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13. Nahum

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Notes on the Book of Nahum

I. The Prophet.

Nothing is known about Nahum beyond what is in 1:1. The name is probably a passive form (comforted) with the name Yahweh omitted. The short prophecy against Nineveh is considered to be some of the highest quality of Hebrew poetry.1 The town of Elkosh is likewise unknown.2

II. The Historical Setting.

The fall of Nineveh seems to be imminent throughout, but it has not yet taken place. On the other hand the city of No-Amon (Thebes) has already fallen to Esarhaddon (either 671, 667 or 663). In light of this, the date ought to be some time close to 612 B.C. We will place it about 615 B.C., and so Nahum will be somewhat contemporary with Zephaniah and Jeremiah and perhaps Joel. Sennacherib attacked Jerusalem in 701 B.C. and for a century Assyria had dominated the politics of Syro‑Palestine. Their cruelty was notorious (though perhaps no more so than any other world power). The city of Nineveh was large, well‑fortified, and well‑adorned. Archaeology has revealed a city of splendor. Under Ashurbanipal, a large literary collection was made of ancient materials. Some 20,000 tablets were recovered including the flood and the creation accounts. The city fell to the combined attack of the Medes, Babylonians and Scythians in 612 B.C.

III. The Message of the Book.

Nahum, like Obadiah, has only a negative message of judgment against Nineveh. There is no counterbalancing condemnation of Judah for her sin, but that is well taken care of elsewhere. Nineveh, notorious for her arrogance against Yahweh (cf. Isa. 36‑ 37), must be dealt with for her inhumanity to all people and particularly to God’s people. Yahweh is sovereign over all nations and that sovereignty will be shown in the destruction of the capital of arrogant, violent Assyria. 

IV. Outline of the Book.

A. Yahweh is sovereign and in control of world events (1:1‑15).

1. God is both gracious and just (1:1‑8).

The just side of God is presented in this section. This is a side that must not be ignored: He wreaks vengeance on His enemies. Even though He is slow to anger (1:3), His anger will eventually be aroused against those who hate Him. It has been a century since Assyria first began to dominate Judah. Yahweh’s ability to carry out His threats is described in cosmic terms. Nature is responsive to His command. None can stand before His indignation (1:6). At the same time Yahweh is good and a refuge to those who trust him, but He will pursue His enemies into darkness (1:7‑8).

2. Nahum dramatically weaves judgment on Assyria and blessing on Judah into one piece of cloth (1:9‑15).

Assyria’s plans will be frustrated by Yahweh. Her defenses will be worthless. The wicked counselor probably refers to a king of Assyria, unnamed. He quickly turns to Judah (1:12b‑13) to say that the affliction Yahweh brought upon her through Assyria will come to an end. He will break Assyria’s yoke from Judah’s neck.3 He turns back to Assyria (1:14) to say that Yahweh has issued a decree of destruction to Assyria. Finally he turns back to Judah (1:15) to echo the words of Isaiah (52:7) about the beauty of the feet of a messenger of good news. He will announce peace and declare that Judah will be able to keep her feasts again for the wicked one (Assyrian king) will not pass through her again.

B. Nahum in graphic poetry depicts the fall of Nineveh (2:1‑13).

1. The One who is in charge has come against Nineveh (2:1‑2).

As Assyria has scattered Israel (722 B.C.) and Judah (701 B.C. for cities like Lachish), so God will scatter her. He is using the Medes and Babylonians as He once used Assyria. At the same time, Nahum predicts that Yahweh will restore the splendor of Jacob.

2. The confusion and distress of the defeat (2:3‑7).

The bloody, confused mass of peoples charging back and forth, trying to defend the walls, and marshal the troops is caught by Nahum’s prophecy. There must have been a flooding of the river (2:6) that assisted in the breakthrough by the Medes.

3. The despoiling of Nineveh (2:8‑13).

Nineveh’s past greatness is now nothing, as all her people try to flee the tomb that was Nineveh. Her wealth is being plundered by the invaders. The Assyrian army is depicted as a lion that went forth to kill and bring back prey to the lioness and the cubs.4 Yahweh declares Himself to be against Nineveh: that spells her doom.

C. A final oracle on the reason for Nineveh’s fall (3:1‑19).

1. Nineveh’s fall and the reason (3:1‑7).

Nineveh is depicted as a bloody city, that is, full of murder as well as of lies and pillage. Then the fall of the city is taken up again describing the mass confusion and death (3:1‑3).

The reason given is that Nineveh acted the part of a prostitute. She was wealthy and “beautiful,” and as such enticed other nations as she enticed Ahaz. Her sorceries (false religion) also attracted people. Judah adopted many of the astral religious deities of Assyria (3:4).

As a result, God is against her. This beautiful prostitute will be exposed for what she is. God will strip her and throw filth on her (this word is usually used of idols which were especially abominable to Yahweh: shiqutsim שִׁקֻצִים). Nations will be amazed at her when they see her in these straits (3:5‑7).

2. Nineveh is compared to Thebes (3:8‑15a).

No‑Amon means the city of Amon and refers to the ancient capital of Egypt located four hundred miles south of Cairo in upper Egypt. Thebes was well-known as the capital of the eighteenth dynasty under such famous pharaohs as Tutmose III. The Nile, referred to as the sea, ran “through” Thebes in that there were two cities—the living and the dead. The mortuary monuments were on the west side of the Nile. Assyria defeated Thebes in 671 B.C., 667 B.C. and finally it was razed in 663 B.C. and never recovered.5 Why does Nineveh, similarly situated, think she can escape punishment (3:8-10)?

Nineveh too will be dealt with. The defenses will not hold up, the warriors are like women, the gates will be opened wide to the enemy. Then the commands are given for defense—but it will be of no avail (3:11‑15a).

3. Nineveh’s demise (3:15b‑19).

Assyria has dominated the scene for a long time. Her traders, guardsmen and marshals have been like hordes of grasshoppers. But now the shepherds are sleeping, the nobles are lying down and the people are scattered. There is no hope for Assyria/Nineveh.

1See LaSor, et al., (O.T. Survey).

2See Y. Kobayashi, “Elkosh” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:476.

3See NIV for the insertion of the subjects.

4Cf. ANET, 281, 283 for an illustration of Assyrian plunder.

5Cf., Cambridge Ancient History, 3:285.

Related Topics: History, Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Prophets

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