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Nahum

Introduction to Nahum

The aim of this chapter and succeeding introductory chapters is to acquaint the reader with the crucial questions that have affected the interpretation of the biblical passages under consideration. Because proper hermeneutical procedure rests primarily upon a basis of historical, grammatical, literary, and theological data, each of the introductory chapters will focus on the crucial problems associated with those areas. Since the solutions suggested in each case are those drawn from the exegesis of the text, the introductions should be considered as an integral part of the expositions that follow.

Historical Context

Setting

The terminus a quo for the origin and setting of Nahum’s prophecy can be deduced from the mention (3:18) of the fall of Thebes (663 B.C.), whereas the terminus ad quem is the date of the fall of Nineveh (612 B.C.), an event that is predicted throughout the book. During these five decades the ancient Near East was to witness a great transition. The Assyrian king who ruled through most of this long period was Ashurbanipal (668-626 B.C.). Although he fought some nine military campaigns that advanced the sphere of Assyrian control or influence, from Persia on the east to Arabia and Egypt on the south and southwest, he was largely the heir of the accomplishments of the great Sargonid kings who preceded him. Accordingly, Ashurbanipal could increasingly turn his attention to such internal matters as great building projects, religious pursuits, and the cultivation of the Assyrian beaux arts and belles lettres. Indeed, his reign was the zenith of an Assyrian imperialism, cultural flowering, and socio-political system that spanned the length and breadth of the Fertile Crescent and has been termed the Pax Assyriaca.

The land of Judah, which had resisted successfully a formal takeover by King Sennacherib of Assyria during the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron. 32:1-23; Isa. 36-37), had also been able to maintain its independence during the reign of Sennacherib’s son Esarhaddon (681-668 B.C.). Manasseh (698/97-640 B.C.) then ruled over Judah and was evil to the point of total apostasy. His early spiritual degradation is carefully detailed in the Scriptures (2 Kings 21:1-11, 16; 2 Chron. 33:1-9, 19). Because of his wickedness, the nation of Judah was doomed to divine judgment (2 Kings 21:12-15). Manasseh’s capitulation to Ashurbanipal during his first Egyptian campaign (AR 2:876) only plunged him into deeper sin until at last (c. 648 B.C.) his duplicity caused him to be summoned to an audience before the Assyrian king. Ashurbanipal had just subdued his seditious brother Shamash-shum-ukin and was then occupying his brother’s base of support in Babylon. After being called there, Manasseh repented and was subsequently released and returned to Judah. But although the Chronicler reports Manasseh’s spiritual transformation at that time, few lasting gains were made in Judah despite the reforms that Manasseh attempted. True reform would tarry until the reign of his grandson Josiah (640-609 B.C.).

With the accession of Josiah, Judah’s fortunes experienced political, economic, and spiritual reversal. Because the young king was a godly man, his rule was marked by repeated periods of reform and iconoclastic purge. His order for the repair of the Temple in 621 B.C. occasioned the “chance” finding of a copy of the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22:8-13), an event that brought further royally initiated spiritual reforms and religious celebration to Judah (23:1-25; 2 Chron. 34:32-35:19).

By the mid-640s Ashurbanipal’s campaigning was over, and he began increasingly to enjoy the fruits of the long years of Assyrian expansion. Ashurbanipal mentions spending much time in the care and aggrandizement of Nineveh. By the last decade of his reign, signs of Assyrian weakness began to surface. Ancient sources suggest that Ashurbanipal himself grew indolent and degenerate. At any rate, with his death in 626 B.C. Assyrian fortunes took a sharp decline. Very shortly the Chaldean Nabopolassar succeeded in gaining independence for Babylon and, having found common cause with the Medes and others, began to reduce Assyrian territory. When in 614 B.C. the ancient political and religious center of Ashur fell to the Medes, the fate of Nineveh itself hung in the balance. In 612 B.C. the great Assyrian imperial capital fell to the combined pressure of the Medes, Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonians), and a people known as the Ummanmanda (Scythians?), presaging the end of the great Neo-Assyrian era (745-605 B.C.). Subsequent defeats at the hands of the Chaldean Nebuchadnezzar II (also Nebuchadrezzar) at Harran (609 B.C.) and Carchemish (605 B.C.) delivered the coup mortel to Assyria. She would not arise again (cf. Nah. 1:9).

The end of the seventh century and the onset of the sixth was thus a critical period for the ancient Near East. With the collapse of Assyria, the greater part of the Fertile Crescent was ruled jointly by Medes and Chaldeans. The chief exception was Egypt, whose Saite (twenty-sixth) Dynasty managed to maintain Egypt’s last flourishing period of political and cultural prominence until 525 B.C. As for Judah, when the godly Josiah lost his life in opposing the Egyptian pharaoh Necho II, vainly attempting to come to the aid of the beleagured Assyrian forces in Harran, the country fell into the hands of Josiah’s worthless heirs Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, all of whom lacked his personal wisdom, strength of character, and spiritual fiber. By 586 B.C. Jerusalem itself lay in ashes before the onslaught of Nebuchadnezzar, who, having besieged the city three times, took huge booty and a long train of captives with him to Babylon. The end of the monarchic era (c. 1003-586 B.C.) had come to the city of Zion.

The book of Nahum is intimately bound up with this period of dramatic change. But to what portion of the half century from the fall of Thebes to that of Nineveh does it belong? If one believes that the reference to the Theban collapse is a near memory, and hence a lesson fresh in the minds of Nahum’s readers, and that the prophecies concerning the fall of Nineveh are predictive of events in the fairly distant future, he will tend to date the book early in the period. For some, a date is assigned as early as the decade from 660-650 B.C. (e.g., Freeman, Maier). Those who place more weight on God’s prophets as keen critics and observers of the times or who discount the force of predictive prophecy tend to date the book late, either close to the time of Nineveh’s fall (cf. Bullock, Craigie) or at—perhaps even after—its capture (e.g., Sellin, J. M. P. Smith; Haupt places it as late as the Maccabean era).

Conservatives usually assign a date to the book that antedates the fall of Nineveh, but they differ widely as to how long before 612 B.C. the book is to be reckoned. It seems to me that a balanced decision reached via an evaluation of the facts of external history, blended together with the internal data drawn from the text of Nahum, and allowing full force to the possibility of supernaturally communicated predictive prophecy favors a date closer to the terminus a quo. The facts of external history seem irreconcilable with proposed later dates.

(1) After the fall of Thebes in 663 B.C., the virtual withdrawal of Assyrian forces and the Assyrians’ preoccupation with other problems nearer home allowed the formation of Egypt’s twenty-sixth dynasty (655-525 B.C.). Although the capital lay in the Nile Delta, Thebes immediately became an important administrative and religious center of the kingdom. The lesson of Thebes’s demise would take on increasingly lessened significance for Assyria after 654 B.C. Freeman quite properly remarks, “From the tone of the prophecy it may be inferred that the destruction of Thebes was a comparatively recent event still fresh in the minds of both Israel and Assyria.”1

(2) A civil war between Ashurbanipal and Shamash-shum-ukin was settled in 648 B.C. only after a bitter struggle and a gruesome massacre at the latter’s power base in Babylon. From that time on, Nahum might well be expected to hold up the example of age-old Babylon, not Thebes, to the Assyrians.

(3) The closer that events come to 612 B.C. one would expect some mention of the forces that were to spell Assyria’s doom, such as the Chaldeans (cf. Jer. 46:25-26; 50:17, 18; Ezek. 29:17-20; Hab. 1:6; etc.). Although this is admittedly an argument from silence, the lack of discussion concerning the Chaldeans, Medes, or Scythians could imply a time well before they came to international prominence.

These data favor an early setting for the book of Nahum, one soon after the fall of Thebes, and the internal data of the book tend to corroborate this conclusion.2 Rather than reflecting the situation during the latter years of Ashurbanipal and those of his two successors Ashur-etil-ilani (626-623 B.C.) and Sin-shar-ishkun (623-612 B.C.), the book of Nahum presents its readers with a strong imperialistic Assyria (1:12; 2:13; 3:1)—a nation that has repeatedly pillaged, plundered, and humbled others (2:11; 3:4, 11), including Judah whom she has reduced to vassalage (1:12b-13, 15; 2:2), and that has built Nineveh into a wealthy (2:11-14; 3:16) and seemingly impregnable fortress (2:11; 3:12). Conditions thus look extremely bright for Assyria but dismally dark for Judah. With this in mind, a date soon after Manasseh’s subservience to Assyria—during the depths of his apostasy and before his summons to Babylon and subsequent repentance (c. 648 B.C.)—and soon after the fall of Thebes (663 B.C.), while Ashurbanipal was pressing his claims to the full extent of the Fertile Crescent, seems most reconcilable with all the data of Scripture and history.

Such a position also best allows the elements of supernaturalism and predictive prophecy to be felt. That God could and did empower His prophets to speak of events in the distant future is the uniform declaration of the prophets themselves (e.g., 1 Kings 13:2; Isa. 44:28; 45:1; Hos. 1:4-5; Mic. 5:2; Hab. 1:6), so that no a priori reason can be given for denying the possibility that Nahum predicted the fall of Nineveh some two generations beforehand. Contrariwise, the closer one gets to 612 B.C. the less one needs to depend on such matters and the more apt he is to hold to the theory that the prophets were merely exceptionally astute observers of their times. All things considered, a date between 660 and 654 B.C. would appear to be most likely for the setting of the book.

