Calvin, Commentary on Nahum, Part 5
(... continued from Part 4)
Lecture One Hundred and Third 
Nahum 2:9 
Take ye the spoil of silver, take the spoil of gold: for [there is] 
none end of the store [and] glory out of all the pleasant furniture. 
    Here the Prophet, as it were, by the command and authority of 
God, gives up Nineveh to the will of its enemies, that they might 
spoil and plunder it. Some think that this address is made in the 
name of a general encouraging his soldiers; but we know that the 
Prophets assume the person of God, when they thus command any thing 
with authority; and it is a very emphatical mode of speaking. It is 
adopted, that we may know that the Prophets pour not forth an empty 
sound when they speak, but really testify what God here determined 
to do, and what he in due time will execute. As then we know, that 
this manner of speaking is common to the Prophets there is no reason 
to apply this to the person of Nebuchadnezzar or of any other. God 
then shows here that Nineveh was given up to ruin; and therefore he 
delivered it into the hands of enemies. 
    It is indeed certain, that the Babylonians, in plundering the 
city, did not obey God's command; but yet it is true, that they 
punished the Assyrians through the secret influence of God: for it 
was his purpose to visit the Ninevites for the cruelty and avarice 
for which they had been long notorious, and especially for having 
exercised unexampled barbarity toward the Jews. This is the reason 
why God now gives them up to the Babylonians and exposes them to 
plunder. But as I have spoken at large elsewhere of the secret 
judgments of God, I shall only briefly observe here, - that God does 
not command the Babylonians and Chaldeans in order to render them 
excusable, but shows by his Prophet, that Nineveh was to be 
destroyed by her enemies, not by chance, but that it was his will to 
avenge the wrongs done to his people. At the same time, we must bear 
in mind what we have said elsewhere, - that the Prophets thus speak 
when the execution is already prepared; for God does not in vain or 
without reason terrify men, but he afterwards makes it manifest by 
the effect: as he created the world from nothing by his word, so 
also by his word he executes and fulfill his judgments. It is then 
no wonder, that the Prophet does here, as though he ruled the 
Chaldeans according to his will, thus address them, "Take ye away, 
take ye away". But this must be viewed as having a reference to the 
faithful; for the Babylonians, in plundering the city Nineveh, did 
not think that they obeyed God, nor did they give to God the praise 
due for the victory; but the faithful were thus reminded, that all 
this was done through the secret providence of God, and that it was 
also a clear, and, as it were, a visible evidence of God's paternal 
love towards his Church, when he thus deigned to undertake the cause 
of his distressed people. 
    It then follows, "There is no end of preparations": Some render 
"techunah" treasure, or hidden wealth, and derive it from "kun", 
which is to prepare; but "techunah" is almost always taken for a 
measure. "Tachanot", from "tachon", means a sum, for "tachan" is to 
number or to count; and this meaning suits the passage. But there is 
no need of laboring much about this word; if we take it simply for 
place, the meaning would be, that there was no plot of ground in 
that city which was not as it were a gulf filled up; for it had 
amassed all the wealth of the nations: and this sense would 
harmonize well with the subject of the Prophet, - that the soldiers 
were to plunder until they were satiated; for the place was, as it 
were, a deep abyss. 
    He afterwards adds, "There is glory from every desirable 
vessel". Those who think "mem", a particle of comparison in this 
place are much mistaken, and misapply the meaning of the Prophet; 
their rendering is, "In comparison with every desirable vessel;" but 
this, as all must see, is very frigid. The Prophet, I have no doubt, 
declares that the wealth of Nineveh consisted of every desirable 
vessel; for they had for a long time heaped together immense wealth, 
and that of every kind. The Hebrews call what is precious a 
desirable thing; and their vessels we include under the term 
furniture. We now then perceive what the Prophet means. Some take 
"chavod" as a participle, and give this version, "It is burdened," 
or adorned, (for it means both,) "with every desirable vessel." But 
the simpler mode of speaking is what we have explained, - that its 
glory was from every desirable vessel. 
