Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not;
Verses 1-19. - Part III. THE CAUSE OF THE JUDGMENT - SINS OF THE CITY, WHICH BRING INEVITABLE PUNISHMENT. Verses 1-7. - § 1. The prophet specifies the crimes which have brought this ruin upon Nineveh. Verse 1. - The bloody city; literally, city of bloods, where Mood is shed without scruple (comp. Ezekiel 24:6, 9; Habakkuk 2:12). The cruelty of the Assyrians is attested by the monuments, in which we see or read how prisoners were impaled alive, flayed, beheaded, dragged to death with ropes passed through rings in their lips, blinded by the king's own hand, hung up by hands or feet to die in slow torture (see Bonomi, pp. 168, etc., 190, etc., 225). Others have their brains beaten out, or their tongues torn out by the roots, while the bleeding heads of the slain are tied round the necks of the living, who are reserved for further torture (Layard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 456; Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 2:503, etc., edit. 1864). The royal inscriptions recount with exultation the number of the enemies slain and of captives carried away, cities levelled with the ground, plundered, and burnt, lands devastated, fruit trees destroyed, etc. It is all full of lies; ὅλη ψευδής, "all lie" (Septuagint). The Assyrians used treachery in furthering their conquests, made promises which they never kept, to induce nations to submit to their yoke. Such, doubtless, were those of Rabshakeh (Isaiah 36:16). Rawlinson, "Falsehood and treachery... are often employed by the strong, as furnishing short cuts to success, and even, where the moral standard is low, as being in themselves creditable (see Thucyd., 3:83). It certainly was not necessity which made the Assyrians covenant breakers; it seems to have been in part the wantonness of power - because they 'despised the cities, and regarded no man' (Isaiah 33:8); perhaps it was in part also their imperfect moral perception, which may have failed to draw the proper distinction between craft and cleverness" ('Ancient Monarchies,' 1:305). Robbery; rather, rapine, or rending in pieces. The figure applies to the way in which a wild beast kills its prey by tearing it to pieces. So the three crimes of Nineveh here enumerated are bloodshed, deceit, and violence. In the uncertainty concerning the word (pereq). rendered "robbery," which only occurs m Obadiah 1:14, where it means "crossway," the LXX. translates, ἀδικίας πλήρης, "full of unrighteousness." The Vulgate is correct, dilaceratione plena. The prey departeth not. They go on in the same way, gathering spoil into the city, never ceasing from this crime. The monuments continually record the booty that was brought to Nineveh (see, for instance, the 'Annals of Assurbanipal,' passim; 'Records of the Past,' vol. 9; Schrader, 'Keilinschr.,' 195, etc., 216, 233, etc.; comp. Isaiah 33:1). Septuagint, Οὐ ψηλαφηθήσεται θήρα, which gives a sense contradictory to the text, "Prey shall not be handled."
The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the pransing horses, and of the jumping chariots.
Verse 2. - The noise of a whip. The prophet describes the advance of the investing army. He hears the cracking of the whips of the charioteers, and the rattling of the wheels of the chariots, and the galloping horses, and the chariots bounding over the plain. Probably all the expressions in this verso refer to chariots and to horses yoked to them, which varied in number from one to three. The whip was a simple thong attached to a short handle. Comp. Virg., 'Georg.,' 3:106, etc. -
"... illi instant verbere torto
Et proni dant lora, volat vi fervidus axis;
Jamque humiles, jamque elati sublime videntur
Aera per vacuum ferri, atque adsurgere in auras."
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:
Verse 3. - The horseman lifteth up. The Hebrew is more vivid, the words standing in pairs, as if describing the successive onsets of the enemy. So Pusey. It is best to render, "horsemen making to rear;" or as Septuagint. ἱππέως ἀναβαίνοντος, "horseman mounting;" so the Vulgate; Henderson. Horsemen are seen in the most ancient sculptures of Nimroud, and in the bas-reliefs of Kouyunjik (comp. Judith 2:15; Ezekiel 23:6; Layard, ' Nineveh,' 2:356). Both the bright sword; better, and the flaming sword (Genesis 3:24); literally, the flame of the sword. And the glittering spear; literally, the lightning flash of the spear (Habakkuk 3:11). These are the arms of the foot soldiers. A multitude of slain. The effect of the assault is described. So numerous are the corpses that one cannot help stumbling over them; the invaders themselves are impeded by the heaps of dead bodies which they have to mount. The LXX. connects this verse with the following, thus. "They shall grow weak in their bodies by reason of the multitude of their fornications."
