Monday, April 15, 2013

Nahum 2:7-13 (Part 1)

7 its mistress is stripped; she is carried off, her slave girls lamenting, moaning like doves and beating their breasts. 8 Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. “Halt! Halt!” they cry, but none turns back. 9 Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of the treasure or of the wealth of all precious things. 10 Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale! 11 Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb? 12 The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh. 13 Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.

2:7 Our ESV has “mistress” in verse 7 for the Hebrew word “Huzzab,” which older English translations take as a proper noun and simply transliterate. The root of the Hebrew word implies one who stood beside the king, so it is seen likely to be a reference to the queen. It may also signify Nineveh personified as a queen – one who had long stood in the most supreme power and prosperity. Being carried off into exile is detailed and depicted in the language of the stripping and public humiliating of a woman. This was a powerful metaphor for a culture whose women were secluded. Compare this with Isaiah 47: 2, 3 where the same image of a woman with her face and legs exposed is used of a city that has be taken captive and dismantled, which can also be compared to 3:5 of this book. The people will be carried off, or as the Hebrew has it, “brought up,” (a synonym for captivity).

Many interpreters think “huzzab” to be the name of the queen. Hence, we are told that the queen is gone into exile. I agree with Calvin that this view is a bit too strained. Nothing in the text indicates that this is a proper noun. It seems correct rather to say that this word is a personification of the whole empire. The root of the word means ‘to stand’ or ‘to be fixed in place,’ hence as a personification it is particularly poignant because we are told that she who thought she was immovable is going to be moved. 

If we prefer the notion that this refers to the queen personally, then the meaning would be much the same: the queen, who before sat in the midst of her pleasures, shall be violently drawn into exile, and carried away to another country. And it may even be probable that Nahum does refer to the queen, as a personification of the whole empire, thus conflating both views, because it immediately follows, Her handmaids lead her as with the voice of doves, and smite on their breasts; that is, her maids, who before flattered her, shall laments and with sighing and tears, and mourning, shall lead away, as a captive, their own mistress. Thus the context would harmonize.

Nineveh has been compared to a dishonored and dethroned queen, so here the image is intensified with the mention of her handmaidens mourning and moaning like doves. The coo of a dove sound forlorn and sad, hence it is an apt analogy for sighing and weeping. The handmaidens are likely, as Jerome (347-420) understood it, the minor cities and surrounding areas that were totally dependent on Nineveh for their sustenance and prosperity. It is easy to forget that Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, and although, the whole Empire’s prosperity was not dependent purely upon Nineveh’s economy, it was dependent upon Nineveh’s power. Once the capital of an Empire goes down, the whole empire quickly fragments back into its former territories, only now there are ill-equipped for autonomy. Hence widespread economic ruin ensues.

2:8 Many of Nahum’s details have been verified, even incidentally, by archaeology. Skeletons in armor have been exhumed from rubble; 20,000 clay tablets written in cuneiform have been discovered from Sargon’s library; walls have been unearthed; and contemporary records have been found which include details which would have been unknown otherwise.

Nahum’s prophecy lists the following items as part of Nineveh’s destruction:

An "overflowing flood" would "make an utter end of its place" (Nah. 1:8)
Nineveh would be destroyed while her inhabitants were "drunken like drunkards" (Nah. 1:10)
Nineveh would be unprotected because "fire shall devour the bars of your gates" (Nah. 3:13)
Nineveh would never recover, for their "injury has no healing" (Nah. 3:19)
The downfall of Nineveh would come with remarkable ease, like figs falling when the tree is shaken (Nah. 3:12)

In 612 B.C. Nabopolassar united the Babylonian army with an army of Medes and Scythians and led a campaign which captured the Assyrian citadels in the North. The Babylonian army laid siege to Nineveh, but the walls of the city were too strong for battering rams, so they decided to try and starve the people out. A famous oracle had been given that "Nineveh should never be taken until the river became its enemy. After a three month siege, "rain fell in such abundance that the waters of the Tigris inundated part of the city and overturned one of its walls for a distance of 12,600 feet (2.38 miles). Then the King, convinced that the oracle was accomplished and despairing of any means of escape, to avoid falling alive into the enemy's hands, locked himself and his entire family (wives, concubines, eunuchs, children) in the palace and built a huge funeral pyre, placed on it his gold and silver and his royal robes, and died with his family in the blaze. Nineveh was pillaged and burned, and then razed to the ground so completely that as to evidence the implacable hatred enkindled in the minds of subject nations by the fierce and cruel Assyrian government." (Lenormant and E. Chevallier, The Rise and Fall of Assyria) , Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume 1, 1905.

The Assyrian Empire was known for its cruelty. "Judged from the vaunting inscriptions of her kings, no power more useless, more savage, more terrible, ever cast its gigantic shadow on the page of history as it passed on the way to ruin. The kings of Assyria tormented the miserable world. They exult to record how 'space failed for corpses'; how unsparing a destroyer is their goddess Ishtar; how they flung away the bodies of soldiers like so much clay; how they made pyramids of human heads; how they burned cities; how they filled populous lands with death and devastation; how they reddened broad deserts with carnage of warriors; how they scattered whole countries with the corpses of their defenders as with chaff; how they impaled 'heaps of men' on stakes, and strewed the mountains and choked rivers with dead bones; how they cut off the hands of kings and nailed them on the walls, and left their bodies to rot with bears and dogs on the entrance gates of cities; how they employed nations of captives in making brick in fetters; how they cut down warriors like weeds, or smote them like wild beasts in the forests, and covered pillars with the flayed skins of rival monarchs." (Farrar, The Minor Prophets, pp. 147,148). 1831

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