Their place is not known— What probability was there, that the capital city of a great kingdom, a city which was sixty miles in compass, a city which contained so many thousand inhabitants, a city which had walls a hundred feet high, and so thick that three chariots could go abreast upon them, and which had 1500 towers of 200 feet in height;—what probability was there that such a city should ever be totally destroyed? and yet so totally was it destroyed, that the place is hardly known where it was situated. What we may suppose helped to complete its ruin and devastation, was Nebuchadnezzar's enlarging and beautifying of Babylon, soon after Nineveh was taken: from that time no mention is made of Nineveh by any of the sacred writers; and the most ancient of the heathen authors, who have occasion to say any thing about it, speak of it as a city which was once great and flourishing, but now destroyed and desolate. Great as it was formerly, so little of it is remaining, that authors are not agreed even about its situation: from the general suffrage of ancient historians and geographers, it appears to have been situated upon the Tigris; though others represent it as placed upon the river Euphrates. Bochart has shewn, that Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Ammianus Marcellinus, all three speak differently of it; sometimes as if situated upon the Tigris, sometimes as if on the Euphrates; to reconcile whom he supposes, that there were two Ninevehs; and Sit John Marsham, that there were three; the Syrian upon the Euphrates, the Assyrian on the Tigris, and a third built afterwards upon the Tigris by the Persians, who succeeded the Parthians in the empire of the East, in the third century, and were subdued by the Saracens in the seventh century after Christ: but whether this latter was built in the same place as the old Nineveh, is a question which cannot be decided. Lucian, who flourished in the second century after Christ, affirms, that Nineveh was utterly perished, and there were no footsteps of it remaining, nor could you tell where it was once situated: and the greater regard is to be paid to Lucian's testimony, as he was a native of Samosata, a city upon the river Euphrates; and coming from a neighbouring country, he must have known whether there had been any remains of Nineveh or not. There is a city at this time called Mosul, situate upon the western side of the Tigris; and on the opposite eastern shore are ruins of a great extent, which are said to be those of Nineveh. Benjamin of Tuleda, who wrote his itinerary in the year after Christ 1173, informs us, that there is only a bridge between Mosul and Nineveh; and, though the latter is laid waste, yet it has many streets and castles. Another writer in 1300 asserts, that Nineveh is totally laid waste; but that by the ruins which are still to be seen there, we may firmly believe that it was one of the greatest cities in the world. Dr. Prideaux, following Thevenot, observes, that Mosul is situated on the west side of the Tigris, where was anciently only a suburb of the old Nineveh; for the city itself stood on the east side of the river, where are to be seen some of its ruins of great extent even to this day. Tavernier also affirms, that, after crossing the Tigris, (which has a swift stream and whitish water, whereas the Euphrates runs slow, and is reddish,) you come to the ancient city of Nineveh, which is now a heap of rubbish only, for a league along the river, full of vaults and caverns. And Salmon in his account of Assyria says, that in this country the famous city of Nineveh once stood on the eastern banks of the Tigris opposite to the place where Mosul now stands; that there is nothing now to be seen but heaps of rubbish about a league along the river, which people imagine to be the remains of this vast city. But it is more than probable, that these ruins are the remains of the Persian Nineveh, and not the Assyrian: even the ruins of old Nineveh, as we may say, have been long ago ruined and destroyed: such an utter end has been made of it, and such is the truth of the divine predictions!
These extraordinary circumstances may strike the reader more strongly, by supposing only a parallel instance. Let us then suppose, that a person should come in the name of a prophet, preaching repentance to the people of this kingdom, or otherwise denouncing the destruction of the capital city within a few years;—With an overflowing flood will God make an utter end of the place thereof: He will make an utter end: Its place may be sought, but it shall never be found. I presume we should look upon such prophet as a madman, and shew no farther attention to his message, than to deride and despise it: and yet such an event would not be more strange and incredible than the destruction and devastation of Nineveh; for Nineveh was much the larger, stronger, and older city of the two; and the Assyrian empire had subsisted and flourished more ages than any form of government in this country; so that there is no objecting the instability of the eastern monarchies in this case. Let us then, since this event would not be more improbable and extraordinary than the other, suppose again, that things should succeed according to the prediction; that the floods should arise, and the enemy should come; the city should be overthrown and broken down, be taken and pillaged, and destroyed so totally, that even the learned could not agree about the place where it was situated. What would be said or thought in such a case? Whoever of posterity should read and compare the prophesy and event together, must they not by such an illustrious instance be thoroughly convinced of the providence of God, and of the truth of his prophet, and be ready to acknowledge, Verily this is the word which the LORD hath spoken; verily there is a God who judgeth the earth! See Bishop Newton, vol. 1: Dissert. 9. We may read, Nahum 3:18. Thy nobles lie still: Thy people, &c.;—ver. 19. There is no closing up thy fracture: Incurable is thy wound: All that hear thy history will clap hands, &c.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Where sin unrepented is found, there all the terrible woes of God are written against the guilty soul.