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.
Verse 4. - The cause is given that has brought this punishment. Because of the multitude of the whoredoms. This term is commonly applied to idolatry, the swerving from the true God and turning to false deities; and it is thought that it cannot be used in that sense here, as Assyria had always worshipped idols, and could not be said to have forsaken or proved false to the Lord. Hence Hitzig, Keil, and others refer the term to the treacherous friendship and crafty politics by which Nineveh ensnared other states, seeking really only her own interests (comp. Isaiah 23:17). But this habit of treachery has been already mentioned in ver. 1 (where see note); and, as Knabenbauer remarks, the Assyrians used no meretricious blandishments to effect their conquests, but the cruel arts of war and the stern ordeal of the sword. It is scarcely probable that the prophet would omit idolatry among the crimes of the Assyrians that called for vengeance, as all their wars were carried on in the name of their gods, and the monarchs professed to be under Divine protection and influence. The term "whoredom" is applied to the idolatry, not only of the Israelites, but to that of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:22), who was always a heathen. The idolatry of the Assyrians may very well be so called, because it was a wilful ignoring of the light of nature and natural religion (see Wisd. 13:1; Romans 1:19, etc.). They were careful, too, wherever they carried their arms, to erect there symbols of their deities, and to compel conquered nations to receive them and pay them Divine honour. With this idolatrous worship was associated that gross immorality which even Herodotus (1:199) termed utterly disgraceful (comp. Baruch 6:43). Rightly is Nineveh called the well favoured harlot; for her splendour and magnificence were unsurpassed, dazzling all beholders and hiding the rottenness that lay below the surface. The mistress of witchcrafts. She was skilful in employing every art to seduce nations to her side. We hear much of magic in connection with Babylon and the Chaldeans, but not in reference especially to Assyria. The expression here is metaphorical, alluding to the secret practices which she employed to gain her ends and to make her rule attractive (comp. Revelation 18:2, 3). That selleth nations. Depriving them of freedom and making them tributary, or, in some cases, actually selling the inhabitants as slaves (comp. Deuteronomy 32:30; Judges 2:14; Joel 3:3; Amos 1:6, 7). Families. Not only nations in the aggregate, but smaller bodies, individuals, so that none escape. Septuagint, λαούς, "peoples."
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.
Verse 5. - I am against thee (see note on Nahum 2:13). The Lord will punish Nineveh with the utmost ignominy, treating her ("the whore," ver. 4) like a harlot or adulteress. Thy skirts. The borders of the long flowing dress which added to her pomp (comp. Isaiah 47:2, etc.; Jeremiah 13:26; Lamentations 1:8). Upon (before) thy face. So that thou mayst know thine own shame. I will show the nations. All men shall see what thou really art, like an adulteress haled before the congregation.
And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazingstock.
Verse 6. - The metaphor is continued. Nineveh shall be like a vile woman exposed to the insults and ill treatment of the rabble (comp. Ezekiel 16:37, etc.). A gazing-stock. That all may see thee and take warning. LXX., εἰς παράδειγμα, "for a public example," which recalls Matthew 1:19.
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?
Verse 7. - Shall flee from thee. As an object of disgust, or fearing to be involved in thy ruin (Revelation 18:10, 15). Who will bemoan her? No one will pity her for her well deserved chastisement (Jeremiah 15:5). Whence shall I seek, etc.? Truly, nowhere in all the world (comp. Isaiah 51:19).
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?
