Calvin, Commentary on Nahum, Part 7
(... continued from Part 6)
Lecture One Hundred and Fifth 
Nahum 3:11 
Thou also shalt be drunken: thou shalt be hid, thou also shalt seek 
strength because of the enemy. 
    Nahum, after having adduced the example of Alexandria, now 
shows that nothing would be able to resist God, so that he should 
not deal with Nineveh in the same manner; and he declares that this 
would be the case, "Thou also, he says, shalt be inebriated". Well 
known is this metaphor, which often occurs in Scripture: for the 
Prophets are wont frequently to call punishment a cup, which God 
administers. But when God executes a heavy punishment, he is said to 
inebriate the wicked with his cup. The Prophet says now, that the 
chastisement of Nineveh would make her like a drunken man, who, 
being overcome with wine, lies down, as it were, stupefied. Hence by 
this metaphor he intended to set forth a most severe punishment: 
Thou then shalt be also inebriated. The particle "gam" is here 
emphatical; it was introduced, that the Ninevites might know, that 
they could not possibly escape the punishment which they deserved; 
for God continues ever like himself. Thou then shalt be also 
inebriated. This would not be consistent, were not God the judge of 
the world to the end. There is then a common reason for this 
proceeding; hence it necessarily follows, - since God punished the 
Alexandrians, the Assyrians cannot escape his hand, and be exempt 
from punishment. 
    He adds, "Thou shalt be hidden". Some refer this to shame, as 
though the Prophet had said, - "Thou indeed showest thyself now to 
be very proud, but calamity will force thee to seek hiding-places, 
in which to conceal thyself." But I am more inclined to this 
meaning, - that Nineveh would vanish away, as though it never had 
been; for to be hidden is often taken in Hebrew in the sense of 
being reduced to nothing. 
    He afterwards says, "Thou shalt also seek strength, or 
supplies, from the enemy". The words "ma'oz me'oyev" may admit of 
two meanings, - either that she will humbly solicit her enemies, - 
or that on account of her enemies she will flee to some foreign aid; 
for the preposition "mem" may be taken in both senses. If we adopt 
the first meaning, then I think that the Prophet speaks not of the 
Babylonians, but of the other nations who had been before harassed 
by the Assyrians. Thou shalt now then humbly pray for the aid of 
those who have been hitherto thine enemies, - not because they had 
provoked thee, but because thou hast as an enemy treated them. Now 
it is an extreme misery, when we are constrained to seek the help of 
those by whom we are hated, and hated, because we have by wrongs 
provoked them. But the other sense is more approved, for it is less 
strained: "Thou shalt also seek aids on account of the enemy"; that 
is, as strength to resist will fail thee, thou wilt seek assistance 
from thy neighbours. It follows - 
Nahum 3:12 
All thy strong holds [shall be like] fig trees with the firstripe 
figs: if they be shaken, they shall even fall into the mouth of the 
    The Prophet here declares that the strongholds of the Assyrians 
would avail them nothing; whether they trusted in the number of 
their men, or in their walls, or in other defenses, they would be 
disappointed; for all things, he says, will of themselves fall, even 
without being much assailed. And he employs a very apposite 
similitude, "Thy fortifications," he says, "which thou thinkest to 
be very strong, shall be like figs; for when the fruit is ripe, and 
any comes to the tree, as soon as he touches it or any of the 
branches, the figs will fall off themselves." We indeed know that 
there is not much firmness in that fruit; when it is ripe, it 
immediately falls to the ground, or if it hangs on the branches, a 
very little shaking will bring it down. We now see the design of the 
    And hence an useful doctrine may be deduced: whatever strength 
men may seek for themselves from different quarters, it will wholly 
vanish away; for neither forts, nor towers, nor ramparts, nor troops 
of men, nor any kind of contrivances, will avail any thing; and were 
there no one to rise against them, they would yet fall of 
themselves. It afterwards follows - 
Nahum 3:13 
Behold, thy people in the midst of thee [are] women: the gates of 
thy land shall be set wide open unto thine enemies: the fire shall 
devour thy bars. 