Authorship

No satisfactory reason exists for suggesting that Nahum never existed or was not the primary author of much of the material that bears his name. (See also the discussion under the literary background of the book.) As for the person of the prophet, however, little is known beyond that which can be gleaned from his writings and the statement in the superscription that he was an “Elkoshite.” The latter statement has been understood to refer to a geographical location, identified variously as (1) a village (modern Elkush) on the left bank of the Tigris (Ewald, Lange), (2) a city (modern El-Kauze) in Galilee (Jerome), (3) Capernaum in Galilee (Kephar Nahum = City of Nahum), a view often put forward in the Middle Ages, and (4) a city in Judah, at least three sites in the southern kingdom having been suggested, the most prominent of which (championed by several early church Fathers) lay within the tribal boundaries of Simeon. None of the views is conclusive, however. Consequently the term remains as enigmatic as the well-known crux of Elijah the Tishbite (1 Kings 17:1). Despite the author’s apparent acquaintance with Nineveh’s temples (1:14), walls (2:5) and river gates (2:6), her military forces and tactics (2:3-5; 3:2-3), her economic status (2:9, 11-12; 3:14), and her lack of moral fiber (1:11; 2:12; 3:4, 11-13, 16-18), and although on occasion he uses Assyrian words (3:17), all of this is rather general knowledge, and the basic diction and point of view of the book are the sort of mainstream Hebrew language and thought common to the southern kingdom. It could be, of course, that Nahum’s family had been carried away during the deportation of the northern kingdom to Assyria, where he gained firsthand knowledge of matters, and that Nahum subsequently managed to make his way back to Judah, where he preached his messages of judgment against the oppressors and of hope for the beleagured people of Judah.

Far more important is to consider the character of the prophet. A careful reading of the book reveals that the author had a high view of God and his Word (1:2-10, 12, 14; 2:2, 13; 3:5), preached against idolatry (1:14), immorality (3:4), injustice (2:11-12; 3:16, 19), and all manner of sin (1:10; 3:4-7, 11), and believed strongly in the eventual restoration of all of God’s people (1:12-13, 15; 2:2). Further, it is clear that he was a perceptive man, one who noted the courses of nature (1:4, 8; 2:2; 3:12, 15-17, 18), society (1:14, 15; 2:11-13; 3:1, 13, 14, 17, 18), and history (3:8-10) as well. As will be noted in the next section, Nahum was also a poet par excellence, so he must have been born into a family of means where he could receive a fine education and literary training. Maier’s observation is well taken:

His reverence for the Almighty, trust in divine justice and goodness, condemnation of national iniquity, positive conviction that God will keep His word—these are qualities of true greatness. Add to that Nahum’s mighty intellect, his patriotism and courage, his rare, almost unequaled, gift of vivid presentation, and he indeed looms as one of those outstanding figures in human history who have appeared only at rare intervals.3

Literary Context

Literary Features

A critical analysis of the literary features of the book of Nahum reveals the consummate craftsmanship of its author. Although it is obvious that the subject of the book is the judgment of Nineveh, the theme and development are given in a twofold presentation (chaps. 1; 2-3). In the first portion, God is declared to be a just judge of the ungodly (1:2) with whom, though He is patient, He will ultimately deal with equity (1:3-6) and whom, whereas He tenderly cares for the godly, He will destroy with their plotting (1:7-10). These general remarks concerning the character and work of God are then applied directly to the current situation: Nineveh, the plotter and afflicter of God’s people, will experience the just judgment of God, whereas a previously punished Judah will know relief from affliction and be restored to peace and joy (1:11-15).

In the second section, Nahum repeats the double theme: God will judge Nineveh and restore His people (2:1-2). All of this is immediately carried forward in a visionary rehearsal of the attack against Nineveh (2:3-10) and is closed by a taunt song in which Assyria is compared to a lion trapped in Nineveh, its own lair (2:11-13). The theme is developed further in a second description of the fall of Nineveh (given in the form of a pronouncement woe) but with emphasis upon the reasons for Nineveh’s fall, particularly its lustful rapacity (3:1-7). This section, too, is closed by a taunt song in which Nineveh is declared to be no better than mighty Thebes. Thebes had boastfully counted on her basic defensive features, yet her recent fall is known to all. Accordingly, Nineveh’s fate is all the more certain. A sovereign God is about to judge the Assyrians and Nineveh for their endless cruelty (3:8-19).

Thus Nahum’s central message concerning the doom and demise of Nineveh proceeds in a bifid structure (1:2-15; 2:1-3:19) that is patterned in accordance with theme (1:2; 2:1-2), development (1:2-10; 23-10; 3:1-7), and application (1:11-15; 2:11-13; 3:8-19). Nahum closes each major section (1:15; 3:18-19), as well as two subsections (2:13; 3:7), with a refrain concerning the activity/inactivity of a messenger.

This bifurcation of theme finds corroboration in the canonical form of the book. The author has developed his work in accordance with principles of compilation and composition known to the Semitic world and demonstrably practiced by the Old Testament writers.4 In addition to the wedding of structure with theme and development mentioned above, Nahum makes good use of such compilational techniques as bookending/enveloping to enclose whole sections (e.g., scattering”—2:1; 3:18-19), subsections ( בְּלִיַּעַל [ beŒliyyaàal], “wicked(ness)”—1:11, 15), and even individual cola ( יהוה [YHWH], “Yahweh/The LORD”—1:3). He also employs hooking/stitching to link together the distinctive units at various levels. That the major subsections are thus connected may be seen in that the opening statement of theme (1:2) is hooked to the following thematic development via the catchword “LORD” and the theme of divine wrath (1:3-10); the idea of plotting links 1:3-10 with 1:11-15, and “destroying” binds 1:11-15 and 2:1-2. Further hooks can be shown to link the following units: attacking (2:1-2; 2:3-10), plundering (2:3-10; 2:11-13), “chariots” and the phrase “I am against you” (2:11-13; 3:1-7), and death and destruction (3:1-7; 3:8-19). Hooking words (stitch words) or ideas also connect not only major sections but also subsections (e.g., “fire,” 3:13, 15).

In addition to the previously mentioned instances of refrain to mark major sections or subsections, Nahum at times employs refrain and repetition to signal either the beginning or ending of a smaller unit. Examples include “not (again)/no (one)” (1:15; 2:9, 13; 3:3, 7(?), 19), הִנֵּה ( hinne„h), “behold/lo” (1:15; 2:13; 3:5, 13), the motif of “fire” that “consumes” (1:6, 10; 23, 13; 3:13, 15), and the use of rhetorical question (1:6; 2:11; 3:8, 19).

Both broad types of literary form are attested in this short prophecy: prose (e.g., 2:1-10) and poetry (e.g., 1:2-10). There is also an abundance of literary tropes and features, such as metaphor and simile (1:3b, 6, 10, 13; 2:4, 7, 8, 11-13; 3:4, 5-6, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19), synecdoche (2:4, 10, 13; 3:13), picturesque brevity (2:1, 9, 10b; 3:2-3), rhetorical question (1:6; 2:11; 3:8, 19), irony (2:1, 8; 3:14, 15), satire (2:11-13; 3:8-13, 14-19), woe (3:1-7), enjambment (2:12; 3:7), chiasm (1:2; 3:1-7), staircase parallelism (3:15), terraced parallelism (1:2), pivot-pattern parallelism (2:4), an acrostic poem (1:2-10), and numerous examples of alliteration and assonance that can be seen in the Hebrew text (e.g., 1:2-3a, 4b, 5; 2:1, 2, 6-7, 9, 11, 12, 13; 3:4, 7, 10, 18). Though this is not an exhaustive list of Nahum’s literary devices, it is obvious not only that they span the entire length of the book (thereby arguing for the unity of the whole prophecy) but that his praise as a poet is well deserved. Bewer remarks: “Nahum was a great poet. His word pictures are superb, his rhetorical skill is beyond praise.”5 J. M. P. Smith observes:

Though the rhythm and metre of Nahum are not so smooth and regular as is the case with some Heb. prophets, yet in some respects the poetry of Nahum is unsurpassed in the OT. His excellence is not in sublimity of thought, depth of feeling, purity of motive, or insight into truth and life. It is rather in his descriptive powers. He has an unexcelled capacity to bring a situation vividly before the mind’s eye.... Accurate and detailed observation assists in giving his pictures verisimilitude. Lowth rightly said, “Ex omnibus minoribus prophetis nemo videtur aequare sublimitatem, ardorem et audaces spiritus Nahumi.”6

It can be said with good reason, then, that Nahum was the poet laureate among the Minor Prophets.