Verses 8-13. - § 2. The ruin of Nineveh can be averted no more than was that of No-Amon. Verse 8. - Art thou better than populous No? "Better" probably means here more prosperous. "Populous No" ought to be rendered, No-Amon, i.e. No of the solar god Amon. This is the celebrated Thebes, in Upper Egypt, called in Egyptian Pa-Amun, "the House of Amun," and in the inscriptions Ni, which is the same word as No. The name Amon is attached because that god was particularly worshipped there. The LXX. has μερίδα Ἀμμών ("a portion of or for Ammon"), translating the word "No." St. Jerome, misled by his Hebrew teacher, renders, "Alexandria populorum," as if Thebes stood on the site of the much later city of Alexandria; whereas we see from Assurbanipal's annals that he was forty days marching from Memphis, where he defeated Rudammon, to Thebes (see G. Smith, 'Assurbanipal,' p. 55). On the grandeur and magnificence of this city, Denon (quoted by Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 1:309, note 7), writes, "On est fatigue d'ecrire, on est fatigue de lire, on est epouvante de la pensee d'une telle conception; on ne peut croire, meme apres l'avoir vu, a la realite de l'existence de tant de constructions reunies sur un meme point, a leurs dimensions, a la constance obstinee qu'a exigee leur fabrication, aux depenses incalculables de taut de somptuosite" ('Egypte,' 2:226). "In the long and rich valley of the Lower Nile, which extends above five hundred miles from Syene to Memphis, almost any situation might furnish a site for a great city, since, except at Silsilis and at the Gebelein, the valley is never less than two miles wide, the soil is always fertile, good quarries are always at hand, and lavish Nature is so bounteous with her gifts that abundant sustenance can at any point be obtained for a large population. But in this wealth of eligible sites, there are still degrees of eligibility - spots which Nature has distinguished by special favour, and, as it were, marked out for greatness and celebrity. Such a position is that which the traveller reaches when, passing through the gorge of the Gebelein, he emerges upon the magnificent plain, at least ten miles in width, through which the river flows with a course from southwest to northeast for a distance of some forty miles between Erment and Qobt. Here, for the first time since quitting the Nubian desert, does the Nile enter upon a wide and ample space. On either side the hills recede, and a broad green plain, an alluvium of the richest description, spreads itself out on both banks of the stream, dotted with dom and date palms, sometimes growing singly, sometimes collected into clumps or groves. Here, too, there open out on either side, to the east and to the west, lines of route offering great advantages for trade, on the one hand with the Lesser Oasis and so with the tribes of the African interior, on the other with the western coast of the Red Sea and the spice region of the opposite shore. In the valley of Hammamat, down which passed the ancient route to the coast, are abundant supplies of breccia verde and of other valuable and rare kinds of stone, while at no great distance to the right and left of the route lie mines of gold, silver, and lead, anciently prolific, though exhausted now for many ages. Somewhat more remote, yet readily accessible by a frequented route, was the emerald region of Gebel Zabara, where the mines are still worked" (Rawlinson, 'Ancient Egypt,' 2:124, etc.). Thebes was situated on both banks of the Nile, the principal portion lying on the east; the Necropolis and Memnonia were on the west. It seems never to have been surrounded with a wall (notwithstanding its "hundred gates"), the river and canals forming a sufficient defence. At the present time the ruins are some twenty-seven miles in circuit, including Luxor and the remains of the great temple at Karnak. The sea. The Nile formed its rampart. Great rivers are called seas in the poetical books. Thus Isaiah 19:5; Isaiah 27:1; Jeremiah 51:36. Her wall was from the sea; or, of the sea. The sea was her wall. Septuagint, ὅδωρ τὰ τείχη αὐτῆς, "water her walls."
Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was infinite; Put and Lubim were thy helpers.
Verse 9. - Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength. Urdamaneh, or Rudammon, in whose time this capture of No-Amon took place, was son and successor of Tirhalrah, who is called expressly King of Ethiopia (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9). Egypt. The Egyptians proper, combined with the Ethiopians, formed the kingdom of Egypt under the twenty-fifth, the Ethiopian, dynasty. And it was infinite. The power of Egypt was boundless, its forces in numerable (see 2 Chronicles 12:3). Pusey notes a remark of Cato (in Steph. Byzant. ap. Boch., 4:27) that the Egyptians connected with Thebes amounted to seven millions. In Isaiah 18-20. Ethiopia and Egypt are represented as combined against Assyria, and conquered by it (Wordsworth). Septuagint, Οὐκ ἔστῃ τέρας τῆς φυγῆς, There was no limit of the flight. This is thought by Jerome to be connected with the previous verses, and to refer to Nineveh. Put and Lubim were thy helpers. No- Amon is here suddenly addressed. Put, or Punt, designates either a part of Arabia or that part of the coast of Egypt opposite to it (see Ebers, 'AEgypt. und die Buch. Mos.,' p. 64, etc.). Luhim are the Lybians, dwelling on the west of the Canopic mouth of the Nile. Thus the enumeration of the forces of Thebes is regularly arranged, beginning with the south, Ethiopia, then through Egypt proper to the north, and then to the provinces on the east and west (Knabenbauer). The Vulgate translates the two terms, Africa et Libya. The LXX. combines them in one, Λίβυες. These peoples are named together elsewhere: e.g. Jeremiah 46:9; Ezekiel 27:10; Ezekiel 30:5; Ezekiel 38:5.
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.
