Calvin, Commentary on Nahum, Part 6
(... continued from Part 5)
Lecture One Hundred and Fourth 
Nahum 3:2,3 
The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, 
and of the pransing horses, and of the jumping chariots. 
The horseman lifteth up both the bright sword and the glittering 
spear: and [there is] a multitude of slain, and a great number of 
carcases; and [there is] none end of [their] corpses; they stumble 
upon their corpses: 
    The Prophet represents here as in a lively picture, what was 
nigh the Assyrians; for he sets forth the Chaldeans their enemies, 
with all their preparations and in their quick movements. "The sound 
of the whip", he says; the whips, made a noise in exciting the 
horses: the sound of the rattling of the wheel; that is, great shall 
be the haste and celerity, when the horses shall be forced on by the 
whip; the horse also shaking the earth, and the chariot bounding; 
the horseman making it to ascend; and then, the same of the sword 
and the lightning of the spear. He then says, that there would be 
such a slaughter, that the whole place would be full of dead bodies. 
    We now then understand what the Prophet means: for as Nineveh 
might have then appeared impregnable the Prophet confirms at large 
what he had said of its approaching ruin, and thus sets before the 
eyes of the Israelites what was then incredible. 
    As to the words, some interpreters connect what we have 
rendered, the horseman makes to ascend, with what follows, that is, 
he makes to ascend the flame of the sword and the lightning of the 
spear. But as a copulative comes between, it seems rather to be an 
imperfect sentence, meaning, that the horseman makes to ascend or 
mount, that is, his horses, by urging them on. With regard to the 
word "lahav", it means I have no doubt, a flame. By this word, I 
know, is also understood metaphorically the brightness of swords, 
which appears like a flame: but the Prophet immediately adds 
lightning. As then he says that spears lighten, I doubt not but that 
for the same reason he meant to say that swords flame. All these 
things were intended for the purpose of fully convincing the 
Israelites that Nineveh, however much it was supplied with wealth 
and power, was yet approaching its ruin, for its enemies would 
prevail against it: and therefore he adds, that all the roads would 
be full of dead bodies, that the enemies could not enter without 
treading on them everywhere. It follows - 
Nahum 3:4 
Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured 
harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through 
her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts. 
    The Prophet mentions again the cause why God would execute so 
dreadful a vengeance on that city, which yet procured by its 
splendor so much glory and respect among all people: and God seems 
in a manner to have but little regard for the order of the world 
when he thus overturns great cities. For since he is the Creator of 
the whole world, it seems to be his proper office to protect its 
various parts, especially those which excel in beauty, for they seem 
to deserve a higher regard. When therefore any splendid city is 
demolished, such thoughts as these occur to us, - That God is either 
delighted with the ruin of the world, or is asleep in heaven, and 
that thus all things revolve by chance and contingency. Therefore 
the Prophet shows, that God had just reasons for decreeing the ruin 
of Nineveh, and for deforming that beauty, that it might not deceive 
the eyes of men. Hence he compares Nineveh to a harlot. The 
similitude seems not to be very suitable: but yet if we take a 
nearer view of things, the Prophet could not have more fitly nor 
more strikingly set forth the condition of that city. He had before 
mentioned its barbarous cruelty, and said, that it was the den of 
lions, and that savage and bloody wild beasts dwelt there. He now 
begins to speak of the frauds and crafty artifices by which the 
kings of this world attain for themselves both wealth and power. The 
Prophet then makes the city Nineveh to be like a harlot for this 
reason, - because it had not only brought under its power 
neighboring nations by threats and terrors, and also by cruelty, but 
because it had ensnared many by oblique arts and fraudulent means, 
by captious dealings and allurements. This is the reason why it is 
now called a harlot by the Prophet. 
    The Prophets of God seem indeed to speak but with little 
reverence of great cities and empires: but we know that it rightly 
belongs to the Spirit of God, that in exercising his own 
jurisdiction, he should uncover the base deeds of the whole world, 
which otherwise would lie concealed and even under the appearance of 
virtues deceive the eyes and senses of the simple: and as men so 
much flatter themselves, and are inebriated with their own 
delusions, it is necessary that those who are too self-indulgent and 
delicate should be roughly handled. As then kings ever set up their 
own splendor that they may dazzle the eyes of the simple, and seem 
to have their own greatness as a beautiful covering, the Spirit of 
God divests them of these masks. This then is the reason why the 
Prophet speaks here, in no very respectful terms, of that great 
monarchy which had attracted the admiration of all nations. For when 
the Spirit of God adopts a humble and common mode of speaking, men, 
blinded by their vices, will not acknowledge their own baseness; 
nay, they will even dare to set up in opposition those things which 
cover their disgraceful deeds: but the Spirit of God breaks through 
all these things, and dissipates those delusions by which men impose 
on themselves. 