Even more important for exegetes of the book is the realization that Nahum’s literary skill is not merely a display of his craftsmanship for his readers or a means of enlivening an otherwise colorless statement. Rather, his literary figures not only assist and enrich the understanding of the meaning of the text but are the very form and content in which its meaning is to be apprehended. Further, they demand that the reader respond to their message in the totality of his being. One will not appreciate so fine a piece of literature as Nahum’s prophecy unless he approaches it with his whole person—intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally, and, above all, in full dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

Outline

In accordance with its theme, development, and structural guidelines, the book may be outlined as follows:

Superscription (1:1)

I. The Doom of Nineveh Declared (1:2-15 [HB 1:2-2:1])

A. Theme: God Is a God of Justice Who Will Punish the Wicked and Avenge His Own (1:2)

B. Development: A Hymn to the Sovereign God (1:2-10)

1. Who defeats His foes (1:2-6)

2. Who destroys the plotters (1:7-10)

C. Application: God’s Justice for Nineveh and Judah (1:11-15 [HB 1:11-2:1])

II. The Doom of Nineveh Described (2:1-3:19 [HB 2:2-3:19])

A. Theme: God Is a Just Governor of the Nations Who Will Punish Wicked Nineveh and Restore His Own (2:1-2 [HB 2:2-3])

B. Development: First Description of Nineveh’s Demise (2:3-10 [HB 2:4-11])

C. Application: The Discredited City (2:11-13 [HB 2:12-14])

D. Development: Second Description of Nineveh’s demise (3:1-7)

E. Application: The Defenseless Citadel (3:8-19)

1. A comparison of Nineveh and Thebes (3:8-13)

2. A concluding condemnation of Nineveh (3:14-19)

Unity

Every one of the forty-seven verses of this short prophecy has been attacked by higher critics as being spurious. Contemporary critical scholarship tends to hold that at least one-third of the material was written by someone other than Nahum. Special targets for the attack center in parts of the title, the acrostic poem (1:2-10), the “hopeful sayings” (1:12-13; 2:1, 3), and the closing dirge (3:18-19). The result has been a rather uniform denial of the unity of the book.7

All of this, however, rests on the shakiest of premises. The rejection of part of the superscription because it is a double title flies in the face of the same phenomenon elsewhere (e.g., Hos. 1:1, 2; Amos 1:1; Mic. 1:1; cf. Isa. 13:1). The supposedly interpolated acrostic hymn of praise can be seen as part and parcel of the message and development of the entire book and integral to the words directed toward Nineveh and Judah that follow (1:11-15). Rejecting the genuineness of the “hopeful sayings” would necessitate doing so in virtually every prophetic book, for the prophets uniformly combine condemnation and comfort in their messages. It must be added that the messages of hope in Nahum depend not only on the process of Nineveh/Assyria’s downfall but also on God’s use of nations, which He will ultimately judge, to bring conditions favorable to Judah’s restoration. Judgment and hope are thus inextricably intertwined; both are integral to the theme, development, and applications found in the book. The attempt of several critics to deny the closing dirge to Nahum is subjective at best and erroneous in fact, for it forms a proper ending refrain not only to the previous taunt song (3:8ff.) but also to the entire second half of the book (2:1-3:19).

The various denials of the unity of the book are thus arbitrary and without foundation. As the previous discussion has shown, a demonstrable unity of theme and development is wedded to the structure of the entire prophecy. Further, there is thematic unity to the book in the author’s employment of several key words and at least ten literary motifs sprinkled throughout.8 Indeed, Nahum’s literary genius has enabled him to write a carefully composed and tightly structured prophecy that is unsurpassed by any of the writing prophets. The logical conclusion is that the book of Nahum is a unified literary piece, the product of one skilled author—the prophet Nahum.

Occasion And Purpose

It would seem apparent that it was revealed to Nahum, who lived in the dark times of the wicked Manasseh and witnessed the reduction of his nation to vassalage during the early campaigns of Ashurbanipal (which eventuated in the fall of Thebes), that Israel’s God was yet in control of earth’s history and still its sovereign despite all that had so recently come to pass. Further, these events were but a prelude and a means to the judgment of both Judah and Nineveh and were, in turn, part of the process that would accomplish the restoration of God’s people. Accordingly Nahum writes his short prophecy (1) to announce the doom of Nineveh and the demise of the mighty Assyrian empire and (2) to bring a message of consolation to a sin-weary and oppressed Judah.

Some critical scholars, however, have suggested that Nahum’s writings originated as part of a liturgical celebration (von Rad). Various forms of this view exist, with some (Humbert) postulating that the prophecy was composed for use in a liturgical setting at a New Year’s festival celebrating Nineveh’s capture in 612 B.C. The opening hymn and those verses containing rhetorical questions have been cited as proof of a series of solo recitatives and antiphonal responses designed to dramatize the fall and destruction of Nineveh. Others (Sellin, Fohrer) isolate several separate liturgical fragments or find a celebration of late liturgical poems commemorating the event. (Haupt even suggests that two of the conjectured four poems were written as late as the Maccabean era.) A further variation proposes that this prophetic material had much in common with Near Eastern mythological motifs celebrating the death and revivification of a cult god that were dramatized in an annual festival, especially in Mesopotamia, and adapted for use in the worship of Yahweh (Haldar, Mowinckel).9

All such theories, ingenious as some may be, are foundationless (only 1:15 bears any resemblance to a liturgical observance) and fail to deal adequately with the fact that Nahum’s prophecy looks forward to the distant fall of Nineveh and bears little resemblance to such celebrations as the Babylonian Aki„tu festival. Such theories attest the stubborn persistence of a sort of pan-Babylonianism that has increasingly been rejected by Assyriologists and Biblicists of all persuasions. Thus H. W. F. Saggs declares, “The extravagant and indiscriminate enthusiasm with which its proponents argued for the Pan-Babylonian Hypothesis led to its rejection, both from the Old Testament and from the Assyriological side, though it did not pass without leaving some effects upon the course of Biblical Studies.”10

Text And Canonicity

The MT of Nahum is especially well preserved, with possible corruptions being cited in few places (e.g., 1:4b; 3:18). Cathcart’s pronouncement remains true:

Recently discovered witnesses of the text of Nahum, including the Pesher of Nahum (4QpNah) found at Oumran; the Hebrew scroll of the Minor Prophets from Wadi Murabba’ât, and fragments of a Greek text of the Minor Prophets from Nahal Hever, indicate that the consonantal text found in the Hebrew Bible today has been handed down with incredible accuracy for nearly two thousand years at least.11

Most critical suggestions therefore deal with such details as proper pointing or word division rather than with the reading of the consonantal text and revolve around matters of Semitic cognates and questions of Northwest Semitic grammar. Reference to the LXX and Syriac versions has proved to be of limited value.

The canonicity of the book has never been seriously questioned. Its prevalence among biblical manuscripts from the intertestamental period, its utilization by the sectaries at Qumran as a source for application to certain events in their own day (probably in the days of the Jewish priest/king Alexander Jannaeus [103-76 B.C.] and Demetrius III, king of Syria [c. 95-83 B.C.]), and its employment by the early church Fathers (e.g., Tertullian, Lucian) give witness to its acceptance and usage. Doubtless it was known to the apostle Paul as well (cf. Rom. 10:15 with Isa. 52:7; Nah. 1:15). These facts concerning the canonicity of Nahum are in harmony with Beckwith’s conclusion:

Looking back over all this evidence (nearly the whole of which dates from before the ‘Council’ of Jamnia, where the Jewish canon is usually supposed to have been closed), one notes that, with the exception of the three short books Ruth, Song of Songs and Esther, the canonicity of every book of the Hebrew Bible is attested, most of them several times over.12

Theological Context

Perhaps the most basic theological perspective of Nahum is that of God’s sovereignty. God is seen as supreme over nature (1:4-6, 8), nations (1:15; 2:1, 3-7)—including Nineveh/Assyria (1:11-12a, 14; 2:8-10, 11-13; 3:5-7, 11-19), Judah (1:12b-13; 2:2), and Thebes/Egypt (3:8-10)—and all people (1:3, 6, 7-10). As a sovereign God He is also the controller of earth’s history (1:12; 2:13; 3:5-7), who moves in just judgment against His foes (1:2-3a, 8-10, 14; 2:13; 3:5-7, 11-19) but with saving concern for those who put their trust in Him (1:7-8a, 12b-13, 15; 2:2). God is shown also to be a God of revelation (1:1) who, although He is a jealous (1:2) and omnipotent God (1:3) who abhors sin (3:4-6, 19), is also long-suffering (1:3) and good (1:7) and has distinct purposes for His redeemed people.

In that regard, many have suggested that in adapting Isaiah’s messianic promise (Isa. 52:7) to his message concerning Nineveh’s downfall (Nah. 1:15), Nahum understands that God’s dealings with Judah and Assyria were part of His teleological purposes in the Messiah. In any case, it is certain that the messianic import of Nah. 1:15 was utilized by the early church and has brought comfort to the saints throughout the succeeding ages, who, while keeping their spiritual exercises, look forward with confidence and in expectation to that One who shall reign in righteousness and execute perfect peace.

