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Calvin’s Preface to Nahum

The time in which Nahum prophesied cannot with certainty be known. The Hebrews, ever bold in conjectures, say that he discharged his office of teaching under Manasseh, and that the name of that king was suppressed, because he was unworthy of such an honor, or, because his reign was unfortunate, as he had been led into captivity. When any one asks the Jews a reason, they only say, that it appears so to them. As then there is no reason for this conjecture, we must come to what seems probable.

They who think that he prophesied under Jotham are no doubt mistaken, and can easily be disproved; for he here threatens ruin to the city Nineveh because the Assyrians had cruelly laid waste the kingdom of Israel; and it is for these wrongs that he denounces vengeance: but under Jotham the kingdom of Israel had not been laid waste. We indeed know that the Assyrians were suborned by Ahab, when he found himself unequal to resist the attacks of two neighboring kings, the king of Syria, and the king of Israel. It was then that the Assyrians penetrated into the land of Israel, and in course of time, they desolated the whole kingdom. At this period it was that Nahum prophesied; for it was his object to show, that God had a care for that kingdom, on account of his adoption or covenant; though the Israelites had perfidiously separated themselves from the people of God, yet God’s covenant remained in force. His design then was to show, that God was the father and protector of that kingdom. As this was the Prophet’s object, it is certain that he taught either after the death of Ahab under Hezekiah, or about that time. 204204     “I conclude from Nahum 2:2, that Nahum prophesied after the captivity of the ten tribes. Josephus places him in the reign of Jotham, and says that his predictions came to pass one hundred and fifteen hears afterwards. Ant. IX. 11. 3. According to our best chronologers, this date would bring us to the year in which Samaria was taken. And I agree with those who think Nahum uttered this prophecy in the reign of Hezekiah, and not long after the subversion of the kingdom of Israel by Shalmaneser.” — Newcome.

He followed Jonah at some distance, 205205     The distance is supposed by chronologers to have been about 150 years. — Ed. as we may easily learn. Jonah, as we have already seen, pronounced a threatening on the city Nineveh; but the punishment was remitted, because the Ninevites humbled themselves, and suppliantly deprecated the punishment which had been announced. They afterwards returned to their old ways, as it is usually the case. Hence it was, that God became less disposed to spare them. Though indeed they were aliens, yet God was pleased to show them favor by teaching them through the ministry and labors of Jonah: and their repentance was not altogether feigned. Since then they were already endued with some knowledge of the true God, the less excusable was their cruelty, when they sought to oppress the kingdom of Israel. They indeed knew, that that nation was sacred to God: what they did then was in a manner an outrage against God himself.

We now understand at what time it is probable that Nahum performed his office as a teacher; though nothing certain, as I have said at the beginning, can be known: hence it was, that I condemned the Rabbis for rashness on the subject; for they are bold enough to bring any thing forward as a truth, respecting which there is no certainty.

I have already in part stated the design of the Prophet. The sum of the whole is this: When the Assyrians had for some time disturbed the kingdom of Israel, the Prophet arose and exhorted the Israelites to patience, that is, those who continued to be the servants of God; because God had not wholly forsaken them, but would undertake their cause, for they were under his protection. This is the substance of the whole.

With regard to Nineveh, we have already stated that it was the capital of the empire, as long as the Assyrians did bear rule: for Babylon was a province; that is, Chaldea, whose metropolis was Babylon, was one of the provinces of the empire. The kingdom was afterwards taken away from Meroc-baladan. Some think that Nabuchodonosor was the first monarch of Chaldea. But I bestow no great pains on this subject. It may be, that Meroc-baladan had two names, and this was very common; as we know that the kings of Egypt were called Pharaohs; so the Assyrians and Chaldeans, though otherwise called at first, might have taken a common royal name. Now Nineveh was so celebrated, that another kingdom could not have been established by the Babylonians without demolishing that city. We indeed know that it was very large, as we have stated in explaining Jonah. It was, as profane writers have recorded, nearly three days’ journey in circumference. Then its walls were one hundred feet high, and so wide, that chariots could pass one another without coming in contact: there were one thousand and five hundred towers. We hence see that it was not without reason that this city was formerly so celebrated.

They say that Ninus was its founder, but this is proved to be a mistake by the testimony of Moses in Genesis 10. They also imagine that emiramis was the first queen of Babylon, and that the city was built by her: but this is a fable. It may have been that she enlarged the city; but it was Babylon many ages before she was born. So also Ninus may have increased and adorned Nineveh; but the city was founded before his birth. Profane authors call it Ninus, not Nineveh; probably the Hebrew name was corrupted by them, as it is often the case. However this may be, it is evident, that when Meroc-baladan, or his son, who succeeded him, wished to fix the seat of the empire at Babylon, he was under the necessity of destroying Nineveh to prevent rivalry. It thus happened, that the city was entirely demolished. Of this destruction, as we shall see, Nahum prophesied.

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