    Such is the reason for this similitude; On account of the 
multitude, he says, of the whoredoms of the harlot, who excels in 
favor. It is said by way of concession that Nineveh was in great 
favor, that is, that by her beauty she had allured to herself many 
nations, like a harlot who attains many lovers: and thus the Prophet 
allows that Nineveh was beautiful. But he adds that she was the 
mistress of sorceries. "Kashaf" means sorcery, and also juggling: we 
may then render "keshafim", used here, juggleries. But the Prophet 
seems to allude to filters or amatory potions, by which harlots 
dementate youths. As then harlots not only attract notice by their 
beauty and bland manners and other usual ways; but they also in a 
manner fascinate unhappy youths, and use various arts and delusions; 
so the Prophet under this word comprehends all the deceits practiced 
by harlots; as though he said, "This harlot was not only beautiful, 
but also an enchantress, who by her charms deceived unhappy nations 
like a strumpets who dementates unhappy youths, who do not take care 
of themselves. 
    He afterwards adds, "Who sells nations by her whoredoms, and 
tribes by her sorceries". Though Nahum still carries on the same 
metaphor, he yet shows more clearly what he meant by whoredoms and 
sorceries, - even the crafts of princes, by which they allure their 
neighbors, and then reduce them to bondage. Then all the counsels of 
kings (which they call policies) are here, by the Spirit of God, 
called sorceries or juggleries, and also meretricious arts. This 
reproof, as I have already said, many deem to have been too severe; 
for so much majesty shone forth then in the Assyrians, that they 
ought, as they think, to have been more respectfully treated. But it 
behaved the Spirit of God to speak in this forcible language: for 
there is no one who does not applaud such crafty proceedings. Where 
any one, without mentioning princes, to ask, Is it right to deceive, 
and then by lies, deceptions, perjuries, cavils, and other arts, to 
make a cover for things? - were this question asked, the prompt 
answer would be, that all these things are as remote as possible 
from virtue, as nothing becomes men more than ingenuous sincerity. 
But when princes appear in public, and make this pretence, that the 
world must be ruled with great prudence, that except secret counsels 
be taken, all kingdoms would immediately fall into ruin, - this veil 
covers all their shameful transactions, so that it becomes lawful 
for them, and even praiseworthy, to deceive one party, to circumvent 
another, and a third to oppress by means of deception. Since then 
princes are praised for their craftiness, this is the reason why the 
Prophet here takes away, as it were by force, the mask, under which 
they hide their base proceedings; "They are," he says, "meretricious 
arts, and they are sorceries and juggleries." 
    It is of one city, it is true, that he speaks here; but the 
Prophet no doubt describes in this striking representation how 
kingdoms increase and by what crafty means, - first, by robberies, - 
and then by artful dealings, such as would by no means become honest 
men in the middle class of life. But princes could never succeed, 
except they practiced such artifices. We yet see how they are 
described here by the Spirit of God, - that they are like strumpets 
given to juggleries, and to other base and filthy arts, which he 
calls whoredoms. But I have said, that the meaning of the Prophet 
can be more clearly elicited from the second clause of the verse, 
when he says that the Ninevites made a merchandise of the nations. 
We see indeed even at this day that princes disturb the whole world 
at their pleasure; for they deliver up innocent people to one 
another, and shamefully sell them, while each hunts after his own 
advantage, without any shame; that he may increase his own power, he 
will deliver others into the hand of an enemy. Since then there are 
crafty proceedings of this kind carried on too much at this day, 
there is no need that I should attempt to explain at any length the 
meaning of the Prophet. I wish that examples were to be sought at a 
distance. Let us proceed - 
Nahum 3:5,6 
Behold, I [am] against thee, saith the LORD of hosts; and I will 
discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy 
nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame. 
And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and 
will set thee as a gazingstock. 