    The Prophet declares here, that the hearts of them all would 
become soft and effeminate when God would proceed to destroy 
Nineveh. We have said before that the hearts of men are so in the 
hand of God, that he melts whatever courage there may be in them, 
whenever he pleases: and God prepares men for ruin, when he 
debilitates their hearts, that they cannot bear the sight of their 
enemies. God indeed can leave in men their perverseness, so that 
they may ever run furiously into ruin, and not be able, with a 
courageous heart, to repel the attacks of their enemies; but he 
often softens their hearts and deprives them of power, that he may 
make more evident his judgment: God does not, however, always work 
in the same way; for variety in his judgments is calculated to do us 
good, for thereby our minds are more powerfully awakened. Were his 
proceedings uniformly the same, we could not so well distinguish the 
hand of God, as when he acts now in this way, and then in another. 
But, as I have already said, it is what is well known, that God 
enervates men and strips them of all courage, when he gives them 
over to destruction. 
    So now the Prophet speaks of the Ninevites, "Behold, he says, 
thy people are women". The demonstrative particle, Behold, is here 
emphatical: for the Assyrians, no doubt, ridiculed, as a fable, the 
prediction of the Prophet; and it was what the Israelites found it 
difficult to believe. This is the reason why the Prophet pointed 
out, as by the finger, what surpassed the comprehensions of men. By 
saying, in the midst of thee, he intimates, that though they should 
be separated from their enemies and dwell in a fortified city, they 
should yet be filled with trembling. This amplification deserves to 
be noticed: for it is nothing wonderful, when an onset frightens us, 
when enemies join battle with us, and when many things present 
themselves before our eyes, which are calculated to deprive us of 
courage; but when we are frightened by report only concerning our 
enemies, and we become fainthearted, though walls be between us, it 
then appears evident, that we are smitten by the hand of God; for 
when we see walls of stone, and yet our hearts become brittle like 
glass, is it not evident, that we are inwardly terrified by the 
Lord, as it were, through some hidden influence, rather than through 
intervening and natural causes? We now then perceive the Prophet's 
meaning, when he says, that the people would become women, or 
effeminate, in the midst of the city, in its very bowels; as though 
he had said, that they would not cease to tremble, even while they 
were dwelling in a safe place. 
    "By opening, opened shall be thy gates, he says, to thy 
enemies". He shows again, that though the Assyrians were fortified, 
every access would be made open to their enemies, as though there 
was no fortress. By saying, the gates of thy land, it is probable 
that he speaks not only of the city, but of all their strongholds. 
The Assyrians, no doubt, fortified many cities, in order to keep 
afar off the enemy, and to preserve the chief seat of the empire 
free from danger and fear. I therefore understand the Prophet as 
referring here to many cities, when he says, "By opening, opened 
shall be the gates of thy land to thine enemies and fire shall 
consume thy bars". He means, that though they had before carefully 
fortified the whole land around, so that they thought themselves 
secure from all hostile invasion, yet all this would be useless; for 
the fire would consume all their bars. By fire, the Prophet 
understands metaphorically the judgment of God. For as we see that 
so great is the vehemence of fire, that it melts iron and brass, so 
the Prophet means, that there would be no strength which could 
defend Nineveh and its empire against the hand of God. It follows - 
Nahum 3:14,15 
Draw thee waters for the siege, fortify thy strong holds: go into 
clay, and tread the morter, make strong the brickkiln. 
There shall the fire devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off, it 
shall eat thee up like the cankerworm: make thyself many as the 
cankerworm, make thyself many as the locusts. 
