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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 2–8
Verses 2–8

Nineveh knows not God, that God that contends with her, and therefore is here told what a God he is; and it is good for us all to mix faith with that which is here said concerning him, which speaks a great deal of terror to the wicked and comfort to good people; for this glorious description of the Sovereign of the world, like the pillar of cloud and fire, has a bright side towards Israel and a dark side towards the Egyptians. Let each take his portion from it; let sinners read it and tremble; let saints read it and triumph. The wrath of God is here revealed from heaven against him enemies, his favour and mercy are here assured to his faithful loyal subjects, and his almighty power in both, making his wrath very terrible and his favour very desirable.

I. He is a God of inflexible justice, a jealous God, and will take vengeance on his enemies; let Nineveh know this, and tremble before him. Their idols are insignificant things; there is nothing formidable in them. But the God of Israel is greatly to be feared; for, 1. He resents the affronts and indignities done him by those that deny his being or any of his perfections, that set up other gods in competition with him, that destroy his laws, arraign his proceedings, ridicule his word, or are abusive to his people. Let such know that Jehovah, the one only living and true God, is a jealous God, and a revenger; he is jealous for the comfort of his worshippers, jealous for his land (Joel 2:18), and will not have that injured. He is a revenger, and he is furious; he has fury (so the word is), not as man has it, in whom it is an ungoverned passion (so he has said, Fury is not in me, Isa. 27:4), but he has it in such a way as becomes the righteous God, to put an edge upon his justice, and to make it appear more terrible to those who otherwise would stand in no awe of it. He is Lord of anger (so the Hebrew phrase is for that which we read, he is furious); he has anger, but he has it at command and under government. Our anger is often lord over us, as theirs that have no rule over their own spirits, but God is always Lord of his anger and weighs a path to it, Ps. 78:50. 2. He resolves to reckon with those that put those affronts upon him. We are told here, not only that he is a revenger, but that he will take vengeance; he has said he will, he has sworn it, Deut. 32:40, 41. Whoever are his adversaries and enemies among men, he will make them feel his resentments; and, though the sentence against his enemies is not executed speedily, yet he reserves wrath for them and reserves them for it in the day of wrath. Against his own people, who repent and humble themselves before him, he keeps not his anger for ever, but against his enemies he will for ever let out his anger. He will not at all acquit the wicked that sin, and stand to it, and do not repent, Nah. 1:3. Those wickedly depart from their God that depart, and never return (Ps. 18:21), and these he will not acquit. Humble supplicants will find him gracious, but scornful beggars will not find him easy, or that the door of mercy will be opened to a loud, but late, Lord, Lord. This revelation of the wrath of God against his enemies is applied to Nineveh (Nah. 1:8), and should be applied by all those to themselves who go on still in their trespasses: With an over-running flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof. The army of the Chaldeans shall overrun the country of the Assyrians, and lay it all waste. God’s judgments, when they come with commission, are like a deluge to any people, which they cannot keep off nor make head against. Darkness shall pursue his enemies; terror and trouble shall follow them, whithersoever they go, shall pursue them to utter darkness; if they think to flee from the darkness which pursues them they will but fall into that which is before them.

II. He is a God of irresistible power, and is able to deal with his enemies, be they ever so many, ever so mighty, ever so hardy. He is great in power (Nah. 1:3), and therefore it is good having him our friend and bad having him our enemy. Now here,