    The Prophet confirms here what he has said of the fall of 
Nineveh; but, as it was stated yesterday, he introduces God as the 
speaker, that his address might be more powerful. God then testifies 
here to the Assyrians, that they should have no strife or contention 
with any mortal being, but with their own judgment; as though he 
said, "There is no reason for thee to compare thy forces with those 
of the Chaldeans; but think of this - that I am the punisher of thy 
crimes. The Chaldeans indeed shall come; chariots shall make a noise 
and horses shall leap, and horsemen shall shake the earth; they 
shall brandish the flaming swords, and their spears shall be like 
lightning; but there is no reason for thee to think that the 
Chaldeans will, of themselves, break in upon thee: for I guide them 
by my hidden providence, as it is my purpose to destroy thee; and 
now the time is come when I shall execute on thee my judgment." 
    I am, he says, Jehovah of hosts. The epithet "tzva'ot" must be 
referred to the circumstance of this passage; for God declares here 
his own power, that the Assyrians might not think that they could by 
any means escape. He then adds, I will disclose thy extremities on 
thy face. He alludes to the similitude which we have lately 
observed; for harlots appear very fine, and affect neatness and 
elegance in their dress; they not only put on costly apparel, but 
also add disguises. Though then this fine dress conceals the 
baseness of strumpets, yet, were any to take the clothes of a harlot 
and throw them over her head, all her beauty would disappear, and 
all men would abhor the sight: to see her concealed parts disclosed 
would be a base and filthy spectacle. So God declares that he would 
strip Nineveh of its magnificent dress, that she might be a 
detestable sight, only exhibiting her own reproach. We now then 
apprehend the Prophet's meaning; as though he said, "Nineveh thinks 
not that she is to perish. - How so? Because her own splendor blinds 
her: and she has willfully deceived herself, and, by her deceits, 
has dazzled the eyes of all nations. As then this splendor seems to 
be a defense to the city Nineveh, I the Lord, he says, will disclose 
her hidden parts; I will deprive the Assyrians of all this splendor 
in which they now glory, and which is in high esteem and admiration 
among other nations." 
    And this passage ought to be especially noticed; for, as I have 
said, true dignity is not to be found in the highest princes. 
Princes ought, indeed, to seek respect for themselves by justice, 
integrity, mercy, and a magnanimous spirit: but they only excel in 
mean artifices; then they shamelessly deceive, lie, and swear 
falsely; they also flatter, even meanly, when circumstances require; 
they insinuate themselves by various crafty means, and by large 
promises decoy the simple. Since then their true dignity is not 
commonly regarded by princes, this passage ought to be observed, so 
that we may know that their elevation, which captivates the minds of 
men, is an abomination before God; for they do not discern things, 
but are blind, being dazzled by empty splendor. 
    Disclose, then, he says, will I thy shame. He says first, 
Disclose will I thy fringes on thy face; and then I will show to the 
nations thy nakedness. And the nakedness of great kings is shown to 
the nations when the Lord executes his vengeance: for then even the 
lowest of the low will dare to pass judgment, - "He deserved to 
perish with shame, for he exercised tyranny on his own subjects, and 
spared not his own neighbors; he never was a good prince; nay, he 
only employed deceits and perjuries." When, therefore princes are 
cast down, every one, however low, becomes a judge, and ascends as 
it were, the tribunal to burden and load them with reproaches. And 
hence the Prophet says, in the person of God, "Disclose will I thy 
fringes on thy face, and will show to the nations thy nakedness, and 
to kingdoms thy filthiness. 
    He afterwards adds, "I will besprinkle thee with filth", or 
defilements. The Prophet still alludes to the similitude of a 
harlot, who is well and sumptuously adorned, and by her charms 
captivates the eyes of all: but when any one takes mire and filth 
from the middle of the road, and bespatters her with it, there is 
then no one who will not turn away his eyes from so filthy an 
object. But we have already explained the import of this. God is 
indeed said to besprinkle kingdoms with defilements, when he casts 
them down; for they all begin freely to express their opinion: and 
those who before pretended great admiration, now rise up and bring 
forth many reproachful things. Then it is, that the Lord is said to 
besprinkle great kingdoms with filth and defilements. 
    He then adds, I will disgrace thee. "Naval" is to fall, and it 
is applied to dead bodies; but it means also to disgrace, as it is 
to be taken here. I will make thee as the dung. Some think "ro'iy" 
to be dung, or something fetid: but as it comes from "ra'ah", to 
see, and is in many parts of Scripture taken for vision or view, 
they are more correct, in my judgment, who render it thus, I will 
make thee an example; so Jerome renders it; as though he said, "Thou 
shalt be a spectacle to all nations." "And Nineveh is said to be 
made an example, because its ruin was more memorable than that of 
any other which had previously happened. Thou shalt then be a 
spectacle; that is, the calamity which I now denounce shall attract 
the observation of all. It afterwards follows - 
Nahum 3:7 
And it shall come to pass, [that] all they that look upon thee shall 
flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her? 
whence shall I seek comforters for thee? 
