For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

3:1.  “Woe to the bloody city!  it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not;”

The prophet continues his announcement of the city’s doom by detailing some of the reasons that had impelled God to decree it.  In their rapacious cruelty they had wantonly shed the blood of their unoffending victims whose possessions they then carried back to Nineveh to stuff still further their houses that already bulged with plunder. 

The lies may have been false promises of peace and safety such as were given to Judah in the days of Hezekiah, see 2 Ki 18:31-32

3:2.  “The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the prancing horses, and of the jumping (bouncing) chariots.”

In vivid language he describes the coming invasion of Nineveh.  One can almost hear the crack of the charioteers’ whips urging on their horses, the responding thunder of their galloping hoofs, and the rattle of the chariot wheels whirling through the streets to bring death and destruction to a people who had so often rushed with the same fierce eagerness against countless unoffending cities and towns. 

3:3.  “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 invaders, with sword and spear, slaughter at will, so many carcases piling up in the streets that slayers and victims alike stumble over them.  How often had the Ninevites occupied an opposite role, never dreaming that a day was coming in which their part in the drama of life and death would be reversed!

3:4.  “Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well-favored harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts.”

Whoredoms and harlotry are terms used frequently in the OT to describe idolatry, i.e., the offering of worship to anyone or anything other than God.  Many varied forms of idolatry are indicated in the word “multitude”; and the description “well-favored harlot” suggests Nineveh’s attempts to present herself as being righteous, the word “well-favored” meaning gracious: kind: beautiful: pleasant: cheerful: joyful.  Her position of unchallenged supremacy amongst the nations had also deluded her into thinking that this was a further mark of the approval of her many gods. 

The reference therefore to her selling nations by means of her idolatry, seems to be the declaration that she was selling them into spiritual slavery and death by compelling them to also worship her gods.  Since, however, only Israel (the ten northern tribes), and Judah (Judah and Benjamin, the two southern tribes) made even a pretense of worshiping Jehovah, it seems that they were the people Assyria was “selling.”  But ultimately the attempt must have been to try to compel the believing remnant to forsake the worship of Jehovah, for only that faithful remnant refused to engage in the idolatry practiced by their unbelieving fellows.

“... witchcrafts” incidentally is related to the activity of the priests who led the people in their idolatrous worship, and refers to their use of magic, sorcery, incantations - the whispering, muttering, or chanting of magical spells.

3:5.  “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.”

The powerless nations might submit to her machinations, but unknown to her, she had an omnipotent Opponent Who was about to expose her, so that the begrudged and feigned admiration of the subject nations would give place to rejoicing at her downfall: her glory being exchanged for shame. 

The figure of that exposure is of an imperious, well dressed woman, suddenly having her clothes pulled up over her head exposing her nakedness to the mocking laughter of a ribald mob.

3:6.  “And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazingstock.”

Other translations render this, “pelt you with filth,” “treat you like excrement,” “cover you with filth ... show the world how really vile you are.”  As Nineveh had paraded prisoners, sometimes nude, through the streets where the people pelted them with stones and garbage, so would God, metaphorically parade her before the nations.

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?”

All who had formerly been compelled to stand before her in awe and pretended admiration, will hurry away from the loathsome spectacle of her stripped of the covering that had hidden the inward corruption, the sickening stench of her filth repelling them, as her outward glory had once attracted them.

It is impossible to read this description of Assyria’s end without being struck by the similarity of the language to that which describes also the end of the great harlot system that rules the world religiously today: see Re 17 and 18.

3:8.  “Art thou better than popular 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?”

No, No-Amon, Thebes are all names for the same place, the once famous capital of Egypt, situated on either side of the Nile about 330 miles in a straight line from Cairo, on what are better known as the sites of Karnak and Luxor.  It was powerful and fabulously wealthy, but in 663 BC it fell to the Assyrians who captured it and carried away all its treasure.

