 
its proper and real meaning, - that the queen, previously hid in her 
palace, and hardly able, through being so delicate, to move a step, 
- that she was brought forth to the light; for "galah" means to 
uncover, and also to cast out. If we render it, "was made manifest," 
the Prophet alludes to hiding-places, and means that the queen did 
not go forth to the light, but was like delicate women who keep 
themselves within their chambers: but if we render it, "Who is drawn 
forth into exile," it would be more suitable to one who was 
previously fixed in her dwelling. The word comes from "yatzav", to 
stand; but it is here in Hophal, "hutzav": it then signifies one who 
was before fixed and firmly settled, that is, in her concealment; 
she is drawn, he says, into exile. If then any one chooses to refer 
this to the person of the queen, the most suitable meaning would be, 
- that the queen, who before sat in the midst of her pleasures, 
shall be violently drawn into exile, and carried away to another 
country. And it is probable that the Prophet speaks of the queen, 
because it immediately follows, "Her handmaids lead her as with the 
voice of doves, and smite on their breasts"; that is, her maids, who 
before flattered her, shall laments and with sighing and tears, and 
mourning, shall lead away, as a captive, their own mistress. Thus 
the context would harmonize. 
    But, as I have said, their opinion seems right, who think that 
under the person of a woman the state of the kingdom is here 
described. She then, who before stood, or remained fixed, shall be 
drawn into captivity; or she, who before sat at leisure, shall be 
discovered; that is, she shall no more lie hid as hitherto in her 
retirement, but shall be forced to come abroad. And then, "she shall 
ascend"; that is, vanish away, for the verb is to be here taken 
metaphorically; she shall then vanish away, or be reduced to 
nothing. And as the Prophet sets a woman here before us, what 
follows agrees with this idea, - Her handmaids shall weep and 
imitate the doves in their moaning; that is, the whole people shall 
bewail the fate of the kingdom, when things shall be so changed, as 
when handmaids lead forth their own mistress, who had been before 
nourished in the greatest delicacies. 
    Now this accumulation of words was by no means in vain; for it 
was necessary to confirm, by many words, the faith of the Israelites 
and of the Jews respecting the near approach of the destruction of 
the city Nineveh, which would have been otherwise incredible; and of 
this we can easily form a judgment by our own experience. If any one 
at this day were to speak of mighty kings, whose splendor amazes the 
whole world, - if any one were to announce the ruin of the kingdom 
of one of them, it would appear like a fable. This then is the 
reason why the Prophet, by so many figures, sets forth an event 
which might have been expressed in few words, and confirms it by so 
many forms of speech, and even by such as are hyperbolical. He at 
length subjoins - 
Nahum 2:8 
But Nineveh [is] of old like a pool of water: yet they shall flee 
away. Stand, stand, [shall they cry]; but none shall look back. 
    The prophet here anticipates a doubt which might have weakened 
confidence in his words; for Nineveh not only flourished in power, 
but it had also confirmed its strength during a long course of time; 
and antiquity not only adds to the strength of kingdoms, but secures 
authority to them. As then the imperial power of the city Nineveh 
was ancient, it might seem to have been perpetual: "Why! Nineveh has 
ever ruled and possessed the sovereign power in all the east; can it 
be now shaken, or can its strength be now suddenly subverted? For 
where there is no beginning, we cannot believe that there will be 
any end." And a beginning it had not, according to the common 
opinion; for we know how the Egyptians also fabled respecting their 
antiquity; they imagined that their kingdom was five thousand years 
before the world was made; that is, in numbering their ages they 
went back nearly five thousand years before the creation. The 
Ninevites, no doubt, boasted that they had ever been; and as they 
were fixed in this conceit respecting their antiquity, no one 
thought that they could ever fail. This is the reason why the 
Prophet expressly declares, that "Nineveh had been like a pool of 
waters from ancient days;" that is, Nineveh had been, as it were, 
separated from the rest of the world; for where there is a pool, it 
seems well fortified by its own banks, no one comes into it; when 
one walks on the land he does not enter into the waters. Thus, then, 
had Nineveh been in a quiet state not only for a short time, but for 
many ages. This circumstance shall not, however, prevent God from 
overturning now its dominion. How much soever, then, Nineveh took 
pride in the notion of its ancientness, it was yet God's purpose to 
destroy it. 
    He says then, "They flee": by fleeing, he means, that, though 
not beaten by their enemies, they would yet be overcome by their own 
fear. He then intimates, that Nineveh would not only be destroyed by 
slaughter, but that all the Assyrians would flee away, and despair 
would deliver them up to their enemies. Hence the Chaldeans would 
not only be victorious through their courage and the sword, but the 
Assyrians, distrusting their own forces, would flee away. 
    It afterwards follows, "Stand ye, stand ye, and no one 
regards". Here the Prophet places, as it were, before our eyes, the 
effect of the dread of which he speaks. He might have given a single 
narrative, - that though one called them back they would not dare to 
look behind; and that, thinking that safety alone was in flight, 
they would pursue their course. The Prophet might have formed this 
sort of narrative: this he has not done; but he assumes the person 
of one calling back the fugitives, as though he saw them fleeing 
away, and tried to bring them back: No one, he says, regards. We now 
see what the Prophet meant. 
    But from this passage we ought to learn that no trust is to be 
put in the number of men, nor in the defenses and strongholds of 
cities, nor in ancientness; for when men excel in power, God will 
hence take occasion to destroy them, inasmuch as pride is almost 
ever connected with strength. It can hardly be but that men arrogate 
too much to themselves when they think that they excel in any thing. 
Thus it happens, that on account of their strength they run headlong 
into ruin; not that God has any delight, as profane men imagine, 
when he turns upside down the face of the earth, but because men 
cannot bear their own success, nor keep themselves within moderate 
bounds, but many triumph against God: hence it is that human power 
recoils on the head of those who possess it. The same things must 
also be said of ancientness: for they who boast of their antiquity, 
know not for how long a time they have been provoking the wrath of 
God; for it cannot be otherwise but that abundance of itself 
generates licentiousness, or that it at least leads to excess; and 
further, they who are the most powerful are the most daring in 
corrupting others. Hence the increase at putridity; for men are like 
the dead when not ruled by the fear of God. A dead body becomes more 
and more fetid the longer it continues putrifying; and so it is with 
men. When they have been for a long time sinning, and still continue 
to sin, the fetidness of their sins increases, and the wrath of God 
is more and more provoked. There is then no reason why ancientness 
should deceive us. And if, at any time, we are tempted to think that 
men are sufficiently fortified by their own strength, or by numerous 
auxiliaries, or that they are, as it were sacred through their own 
ancientness, let what is said here come to our minds, - that Nineveh 
had been like a pool of waters from the ancient days; but that, when 
it was given up to destruction, it fled away; and that, when their 
enemies did not rout them, they yet, being driven by their own fear, 
ran away and would not stop, though one called them to return. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou constantly remindest us, in thy 
word, and teachest us by so many examples, that there is nothing 
permanent in this world, but that the things which seem the firmest 
tend to ruin, and instantly fall and of themselves vanish away, when 
by thy breath thou shakest that strength in which men trust, - O 
grant, that we being really subdued and humbled, may not rely on 
earthly things, but raise up our hearts and our thoughts to heaven, 
and there fix the anchor of our hope; and may all our thoughts abide 
there, and at length, when thou hast led us through our course on 
earth we shall be gathered into that celestial kingdom, which has 
been obtained for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son. Amen 

Calvin's Commentary on Nahum, Part 4

(Continued in Part 5...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-06/cvnhm-04.txt