Commentary on Nahum

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Commentary on Nahum
by Jefeth bin Ali, translated by Hartwig Hirschfeld

1911 translation

Ch. I. i. An oration concerning Nineveh, the book of prophecy [by] Nahum of Elqosh.

2. The Lord is Almighty, jealous and avenging, the Lord is avenging and the Master of wrath, taking revenge is the Lord on his enemies, and nourishing hatred for his foes.

Discussion of the five divine appellations occurring in the verse. The difference between DHS and D^X consists in that the former are idolaters who oppress Israel, whilst the latter show no such hostile feelings. The former will therefore be punished by 'consummation and that determined' (Isa. x. 23). This is an allusion to the authors of the troubles and is a repetition of the remarks on Dan. xii. 1 {Transl., p. 74).

3. The Lord of the Universe is relenting in wrath and strong of power, but will not hold the guilty guiltless ; the way of the Lord is in storm and whirlwind, and the cloud is the dust of his Shekinah.

The verse states that God bears with ' the wicked ' a long time, but eventually he calls them to account for what they have done to Israel. The words, the way of the Lord, $c, can be explained literally as referring to the day of punishment. Speaking allegorically the prophet compares the swiftness of the punishment with a gale. Thus will he hasten their punishment, ' when the time comes.' On that day the daylight will be darkened as by a thick cloud. ' The first explanation is, however, preferable.'

4. He rebuketh the sea and drieth it up, and he maketh dry all rivers, Bashan and the inhabited world languish, and the summit of Lebanon languishes.

5. The mountains quake at him, the hills crumble, and the earth is upheaved before him, the world and all its inhabitants.

The allegorical explanation of this verse points to the great kingdoms, Edom (Byzantium) and Ishmael (the Arabs) whose rule extends along the ocean over the world. Their armies toss about as the waves of the sea, but God rebukes them and destroys these kingdoms. The rivers are the great Emirs. Bashan and Carmel stand for the generals, Lebanon for the royal princes, and the mountains for the other kingdoms ; ' but the first explanation is more appropriate.'

6. Who can abide his rebuke, and who can stand in the fierceness of his anger ; his wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken by him.

The kings and warriors cannot abide his anger, his punishment destroys the wicked.

7. The Lord is good, yea, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and he knoweth them that seek his protection.

God is jealous and punishes the 'wicked of the world', but he delivers the ' pious and those who seek his protection ' from ' the misfortunes which befall the wicked.'

8. And with an overrunning torrent he works destruc- tion in their place, and darkness dogs his enemies.

Thus far the prophet speaks of the world as a whole, but all the following verses of the book relate to Nineveh. Should Babel be meant, then ' the torrent ' refers to the ' Kings of the North ' (see Dan. xi. 40, 44; Margoliouth, p. 41).

9. What do ye devise next to the Lord ? he is making a full end ; disaster will not stand against ye twice.

The people of Nineveh must not believe that God will only destroy one part of the city and save the other ; he will destroy all with one blow. Another interpreter says that he asks the people of Nineveh whether they think that God will destroy Israel, or that they (Israel) will meet with another [period of] trouble. ' The first explanation is much better.' (See Driver, p. 22.)

10. For though they be [like] thorns entangled, and drenched in their drink, they will be destroyed like dry and completely parched stubble.

The people of Nineveh, after having reached the limit of oppress- ing Israel, will be destroyed like thorns by fire. The words drenched in their drink mean : As they measured out drink to other nations, so will God mete out to them the cup of intoxica- tion. The last four words of the verse should be connected with the first four (see Introduction, p. 11).

11. Out of thee goeth forth one who devise th evil against the Lord, one that counsels iniquity.

The kings of Assyria went forth to destroy Israel. If referred to Babel, the Little Horn is meant. The words counsel of iniquity may refer either to Sanherib or to Babel, and the Man of the Spirit.

12. Thus says the Lord : since they are safe and likewise many, and even so shall they be cut down, and it (their yoke) shall pass away. I have afflicted thee, (but) I will not afflict thee for ever.

O Israel, since thou hast seen the people of Nineveh free from calamities and numerous, let this not perturb thee, because they shall certainly be cut off from their kingdom. Their yoke shall be removed from thy neck, and if I have oppressed thee long through them. I will do so no more.

13. And now I will break his yoke 1 from off thee, and thy bonds will I cut.

He will break their yoke which is upon Israel and deliver them from paying tribute and tax.

1 TOip probably Persian «-J}» a ' log or stick of wood', which would here correspond to inrt .

14. And the Lord commandeth concerning thee, no more of thy name shall be sown for ever ; out of the house of thy idol will I cut off the carved image and the molten image ; I will make thy grave, for thou art vile.

The verse is addressed to the counsel of iniquity (ver. n). The memory of his seed shall be cut off. If taken as referring to the past, the verse refers to Sanherib and his death in the temple of his God (2 Kings xix. 37). If, however, referred to the Little Horn, the verse speaks of Arabian rulers of Bagdad, and of the descendants of the Man of the Spirit. The house of thy idol refers to their holy shrine to which they make pilgrimages every year. The words / will maize thy grave may also be referred to the time when the pilgrims travel, and the ' Arms ' will rise against them, and slaughter them.