Its being described as “situate among the rivers,” stems from its having been built on both sides of the Nile, its defenses being described as follows: “The Nile, Nahum’s ‘rivers’, was truly Thebes’ defense.  The Late Period pharaohs made full use of its E Delta branches and irrigation and drainage canals as Egypt’s first line of defense, with sea-coast forts at the Nile mouths and across the road from Palestine - perhaps alluded to in the phrase ‘wall(s) from the sea’ (-coast inwards?).  To this protection was added Thebes’ great distance upstream, which invaders had to traverse to reach her” - The New Bible Dictionary.

Thebes and Nineveh had much in common: wealth, power, etc., and an imagined impregnability founded on the defense afforded by their rivers: Thebes having the Nile; and Nineveh, the Tigris.  Both were idolatrous, and both left Jehovah out of the reckoning, to their destruction.  Spiritually, in fact, they had much in common with our twenty-first century world, which in its proud self-confidence mocks the prophetic Scriptures which declare that  its doom is just as certain - and is now imminent!

3:9.  “Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was infinite; Put and Lubim were thy helpers.”

Little of certainty is known of Put and Lubim except this reference to their having unsuccessfully assisted Thebes against Assyria.

The implication of what is written here is that the combined forces of Ethiopia and Egypt were virtually invincible, and when there was added to it the additional strength of Put and Lubim the possibility of Thebes’ defeat was even more unlikely.  But she wasn’t invincible.  She was overthrown.  And now the time of seemingly invincible Nineveh’s destruction had also come.  She too was about to be destroyed, because she, like Thebes and many another great city, had defied the God Whose hand held their very breath.

3:10.  “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 honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains.”

As the surviving citizens of Thebes had been carried away captive by the Assyrians, so now would the surviving Assyrians also be carried captive by the Babylonians.  And as the young children of Thebes were dashed to death on the stones of the streets by the Assyrians, so may we perhaps presume that the Assyrian children would suffer a similar fate at the hand of the Babylonians.

The Assyrian captains had contemptuously cast lots for the great men of Thebes whom they would make their personal slaves, and perhaps the Babylonian captains did likewise with the great men of Assyria.  The chaining of the great men of Thebes in preparation for their being carried away as slaves was also to be duplicated, but this time with the Assyrians being led into captivity in chains by their Babylonian masters.

3:11.  “Thou also shalt be drunken: thou shalt be hid, thou also shalt seek strength because of the enemy.”

As noted already in our study of 1:10, the prediction relative to their being drunken was fulfilled through the attempt of the Assyrian king to boost morale by doling out extra food and liquor, with the result that the soldiers did indeed become drunk.

“... thou shalt be hid” is literally “you will be despised,”  as they were when the invaders saw them too drunk to fight.

Its being said that they would seek strength because of the enemy, is literally that they would seek a strong place, i.e., a refuge or hiding place where they would be safe from the enemy.  No such place, however, was to be found.

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 eater.”

This declares the worthlessness of all their fortifications in which they placed so much confidence.  Those walls, gates, towers, and moats would become the equivalent of fig trees, and the inhabitants like firstripe figs.  It would take as it were no more than the equivalent of a shake on the part of the invaders to have the inhabitants fall into their hands to be consumed as easily as a man would eat a ripe fig.  This too was accurately fulfilled.

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.”

With the washing away of the palace foundation and a large section of the city wall, and the inundation of the city by the rampaging flood waters, the fighting men would become as helpless as women.

With the walls breached the city might as well have had no gates, for the enemy was able to enter where he pleased; and what the flood waters didn’t destroy, the flames consumed, it being believed by many that it was the king himself, who in an act of final despair, deliberately set the palace ablaze, he and many of the royal household perishing in that fire.

3:14.  “Draw thee waters for the siege, fortify thy strong holds: go into clay, and tread the mortar, make strong the brickkiln.”