Verse 10. - Yet was she carried away. In spite of her strong position and infinite resources, Thebes was captured and despoiled; and shall Nineveh fare better? Surely not. This capture of Thebes took place B.C. 664, and must have been in men's minds when Nahum wrote his prophecy. The Assyrians twice took Thebes in the days of Assurbanipal. The first time it is merely recorded that the soldiers, under the commander of the satraps, made a slaughter in the city. The second capture is thus described in the monarch's own tablet (Brugsch, 'Egypt,' 1:272-275, Eng. transl.): "Urdamaneh fled alone, and entered Thebes, the city of his kingdom... I directed my march in pursuit of him. I came to Thebes. He saw the strength of my army, and left Thebes, and fled to the city of Kipkip. Of that whole city (Thebes), with thanksgiving to Asur and Istar, my hands took the complete possession. Silver, gold, metals, stones, all the treasures of its palace whatsoever, dyed garments of before and linen, great horses [elephants?] men and women, great and small, works of zakah [basalt?] and marble, their kelal and manzas, the gates of their palace... I tare away and carried to Assyria. I made spoil of the animals of the land without number, and carried them forth in the midst out of Thebes I caused a catalogue to be made of the spoil. I returned in safety to Nineveh" (see a different version in O. Smith, 'Assurbanipal,' p. 52, etc.). Were dashed in pieces. The prophet describes the usual treatment of captured cities (comp. 2 Kings 8:12; Psalm 137:9; Isaiah 13:16). At the top of all the streets. In the most public places, where many streets converge (Lamentations 2:19). Cast lots. The victors divided the nobles among themselves by lot (see note on Obadiah 1:11). Were bound in chains. We find in the Assyrian monuments delineations of captives with their arms bound together by a rope held by a soldier, sometimes men, sometimes women and children; the women are tearing their hair in despair (see Bonomi, 'Nineveh and its Palaces,' pp. 226, 277). In a bas-relief at Khorsabad captives were led by a rope fastened to a ring in the lip (comp. 2 Kings 19:28; see Rawlinson, 'Ant. Men.,' 1:904; Layard, 'Nineveh,' fig. 60, and col. 1. p. 376).
Thou also shalt be drunken: thou shalt be hid, thou also shalt seek strength because of the enemy.
Verse 11. - Thou also shalt be drunken. Nahum makes the application: The fate of Thebes shall be thine, O Nineveh. Thou shalt drink to the full the cup of God's wrath (see note on Obadiah 1:16; and comp. Jeremiah 25:15, 17, 27). The metaphor indicates the effect of some overwhelming calamity that makes men reel with terror or stupefies them with amazement. Thou shalt be hid; thou shalt be powerless, or reduced to nothing; Ασῃ ὑπερεωραμένη,"Thou shalt be despised" (Septuagint); Eris despecta (Vulgate). Nineveh, which was taken and destroyed between B.C. 626 and 608, was so effectually "hidden" that its very site was discovered only in late years, and its monuments have only been partially disinterred after immense labour. Thou also shalt seek strength because of the enemy; or, thou also shalt seek a stronghold from the enemy. As the Egyptians fled for refuge from one place to another (see note on ver. 10), so shall the Assyrians attempt in vain to escape the enemy. History records that they endeavoured to effect a retreat from Nineveh during the siege (see Introduction, § I.).
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 eater.
Verse 12. - Shall be like (are) fig trees with the first ripe figs. The Assyrians' fortresses are as ready for destruction and as easy to destroy as ripe figs are ready to fall from the tree at the least shake of the eater (Isaiah 28. S).
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.
Verse 13. - The reason why the fortresses are so readily taken is now given. Are women. The Assyrians were essentially a brave nation, but they should be now no more able to resist the enemy than if they were women (comp. Isaiah 19:16; Jeremiah 1:37; 51:30). The gates of thy land. The various approaches and passes which lead into Assyria (comp. Jeremiah 15:7; Micah 5:6). So Strabo (11:12. 13) speaks of certain mountain passes as "the Caspian gates" and Xenophon ('Anab.' 1:4. 4) mentions "the gates of Cilicia and Syria." The famous defile that led into Greece was called Thermopylae The fire shall devour thy bars. Hitzig, Keil, and others take the "bars" metaphorically, meaning the forts and castles which defend the passes; but the literal sense is the most natural, as in the parallel passage, Jeremiah 51:30 (see note on Amos 1:5). It was the Assyrians' custom to set fire to the gates of any city that they attacked (see Bonomi, 'Nineveh and its Palaces,' pp. 178, 185, 192). "It is incontestable," says Bonomi, in another place, "that, during the excavations, a considerable quantity of charcoal, and even pieces of wood either half burnt or in a perfect state of preservation, were found in many places. The lining of the chambers also bears certain marks of the action of fire. All these things can be explained only by supposing the fall of a burning roof, which calcined the slabs of gypsum, and converted them into dust .... It must have been a violent and prolonged fire to be able to calcine not only a few places, but every part of these slabs, which were ten feet high and several inches thick. So complete a decomposition can be attributed but to intense heat" (ibid., p. 213).