One final note might be raised with regard to Nahum’s theological perspective. For in employing such literary devices as satire (2:11-13; 3:8-13, 14-17) and woe (3:1-7) to predict the doom of Nineveh, his language borders on the use of imprecation and is thus reminiscent of the tone of many psalms (e.g., Pss. 35, 58, 59, 69, 83, 109, and 139). The problem with all such cases is as J. G. Vos points out, “How can it be right to wish or pray for the destruction or doom of others?”13

A number of solutions may be suggested. (1) The prayers are uttered by men of faith who are concerned not for personal vengeance but for God’s holy reputation. Thus C. K. Lehman, who says, “The defeat of Israel would be a reproach to God’s name.”14 (2) Such men wrote under the influence of the Holy Spirit and were looking at the whole situation from God’s point of view. Gleason Archer remarks,

As long as the wicked continued to triumph their prosperity seemed to refute the holiness and sovereignty of the God of Israel. A Hebrew believer in the Old Testament age could only chafe in deep affliction of soul as long as such a state of affairs continued. Identifying himself completely with God’s cause, he could only regard God’s enemies as his own, and implore God to uphold His own honor and justify His own righteousness by inflicting a crushing destruction upon those who either in theory or in practice denied His sovereignty and His law.15

(3) The imprecator shared God’s hatred of sin and longed to see God’s righteousness vindicated. Numerous cries in the Psalms (e.g., Pss. 7:9; 28; 45:1, 13; 59:13; 69:6; 139:23-24) as well as several places in Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes attest this truth. (4) The imprecator was concerned with a “zeal for God and God’s kingdom. . . . And as he was God’s representative, his enemies ... must be accounted the enemies of God himself and his cause on earth.”16 (5) Such prayers are often evangelistic. Although they justly denounce the enemies of God and invoke His wrath against them, they at times provide a sounding board for the God who cares for the souls of all men and peoples (cf. Ps. 58:11; Jonah 4:11). (6) Imprecations can be in part “prophetic teachings as to the attitude of God toward sin and impenitent and persistent sinners.17 They remind their hearers that a holy God will yet put down all personal and corporate sin and reign in righteousness over all the earth. (7) The judgment of the wicked and the vindication of the faithful would “provide an opportunity for the righteous to praise God ([Pss.] 7:17; 35:18, 28).”18

It is evident that Nahum’s outlook on the fate of wicked Nineveh bears a strong resemblance to that of the imprecators. It is a good Lord who must and will take vengeance, not Nahum or his people (1:2-4, 7, 14; 2:13; 3:5-6). Essentially it is God’s sovereign authority and reputation for righteousness that are at stake in Judah’s controversy with Nineveh (1:2-6). Nineveh’s idolatry, rapacity, inordinate pride, and endless cruelty were so great that they called for divine intervention (1:11, 14; 2:11-13; 3:4-7, 19). Indeed such would give the prospect of genuine peace, rejoicing, and the renewed opportunity to worship God in perpetuity (1:7-8, 12-13, 15; 3:19).

If Nahum’s words seem harsh, then, it is because he must use appropriate literary convention to express the seriousness of the situation. As one who understands the divine perspective and senses the issues in God’s teleology that are at stake, he cannot do otherwise. For while “the Lord is good” (1:7, NIV) and patient, He “will surely not leave (the guilty) unpunished” (1:3). Whatever they plot against the Lord, “He will make an end (of it); trouble will not arise a second time” (1:9). Nahum’s assurances reinforce the twin truths of God’s justice against sinners and care for “those who seek refuge in him” (1:7), at the same time looking forward longingly to that final message of good news when the Ninevehs of this world have been silenced and believing people may live in peace and everlasting felicity.

1
The Doom of Nineveh Declared
(Nahum 1:1-15 [HB 1:1-2:1])

Nahum begins his prophecy with a notice of its central focus—Nineveh (1:1)—and then turns his attention to a description of Nineveh’s certain doom (1:2-15; see n. 2 in the introduction). Throughout the book Nahum’s prophecies deal with Nineveh’s doom, its eventual defeat, and its destruction. In the opening section, doom is declared to be certain, because it has been decreed by the sovereign and just Judge of the world, who deals equitably with all.

Nahum begins his prophecy with a two-part hymn that sets forth the theme of the section and depicts selected key elements of God’s nature. The hymn emphasizes that God is a God of justice who will punish the wicked and avenge His own (1:2). Further, He is a sovereign and mighty God who, although He is long-suffering, will defeat His guilty foes (1:3-6) and who, though He is beneficent, will destroy those who plot against Him (1:7-10). The rehearsal of these general truths concerning the character and work of God provides a foundation for their application to the world situation of Nahum’s day. Nineveh, the plotter against and afflicter of God’s people, will experience the just judgment of God, while a previously punished Judah will know relief from affliction and be restored to peace and joy (1:11-15).

In recording his opening prophetic remarks Nahum uses several literary devices. In addition to the initial double psalm of praise (1:2-10), the first chapter displays chiasmus (1:2, 3), terraced structure (1:2), and various forms of paronomasia, including plays on words (1:2, 3, 15), sounds (1:2, 3, 4b, 10), and even letters (’, n, q [1:2-3a], g [1:5], s [1:10], [1:15]). Metaphor (1:3), simile (1:6), and rhetorical question (1:6a, 10) are also in evidence.

Critical scholars have recognized in the majestic hymn to Yahweh in 1:2-10 the skeleton of an acrostic poem added by a later editor that has suffered some corruption and displacement in the course of transmission. Thus, for example, J. M. P. Smith places v. 2b after v. 9 in order to have an n line in proper place. He also drops v. 3a as a gloss. Because varying results have been arrived at by different scholars19 in recasting the proposed acrostic, most conservative commentators have rejected the theory altogether.20 But the hymnic nature of vv. 2-10 is undeniable. Though it may be impossible to recover the “lost acrostic” with demonstrable certainty, the task may not be totally without merit. As I have pointed out elsewhere,

if, then, rather than resorting to wild emendations and wholesale transpositions one views the beginning and ending of the canonical poem to be deliberately weighted so as to form a distinct frame for the psalm, a fairly consistent picture emerges: aleph, six lines (vv. 2-3a), beth—yodh, two lines each, and eight lines of kaph (perhaps to balance the six lines of aleph plus the two lines of superscription). The point would be that in Nahum’s acrostic arrangement, the prescribed letter of the alphabet need only occur within (not necessarily only as the first letter of the first word; cf. zayin and yodh lines) the line, although in several cases there is a deliberate concatenation of the letter in question in the line(s) devoted to it.21

The data may be conveniently tabulated in the following chart:

Verses

Letter

Lines

Occurrences

1-3a

aleph

6(+)2

6(+)2

3b

beth

2

3

4a

gimel

2

1

4b

daleth

2

(1)‡

5a

he

2

3

5b

waw

2

4

6a

zayin

2

1

6b

h£eth

2

1

7a

t£eth

2

1

7b-8a

Yodh

2

1

8b-10

Kaph

8

7

‡ Accomplished via text-critical methods.

Superscription (1:1)

Translation

An oracle concerning Nineveh;

The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

Exegesis and Exposition

The superscription to Nahum’s prophecy is unusual in that it is doubly constructed. The prophecies that follow are termed both מַשָּׂא ( masÃsÃa„á, “an oracle”*) and חֲזוֹן ( h£aŒzo‚n, “a vision”). Because the former term is derived from the Hebrew verb נָשָׂא ( na„sÃa„á, lift up”), two meanings have traditionally been assigned to the derived noun: (1) “burden” and (2) “oracle.” Those who favor the first translation (e.g., Calvin, Hengstenberg, Keil, Luther, Maier) call attention to the more natural reading of the root in the idea of a burden that is carried, whether that of animals (2 Kings 5:17) or men (Jer. 17:21, 22; cf. Deut. 1:12), and to the customary following of the term by an objective genitive (“the burden of/concerning X”). Those who take the noun to mean something like “oracle,” “utterance,” or simply “prophecy” (e.g., Laetsch, E. J. Young) point out that the term is used often to introduce nonburdensome prophecies (e.g., Zech. 12:1; Mal. 1:1) and that the associated verb is used of speaking in such cases as lifting up the voice (Isa. 3:7; 42:11), of lifting/taking up a parable (Num. 23:7), proverb (Isa. 14:4), prayer (Isa. 37:4), lamentation (Amos 5:1), or the name of God (Ex. 20:7).22 The strength of the Ugaritic parallels as well as the many biblical examples of na„sÃa„á used in a context of “lifting up the voice” appear to tip the weight in favor of the latter suggestion. Thus Barker remarks:

The verb is used of lifting up or uttering a ma„sŒa„l (“oracle”) in Numbers 23:7, 18; 24:3, 15, 20, 21, 23, and of lifting up the voice (NIV, “shouted”) in Judges 9:7 (“voice” is omitted from the Hebrew idiom in Isa 3:7; 42:2). Na„sÃa„á, then, means not only “to carry,” hence the meaning “burden” for masÃsÃa„á, but also “to lift up” in a more general sense. Therefore masÃsÃa„á could refer to the “lifting up” of the voice—i.e., to utter an oracle, hence the meaning “oracle.”23

By also calling his prophecy a vision, Nahum underscores the fact that what he says is not of his own invention but is that which God has specially revealed to him (cf. Num. 24:4, 16; 2 Chron. 32:32; Isa. 2:1; Dan. 2:26; 4:10 [HB 4:7]; Amos 1:1; Obad. 1; cf. Mic. 1:1). At the outset, then, Nahum makes clear that his words were not his own insights based upon his observations of the events of his time. Rather, they were nothing less than the message given to him by the sovereign God whose Word he must deliver, however difficult it might be.