The drawing of waters refers to the storing of drinking water for use in the foretold coming siege; and the fortifying of the strong holds relates to the reinforcement of existing fortifications.  The mention of clay, mortar, and brickkilns has to do with mixing clay, bitumen, or mortar, and the making of bricks, for building - all of these being activities connected with the strengthening and repairing of the city fortifications.

All of this continues the prophet’s mocking advice to busy themselves with defense preparations which he knew would be a waste of time, for when it came God’s time to destroy the wicked city, all that man might do couldn’t stay God’s hand.

3:15.  “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.”

This is the assurance that every attempt to avert the coming judgment will be futile.  Fire and sword will destroy them.  As the cankerworm (locust) devours everything in its path, so will the Babylonians, as God’s instruments, destroy the Assyrians.  No matter how numerous the defenders of the city, they will simply be fodder for the all consuming fire of Divine fury.

3:16.  “Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven: the cankerworm spoileth, and fleeth away.”

This verse and the next have been variously interpreted, but it seems that the truth being declared is that even though they are as numerous as locusts which suddenly descend upon the countryside wreaking havoc, and then just as suddenly disappear, so would it be with them.  They too had been like a plague of locusts to the surrounding nations, but now God was about to take them away, just as He does the literal locusts.

With reference to the numerous Assyrian merchants, they were like locusts in that whereas an ordinary merchant must bargain whether in buying or selling, there was no bargaining with the Assyrians. With them might was right.  Like the locusts, they took what they wanted, and sold at their price.  Like the cankerworm they had spoiled the nations, but God was about to take them away.

3:17.  “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.”

Their princes and captains, i.e., their great men were as numerous as locusts (grasshoppers are larval stage locusts); but their camping in the hedges speaks of the brevity of their existence, for the word “camp” is synonymous with a brief stay, and is defined in Strong’s Concordance as “declining as the slanting rays of evening ... grow to an end.”  The emphasis therefore continues to be upon the fact that their days were numbered.  God was about to destroy them.

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.”

Their leaders were like sleeping shepherds: they were indifferent to the true needs of the people, neither knowing nor caring that their evil ways must eventually bring down the judgment of God; but those same nobles were soon to lie in the dust of death, while those of the people who managed to escape from the stricken city would be like scattered sheep with no one to lead them.

Some understand the slumber of the shepherds to be a euphemism for their being dead.

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?”

There was no hope for Assyria.  Her doom was irrevocable.  In the days of Jonah she had had opportunity to repent and abandon her evil ways, and it seemed at first as though she had, but the change was fleeting, affecting only Nineveh, not the whole empire.  Now, with her day of grace squandered in evil, she must perish. 

“Bruit” means “announcement, report, news, etc.,” so that what is being said is that all who hear the news of Assyria’s destruction would rejoice, they having been for so long the victims of her tyranny.

The record has been preserved, however, not just to inform us of the history of a past great evil empire, but to warn us against repeating her folly.  The nations, unfortunately, have ignored the lesson, and like Assyria, are blind and deaf to the warning in Scripture of the imminence of a still more terrible judgment that will bring this twenty-first century world to ruins in the quickly approaching seven year Tribulation.  And it is interesting to note that relative to that coming day, the name Assyria is used metaphorically of one of the evil powers that will then also be aligned with Christ’s foes.

But the warning is personal as well as national and global.  Assyria’s history is simply the mirror in which God bids every man see his own reflection, that nation’s wickedness being the counterpart of the sin in every man’s life, and the lesson God would have us learn is of the need to confess that sin, repent (forsake it), and be born again by simply believing that when the Lord Jesus Christ died it was in my place, for my sins, and by believing that in response to that confession and faith God pardons every sin, bestows His priceless gift of eternal life, and will receive me into heaven.

Without that confession of sinfulness, without repentance and faith in Christ as Savior, each man must suffer the judgment of God, Assyria’s destruction being but the foreshadowing of the  torment to be endured eternally in the lake of fire by everyone who dies without having been born again through faith in Christ as Savior.

[Lord willing, next week, Habakkuk 1]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough