These verses seem to point at the destruction of the army of the Assyrians under Sennacherib, which may well be reckoned a part of the burden of Nineveh, the head city of the Assyrian empire, and a pledge of the destruction of Nineveh itself about 100 years after; and this was an event which Isaiah, with whom probably this prophet was contemporary, spoke much of. Now observe here,
I. The great provocation which the Assyrians gave to God, the just and jealous God, for which, though slow to anger, he would take vengeance (Nah. 1:11): There is one come out of thee, that imagines evil against the Lord—Sennacherib, and his spokesman Rabshakeh. They framed an evil letter and an evil speech, not only against Hezekiah and his people, but against God himself, reflecting upon him as level with the gods of the heathen, and unable to protect his worshippers, dissuading his people from putting confidence in him, and urging them rather to put themselves under the protection of the great king, the king of Assyria. They contrived to alter the property of Jerusalem, that it should be no longer the city of the Lord, the holy city. This one, this mighty one, so he thinks himself, that comes out of Nineveh, imagining evil against the Lord, brings upon Nineveh this burden. Never was the glorious Majesty of heaven and earth more daringly, more blasphemously affronted than by Sennacherib at that time. He was a wicked counsellor who counselled them to despair of God’s protection, and surrender themselves to the king of Assyria, and endeavour to put them out of conceit with Hezekiah’s reformation (Isa. 36:7); with this wicked counsellor he here expostulates (Nah. 1:9): “What do you imagine against the Lord? What a foolish wicked thing it is for you to plot against God, as if you could outwit divine wisdom and overpower omnipotence itself!” Note, There is a great deal imagined against the Lord by the gates of hell, and against the interests of his kingdom in the world; but it will prove a vain thing, Ps. 2:1, 2. He that sits in heaven laughs at the imaginations of the pretenders to politics against him, and will turn their counsels headlong.
II. The great destruction which God would bring upon them for it, not immediately upon the whole monarchy (the ruin of that was deferred till the measure of their iniquity was full), but,
1. Upon the army; God will make an utter end of that; it shall be totally cut off and ruined at one blow; one fatal stroke of the destroying angel shall lay them dead upon the spot; affliction shall not rise up the second time, for it shall not need. With some sinners God makes a quick despatch, does their business at once. Divine vengeance goes not by one certain rule, nor in one constant track, but one way or other, by acute diseases or chronical ones, by slow deaths or lingering ones, he will make an utter end of all his enemies, who persist in their imaginations against him. We have reason to think that the Assyrian army were mostly of the same spirit, and spoke the same language, with their general, and now God would take them to task, though they did but say as they were taught; and it shall appear that they have laid themselves open to divine wrath by their own act and deed, Nah. 1:10. (1.) They are as thorns that entangle one another, and are folded together. They make one another worse, and more inveterate against God and his Israel, harden one another’s hearts, and strengthen one another’s hands, in their impiety; and therefore God will do with them as the husbandman does with a bush of thorns when he cannot part them: he puts them all into the fire together. (2.) They are as drunken men, intoxicated with pride and rage; and such as they shall be irrecoverably overthrown and destroyed. They shall be as drunkards, besotted to their own ruin, and shall stumble and fall, and make themselves a reproach, and be justly laughed at. (3.) They shall be devoured as stubble fully dry, which is irresistibly and irrecoverably consumed by the flame. The judgments of God are as devouring fire to those that make themselves as stubble to them. It is again threatened concerning this great army (Nah. 1:12) that though they be quiet and likewise many, very secure, not fearing the sallies out of the besieged upon them, because they are numerous, yet thus shall they be cut down, or certainly shall they be cut down, as grass and corn are cut down, with as little ado, when he shall pass through, even the destroying angel that is commissioned to cut them down. Note, The security of sinners, and their confidence in their own strength, are often presages of ruin approaching.
2. Upon the king. He imagined evil against the Lord, and shall he escape? No (Nah. 1:14): “The Lord has given a commandment concerning thee; the decree has gone forth, that thy name be no more sown, that thy memory perish, that thou be no more talked of as thou hast been, and that the report of thy mighty actions be dispersed upon the wings of fame and celebrated with her trumpet.” Because Sennacherib’s son reigned in his stead, some make this to point at the overthrow of the Assyrian empire not long after. Note, Those that imagine evil against the Lord hasten evil upon themselves and their own families and interests, and ruin their own names by dishonouring his name. It is further threatened, (1.) That the images he worshipped should be cut off from their temple, the graven image and the molten image out of the house of his gods, which, some think, was fulfilled when Sennacherib was slain by his two sons, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, by which barbarous parricide we may suppose the temple was looked upon as defiled, and was therefore disused, and the images were cut off from it, the worshippers of those images no longer attending there. Or it may be taken more generally to denote the utter ruin of Assyria; the army of the enemy shall lay all waste, and not spare even the images of their gods, by which God would intimate to them that one of the grounds of his controversy with them was their idolatry. (2.) That Sennacherib’s grave shall be made there, some think in the house of his god; there he is slain, and there he shall be buried, for he is vile; he lies under this perpetual mark of disgrace, that he had so far lost his interest in the natural affection of his own children that two of them murdered him. Or it may be meant of the ignominious fall of the Assyrian monarchy itself, upon the ruins of which that of Babylon was raised. What a noise was made about the grave of that once formidable state, but now despicable, is largely described, Ezek. 3:3, 11, 15, 16. Note, Those that make themselves vile by scandalous sins God will make vile by shameful punishments.
III. The great deliverance which God would hereby work for his own people and the city that was called by his name. The ruin of the church’s enemies is the salvation of the church, and a very great salvation it was that was wrought for Jerusalem by the overthrow of Sennacherib’s army.
1. The siege shall hereby be raised: “Now will I break his yoke from off thee, by which thou art kept in servitude, and will burst thy bonds asunder, by which thou seemest bound over to the Assyrian’s wrath.” That vast victorious army, when it forced free quarters for itself throughout all the land of Judah, and lived at discretion there, was as yokes and bonds upon them. Jerusalem, when it was besieged, was, as it were, bound and fettered by it; but, when the destroying angel had done his work, Jerusalem’s bonds were burst asunder, and it was set at liberty again. This was a figure of the great salvation, by which the Jerusalem that is above is made free, is made free indeed.
2. The enemy shall be so weakened and dispirited that they shall never make any such attempt again, and the end of this trouble shall be so well gained by the grace of God that there shall be no more occasion for such a severe correction. (1.) God will not again afflict Jerusalem; his anger is turned away, and he says, It is enough; for he has by this fright accomplished his whole work upon Mount Zion (Isa. 10:12), and therefore “though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more;” the bitter portion shall not be repeated unless there be need and the patient’s case call for it; for God doth not afflict willingly. (2.) The enemy shall not dare again to attack Jerusalem (Nah. 1:15): The wicked shall no more pass through thee as they have done, to lay all waste, for he is utterly cut off and disabled to do it. His army is cut off, his spirit cut off, and at length he himself is cut off.
3. The tidings of this great deliverance shall be published and welcomed with abundance of joy throughout the kingdom, Nah. 1:15. While Sennacherib prevailed, and carried all before him, every day brought bad news; but now, behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, the feet of the evangelist; he is seen coming at a distance upon the mountains, as fast as his feet will carry him; and how pleasant a sight is it once more to see a messenger of peace, after we have received so many of Job’s messengers! We find these words made use of by another prophet to illustrate the mercy of the deliverance of the people of God out of Babylon (Isa. 52:7), not that the prophets stole the word one from another (as those did, Jer. 23:30), but speaking by the same Spirit, they often used the same expressions; and it may be of good use for ministers to testify their consent to wholesome truths (1 Tim. 6:3) by concurring in the same forms of sound words, 2 Tim. 1:13. These words are also quoted by the apostle, both from Isaiah and Nahum, and applied to the great redemption wrought out for us by our Lord Jesus, and the publishing of it to the world by the everlasting gospel, Rom. 10:15. Christ’s ministers are those messengers of good tidings, that preach peace by Jesus Christ. How beautiful are the feet of those messengers! How welcome their message to those that see their misery and danger by reason of sin! And observe, He that brings these good tidings brings with them a call to Judah to keep her solemn feasts and perform her vows. During the trouble, (1.) The ordinary feasts had been intermitted. Inter arma silent leges—The voice of law cannot be heard amidst the shouts of battle. While Jerusalem was encompassed with armies they could not go thither to worship; but now that the embargo is taken off they must return to the observance of their feasts; and the feasts of the Lord will be doubly sweet to the people of God when they have been for some time deprived of the benefit of them and God graciously restores them their opportunities again, for we are taught the worth of such mercies by the want of them. (2.) They had made vows to God, that, if he would deliver them out of this distress, they would do something extraordinary in his service, to his honour; and now that the deliverance is wrought they are called upon to perform their vows; the promise they had then made must now be made good, for better it is not to vow than to vow and not to pay. And those words, The wicked shall no more pass through thee, may be taken as a promise of the perfecting of the good work of reformation which Hezekiah had begun; the wicked shall not, as they have done, walk on every side, but they shall be cut off, and the baffling of the attempts from the wicked enemies abroad is a mercy indeed to a nation when it is accompanied with the restraint and reformation of the wicked at home, who are its more dangerous enemies.