1. The sins of Nineveh are charged upon her. It is a bloody city; innocent blood was shred there with impunity, or by the unjust wars that her ambition waged against her neighbours: full of lies, where no honesty, truth, or fidelity was to be found; and of robbery, each preying on his neighbour, or on the nations around them; the prey departeth not, they never rest from plundering, nor think of making restitution to the injured: her whoredoms were multiplied, both carnal and spiritual: their idolatries notorious, their lewdness infamous; like a well-favoured harlot, she enticed the nations to learn her ways; and, being a mistress of witchcrafts, bound them as with magic spells to sell themselves to work wickedness; and, having brought them first under corporal bondage, afterwards enslaved their souls. Note; The charms of a harlot are like the spells of witchcraft, and issue in the destruction of body and soul.
2. Her judgment is read. The noise of the invading foe is heard; the whip of the charioteer, the rattling of the wheels, the prancing of the horses, the jumping of the chariots, sound terrible: the bright sword is unsheathed, the glittering spear is brandished, and to innumerable the multitude of the slain, that the very streets and ways are obstructed by them, and men stumble over them. Since God is her foe, she shall be stripped naked to her shame, deprived of all her wealth and power, exposed as a strumpet to the derision of those whom she had seduced, and daubed with abominable filth and dung, made vile and contemptible, a gazing-stock of public reproach and infamy; every passenger, instead of affording the least kindness or compassion, shall shun her with abhorrence, and say, Nineveh is laid waste, pleased to proclaim the tidings, or astonished at the fearful change; who will bemoan her? she deserves no pity, that shewed none: whence shall I seek comforters for thee? the calamity is too great to admit of consolation; nor can any be found to discharge this friendly office to a city so universally detested. Note; (1.) They who in the day of their prosperity treated others with insolence, may expect, when they fall, to be trampled upon by every foot. (2.) The best-favoured harlot will shortly be a foul hag, hated and shunned by her former dearest paramours.
2nd, All the vain confidences of Nineveh are destroyed. She thought herself safe because of her greatness; but vain is her presumption. Art thou better than populous No? or Diospolis, in Egypt; a city, vast and full of inhabitants; fortified by art and nature, and situate in a place almost inaccessible to an enemy, supported by all the united forces of Egypt and Ethiopia, whose armies were immense, and helped by her confederates of Libya and Mauritania: yet with all these advantages No was destroyed, probably by Sennacherib; the inhabitants carried captives; the infants dashed in pieces against the stones by the inhuman soldiers; her honourable men divided by lot as slaves among the conquerors, and her nobles bound in chains. And if such a city fell so fearfully, the men of Nineveh ought not to be thus secure: the same treatment awaited them.
1. Their forces shall be dispirited, weakened, and destroyed, staggering like drunkards, effeminate, and terrified as women, flying to hide themselves, and seeking in vain help from others against their enemies: for, when God dispirits the host, the bravest turn cowards.
2. Their fortresses shall stand them in no stead. Though they take every precaution to repair the walls, to lay in provision, to place numerous garrisons therein, and assemble their whole force in order to oppose the invaders, yet their strong-holds shall fall as easily before the besiegers as a ripe fig when the tree is shaken; her gates shall be set wide open, the fire shall devour the bars, and with the sword shall their enemies consume, as the canker-worm, all the inhabitants of their cities, though numerous as the swarms of locusts.
3. Their friends shall desert them. The merchants, who once crowded the streets of Nineveh, and enriched themselves with the commerce there carried on, will no sooner behold the storm approaching, than with their wealth they will forsake the devoted city, and flee away as the canker-worm when the field is eaten up; and their auxiliaries and tributary kings, who in days of peace camped around them, and promised them assistance, no sooner feel the scorching sun of danger, than, like locusts, they take their flight and are heard of no more.
4. Their princes and officers, the shepherds who should defend the flock, slumber, enervated with sloth and luxury, and asleep when they should be at their posts; or they sleep the sleep of death, and are laid with the nobles in the dust; while the people, as sheep without a shepherd, are scattered, and fall an easy prey to the enemy.
5. Their case is desperate, their bruise incurable, their wound grievous; the city and empire fall together at a blow, never to he restored again. With triumph shall the oppressed nations clap their hands at the sound of their fall; for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually; having been oppressed, harassed, and plundered by the Assyrians, they will rejoice to see their destroyers destroyed. Let proud oppressors and hardened sinners tremble: their day shall come to fall; and heaven and earth shall exult in their destruction.