    When he says, "kol-ro'ayich", 'whosoever sees thee,' we hence 
learn again that "ro'iy" at the end of the last verse, is to be 
taken for example or spectacle; for the Prophet proceeds with the 
same subject: I will make thee, he says, an example, or a spectacle. 
- For what purpose? that whosoever sees thee may depart from thee. 
And it was an evidence of horror, though some think it to have been 
a reward for her cruelty, that no one came to Nineveh, but that she 
was forsaken by all friends in her desolation. And they take in the 
same sense what follows, "Who will condole with her? and whence 
shall I seek comforters for thee?" For they think that the Ninevites 
are here reproached for their cruelty, because they made themselves 
so hated by all that they were unworthy of sympathy; for they spared 
none, they allowed themselves full liberty in injuring others, they 
had gained the hatred of all the world. Hence some think that what 
is here intimated is, that the Ninevites were justly detested by and 
so that no one condoled with them in so great a calamity, inasmuch 
as they had been injurious to all: "It shall then happen, that 
whosoever sees thee shall go far away from thee and shall say, 
Wasted is Nineveh; who will condole with her? Whence shall I call 
comforters to her?" 
    But I know not whether this refined meaning came into the 
Prophet's mind. We may explain the words more simply, that all would 
flee far away as a proof of their horrors and that the calamity 
would be such, that no lamentation would correspond with it. Who 
will be able to console with her? that is, were the greatness of her 
calamity duly weighed, though all were to weep and utter their 
meanings, it would not yet be sufficient: all lamentations would be 
far unequal to so great a calamity. The Prophet seems rather to mean 
this. Who then shall condole with her? and whence shall I seek 
comforters, as though he said, "The ruin of so splendid a city will 
not be of an ordinary kind, but what cannot be equaled by any 
lamentations." It then follows - 
Nahum 3:8-10 
8 Art thou better than populous No, that was situate among the 
rivers, [that had] the waters round about it, whose rampart [was] 
the sea, [and] her wall [was] from the sea? 
9 Ethiopia and Egypt [were] her strength, and [it was] infinite; Put 
and Lubim were thy helpers. 
10 Yet [was] she carried away, she went into captivity: her young 
children also were dashed in pieces at the top of all the streets: 
and they cast lots for her honourable men, and all her great men 
were bound in chains. 
    The Prophet, in order to gain credit to his prophecy, produces 
here the ensample of Alexandria. It is indeed certain, from many 
testimonies of Scripture, that Alexandria is called No, which was a 
very ancient city, situated on the confines of Africa, and yet in 
Egypt. It might, at the same time, be, that the Alexandrians 
formerly had their own government, at least their own kings: and 
this is probable; for the Prophet says here, that Egypt and 
Ethiopia, as well as Africa and the Libyan nations, were the 
confederates of this city. It may hence then be concluded, that 
Alexandria was not then a part of Egypt, but had its own government, 
and was in alliance with the Egyptians, as with the other nations. 
But as Egypt, after the death of our Prophet, was in part overthrown 
by the Assyrians, and in part by the Chaldeans, some interpreters 
think, that the Prophet speaks of a ruin which had not yet taken 
place. But this would not harmonize with his design; for the Prophet 
shows here, as in a mirror, that the chief empires fall according to 
the will of God, and that cities, the richest and the best 
fortified, come to nothing, whenever it pleases God. Unless, then, 
the destruction of Alexandria was notorious and everywhere known, 
the Prophet could not have suitably adduced this example: I 
therefore doubt not but that Alexandria had been then demolished. It 
is no matter of wonder that it afterwards returned to its former 
state and became rich; for the situation of the city was most 
commodious, not so much on account of the fertility of the land, as 
on account of its traffic; for ships from the Mediterranean sailed 
up near to it. It had, indeed, on one side, the lake Marcotis, which 
is not very healthy; and then the sea fortified it; and Pharos was a 
neighboring island: but yet the city was inhabited by many, and 
adorned with splendid buildings; for the advantage of traffic drew 
together inhabitants from all quarters. It was afterwards built 
again by Alexander of Macedon. But it is evident enough that it had 
been already an opulent city: for Alexander did not build a new city 
but enlarged it. Let us now come to the words of the Prophet. 