Nahum’s prophecy is directed at Nineveh.* The mention of Nineveh in the superscription is significant in that without this notation the direction of the message of the entire first chapter could be unclear. Indeed, Nineveh is not specifically named in the original text until 2:9 (English 2:8). The inclusion of the Assyrian capital in the superscription, therefore, identified the object of the announcement of God’s judgment with which the book begins.

Additional Notes

1:1 The term מַשָּׂא can stand at the head of individual oracles (e.g., Isa. 13:1; 14:28; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1, 11, 13; 22:1; 23:1; 30:6; Ezek. 12:10; Zech. 9:1; 12:1) or whole books (e.g., Hab. 1:1; Mal. 1:1), as here. Nahum takes his place beside Isaiah (13:1) and Habakkuk (1:1) in linking מַשָּׂא with some form of the root חזה (“see”; cf. Lam. 2:14). Perhaps the latter root24 and its derivatives, while dealing primarily with the communication of received revelation, also imply that the prophet or חֹזֶה (“seer”) was one who as God’s chosen servant saw things from God’s point of view and attempted to get others to see them too.25 The word “seer” may further indicate that Nahum was allowed a visionary foreglimpse of Nineveh’s actual siege and fall.26

The appearance of the double title has caused many to question the authenticity of the superscription and to carry their suspicions to other portions of the book as well.27 As Maier points out, however, the parts of the double title complement one another and are, in any case, similarly paralleled in the headings to Amos, Micah, and Isaiah’s prophecy against Babylon (Isa. 13:1).

Nineveh: Because the name of the Assyrian capital occurs in the superscription, the NIV has not gone beyond the bounds of translational propriety in inserting “Nineveh” into the text in at least three places before 2:8 (HB v. 9) (1:11, 14; 2:1 [HB v. 2]). Similar to this {1.21}insertion at obvious places is the NIV inclusion of “O Judah” at 1:12, a text that clearly anticipates the statement of 1:15 (HB 2:1). The NIV could just as well have read “Nineveh” rather than “the city” at 2:7 (HB v. 8).

Like Obadiah, who prophesied against Edom, Nahum’s prophecy is single-minded, envisioning the judgment of but one city/nation—Nineveh/Assyria. Unlike the slim hope that Obadiah holds out for Edom at the last (vv. 19-21), Nahum has no such comfort for Nineveh.

סֵפֶר (“book”): Keil’s suggestion that the inclusion of the word “book” in the superscription indicates that the prophecy was written but never delivered orally is perhaps an overstatement. The use of the term may simply suggest that Nahum’s burdensome vision, whether delivered orally or not, has now under divine inspiration been committed to a permanent record that all may read (cf. Hab. 2:2).

Nahum: H. Hummel suggests that the meaning of Nahum’s name (“comfort”) is quite apropos:

It may be accidental (some critics think it deliberately artificial), but the name “Nahum” superbly summarizes the book’s message. God’s justice means judgment on the enemy, but “comfort” to the faithful. The book thus exemplifies the role which “Gentile oracles” play in all the prophets. The point is not that God’s people go scot-free, but precisely the reverse: if God so judges those whom He employs temporarily as instruments of His judgment upon His unfaithful people, how much more fearful the judgment upon His own people if they finally miss the message.28

For the term “Elkoshite,” see the introduction under Authorship. It may be added here that there seems to be little warrant for following Schulz’s conjecture that the second half of the superscription (“the book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite”) indicates the existence of a postexilic author who, basing his own redaction on an earlier poem aimed at the doom of Nineveh, whose fall he saw as related to an eschatological process that means salvation for Israel, created a final edition that both spoke to the situation of his own day and was intended to be read as a whole in a worship ceremony.29

A. Theme (1:2)

Nahum’s prophecy begins with an indication of its theme: God is a God of justice who will punish the wicked and avenge His own (1:2). That theme dominates not only the hymnic material in which it is set (1:2-10) but also the whole first section of the book (1:2-15).{1.22}

Translation

A jealous* God

      and an avenger is Yahweh;

Yahweh is an avenger

      and Lord of wrath.

An avenger is Yahweh to His foes,

      and He is a keeper* (of wrath) against His enemies.

Exegesis and Exposition

The words that form both the opening lines of Nahum’s hymn of praise and the statement of theme of that hymn as well as the whole first section are punctuated by the threefold repetition of the name of Yahweh over four lines of poetry dealing with God’s avenging wrath: (1) Yahweh is a jealous God and an avenger; (2) Yahweh is an avenger and Lord of wrath; (3) Yahweh is an avenger against His foes and is a keeper of wrath against His enemies (1:2). He is described at the outset as being a “jealous and avenging God” (NIV). The first term can be understood here either in the sense of being jealous or of being zealous. The latter idea appears to be the original significance from which either the positive (zeal, jealousy) or negative (envy) connotations arose. Normally its use with God and Israel rests upon the basis of the covenant, especially as expressed by the figure of the marriage relationship.* As a jealous husband, Israel’s covenant God abhors spiritual adultery (cf. Ex. 20:4-5; 34:14; Deut. 4:23-24; 5:8-9 with Jer. 2:1-3:5; Ezek. 16:35-42; 23:25). Indeed, a jealous God’s righteous wrath would one day effect an apostate people’s judgment and exile from the land (cf. Deut. 6:13-15; Josh. 24:19-20; Ps. 79:5). In all of this, however, God’s jealous wrath is also maintained for action on behalf of His own, particularly after they have repented and so been restored to His favor (Isa. 59:17; Ezek. 5:13; 36:6-7; 38:17-23; 39:25-29; Zeph. 3:8-17; Zech. 8:2-3).

Nahum’s employment of the idea of jealousy, then, is in harmony with the familiar scriptural motif of the husband and the wife. This motif is often applied to God’s relation to Israel. Israel had been the object of God’s eternal love. She had been brought into the family of God in the Exodus from Egypt. He had cared for her and nourished her in the testings of the wilderness and had brought her safely into the land of inheritance. Well did God recall her total devotion and the loving warmth and pristine purity of those early wedding days. Living in the land of promise, a thoughtful and happy wife ought to have been what God had intended her to be: holy to the Lord (Jer. 2:2-3). But such scarcely had been the case. Jeremiah 2:4-3:5 recounts the sorry tale of the bride who had become God’s wayward wife.

Jeremiah’s portrayal of the spiritual odyssey of Israel/Judah is in {1.23}harmony with the same theme sung by other prophets. Hosea’s marriage was to picture God’s relation to Israel. It emphasized that Israel’s wanton apostasy would gain her only the loss of her freedom, until God would pay the price for her sin and bring her back to Himself in the latter days (Hos. 1-3).

Isaiah (Isa. 54:4-17) relates that Israel had been forsaken by God because of her wickedness. Nevertheless she was yet God’s wife and, as a repentant nation, would yet be forgiven and regathered in righteousness and so enjoy the everlasting acceptance and protection of her divine husband.

Ezekiel 16 is devoted to the same theme. Jerusalem is likened to a bride (v. 8) who had become a brazen harlot (vv. 15, 43), even outdoing Sodom in her iniquity (vv. 44-52). Because she had broken her marriage oath, she incurred God’s chastisement (vv. 53-59). But God, a forgiving and loyal husband, would yet receive her back and remove her humiliation forever (vv. 60-63).

It is no surprise, then, that the theme of the bride is taken up again by Christ and the apostles, whose Bible was largely still the Old Testament. The relationship now, however, is between Christ and the church (cf. Mark 2:19) and, as such, complements the relationship of God the Father with Israel.

Paul reminds the Ephesians that Christ loved the church as a husband loves his bride. Accordingly He sacrificed Himself for her so that she might be pure and holy and seen in all her God-given beauty (Eph. 5:25-27). Paul rehearses to the Corinthian believers how he (the friend of the bridegroom) had intoduced them (the bride) to Christ (the groom). Although she had been a pure virgin, Paul found that the Corinthian church had been susceptible (like Eve) to the serpent’s bite of false gospels. Thus the Corinthians stood in particular need of his ministry to them lest they stray further (2 Cor. 11:1-4).

The Revelation given through John pictures the joy of heaven at the proclamation of that great wedding supper of the Lamb for His waiting bride: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give honor to him; for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). Certainly it is true that, although she has been wedded to Christ, the church His bride awaits His coming to take her to His home and to the full joy of that festive occasion. Of that coming of the bridegroom, Christ Himself warns a waiting generation to be ready and watching, longing for His coming (Matt. 25:1-13).

Paul reminds his readers, who make up the waiting bride of Christ, that the church is to have a faithful and productive marriage. For that reason she has been married to her saving husband and has become one spirit with Him, her body having become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:15-19). As His bride, who both expects His {1.24}imminent return and is mindful of her union with Christ, the church is to keep herself pure (1 John 3:1-3), remembering the wedding price that Christ Himself has paid (1 Cor. 6:20).

The use of the word “wrath” in the last line of the initial couplet is doubtless designed to form an inclusion with v. 6. It also anticipates Ezekiel’s familiar pairing of wrath and jealousy (e.g., Ezek. 16:38; cf. 5:13; 36:6; 38:18-19).