    And here the Prophet condemns what the Assyrians had done in 
heaping together so much wealth from all quarters; for they had 
committed indiscriminate plunder, and gathered for themselves all 
the riches of the nations. They had indeed plundered all their 
neighbors, yea, and wholly stripped them. The Prophet now shows, in 
order to expose them to ridicule, that other robbers would be made 
rich, whom the Lord would raise up against them. The same is said by 
Isaiah, 'O thou plunderer, shalt not thou also be exposed to 
plunder?' (Isa. 33: 1.) So also the Prophet shows in this passage, 
that men foolishly burn with so much avidity for money, and with so 
much anxiety heap together great wealth; for God will find out some 
who in their turn will plunder those who have plundered. It follows 
Nahum 2:10 
She is empty, and void, and waste: and the heart melteth, and the 
knees smite together, and much pain [is] in all loins, and the faces 
of them all gather blackness. 
    The Prophet here confirms what the last verse contains; for he 
shows why he had called the Chaldeans to take away the spoil, - 
because it was to be so. He did not indeed (as I have already said) 
command the Chaldeans in such a way as that their obedience to God 
was praiseworthy: but the Prophet speaks here only of His secret 
counsel. Though then the Chaldeans knew not that it was God's 
decree, yet the Prophet reminds the faithful that the Ninevites, 
when made naked, suffered punishment for their cruelty, especially 
for having so hostilely conducted themselves towards the Jews: and 
hence he declares, that Nineveh is "emptied, is emptied, and made 
nahed". By repeating the same word, he intimates the certainty of 
the event: Emptied, emptied, he says, as when one says in our 
language, videe et revidee. We hence see that by this repetition 
what the Prophet meant is more distinctly expressed that the 
faithful might not doubt respecting the event: and then for the same 
purpose he adds, she is made naked. 
    We now then perceive the Prophet's design. As in the last verse 
he shows that he had power given him from above to send armies 
against Nineveh, and to give up the city to them to be spoiled and 
plundered; so he now shows that he had not so commanded the 
Chaldeans, as though they were the legitimate servants of God, and 
could pretend that they rendered service to Him. He therefore points 
out for what end he had commanded the Chaldeans to plunder Nineveh; 
and that was, because God had so decreed; and he had so decreed and 
commanded, because he would not bear the many wrongs done to his 
people whom he had taken under his protection. As then Nineveh had 
so cruelly treated God's chosen people, it was necessary that the 
reward she deserved should be repaid to her. But the repetition, 
which I have noticed, ought to be especially observed; for it 
teaches us that God's power is connected with his word, so that he 
declares nothing inconsiderately or in vain. 
    He then adds, that knees smite together; and every heart is 
dissolved, or melted, and also, that all loins tremble. We hence 
learn, that there is in men no courage, except as far as God 
supplies them with vigor. As soon then as He withdraws his Spirit, 
those who were before the most valiant become faint-hearted, and 
those who breathed great ferocity are made soft and effeminate: for 
by the word heart is meant inward boldness or courage; and by the 
knees and loins the strength of body is to be understood. There is 
indeed no doubt but the Assyrians, while they ruled, were a very 
courageous people, as power ever generates boldness; and it is also 
probable that they were a warlike people, since all their neighbors 
had been brought under their power. But the Prophet now shows, that 
there would be no vigor in their hearts, and no strength in their 
loins, or in any part of their body. The heart, then, he says, was 
melted. And hence we learn how foolishly men boast of their courage, 
while they seem to be like lions; for God can in a moment so melt 
their hearts, that they entirely lose all firmness. Then as to 
external vigor, we see that it is in God's hand; there will be, he 
says, a confriction, or the knees will knock one against another, as 
they do when they tremble. And he says afterwards, And trembling 
shall be in all loins. 
    He at last adds, "And the faces of all shall gather blackness". 