Draw thee waters for the siege, fortify thy strong holds: go into clay, and tread the morter, make strong the brickkiln.
Verses 14-19. - § 3. In spite of all its efforts and all its resources, Nineveh shall meet with a terrible end. Verse 14. - Nahum ironically bids the Ninevites prepare for the siege they were about to sustain. Draw thee waters for the siege. The drinking water necessary for a long siege is meant. This injunction is not particularly applicable to Nineveh, which from its situation was abundantly supplied with water, unless there was danger that the enemy would divert the courses of the rivers. But the warning would come home with peculiar force to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, among whom Nahum prophesied (2 Kings 20:20; Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 30:20). Fortify thy strong holds; strengthen thy fortresses. Repair all defects in thy defences (2 Chronicles 11:11). The mode of doing this in the Assyrian fashion is then denoted. Go into clay, and tread the mortar. The soil round Nineveh was of a tenacious quality; and when moistened with water and kneaded either with feet or hands, with the addition usually of a little chopped straw, was easily formed into bricks. These, even without the aid of fire, became dry and hard in the course of a few days. But it is plain from the investigations of ruins that the Assyrians used both kiln-baked and sun-dried bricks, though the mass of the walls was usually composed of the latter, the more durable material being employed merely as an accessory (see Bouomi, 'Nineveh and its Palaces,' p. 9; Layard, 'Nineveh,' 2:252). Xenophon, 'Anab.,' 3:4. 11, speaks of the brick wall (πλίνθινον τεῖχος) of a town he calls Mespila. Make strong the brick kiln. There is an uncertainty about the meaning of the last word (malben), which occurs only in two other places (2 Samuel 12:31 and Jeremiah 43:9). In the latter passage it may possibly mean "a square" or "open quadrangle." Jerome has, tene laterem; the LXX., κατακράτησον ὑπερ πλίνθον "make them strong above (equivalent to 'stronger than') brick," connecting it with the following verse. Some translate it, "brick mould." If the Anglican Version is correct, the prophet bids them repair their kilns, unused in the days of prosperity, when they had no need to look to the security of their walls. Virtually the same sense is elicited by rendering, "lay hold of the brick mould."
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.
Verse 15. - There. In the very place where thou hast taken all these precautions. Shall the fire devour thee. That fire played a great part in the destruction of Nineveh is asserted by historians and proved by the remains of the city discovered in modern times (see note on ver. 13: also Herod., 1:106; Diod. Sic., 2:25-28; Athen., 12:529). The fate of the last king, who burnt himself and his palace, is a well known story (see Justin, 'Hist.,' 1:3; Eusebius, 'Chronicles,' 1:9; 14:3; 15:7; Syncell., 'Chronicles,' 1:396, edit. Dind.) (Kuabenbauer). The sword shall cut thee off. While fire destroys the buildings, the sword shall devour the inhabitants of the city. The cankerworm; literally, the licker (Joel 1:4). The locust in its earlier stage is thus described (see ver. 16). The figure implies that the destruction of Nineveh should be sudden and complete, as that wrought on vegetation by an inroad of locusts. Make thyself many. Collect thine armies, gather hosts as innumerable as the locusts, it will be all in vain. The "cankerworm" represented the enemy; the "locusts" represent the Assyrians themselves.
Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven: the cankerworm spoileth, and flieth away.
Verse 16. - Its extensive commercial relations shall not save it. Thou hast multiplied thy merchants. Nineveh was most favourably situated for carrying on commerce with other countries. The roads from Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and Phoenicia, that led into Media, Persia, and the interior of Asia, converged at Nineveh, and brought thither merchandise from all lands; and the Assyrians themselves exported their own produce and manufactures to the far West. Among these are enumerated textile fabrics, carpets, dyed attire, and embroidered work, carvings in ivory, gems, spices (see Rawlinson, 'Anc. Mon.,' 2:179, etc.; Layard, 'Nineveh,' 2:414, etc.). The cankerworm spoileth; or, spreadeth itself for plunder; Vulgate, expansus est; Septuagint, ὥρμησεν, "attacked." The cankerworm (see note on ver. 15) are the enemy,who spread themselves over the rich produce of Nineveh, and then flee away laden with spoil. Pusey makes the cankerworm represent Nineveh. She spread herself everywhere wasting and plundering, and now she is gone, has disappeared. But the former explanation better suits the comparison in ver. 15, where "the licker" is the enemy; and it is most natural that the prophet should allude to the fate of that commercial wealth which he has just mentioned, as in previous verses he contrasts the riches and power of Nineveh with the ruin that awaits them.
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.
Verse 17. - Thy crowned. The word minnezar is found only here, and, as its derivation is uncertain, it has received various interpretations. The Anglican Version derives the word from nezer, "a diadem," and "the crowned" are the officials of upper rank. "High officers of state in Assyria were adorned with diadems, closely resembling the lower baud of the royal mitre, separated from the cap itself. Very commonly the head was encircled with a simple fillet or hoop, probably of gold, without any adornment" (Gosse, 'Assyria,' p. 463, quoted by Strauss; see the figures in Bonomi, p. 319). Others derive it from nazar. "to separate," in the signification of "those separated or selected for war." Septuagint, ὁ συμμικτός: i.e. the band of mixed mercenary troops - a rendering in which Wordsworth acquiesces. Knabenbauer (referring to Strassmaier's Assyrian vocabulary) considers the word to be a transliteration (ss being resolved into ne) of the Assyrian ma-as-sa-ru, which means "guardian," or some inferior officer. With this agrees the Vulgate custodes. As the locusts; i.e. in multitude. That the number of captains and superior officers would be very great may be conjectured from the inscriptions which sometimes enumerate the captives carried off from conquered countries. Thus in the account of the capture of some insignificant nation, the then king boasts that he took away 13,000 fighting men, 1121 captains, and 460 superior officers (Strauss, in loc.). The prophet's meaning is that if the officers, etc., are so numerous, the multitude of soldiers and civilians must be truly immense. Thy captains. Taphsar is an Assyrian word, occurring only in Jeremiah 51:27. It is probably the same as dupsarru or dipsarru of the inscriptions, and is taken to signify "a scribe" (see Sehrader, p. 424) Such officials are often represented on the monuments (see Layard, 2:184), and seem sometimes to have been of high or priestly rank. Jerome translates, parvuli tui, though in Jeremiah, loc. cit., he retains the Assyrian word. The Septuagint omits it. Great grasshoppers; swarms of locusts (Amos 7:1). Which camp in the hedges in the cold day. Locusts become torpid in cold weather; so the captains and princes of Nineveh are paralyzed and useless in the day of calamity. They flee away. Thus the Assyrian army perishes and leaves no trace behind. The LXX. adds, "Woe unto them!"
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.
Verse 18. - Thy shepherds. The princes and counsellors, on whom the safety of the state depends. Slumber. Sleep the sleep of death - slain in the war (Psalm 76:6). O King of Assyria. The power and evil of Nineveh personified, not any particular king. Shall dwell in the dust; are lying, or are at rest, in death; Septuagint, Ἐκοίμισε τοὺς δυνάστας σου, "Put to sleep thy mighty men" (comp. Euripides, 'Hec.,' 473, where κοιμίζειν is used in the sense of "to slay"): Vulgate, sepelientur. Is scattered upon the mountains. Their shepherds being dead, the flock, the herd of common people, is scattered abroad and perishes, because no man gathereth them - there is no one to collect them. "The mountains" referred to are those which shut in Assyria on the north.
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?
Verse 19. - There is no healing of thy bruise; there is no assuaging of thy hurt (Revised Version; Jeremiah 10:19). The ruin is irretrievable; no one shall restore the destroyed kingdom (see Zephaniah 2:13, 14). Thy wound is grievous; Pessima est plaga tua (Vulgate); Ἐφλέγμανεν ἡ πληγή σου, "Thy wound is inflamed." The "wound" is the stroke or plague inflicted by God (Leviticus 26:21). Shall clap the hands over thee. All who hear of thy destruction will rejoice over it (Psalm 47:1; Lamentations 2:15). Thy wickedness. The cruelty and oppression of Nineveh have been universally felt. If Edom is the type of insidious foes of the Church's own household, Nineveh is the emblem of open, blaspheming infidelity, arrayed in powerful opposition against God's people. In the overthrow of this kingdom there is a prophecy of the destruction of all anti-Christian powers, which shall be utterly crushed in the latter days.