Ch. II. 1. Behold on the mountains the feet of one that bringeth good tidings, who announceth safety ; keep thy feasts, Judah, perform thy vows ; for the doer of evil shall no more pass through thee, he is utterly cut off.

If taken in the past tense, the verse refers to the failure of the kings of Assyria to conquer Jerusalem during the time of Heze- kiah, but if Babel is meant, then the verse refers to the future.

2. The scatterer has come over thy face ; guard thy fort, watch the road, make strong the loins, increase thy strength greatly.

Some commentators refer the verse to Nineveh, others to Judah. In the latter case the scatterer is Sanherib. If Nineveh is meant, the scatterer is the approaching enemy (Driver, p. 28). The words watch the road may be referred either to Nineveh's enemy or, mockingly, to the town itself.

3. For the Lord bringeth back the power of Jacob, as the power of Israel ; now they have overthrown them and destroyed their cities (?).

If the scatterer is the enemy that marches against Babel,[1] then the words the Lord bringeth bach agree with the opening words of the chapter. God will bring salvation by the Messiah who is the might of Jacob.

4. The shield of his mighty men is [of] red leather, men of valour, crimson through the glare of the torches ; [so are] the chariots on the day when they are ready [for battle], and the shafts of the spears quiver. (See Ibn Ezra.)

miba is the same as JViTsb (see also Ibn Janah ; Ges.-B., steel, but see Driver, p. 30). 1 I7jnn is derived from (the same root as) ■T>jnn reeling. The verse describes the equipment of the approach- ing enemy with their iron-proof shields of red leather and their coats of mail of the same colour. The glare of the torches can be taken either literally or figuratively, meaning that the chariots are glittering with polished weapons like fire. The shafts that quiver can refer to the spears, but may also mean that the leaders of either army tremble. ' Some people explain 7JT) *jD i! the cup (o*J>) of opinions ".'

5. The chariots rage in the streets, they overflow in the roads [or they clatter], their appearance is like torches, like lightnings do they run.

Having conquered the city the enemy fills the streets, roaring like mad men, not caring whom they slaughter.

6. He remembereth his grandees, they stumble in their march ; they rush to the walls of the city, and the bulwark is made secure.

This verse can be referred to the enemy as well as to the people of Nineveh. In the present case it is the attacking king who, having entered the city as victor, inquires into the whereabouts of the generals of Nineveh, whose fame had inspired him with fear. They stumble in their march on account of the large number of slain as intimated in iii. 3. The bulwark is made secure means the distribution of armed men on the pinnacles of the walls. If the verse be referred to Nineveh, it conveys that the generals are gathered together and lead their troops against the enemy, but in the confusion they stumble (see Ibn Ezra). * The first explanation is better established (see Driver, p. 31, who refers it to the

1 See Introduction, p. 4, and Plessner, Bibiiseke-s u. Rabbin., p. 49.


Assyrian king, but Marti, Dodekapropheton, refers it to the king of Nineveh).'

7. The gates of the rivers are broken through, and the palace is demolished.

The ' gates ' are the openings in the wall made by the Tigris, which enabled the enemy to conquer the city (see Driver, p. 32). As a consequence the inhabitants of the palace are heartbroken.

8. And he (the king) is pinned to the ground, whilst she (the queen) is driven forth and marches, and her maidens urge her gently on as it were with cooing tones, beating their breasts.

The king is lying on the ground, pierced by an arrow, whilst the queen is being brought into the country of the enemy. Her maidens urge her gently on, because she is pampered and not accustomed to put her foot on the ground. They all sigh and beat their breasts. Another commentator takes Hussab to be the king's name, and according to another it is the name of the queen (Driver, p. 32 ; Plessner, p. 50).

9. And Nineveh is like a pool of water from of old ; yet they flee, ' stand, stand,' but no one turns.

Nineveh is as full of people and wealth as a pool is full of water.

10. Take ye the spoil of silver, take ye the spoil of gold, there is no limit to the stores, greater than any coveted furniture.

The stores are the arsenals filled by the kings. The sack of the city is valuable because it was the residence of kings and mer- chants.

11. Desolate, void and wide open is she, with a melting heart and loosened knees ; tfemor is in all loins, and on all faces is the blackness of the pot.

Her villages, farmsteads are desolate, the fortress gates have been burst open. The fugitives are so panic-stricken that they are not able to flee, and blacken their faces (Driver: are waxed pale).


12. Where is the den of the lions, and the lions' feeding- place unto which the lion and the lioness and the lion's whelp go, and no one troubles them ?

13. A lion tears enough for his whelps, and strangles for his lionesses, he fills his caves with prey and his dens with rape.

The kings of Nineveh are compared to savage beasts. If applied to Babel, the words refer to Nebuchadnezzar, and to certain Persian and Arab rulers. Feeding-place for the lions means that they absorb, in form of tribute, the substance of other countries.