The word "pa'rur" some derive from "pa'ar"; and so the rendering 
would be, "all faces shall draw in or withdraw their beauty," and so 
also they explain Joel 2: 6, for the sentence there is the same. But 
they who disapprove of this meaning say, that "kabatz" cannot mean 
to draw in or to withdraw; and so they render the noun, blackness. 
But this is a strained explanation. "Pa'arur", [they say,] does not 
mean a black color but a pot: when therefore a caldron or a kettle 
contracts blackness from smoke, it is then called "pa'arur": but in 
this place these interpreters are constrained to take it 
metaphorically for that color; which is, as I have said, strained 
and far-fetched. I am therefore inclined to adopt their opinion who 
render the sentence, all faces shall withdraw their beauty, or their 
brightness: but as to the import of the passage, there is little or 
no difference; let then every one have his free choice. With regard 
to the Prophet's design, he evidently means, that the faces of all 
would be sad, for the Lord would fill their minds and thoughts with 
dread. The withdrawing then of beauty signifies an outward 
appearance of sorrow, or paleness, or whatever may appear in the 
countenance of men, when dejected with grief. In short, the Prophet 
means, that how much soever the Assyrians might have hitherto raised 
on high their crests, and breathed great swelling words, and 
conducted themselves insolently, they would now be dejected; for the 
Lord would prostrate their courage and melt their strength: he 
would, by casting down their high spirits, constrain them to undergo 
shame. This is the import of the whole. It now follows - 
Nahum 2:11,12 
Where [is] the dwelling of the lions, and the feedingplace of the 
young lions, where the lion, [even] the old lion, walked, [and] the 
lion's whelp, and none made [them] afraid? 
The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for 
his lionesses, and filled his holes with prey, and his dens with 
    Here the Prophet triumphs over the Assyrians, because they 
thought that the city Nineveh was remote from every danger: as 
lions, who fear nothing, when they are in their dens, draw thither 
their prey in their claws or in their mouths: so also was the case 
with the Assyrians; thinking themselves safe, while Nineveh 
flourished, they took the greater liberty to commit plunders 
everywhere. For Nineveh was not only the receptacle of robbers but 
was also like a den of lions. And the Prophet more fully expresses 
the barbarous cruelty of the Assyrians by comparing them to lions, 
than if he had simply called them lions. We now then see what he 
means, when he says, "Where is the place of lions?" And he 
designedly speaks thus of the Assyrians: for no one ever thought 
that they could be touched by even the least injury; the fear of 
them had indeed so seized all men, that of themselves they submitted 
to the Assyrians. As then no one dared to oppose them, the Prophet 
says, Where? as though he had said that though all thought it 
incredible that Nineveh could be overthrown, it would yet thus 
happen. But he assumes the character of one expressing his 
astonishment, in order to intimate, that when the Lord should 
execute such a judgment, it would be a work of wonder, which would 
fill almost all with amazement. This question then proves that those 
are very foolish who form a judgment of God's vengeance, of which 
the Prophet speaks, according to the appearance of things at the 
time; for the ruin of Nineveh and of that empire was to be the 
incomprehensible work of God, and which was to fill all minds with 
    He says first, Where is the place of lions? The feminine gender 
is indeed here used; but all agree that the Prophet speaks of male 
lions. He then adds, "the place of feeding for lions?" "Kefarim" 
mean young lions as we shall hereafter see; and "'arayot" are old 
lions. He afterwards adds, Where "aryah": and then comes "laviy'", 
which some render, lioness; but "laviy'" properly means an old lion; 
the Prophet, no doubt, uses it in the next verse in the feminine 
gender for lionesses. I therefore do not deny, but that we may fitly 
render the terms here, lion and lioness; afterwards, "and the whelp 
of lions, and none terrifying". He then adds, "Seize did the lion" 
(the word is "'aryah") "for his whelps to satiety", that is, 
sufficiently; and strangle did he for his lionesses, "leliv'otayw". 