The occurrence here of the set parallel terms אֵל ( áe„l, “El/God”) and בַּעַל ( baàal, “Baal/lord”) in these lines strengthens the suggestion of a deliberately formed chiasmus designed not only to strike a responsive chord in Nahum’s readers but to call attention to the double assertion concerning the Lord’s being an avenger that is sandwiched between them. As a God of holiness and justice, God reserves the right of vengeance to Himself. However the course of history might seem to be unfolding, God observes it all and will ultimately take proper action against all sin (cf. Isa. 34:8; 61:2; 63:4). Such the Lord is about to do in the case of Nineveh/Assyria. The three ideas (jealousy, wrath, vengeance) bound together in these opening lines form the groundwork for all of Nahum’s prophecy. As a jealous God, Yahweh demands the absolute devotion that the only true and sovereign God deserves; in His righteous wrath, Yahweh alone can and will deal justly with all who sin, even as His justice dictates; and as an avenging God, Yahweh will discipline, defend, or deliver according to the demands of His holiness.

The theme is filled out in two further lines (connected asyndetically and constructed as terraced poetry) elaborating on the centerpiece of the previous chiasmus: Yahweh is an avenger* against His foes and a keeper (of wrath) against His enemies. Because Assyria (represented by Nineveh its capital) will be the focus of Nahum’s attention, these words take on a distinctive importance. The previous chiasmus had stressed the fact that Yahweh, a jealous God and Lord of wrath, is an avenger. His vengeance against foes is further underlined here. If, as is well known. God’s jealous wrath has brought vengeance against His own apostate Israel, how much more ought those who are not His own—His foes—to fear?

Thus vengeance* becomes a key to unlocking the door of understanding to Nahum’s prophecy. In reading of God’s vengeance. however, one must not think of the familiar human vindictiveness of spirit so often condemned in the Scriptures (cf. Deut. 32:35; Prov. 25:21-22 with Rom. 12:19-20; Lev. 19:18 with Matt. 19:19). Although God may delegate the operation of vengeance to constituted authority (cf. Num. 31:1; Josh. 10:13; Esther 8:13), it primarily belongs to Him (Deut. 32:35-43; Heb. 10:30-31). Indeed, man is cautioned against a spirit of wrath that can so easily lead to taking vengeance {1.25}(cf. Eph. 4:26-27). Because God is holy, He cannot let sin go unpunished; because only God is perfectly holy and just, as well as allwise, only He can exact the proper punishment (Ps. 94).

The last line of verse 2 is important for understanding the process of God’s vengeance: His judicial wrath is not always immediate. At times He holds in reserve His wrath against His foes until the proper occasion. God’s government, including His judicial processes, is on schedule, even though to an awaiting mankind His timing may seem to lag. This thought anticipates that of the next line, serving notice that the theme of the book is also the theme of the hymn in which it is located (1:2-10).

Additional Notes

1:2קַנּוֹא: Though this adjective appears only here and in Josh. 24:19, קַנָּא occurs five times (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15) and the noun קִנְאָה more than three dozen times, many of which refer to God. Cathcart calls attention to Albright’s contention that the outstanding characteristic of God in the prophets was His jealousy and suggests that the use of אֵל and בַּעַל with קַנּוֹא and חֵמָה may be reflective of Canaanite hymnody, wherein El and Baal often occur in parallelism. But the fact that Nahum’s hymn has similar sentiment to poems ascribed to the Canaanite storm-god could indicate no more than Nahum’s considerable literary skill in utilizing old themes in composing his psalm of praise to Yahweh. Certainly there is no need to see wholesale adoption of a Canaanite composition dedicated to Baal, as some suggest.30 God’s own self-assertion is that He is a jealous God (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 5:8).

Attributing jealousy to the Lord poses no problem, for in OT usage jealousy is but the intolerance of rivalry or unfaithfulness. How one expresses that intolerance determines whether or not it is sin. When applied to the Lord, it usually concerns Israel and carries with it the notions of the marriage or covenant relationship and the Lord’s right to exclusive possession of Israel.31

Nevertheless the double parallelism of קַנּוֹא|| חֵמָה and אֵל|| בַּעַל to frame an intervening repeated couplet indicates a deliberate chiasmus built upon familiar traditional literary motifs, including Canaanite ones. Further, the mention of בַּעַל may have wider connotations. In addition to being the name of the Canaanite storm-god, the {1.26}noun may refer to an owner (Ex. 22:7), master (Isa. 1:3), or ruler (Isa. 16:8). Because Yahweh is redeemed Israel’s owner, master, and husband, His wrath can be either spent against her or extended on her behalf. By the word בַּעַל Nahum could also be reporting that despite the rampant idolatry initiated by King Manasseh, Yahweh (not Baal) is the true Lord of the universe (cf. vv. 3b-5) who will deal in righteous wrath with sin and rebellion. It may also be a veiled attack on Hadad, the Assyrian storm-god.

The introduction of the last two lines of Nah. 1:2 asyndetically makes the contrast with the preceding chiasmus all the more dramatic. In such cases, a crispness and vividness characteristically attends the author’s words. The thought here is that the thrust of God’s vengeance (v. 2a) is immediately to be qualified by seeing that this aspect of His character is aimed at his foes. Even here, however, the emphasis needs to be qualified by the full scriptural teaching concerning God’s vengeance, a doctrine that is often misunderstood. Indeed, a complete analysis of the data makes clear that vengeance is often integral to the biblical teaching on grace, mercy, and judgment (e.g., Ex. 20:3-4; Deut. 5:7-8). As Smick (TWOT 2:599) so aptly points out:

The Bible balances the fury of God’s vengeance against the sinner with greatness of his mercy on those whom he redeems from sin. God’s vengeance must never be viewed apart from his purpose to show mercy. He is not only the God of wrath, but must be the God of wrath in order for his mercy to have meaning.

צַר and אֹיֵב: These are recognized set parallel pairs.32

וְנוֹטֵר has been much discussed. Like the preceding “takes vengeance” (NIV), it is technically a participle; God is “a maintainer (of wrath).” In common with the Syriac ne†t£ar, the root means basically to “keep,” “guard,” “maintain” and hence has the same semantic range as Heb. נָצַר (cf. Old Aramaic נְצַר with classical Aramaic נְטַר) and also שָׁמַר with which it occurs in parallel in Jer. 3:5; Amos 1:11. Because נָטַר appears to bear the meaning “be angry,” “bear a grudge” in several contexts (e.g., Lev. 19:18; Ps. 103:9; Jer. 3:5, 12), a significance seemingly shared on occasion by its parallel שָׁמַר (Jer. 3:5; Amos 1:11), some scholars have suggested that both verbs know a second root signifying “rage,” “be in fury.” M. Held has provided impressive evidence that these postulated roots ( sŒmr II|| nt£r II) are stative verbs, whereas the synonymous pair sŒmr II|| ns£r (guard) are transitive. Thus nt£r I (“guard”) may owe its origin to Aramaic/Syriac נְטַר whereas nt£r {1.27}II may be cognate with the Akkadian nada„ru (“be angry/furious,” “be in rage”).33 But despite the arguments of Held and of such scholars as G. R. Driver34 and Cathcart, the conclusion of Maier—that all of the suggested instances where sŒmr/ nt£r seem to be stative are simply cases of elliptical constructions (i.e., the verbs themselves meaning “maintain/reserve,” with the idea of anger being supplied by the context)—is on the whole the simplest answer to the problem. It does not need to posit a conjectured root that has undergone phonetic change, and it has the advantage of being contextually more sound in that the traditional meaning anticipates the sentiment of the next verse.

B. Development: A Hymn To The Sovereign God (1:2-10)

Having drawn the reader’s attention to a sovereign and just God who deals in judgment with the ungodly (v. 2), Nahum develops this theme in a twofold hymn to Yahweh concerning the character and work of God: (1) although the Lord is long-suffering, He will assuredly judge the guilty with all the force that a sovereign God can muster (1:3-6); and (2) although the Lord is good and tenderly cares for the righteous (particularly in times of affliction), He will destroy those who plot against Him (1:7-10).

Verse 2, at once theme and opening hymnic expression, is doubly indicated in the Outline (see introduction) and in the present discussion (i.e., 1:2-6; 1:7-10). After the statement of the thesis, the hymn is developed around two nonverbal sentences setting forth two aspects of Yahweh’s character: (1) “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power” (v. 3, NIV); (2) “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (v. 7, NIV). These two statements serve as headings to units that amplify the thematic sentiment in v. 2. The two sections thus formed are likewise composed in a similar format: (1) descriptive statement(s) followed by conjunctive waw; (2) further development given in controlling introductory forms: prepositional phrase (v. 3b), emphatic accusative (v. 8b); (3) conclusion marked by rhetorical questions (vv. 6a, 9) and figurative reinforcement (vv. 6b, 10).

In composing his hymn, Nahum has drawn upon familiar motifs long used in the worship of Yahweh. His indebtedness to the religious literature utilized in the worship of Yahweh can be seen by comparing the hymn with other ascriptions of praise to the Lord. It is evident, {1.28}for example, that vv. 2-6 are dependent on images and phrases drawn from the epic traditions commemorating the Exodus (a compositional plan also followed by Habakkuk [3:3-15]):

V.