14. Behold I am (coming) against thee with revenge, says the Eternal God, I will burn their chariots in the smoke, and the sword shall devour thy young loins ; and I will cut off thy prey from the world, and the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard.

Refers to the slaughter of the troops and kings. The mes- sengers which carried the king's commands to the provinces and collected the tribute shall be cut off.

Ch. III. 1. the bloody city, all whose inhabitants are infidels : she is full [of injustice], robbery does not depart from her.

The kings of Assur and Babylon have shed innocent Israelitish blood. All her inhabitants practise idolatry. This can be referred to their unbelief in God, his prophets, and his law, because though the Little Horn externally professes the Unity of God, it practises apostasy in different ways. Another explanation is that they rob the people's property.

2. The sound of a whip and the noise of wheels and stamping horses and chariots and rearing steeds.

3. Horseman mounting, and the flashing of the sword, and the glitter of the spear, and the multitude of the slain, and the heap of corpses, they stumble over corpses.

These two verses concur with ii. 4.


4. Because of the multitude of the sin of the harlot who is of rich beauty and enchanting j she selleth nations by her extravagance and families by her witchcraft.

If explained in the direction of Babel, the verse describes the alluring ways of the Little Horn and its armed strength, by means of which the king holds power as alluded to in Dan. xi. 21. Its charm consists in the assertion that ' they possess a garden full of all that is good and pleasant '.

5. Behold, I am against thee, says the Eternal God ; I will lift thy skirt up to thy face, and will show thy nakedness to the nations, and thy vileness to the peoples.

6. And I will throw loathsomeness upon thee, and will make thee like a leper.

7. And every one who looks at thee shall flee from thee, and shall say : ' Nineveh has been despoiled. Who will bemoan her, whence shall I seek comforters for thee ? '

I will uncover the secrecy of her former conduct. She is like a harlot that first attracts and then repels. Thus, as soon as the way of the Man of the Spirit is laid open and people know its baseness, they flee from it. The word >fcO (ver. 6) has here the meaning of ' a person afflicted with leprosy, from whom men flee '.

8. Art thou better than the city of Alexandria which sitteth by the canals, water surrounds her, [she] who is a wall to the sea [rather] than the sea is a wall to her.

Nineveh, being surrounded by the waters of the Tigris, and by walls on the land side, the prophet asks her if she is stronger than Alexandria.

9. She to whom Ethiopia and Egypt gave strength, and without limit, and the people of Taft and Nubia did assist thee, Na Anion !

The last part of the sentence also refers to Na, Amon in spite of the change of the suffix, analogous to ver. 7.

10. She, too, is gone into captivity, her children also are dashed to pieces at the top of every street ; they cast


the lot for her nobles, and all her honoured ones are bound in fetters.

The women and old men have been spared, but all the young men are dead.

11. Thou also, Nineveh, shalt be drunken, thou shalt be hid ; thou also shalt seek the stronghold because of the enemy.

Thou shalt be drunken with misfortunes, and not remain in men's mind, as was the lot of other nations. Thou shalt live in protection (dimma) just as Israel, [dimma is the conditiou of protection under which Jews and Christians live in Moslem lands by paying the poll-tax.]

12. All thy castles shall be [like] fig trees with the first ripe fruit ; when they are shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater.

13. Behold thy people are like women in the midst of thee ; the gates of thy land have been conquered by thine enemies, fire has devoured thy bolts.

Thy people have neither courage nor discernment nor fighting power.

14. Get thee water for the siege, strengthen thy castles, go into the clay, tread the mortar, take hold of the brick mould.

Although the verte speaks in the imperative it is to be under- stood that the people of Nineveh have done all this.

15. There shall the fire devour thee, the sword shall cut thee off, it shall devour thee like the fly ; make thyself heavy as the fly, make thyself heavy as the locust.

The prophet compares the conflagration of the city and the slaughter of the inhabitants with the destruction caused by the fly which devours everything completely. The last words of the verse contain a satirical advice to collect a large army.


16. Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven, the fly descends and disappears.

Thou hast produced many merchants who brought thee many goods. Dost thou imagine that they will last all the time ? Nay, they will be like the fly which descends to the ground, fills it, but after a time disappears so completely that not one remains. Thus all those merchants who visit thee will depart each one to his city.

17. Thy saints are as the locusts and thy patriarchs are like grasshoppers that alight on the walls in the cold day ; but when the sun rises they fly away, and their place is not known, where they are.

Nineveh's nobles and wealthy citizens will fly away like these locusts.

18. Thy shepherds slumber, King of Assur; thy chiefs are at rest ; thy people have taken flight upon the mountains, and there is none who gathers them.

The shepherds are the king's viziers.

19. Thy hurt does not abate, painful is thy wound, all those that hear thy tale clap the hand over thee ; for upon whom hath not disaster come from thee continually ?

Which are the nations and kings who have not continually drunk from thy cup 1 i"li"D is verb as in Lev. xii. 6, but others take it as a noun.

  1. Bagdad