Here no doubt the Prophet means lionesses; there would otherwise be 
no consistency in the passage. He afterwards says, "And filled has 
he with prey his dens and his recesses with ravin"; it is the same 
word with a different termination, "teref", and "trefah". 
    Now the repetition, made here by the Prophet, of lion, young 
lion, and lioness, was not without its use; for he meant by this 
number of words to set forth the extreme ferocity of the Assyrians, 
while they were dominant. He no doubt compares their kings, their 
counselors, and their chief men, to lions: and he calls their wives 
lionesses, and their children he calls young lions or whelps of 
lions. The sum of the whole is, that Nineveh had so degenerated in 
its opulence, that all in power were like ferocious wild beasts, 
destitute of every kind feeling. And I wish that this could have 
only been said of one city and of one monarchy! But here, as in a 
mirror, the Prophet represents to us what we at this day observe, 
and what has always and in all ages been observed in great empires; 
for here great power exists, there great licentiousness prevails; 
and when kings and their counselors become once habituated to 
plunder, there is no end of it; nay, a kind of fury is kindled in 
their hearts, that they seek nothings else but to devour and to tear 
in pieces to rend and to strangle. The Prophet indeed wished here to 
console both the Israelites and the Jews by showing, that the 
injustice of their enemies would not go unpunished: but at the same 
time he intended to show how great, even to the end of the world, 
would be the cruelty of those who would rule tyrannically: and as I 
have said, experience proves, that there are too many like the 
Ninevites. It is indeed unquestionable, that the Prophet does not 
without reason speak so often here of lions and lionesses. 
    Hence he says, 'Come thither did the lion, the lioness, and the 
whelp of the lion.' He means that when justice was sought in that 
city, it was found to be the den of cruel beasts; for the king had 
put off all humanity, as well as his counselors; their wives were 
also like lionesses, and their children and domestics were as young 
lions or the whelps of lions. And cruelty creeps in, somewhat in 
this manner: When a king takes to himself too much liberty, his 
counselors follow him; and then every one follows the common 
example, as though every thing received as a custom was lawful. This 
is the representation which the Prophet in these words sets before 
us; and we with our own eyes see the same things. Then he adds, 'The 
lion did tear what sufficed his whelps, and strangled for his 
lionesses; he filled with prey his dens and his recesses with 
plunder. He goes on with the same subject, - that the Assyrians 
heaped for themselves great wealth by unjust spoils, because they 
had no regard for what was right. The lion, he says, did tear for 
his whelps: as lions accustom their whelps to plunder, and when they 
are not grown enough, so as to be able to attack innocent animals, 
they provide a prey for them, and also bring some to the lionesses; 
so also, as the Prophet informs us, was the case at Nineveh; the 
habits of all men were formed for cruelty by the chief men and the 
magistrates. By the word "bedey", sufficiency, he means not that the 
Ninevites are satisfied with their prey, for they were insatiable; 
but it rather refers to the abundance which they had. And he says, 
that the lion strangled for his lionesses: I wish there were no 
lionesses to devour at this day; but we see that there are some who 
surpass their husbands in boldness and cruelty. But the Prophet says 
here what is natural, - that the lion strangles the prey and gives 
it afterwards to his lionesses. He then adds, that the Ninevites 
were not satisfied with daily rapines, as many robbers live for the 
day; but he says, that their plunder was laid up in store. Hence 
they filled their secret places and dens with their booty and 
spoils. Still further, though the Prophet speaks not here so 
plainly, as we shall see he does in what follows, it is yet certain, 
that the reason is here given, why God visited the Ninevites with so 
severe a vengeance, and that was, because they had ceased to be like 
men, and had degenerated into savage beasts. It follows - 
Nahum 2:13 
Behold, I [am] against thee, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will 
burn her chariots in the smoke, and the sword shall devour thy young 
lions: and I will cut off thy prey from the earth, and the voice of 
thy messengers shall no more be heard. 