    The Prophet goes on with the same subject, - that the Ninevites 
would labour in vain, while striving anxiously and with every effort 
to defend themselves against their enemies. The meaning then is, 
"That though thou remittest no diligence, yet thou shalt lose all 
thy labour; for thou wilt not be able to resist the vengeance of 
God; and thou deceives thyself if thou thinkest that by the usual 
means thou canst aid thyself; for it is God who attacks thee by the 
Babylonians. How much soever then thou mayest accumulate of those 
things which are usually employed to fortify cities, all this will 
be useless." Draw for thyself, he says, waters for the siege; that 
is, lay up provisions for thyself, as it is usually done, and have 
water laid up in cisterns; strengthen thy fortresses, that is, renew 
them; enter into the clay for the sake of treading the mortar: 
fortify, or cement, or join together; the brick-kiln (for what some 
think that "chazak" means, here is to hold, or to lay hold, is 
wholly foreign to the Prophet's meaning:) to fortify then the brick- 
kiln, that is, the bricks which come forth from the kiln, nothing 
else than to construct and join them together, that there might be a 
solid building: for we know that buildings often fall, or are 
overturned, because they are not well joined together: and he refers 
to the mode of building which historians say was in use among the 
Assyrians. For as that country had no abundance of stones, they 
supplied the defect by bricks. We now then understand the intention 
of the Prophet. 
    But he adds, "There shall the fire consume thee". There is much 
importance in the adverb of place, "there", which he uses: there 
also, he says, shall the fire eat thee up: for he expresses more 
than before, when he said, that the Assyrians would weary themselves 
in vain in fortifying their city and their empire; for he says now, 
that the Lord would turn to their destruction those things in which 
they trusted as their defenses; There then shall the fire consume 
thee. We now then see what the Prophet means. 
    We must at the same time observe, that he mentions water; as 
though he said, "However sparingly and frugally thy soldiers may 
live, being content with water as their drink, (for it is necessary, 
when we would firmly resist enemies, to undergo all indulgences, and 
if needs be to endure want, at least the want of delicate meat and 
drink,) - though thy soldiers be content with water, and seek not 
water fresh from the spring or the river, but drink it from 
cisterns, and though thy fortresses be repaired, and thy walls 
carefully joined together in a solid structure, by bricks well 
fitted and fastened, yet there shall the fire consume thee; that is, 
thy frugality, exertion, and care, not only will avail thee nothing, 
but will also turn out to thy ruin; for the Lord pronounces accursed 
the arrogance of men, when they trust in their own resources." 
    He afterwards adds, "Exterminate thee shall the sword; that is, 
the Lord will find out various means by which he will consume thee. 
By the fire, then, and by the sword, will he waste and destroy thee. 
He then says, "He will consume thee as the chafer". we may read the 
last word in the nominative as well as in the objective case - He as 
a chafer will consume thee. If we approve of this rendering, then 
the meaning would be, - "As chafers in a short time devour a meadow 
or standing corn, so thy enemies shall soon devour thee as with one 
mouthful." We indeed know, that these little animals are so hurtful, 
that they will very soon eat up and consume all the fruit; and there 
is in these insects an astonishing voracity. But as the Prophet 
afterwards compares the Assyrians to chafers and locusts, another 
sense would be more suitable, and that is, - that God's judgment 
would consume the Assyrians, as when rain, or a storm, or a change 
of season, consumes the chafers; for as these insects are very 
hurtful, so the Lord also exterminates them whenever he pleases. He 
afterwards adds, "to be multiplied"; which is, as I have said, a 
verb in the infinitive mood. But the sentence of the Prophet is 
this, by multiplying as the chafer, to multiply as the locusts": but 
why he speaks thus, may be better understood from the context; the 
two following verses must be therefore added - 
Nahum 3:16,17 
Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven: the 
cankerworm spoileth, and flieth away. 
Thy crowned [are] as the locusts, and thy captains as the great 
grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges in the cold day, [but] when 
the sun ariseth they flee away, and their place is not known where 
they [are]. 