    "Shall it be better to thee than to Alexandria?" The word 
"'amon", some render populous; and I am inclined to adopt this 
meaning, which has been received nearly by the consent of all. 
Others have supposed it to be the name of a king; but as proof fails 
them, I leave to themselves their own conjecture. Shall it then be 
better to thee than to Alexandria? For "it stood, he says, between 
the rivers". Alexandria had the Nile, as it were, under its own 
power; for it was then divided into many parts, so that it 
intersected the city in various places. So then he says, that 
Alexandria dwelt between the rivers; for it divided the Nile, as it 
suited its convenience, into several streams. 
    Then he says, "The sea was around her": for it was surrounded 
on one side by the sea, and protected by the island Pharos, which 
had a tower, not only for the sake of defense, but that ships coming 
in from the Mediterranean, might have a signal, by which they might 
direct their course straight to the harbor. The sea then was around 
her; for the sea encircled more than half of the city; and then the 
lake Mareotis was on the other side to the south. He afterwards 
adds, "And its wall or moat was the sea". The word is written with 
"yod", "cheyl"; but it means a wall or a moat, though Latins render 
antemurale - a front-work: for they were wont formerly to fortify 
their cities with a double wall, as old buildings still show. 
According to these interpreters "cheyl" is the inner wall, and so 
they render its front-work: and there was also an outer wall towards 
the sea. But we may take "cheyl" for a moat or a trench; and it is 
easy to find from other passages that it was a trench rather than a 
front-work. It is said that the body of Jezebel was torn by dogs in 
the trench, and the word there is "cheyl". As to the object of the 
Prophet, he evidently intended to show, that Alexandria was so well 
fortified, that Nineveh had no reason to think herself to be in a 
safer state; for its fortress was from the sea, and also from 
Ethiopia, on account of the munitions which he has mentioned. Then 
he speaks of Africa and Egypt, and the Libyan nations, and says in 
short, that there was no end of her strength; that is, that she 
could seek the help of many friends and confederates: many were 
ready to bring aid, even Africa, Ethiopia, and the Lybians. 
    "Yet, he says, she departed into captivity a captive"; that is, 
the inhabitants of Alexandria have been banished, and the city 
become as it were captive, for its inhabitants were driven here and 
there. Dashed, he says, have been their little ones at the head of 
every street. The Prophet means, that so great a power as that of 
Alexandria did not prevent the conquerors to exercise towards her 
the most barbarous cruelty; for it was a savage act to dash little 
children against stones, who ought on account of their tender age, 
to have been spared. There was indeed no reason for raging against 
them, for they could not have been deemed enemies. But yet the 
Prophet says that Alexandria had been thus treated; and he said 
this, that Nineveh might not trust in her strength, and thus 
perversely despise God's judgment, which he now denounced on it. He 
adds, "They cast lots on her princess and bound were her great men 
with fetters". In saying that lots were cast, he refers to an 
ancient custom; for when there was any dispute respecting a captive, 
the lot was cast: as for instance, when two had taken one man, to 
prevent contention, it was by lot determined who was to be his 
master. So then he says that lots were cast on their princes. This 
usually happened to the common people and to the lowest slaves; but 
the Prophet says that the conquerors spared not even the princes. 
They were therefore treated as the lowest class; and though they 
were great princes, they were led into captivity and bound with 
chains, in the same manner with the meanest and the lowest of the 
people. They were not treated according to their rank; and there was 
no differences between the chief men and the most degraded of the 
humbler classes; for even the very princes were so brought down, 
that their lot differed not from that of the wretched; for as common 
people are usually treated with contempt, so were the chiefs of 
Alexandria treated by their enemies. 
Grant, Almighty God, that since by thy awful judgments thou dost 
show thy displeasure at the pride of this world, we may be ruled by 
the spirit of meekness, and in such a manner humble ourselves 
willingly under thy hand, that we may not experience thy dreadful 
power in our destruction, but being, on the contrary, supported by 
thy strength, we may keep ourselves in our own proper station and in 
true simplicity, and, at the same time, relying on thy protection, 
we may never doubt, but thou wilt sustain us against all the 
assaults of our enemies, however violent they may be, and thus 
persevere in the warfare of the cross which thou hast appointed for 
us, until we be at length gathered into that celestial kingdom, 
where we shall triumph together with thy Son, when his glory shall 
shine in us, and all the wicked shall be destroyed. Amen. 

Calvin's Commentary on Nahum, Part 6

(Continued in Part 7...)

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