Motif

Texts

2

God is a jealous God

Ex. 30:5; Josh. 24:19

3

God’s long-suffering patience

Ex. 34:6, 7

 

Theophany in the storm

2 Sam. 22:10; Ps. 68:4 (HB 68:5)

4

God’s rebuke of the sea and drying it up

2 Sam. 22:16; Ps. 77:16 (HB 77:17); Hab. 3:15; Ex. 14:21-22

5

Violent shaking of nature

Judg. 5:4-5; 2 Sam. 22:8; Pss. 68:8 (HB 68:9); 77:18 (HB 77:19); 114:6; Hab. 3:6

6

God’s mighty wrath topples the enemy

Ex. 15:14ff.; Hab. 3:10

 

Even rocks burnt

Deut. 32:22

Verses 7-10, however, are drawn largely from various standard expressions in mainstream Israelite theology found in various places in the Psalms and particularly in the prophet Isaiah (esp. Isa. 8). As well, Armerding demonstrates that several prominent ideas found in vv. 2-6 are also held in common with Isaiah (in one instance, Nah. 1:4b, the closest parallel is in Isa. 33:9). Though most of these parallels are somewhat general and may indicate nothing more than that both Isaiah and Nahum were familiar with the same traditional material, Armerding has made an interesting point.35

It does seem certain, then, that Nahum’s hymn falls into two portions, as seen not only structurally but in the type of material contained in each of the two poetic sections. The first (vv. 2-6), drawn largely from traditional Exodus themes, underscores God’s wrath against an unbelieving enemy; the second (vv. 7-10) comes from a wider spectrum of praises to God for His defense of His own, while defeating the enemy. Although his familiarity with Isaiah may account somewhat for the selection of some of the material, it was all at his disposal (as is the case also with Habakkuk), and his own unique genius accounts for its presentation in the form of an acrostic (or semiacrostic) hymn.

1. Who Defeats His Foes (1:2-6)
Translation (vv. 3-6)

Yahweh is slow to anger* but great in power

      and will surely not leave (the guilty) unpunished*.

His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,

      and clouds are the dust of His feet.{1.29}

4He rebukes the sea and dries it up,

      and He makes all the rivers run dry.

Bashan and Cannel are withered,

      and the flower of Lebanon fades.

5The mountains tremble because of Him,

      and the hills melt away*;

also the earth quakes before Him,

      yea, the world* and all who dwell in it.

6Before His indignation who can stand?

      And who can endure His fierce anger?

His wrath is poured out like fire,

      and the rocks are shattered by Him.

Exegesis and Exposition

Nahum’s opening thesis—that God as a God of justice will punish the wicked and avenge His own—is developed when the prophet notes that this means God will surely defeat His foes. In so arguing Nahum remarks first of all that the Lord is “slow to anger.” Although he takes righteous vengeance on His foes (v. 2), this does not always mean instant retaliation. Rather, His justice may be “slow” in coming, for He is a God of infinite patience who has an overriding concern for the souls of people (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9-15). Instructive in understanding God’s patience is its appearance in combination with phrases such as “great in lovingkindness” (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13). Far from being simply an omnipotent sovereign who executes justice with rigid disinterest, God is a God of truth and love who, because He longs to bring people into a family relationship, abounds in forbearance toward those who deserve only judgment (cf. Ex. 34:6-7).

The concluding part of the sentence, however, keeps a needed balance in proper perspective: Despite His infinite patience (cf. Joel 2:13), a God of truth and justice (Pss. 9:9 [HB 9:10]; 31:5 [HB 31:6]) will not acquit the guilty but must ultimately confront unrepented sin so that justice triumphs in the punishment of the guilty (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:17-18; Deut. 28:58-68; Isa. 24:14-24; Jer. 30:11; 46:28; Joel 3:4-8, 19 [HB 4:4-8, 19]). Moreover, God is not only just (Rom. 3:26), but as an omnipotent sovereign He has the inherent strength to effect His justice: He is “great in power,” as the following lines demonstrate (vv. 3b-6).

The description of God that proceeds in amplifying the statement concerning God’s strength contains striking poetic imagery. The tropes found here include metaphor (v. 3b), graphic image (vv. 4-5), rhetorical question (v. 6a), and simile (v. 6b). All are chosen not just for dramatic effect but as the most appropriate form for conveying {1.30}the author’s intended meaning.36 As poetic devices they intensify the emotive response of the reader by presenting carefully designed word pictures. Thus God’s omnipotence and approach are represented by the whirlwind and the storm (v. 3), the earthquake (v. 5), and fire (v. 6). M. Travers’s remarks are to the point: “It is through such tropes as the metaphor, image and simile that Nahum establishes the thorough destructiveness, the utter terror of God’s wrath: who can withstand him?”37

The theophany portrayed in the metaphor of v. 3b is a familiar one in the Old Testament: God is the God of the storm. The figure is often utilized for contexts dealing with judgment (e.g., Isa. 29:6; 66:15; Zech. 9:14). Perhaps in contrast to the impotent pagan stormgods, God had appeared since the time of Israel’s redemption out of Egypt and conquest of Canaan as the mighty controller of the tempest and all the forces of nature (Ex. 15:1-18; 19:16-19; Judg. 5:4-5; 2 Sam. 22:8-16; Pss. 68:7-8 [HB 68:8-9]; 77:17-20 [HB 77:18-21]; 144:5-6; Hab. 3:3-15).38 Therefore Yahweh alone is in control of the natural world as well as of the affairs of mankind (Job 37:1-24; 38:1-42:6; Ps. 104; Acts 17:24-28).

Nahum’s description of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty that follows is in harmony with mainstream Hebrew orthodoxy and is phrased in familiar imagery: God is in the whirlwind* and the storm* (cf. Ps. 83:16; Isa. 29:6); He treads the lofty clouds* under His feet (cf. Ex. 19:16-19; 2 Sam. 22:10; Pss. 68:5 [HB 68:6]; 97:2; 104:3; Isa. 14:14; 19:1; 66:15; Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; 1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 1:7); He controls the rivers and seas* (cf. Ex. 14:21-22; 15:8; Judg. 5:21; 2 Sam. 22:16; Pss. 66:6; 77:16 [HB 77:17]; 106:9; 114:3-5; Isa. 42:15; 44:27; 50:2; 51:10; Jer. 51:36; Hab. 3:15); He can make desolate* the most luxurious of lands (e.g., Bashan and Carmel;* cf. Isa. 16:8; 19:7; 29:17; 33:9; 42:15; Jer. 4:26; 48:31-33; Mic. 7:13); the mountains* and earth quake and collapse at His presence (cf. Judg. 5:4-5; 2 Sam. 22:8, 16; Job 28:9; Pss. 46:6 [HB 46:7]; 77:18 [HB 77:19]; 114:4-7; Isa. 13:13; 42:15; 64:11; Jer. 4:24; Joel 3:16 [HB 4:16]; Mic. 1:4; Hab. 3:6, 10; Zech. 14:4) so that the world and its inhabitants are helpless before Him—even the most impenetrable of rocks {1.31}lies shattered before His fiery wrath (cf. Deut. 32:22; 1 Kings 19:11; Jer. 23:29; Matt. 27:51).

In all this Nahum gives a graphic picture of the limitless and invincible power of God. Accordingly he can ask whether any could stand in the face of such an almighty One when He executes His wrath.* The answer is “No one, no one at all!” By implication this anticipates the subject of his prophecy: Not even mighty Nineveh, home of the Assyrian world empire, would be able to withstand the sovereign God of all nature. The Creator, controller, and consummator of this world and its history is the same one who will not leave the guilty unpunished.

Additional Notes

1:3אַפַּיִם אֶרֶךְ: This phrase is appropriately translated in LXX in each of the instances cited in the Exegesis and Exposition by the Greek adjective μακροθυμός (“patient”). The corresponding noun, μακροθυμία (“patience”), is often used in the New Testament. Peter in particular applies the term to God who, in the days of Noah, endured a world of spiritual bankruptcy (1 Pet. 3:20). Peter reports that He similarly delays the great day of judgment so as to prolong the day of salvation (2 Pet. 3:15). Because God is patient, believers ought to be also (cf. Matt. 18:21-25). The Christian has a source of aid in being “long-suffering,” for it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Not only the Christian minister (2 Cor. 6:6), who most assuredly must develop this trait (1 Tim. 1:16), but every Christian should be marked by godly patience toward all (1 Thess. 5:14), which allows him to walk worthy of his Christian calling (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12), thus reproducing in his life the same performance of faith as his spiritual predecessors (Heb. 6:11-12).

It is instructive that in several cases μακροθυμία is juxtaposed with such words as χρηστό( τητο) ς (“[loving]kind[ness],” 2 Cor. 6:6; Gal. 5:22) and ἀγάπη (“love”; 2 Tim. 3:10). God is not only patient; God is love (1 John 4:8). It is no surprise, then, that as Christians are charged to love one another (1 John 4:7-12) they are reminded that true Christian love is characterized by both long-suffering (1 Cor. 13:4) and endurance in all things (13:7). Christians, of all people, ought to be patient. Thus Paul rightly charges believers to “put on love, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:14).

† The verb נקה (“be innocent”) is related to Semitic cognates in Akkadian, Arabic, and Aramaic meaning “be clean/pure” (cf. Dan. 7:9). In the piel stem the verb becomes declarative:39 “declare innocent,” {1.32}”acquit” (cf. Job 9:28; Joel 3:21 [HB 4:21]). As such, it is characteristically reserved for the divine prerogative (e.g., Ex. 20:7; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Job 9:28; Jer. 30:11; 46:28; but note 1 Kings 2:9). The employment of יהוה here in enveloping structure calls further attention to this latter fact.