    From these words we may learn what the Prophet before meant, 
when he said that the Assyrians were like locusts or chafers; as 
though he said, - "I know that you trust in your great number; for 
ye are like a swarm of chafers or locusts; ye excel greatly in 
number; inasmuch as you have assembled your merchants and traders as 
the stars of heaven." Here he shows how numerous they were. But when 
he says, "The chafer has spoiled, and flies away", he points out 
another reason for the comparison; for it is not enough to lay hold 
on one clause of the verse, but the two clauses must be connected; 
and they mean this, - that the Assyrians, while they were almost 
innumerable, gloried in their great number, - and also, that this 
vast multitude would vanish away. He then makes an admission here 
and says, by multiplying thy merchants, thou hast multiplied them; 
but when he says, as chafers and as locusts, he shows that this 
multitude would not continue, for the Lord would scatter them here 
and there. As then the scattering was nigh, the Prophet says that 
they were chafers and locusts. 
    We now understand the design of the Prophet: He first ridicules 
the foolish confidence with which the Assyrians were inflated. They 
thought, that as they ruled over many nations, they could raise 
great armies, and set them in any quarter to oppose any one who 
might attack them: the Prophet concedes this to them, that is, that 
they were very numerous, "by multiplying thou hast multiplied"; but 
what will this avail them? They shall be locusts, they shall be 
chafers. - How so? A fuller explanation follows, "Thou hast 
multiplied thy merchants as the stars of heaven": but this shall be 
temporary; for thou shalt see them vanishing away very soon; they 
shall be like the chafers, who, being in a moment scattered here and 
there, quit the naked field or the meadow. But by merchants or 
traders some understand confederates; and this comparison also, as 
we have before seen, frequently occurs in the Prophets: and princes 
at this day differ nothing from traders, for they outbid one 
another, and excel in similar artifices, as we have elsewhere seen, 
by which they carry on a system of mutual deception. This comparison 
then may be suitable, "Thou hast multiplied thy traders", - tes 
practiciens. But the meaning of the Prophet may be viewed as still 
wider; we may apply this to the citizens of Nineveh; for the 
principal men no doubt were merchants: as the Venetian of the 
present day are all merchants, so were the Syrians, and the 
Ninevites, and also the Babylonians. It is then nothing strange, 
that the Prophet, by taking a part for the whole should include 
under this term all the rich, "Thou hast then multiplied thy 
    He has hitherto allowed them to be very numerous; but he now 
adds, "The chafer has spoiled, and flies away". The verb means 
sometimes to spoil, and it means also to devour: The chafer then has 
devoured, and flies away; that is, "Thy princes, (as he afterwards 
calls them,) or thy principal men, have indeed devoured; they have 
wasted many regions by their plunders, and consumed all things on 
every side, like the chafers, who destroy the standing corn and all 
fruits: thou hast then been as a swarm of chafers." For as chafers 
in great numbers attack a field, so Nineveh was wont to send 
everywhere her merchants to spoil and to denude the whole land. 