    To give more effect to what he says, the Prophet introduces God 
here as the speaker. "Behold, he says, I am against thee". He has 
been hitherto, as it were, the herald of God, and in this character 
gave an authoritative command to the Chaldeans to plunder Nineveh: 
but when God himself comes forward, and uses not the mouth of man, 
but declares himself his own decrees, it is much more impressive. 
This then is the reason why God now openly speaks: Behold, I am, he 
says, against thee. We understand the emphatical import of the 
demonstrative particle, Behold; for God, as if awakened from sleep, 
shows that it will be at length his work, to undertake the cause of 
his people, and also to punish the world for its wickedness, Behold, 
I am against thee, he says. We have elsewhere seen a similar mode of 
speaking; there is therefore no need of dwelling on it here. 
    "I will burn, he says, with smoke her chariots". Here by smoke 
some understand a smoky fire; but the Prophet, I think, meant 
another thing, - that at the first onset God would consume all the 
chariots of Nineveh; as though he had said, that as soon as the 
flame burst forth, it would be all over with all the forces of 
Nineveh; for by chariots he no doubt means all their warlike 
preparations; and we know that they fought then from chariots: as at 
this day there are employed in wars horsemen in armour, so there 
were then chariots. But the Prophet, by taking a part for the whole, 
includes all warlike forces: I will burn then the chariots. - How? 
By smoke alone, that is as soon as the first flame begins to emerge; 
for the smoke rises before the fire appears or gathers strength: in 
short, the Prophet shows that Nineveh would be, as it were, in a 
moment, reduced to nothing, as soon as it pleased God to avenge its 
    He then adds in the third person, "And thy young lions shall 
the sword devour". He indeed changes the person here; but the 
discourse is more striking, when God manifests his wrath in abrupt 
sentences. He had said, Behold, I am against thee; then, I will burn 
her chariots, he now hardly deigns to direct his speech to Nineveh; 
but afterwards he returns to her, "and thy young lions shall the 
sword devour". Then God, by speaking thus in broken sentences, more 
fully expresses the dreadful vengeance which he had determined to 
execute on the Ninevites. He then says, And I will exterminate from 
the earth thy prey; that is, it will not now be allowed thee to go 
on as usual; for I will put a stop to thy inhuman cruelty. Thus prey 
may be taken for the act itself; or it may be fitly explained of the 
spoils taken from the nations, for the Ninevites, by their 
tyrannical ravening, had everywhere plundered; and thus it may be 
applied to the pillaging of the city. I will then exterminate from 
the land, that is from thy country, those riches which have been 
hitherto heaped together as though a lion had been everywhere 
gathering a prey. 
    "And heard no more shall be the voice of thy messengers". They 
who understand "mal'achim" to be messengers, apply the word to the 
heralds, by whom the Assyrians were wont to proclaim wars on 
neighboring nations. As then they sent here and there their heralds 
to announce war, and as their terrible voice sounded everywhere, the 
words of the Prophet have this meaning given them, - that God would 
at length produce silence, so that they should not hereafter disturb 
all their neighboring countries with the clamour of war. But as this 
explanation is strained, I am inclined to adopt what others think, - 
that the grinding teeth are here intended. The word is not written, 
if it be taken for messengers, according to grammar; it is 
"mal'achecheh"; there ought not to have been the "he" at the end, 
and "yod" ought to have been inserted before the last letter but 
one: and if it be deemed as meaning the king, it ought then to have 
been written "malchacha". All then confess, that the word is not 
written according to the rule of grammar; and as the Persians call 
the grinders "mal'achecheh", we may give this version, which well 
suits the context, 'No more shall be heard the sound of grinders.' 
For since lions seize the prey with their teeth, and also break the 
bones, and thus make a great noise when they tear an animal or a man 
with their teeth, this rendering seems to be the most suitable, 
"Heard no more shall be the sound of teeth", that is, heard shall 
not be the noise made by thy teeth; for when thou now tearest thy 
prey, thy teeth make a noise. No more heard then shall the noise 
from that breaking, or the clashing or the crashing of the teeth. 