1. The power of God is asserted and proved by divers instances of it in the kingdom of nature, where we always find its visible effects in the ordinary course of nature, and sometimes in the surprising alterations of that course. (1.) If we look up into the regions of the air, there we shall find proofs of his power, for he has his ways in the whirlwind and the storm. Which way soever God goes he carries a whirlwind and a storm along with him, for the terror of his enemies, Ps. 18:9 And, wherever there is a whirlwind and a storm, God has the command of it, the control of it, makes his way through it, goes on his way in it, and serves his own purposes by it. He spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, and even stormy winds fulfil his word. He has his way in the whirlwind, that is, he goes on undiscerned, and the methods of his providence are to us unaccountable; as it is said, His way is in the sea. The clouds are the dust of his feet; he treads on them, walks on them, raises them when he pleases, as a man with his feet raises a cloud of dust. It is but by permission, or usurpation rather, that the devil is the prince of the power of the air, for that power is in God’s hand. (2.) If we cast our eye upon the great deeps, there we find that the sea is his, for he made it; for, when he pleases, he rebukes the sea and makes it dry, by drying up all the rivers with which it is continually supplied. He gave those proofs of his power when he divided the Red Sea and Jordan, and can do the same again whenever he pleases. (3.) If we look round us on this earth, we find proofs of his power, when, either by the extreme heat and drought of summer or the cold and frost of winter, Bashan languishes, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languishes, the choicest and strongest flower languishes. His power is often seen in earthquakes, which shake the mountains (Nah. 1:5), melt the hills, and melt them down, and level them with the plains. When he pleases the earth is burnt at his presence by the scorching heat of the sun, and he could burn it with fire from heaven, as he did Sodom, and at the end of time he will burn the world and all that dwell therein. The earth, and all the works that are therein, shall be burnt up. Thus great is the Lord and of great power.

2. This is particularly applied to his anger. If God be an almighty God, we may thence infer (Nah. 1:6), Who can stand before his indignation? The Ninevites had once found God slow to anger (as he says Nah. 1:3), and perhaps presumed upon the mercy they had then had experience of, and thought they might make bold with him; but they will find he is just and jealous as well as merciful and gracious, and, having shown the justice of his wrath, in the next he shows the power of it, and the utter insufficiency of his enemies to contend with him. It is in vain for the stoutest and strongest of sinners to think to make their part good against the power of God’s anger. (1.) See God here as a consuming fire, terrible and mighty. Here is his indignation against sin, and the fierceness of his anger, his fury poured out, not like water, but like fire, like the fire and brimstone rained on Sodom, Ps. 11:6. Hell is the fierceness of God’s anger, Rev. 16:19. God’s anger is so fierce that it beats down all before it: The rocks are thrown down by him, which seemed immovable. Rocks have sometimes been rent by the eruption of subterraneous fires, which is a faint resemblance of the fierceness of God’s anger against sinners whose hearts are rocky, for none ever hardened their hearts against him and prospered. (2.) See sinners here are stubble before the fire, weak and impotent, and a very unequal match for the wrath of God. [1.] They are utterly unable to bear up against it, so as to resist it, and put by the strokes of it: Who can stand before his indignation? Not the proudest and most daring sinner; not the world of the ungodly; no, not the angels that sinned. [2.] They are utterly unable to bear up under it so as to keep up their spirits, and preserve any enjoyment of themselves: Who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? As it is irresistible, so it is intolerable. Some of the effects of God’s displeasure in this world a man may bear up under, but the fierceness of his anger, when it fastens immediately upon the soul, who can bear? Let us therefore fear before him; let us stand in awe, and not sin.

III. He is a God of infinite mercy; and in the midst of all this wrath mercy is remembered. Let the sinners in Zion be afraid, that go on still in their transgressions, but let not those that trust in God tremble before him. For, 1. He is slow to anger (Nah. 1:3), not easily provoked, but ready to show mercy to those who have offended him and to receive them into favour upon their repentance. 2. When the tokens of his rage against the wicked are abroad he takes care for the safety and comfort of his own people (Nah. 1:7): The Lord is good to those that are good, and to them he will be a stronghold in the day of trouble. Note, The same almighty power that is exerted for the terror and destruction of the wicked is engaged, and shall be employed, for the protection and satisfaction of his own people; he is able both to save and to destroy. In the day of public trouble, when God’s judgments are in the earth, laying all waste, he will be a place of defence to those that by faith put themselves under his protection, those that trust in him in the way of their duty, that live a life of dependence upon him, and devotedness to him; he knows them, he owns them for his, he takes cognizance of their case, knows what is best for them, and what course to take most effectually for their relief. They are perhaps obscure and little regarded in the world, but the Lord knows them, Ps. 1:6.