"Well," he says "the chafer has devoured, but he flies away, he is 
scattered; so it shall happen," says the Prophet, "to the citizens 
of Nineveh." And hence he afterwards adds, "And thy princes are as 
locusts": this refers to the wicked doings, by which they laid waste 
almost the whole earth. As then the locusts and chafers, wherever 
they come, consume every kind of food, devour all the fields, leave 
nothing, and the whole land becomes a waste; so also have been thy 
princes; they have been as locusts and thy leaders as the locusts of 
locusts, that is, as very great locusts; for this form, we know, 
expresses the superlative degree in Hebrew. Their leaders were then 
like the most voracious locusts for the whole land was made barren 
by them, as nothing was capable of satisfying their avarice and 
    The Prophet then adds, They are locusts, who "dwell in the 
mounds during the time of cold; but when the sun rises, not known 
any more is their place". He now shows, that it would not be 
perpetual, that the Ninevites would thus devour the whole earth, and 
that all countries would be exposed to their voracity; "for as the 
locusts," he says, "hide themselves in caverns, and afterwards fly 
away, so it shall happen to thy princes." But this passage may be 
taken to mean, - that the Ninevites concealed themselves in their 
hiding-places during the winter, and that when the suitable time for 
plundering came, they retook themselves in different directions, and 
took possession of various regions, and brought home plunder from 
the remotest parts. This meaning may be elicited from the words of 
the Prophet; and the different clauses would thus fitly coalesce 
together, that when the Ninevites left their nests, they dispersed 
and migrated in all directions. I do not at the same time disapprove 
of the former meaning: they are then like locusts, who lodge in 
mounds during the time of cold; but when the sun rises, - that is, 
when the season invites them, (for he speaks not of the winter sun,) 
but when the heat of the sun prevails and temperate the air, - then, 
he says, the locusts go forth and fly away, and known no more is 
their place. He means, in short, that the Ninevites plundered, and 
that they did so after the manner of locusts; and that a similar end 
also was nigh them; for the Lord would destroy them, yea, suddenly 
consume them, so that no trace of them could be found. It follows - 
Nahum 3:18 
Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria: thy nobles shall dwell [in 
the dust]: thy people is scattered upon the mountains, and no man 
gathereth [them]. 
    He confirms the preceding verse, and says that there would be 
no counsel nor wisdom in the leading men: for the shepherds of the 
king of Assyria were his counselors, in whose wisdom he trusted, as 
we know that kings usually depend on their counselors: for they 
think that there is in them prudence enough, and therefore they 
commit to them the care of the whole people. But the Prophet 
ridicules the confidence of the king of Assyria, because the 
shepherds would not have so much vigilance as to take care of 
themselves, and of the people, and of the whole kingdom. He speaks 
in the past tense, either to show the certainty of the prediction, 
or because the change of tenses is common in Hebrew. "Lie still, he 
says, shall thy mighty men"; that is, they shall remain idle; they 
shall not be able to sally out against their enemies, to stop their 
progress. They shall then lie still: and then he says, "Scattered 
are thy people". "Push" is not to scatter; hence I doubt not, but 
that there is a change of letter, that "shin" is put for "tzade": 
and I am surprised that some derive the verb from "push", when, on 
the contrary, it is from "putz", and the change of these two letters 
is common in Hebrew. "Thy people then are dispersed on the mountains 
and there is no one to assemble them". 
    By these words the Prophet means, that such would be the 
scattering of the whole kingdom, that there would be no hope of 
restoration; There will then be none to assemble them. He had said 
before that the chiefs or mighty men would be still. Though it would 
be needful to go forth to check the progress of their enemies; yet 
he says, They shall idly lie down: He refers here to their sloth. 
But the people who ought to be quiet at home, as being weak and 
feeble, shall be dispersed on the mountains, and no one will be 
there to gather them. It follows - 
Nahum 3:19 
[There is] no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that 
hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom 
hath not thy wickedness passed continually? 