But as to the chief point, this is no matter of importance. 
    The Prophet simply teaches us here that it could not be, but 
that God would at length restrain tyrants; for though he hides 
himself for a time, he yet never forgets the groans of those whom he 
sees to be unjustly afflicted: and particularly when tyrants molest 
the Church, it is proved here by the Prophet that God will at length 
be a defender; and hence we ought to consider well these words, 
Behold, I am against thee. For though God addresses these words only 
to the Assyrians, yet as he points out the reasons why he rises up 
with so much displeasure against them, they ought to be extended to 
all tyrants, and to all who exercise cruelty towards distressed and 
innocent men. But this is more clearly expressed in the following 
Chapter 3 
Nahum 3:1 
Woe to the bloody city! it [is] all full of lies [and] robbery; the 
prey departeth not; 
    The Prophet, as I have said, more clearly expresses here the 
reason why the vengeance of God would be so severe on the Ninevites, 
- because they had wholly given themselves up to barbarous cruelty; 
and hence he calls it the bloody city. Bloody city! he says. The 
exclamation is emphatical. Though "hoy" sometimes means Woe; yet it 
is put here as though the Prophet would have constrained Nineveh to 
undergo its punishment, O sanguinary city, then, the whole of it is 
full of "kachash": the word signifies leanness and the Prophet no 
doubt joins here together two words, which seem to differ widely, 
and yet they signify the same thing. For "parak" means to lay by; 
and "kachash" is taken for a lie or vanity, when there is nothing 
solid in what is said: but the Prophet, I doubt not, means by both 
words the spoils of the city Nineveh. It was then full of leanness 
for it had consumed all others; it was also full of spoils, for it 
had filled itself. But the meaning of the Prophet is in no way 
dubious; for at length he adds, "Depart shall not the prey"; that is 
as some think, it shall not be withdrawn from the hands of 
conquerors; but others more correctly think that a continued liberty 
in plundering is intended, that the Assyrians were constantly 
employed in pillaging and kept within no bounds. 
    We hence see that the Prophet now shows why God says, that he 
would be an adversary to the Ninevites, because he could not endure 
its unjust cruelty. He bore with it indeed for a time; for he did 
not immediately execute his judgment; but yet he never forgot his 
own people. 
    As, then, God has once declared by the mouth of his Prophet 
that he would be the avenger of the cruelty which the Assyrians had 
exercised, let us know that he retains still his own nature; and 
whatever liberty he may for a time grant to tyrants and savage wild 
beasts, he yet continues to be a just avenger. It is our duty calmly 
to bear injuries, and to groan to him; and as he promises to be at 
length our helper, it behaves us to flee to him, and to ask him to 
succour us, so that seeing his Church oppressed, and tyrants 
exercising licentiously their power, he may hasten the time to 
restrain them. If then we were at all times to continue thus 
resigned under God's protection, there is no doubt but that he would 
be ready even at this day to execute a similar judgment to that 
which the city Nineveh and its people had to endure. 
Grant, Almighty God. that as we have now heard of punishments so 
dreadful denounced on all tyrants and plunderers, this warning may 
keep us within the limits of justice, so that none of us may abuse 
our power to oppress the innocent, but, on the contrary, strive to 
benefit one another, and wholly regulate ourselves according to the 
rule of equity: and may we hence also receive comfort whenever the 
ungodly molest and trouble us, and doubt not but that we are under 
thy protection, and that thou art armed with power sufficient to 
defend us, so that we may patiently bear injuries, until at length 
the ripened time shall come for thee to help us, and to put forth 
thy power for our preservation; nor let us cease to bear our evils 
with patience, as long as it may be thy will to exercise us in our 
present warfare, until having gone through all one troubles, we come 
to that blessed rest which has been provided for us in heaven by 
Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Calvin's Commentary on Nahum, Part 5

(Continued in Part 6...)

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