    The Prophet shows here more clearly, that when the empire of 
Nineveh should be scattered, it would be an incurable evil, that 
every hope of a remedy would be taken away. Though the wicked cannot 
escape calamity, yet they harbor false expectations, and think that 
they can in a short time gather new strength. Hence, in order to 
take from them this hope, the Prophet says, that there would be "no 
contraction of the fracture". And this is a striking similitude; for 
he compares the ruin of Nineveh to a wound which cannot be seamed 
and healed. There is then no contraction; some render it, a wrinkle, 
but improperly. There is then no contraction: and he adds, "Thy 
stroke is full of pain"; that is, the pain of thy stroke cannot be 
allayed. This is one thing, - that the ruin of Nineveh would be 
    Then he says, "Whosoever shall hear the report, shall strike 
the hand on thy account". Many give this rendering, They shall clap 
the hand over thee, or with the hands; and they think that the 
singular is put for the plural number. But as in Hebrew to strike 
the hand is a token of consent, it would not be unsuitable to say, 
that the Prophet means, that wherever the report of this calamity 
would be heard, all would express their approbation, "See, God has 
at length proved himself to be the just avenger of so much 
wickedness." To strike the hand is said to be done by those who make 
an agreements or when any one pledges himself for another. As then 
in giving pledges, and in other compacts, men are said to strike the 
hand; so also all shall thus give their assent to God's judgment in 
this case, "O how rightly is this done! O how justly has God 
punished these tyrants, these plunderers." They will then strike the 
hand on thy account; that is, "This thy ruin will be approved;" as 
though he said, "Not only before God art thou, Nineveh, accursed, 
but also according to the consent of all nations." And thus he 
intimates, that Nineveh would perish in the greatest dishonor and 
disgrace. It sometimes happens that an empire falls, and all bewail 
the event: but God here declares, that he would not be satisfied 
with the simple destruction of the city Nineveh without adding to it 
a public infamy, so that all might acknowledge that it happened 
through his righteous judgment. 
    He afterwards adds, "For upon whom has not thy wickedness 
passed continually?" This is a confirmation of the last clause; and 
this reason will suit both the views which have been given. If we 
take the striking of the hand for approbation, this reason will be 
suitable. - How? For all nations will rejoice at thy destruction, 
because there is no nation which thou hast not in many ways injured. 
So also, in token of their joy, all will congratulate themselves, as 
though they were made free; or they will clap their hands, that is, 
acknowledge that thou hast been destroyed by the judgment of God, 
because all had experienced how unjustly and tyrannically thou hast 
ruled. As then thy wickedness has been like a deluge, and hast 
nearly consumed all the earth, all will clap or shake their hands at 
thy ruin. 
    And he says, "continually", to show that God's forbearance had 
been long exercised. Hence, also, it appears, that the Assyrians 
were inexcusable, because, when God indulgently spared them, they 
did not repent, but pursued their wicked ways for a long course of 
time. As then to their sinful licentiousness they added 
perverseness, every excuse was removed. But the Prophet does, at the 
same time, remind the Israelites, that there was no reason for them 
to be cast down in their minds, because God did not immediately 
execute punishment; for by the word "tamid", he insinuates, that God 
would so suspend for a time his judgment as to Nineveh, that his 
forbearance and delay might be an evidence of his goodness and 
mercy. We hence see that the Prophet here opposes the ardor of men, 
for they immediately grow angry or complain when God delays to 
execute vengeance on their enemies. 
    He shows that God has a just reason for not visiting the wicked 
with immediate punishment; but yet the time will come when it shall 
appear that they are altogether past recovery, - the time, I say, 
will come, when the Lord shall at length put forth his hand and 
execute his judgment. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are not able to keep a firm footing 
in the way of justice and uprightness, - O grant, that, being 
governed by thy Spirit, we may restrain ourselves from doing any 
harm, and thus abstain from all evil deeds, and that we may labour 
to do good to all, so that we may, by experience, find that all are 
protected by thee, who so conform themselves to the rule of thy Law, 
that they take no advantage of the simple, either for the purpose of 
ruining or of injuring them, but who, being content with their own 
small portion, know that there is nothing better than to be wholly 
subject to thee, and to thy guidance: and may we thus live in 
forbearance and justice towards our neighbors, that we may, at the 
same time, rely on thy mercy, by which alone we can be defended, and 
made safe against so many assaults of Satan and of the wicked, 
until, having at length completed the course of our warfare, we 
shall come into that blessed rest which has been prepared for us in 
heaven by Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 
End of the Commentaries on Nahum.

Calvin's Commentary on Nahum, Part 7

(... conclusion, Calvin's Commentary on Nahum)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-06/cvnhm-07.txt