לֹא: Although A. Haldar40 argues for reading an emphatic lamedh here, such scarcely makes good sense contextually. Moreover, the scriptural parallels cited above (note especially Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18) argue strongly for the retention of the MT negative particle. Translating the verb with the addition of an accusative “the guilty” is a natural translation ad sensum. Cathcart (Nahum, p. 45) calls attention to Cross’s reading of a Hebrew inscription from Khirbet Beit Lei:

 

nqh yh ál h£nn

Absolve (us) O Merciful God!

 

nqh yh yhwh

Absolve (us) O Yahweh!

Some critical scholars (e.g., J. M. P. Smith) have suggested that v. 3a be treated as a gloss, possibly supplied from Num. 14:17, so as to soften the force of God’s wrath just recorded. Quite the contrary, the scriptural parallels, the flow of the context, and the authorial design in the concatenation of the letter aleph argue for the retention of the line. Further, as Cathcart points out, the essential integrity of vv. 2-3a is supported by the heaping up of the consonants n and q (six times) and the combination of the ideas of strength/wrath and gentleness/mercy found in such extrabiblical literary sources as the Babylonian Ludlul Be„l Ne„meqi, where Marduk is described as one

Whose fury surrounds him like the blast of a tornado,

Yet whose breeze is as pleasant as a morning zephyr;

His anger is irresistible, his rage is a hurricane,

But his heart is merciful, his mind forgiving,

The ... of whose hands the heavens cannot hold back,

But whose gentle hand sustains the moribund.41

All this also speaks against Smith’s suggestion that the MT reading גְּדוֹל־כֹּחַ, found uniquely here as opposed to the more usual חֶסֶד רַב (“abounding in lovingkindness”), if to be retained at all must refer to God’s moral strength, for “the thought probably is that Yahweh’s self-control is too great to permit him to act upon the impulse of sudden outbursts of wrath.”42 The thought perhaps parallels that of Ps. 147:5:{1.33}

 

Great is our Lord

גָּדוֹל אֲדוֹנֵינוּ

 

and abundant in strength.

וְרַב־כֹּתַ

סוּפָה (“whirlwind”) occurs also in Hos. 8:7 in a context of judgment and in parallel with עָנָן (“cloud”) in Jer. 4:13. שְׂעָרָה (“storm”) is a biform of סְעָרָה (“[wind]storm”), both of which are related to Akkadian sŒa„rum (“windstorm”). Both nouns occur together in Isa. 29:6 in a context of judgment. סוּפָה is paired with the masculine noun form סַעַר (“storm”) in Ps. 83:15 (HB 83:16). Yahweh’s power over the storm could be viewed as a veiled denunciation of both the Canaanite Baal (who was often worshiped in poetic lines of similar sentiment and whose worship was even then rampant in Judah) and Haddu/Hadad, the Assyrian storm-god.

The occurrence of these two terms for storm, as well as the image of the God of the clouds shared in common between Isaiah and Nahum, underscores Armerding’s contention that Nahum had a strong literary dependence on Isaiah:

The evidence for literary interdependence between Isaiah and Nahum is thus founded on unique, multiple verbal repetitions linking specific passages (e.g. Nah 1:2 and Isa. 59:17-19; 1:3-6 and 29:6; 1:4 and 33:9; 50:2; 1:4-5 and 42:15; 1:15 and 52:1, 7; 2:9-10 and 24:1, 3; 2:10 and 21:3-4; 3:5-7 and 47:2-3; 3:7 and 51:19). It is reinforced by the extensive continuity of imagery in other related passages (e.g., drought, earthquake, fire, stubble, burial, lions). And it is corroborated to the point of virtual certainty by the shared pattern of oppression, deliverance, and judgment experienced specifically in relation to Assyria (cf. Isa. 5:26-30; 7:17-20; 8:4-8; 9:1; 10:5-34; 11:11, 15-16; 14:24-27; 19:23-25; 20:1-6; 27:13; 30:27-33; 31:1-9; 36:1-37:38; 38:6; 51:17-52:7).43

Armerding suggests that the ubiquity of the interrelationship between Isaiah and Nahum may well provide corroborative evidence of Isaiah’s authorship of all the prophecy that bears his name.

W. G. E. Watson may be correct in suggesting that the use of the two words for storm here is an example of hendiadys. He translates the line “In the tempestuous whirlwind his road.”44

God’s treading upon the clouds is reminiscent of the title “rider on the clouds” (Ps. 68:4 [HB 68:5]). רכב with עַל often means “mount up upon” (cf. Akkadian raka„bu). One may note especially 1 Sam. 25:42; 2 Sam. 19:27; 1 Kings 13:13-14; 18:45; 2 Kings 9:16, where רכב is used of mounting together with an accompanying activity. Such familiar phrases as בָּעֲרָבוֹת רֹכֵב (“rider on the clouds,” Ps. 68:4 [HB 68:5]; cf. Ugaritic rkb àrpt) and הַשָּׁמַיִם רֹכֵב (“he who rides upon the heavens”; cf. Deut. 33:26), as well as קַל עַל־עָב רֹכֵב (“he who rides upon a swift {1.34}cloud,” Isa. 19:1), may all likewise be understood as “he who mounts/is mounted upon the clouds/heavens.” The traditional meaning “ride upon” is, of course, equally possible.45 In this word there may again be a veiled reference to Hadad who appears in Ugaritic texts as “Hadad, lord of the storm clouds” and in the Assyrian recension of the Atrah¬asi„s Epic as the one who “rode on the four winds, (his) asses.”46

1:4a Many find in these parallel lines a further adoption of an original Canaanite setting. The juxtaposition of יָם and יָבַשׁ may compose a merismus made up of polar word pairs. יָם (“sea”) and נָהָר (“river”) are familiar set parallel pairs in both the Ugaritic texts and the OT.47

1:4b The mention of Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon is reminiscent of a similar context in Isa. 33:9. All three were noted for being places of special fertility. Bashan (south of Mount Hermon on the east side of the Jordan) was fabled for the productivity of its land and therefore its fine cattle (Mic. 7:14); Carmel (the promontory along the Mediterranean Sea in central Canaan south of the Bay of Acre) was prized for its beauty and its fruitfulness (Song of Sol. 7:5; Jer. 50:19); and Lebanon (home of the lofty mountains of coastal Syria) was famed for its great cedars (1 Kings 5:14-18; Isa. 2:13). The conquering Mesopotamian kings frequently boasted of traveling to the forests of Lebanon.48 Cathcart notes that the double parallels Lebanon/Bashan and mountains/hills have a counterpart in Isa. 2:13-14.49

For the relation of the double אֻמְלַל in the reconstruction of the proposed acrostic in vv. 2-10, see the note on v. 2. That the first occurrence of the word was originally written as a similar parallel root, such as דָּלַל or דֻּמְלַל, rests upon not only the needs of the acrostic pattern but also the fact that the ancient versions uniformly used two different words to express the Hebrew word(s) in question.50 In the absence of further evidence in the Hebrew manuscript tradition, however, the case for an unbroken acrostic must remain unproved {1.35}due to the absence of a daleth in v. 4. In fact, Joel’s use of אֻמְלַל in parallel with יָבַשׁ (“be dried up,” Joel 1:10, 12) in his description devastating drought may argue for Nahum’s adaptation of Joel’s language, resulting in a deliberately formed broken acrostic. Such a broken alphabetic acrostic occurs in Pss. 9-10 where ד is likewise missing.

1:5 The figure of the divine shaking of the mountains (cf. Jer. 4:24; Hab. 3:6) is found also in Canaanite texts praising Baal/Hadad.51 הַר/ גִּבְעָה is a common parallel pair in Isaiah (e.g., Isa. 2:2, 14; 10:32; 30:17; 42:18).

† The usual translation of מוּג as “melt” has met with some discussion. Because the other lines in v. 5 contain the picture of shaking/trembling, some have suggested that consistency of image demands a similar sense for מוּג. Thus the NEB reads “heave and swell” and the NJB “reel.” Support for such renderings comes from the ancient versions: LXX ἐσαλεύvθησαν (“are shaken,” “sway”) and Pesh. àe tparaq (“be rent/broken”). Possible etymological support may also be found in Arabic ma„ja (“surge”). This thought is supported further by such poetic parallels as Jer. 4:24; Hab. 3:6; Ps. 18:7 (HB 18:8). Conversely, the more usual translation of מוּג as “melt” is favored by a comparison with Ps. 97:5; Mic. 1:4. The hithpael of מוּג (as here) is read elsewhere only in Ps. 107:26; Amos 9:13. In the former case it could best be understood either as trembling (so AB) or “melted” (NIV). In the latter text, “melting” or “flowing” is clearly appropriate. Accordingly a final decision as to the precise nuance of מוּג here is elusive.

Compounding the problem in understanding the verb מוּג is וַתִּשָּׂא (“and [the earth] quakes”) in the next line. Cathcart suggests reading וַתִּשָּׁא, “and (the earth) is laid waste” (cf. RSV, NEB), from the root שָׁאָה (“roar,” “crash into ruins”), a suggestion that finds support in Pesh. If Cathcart’s proposal is followed, it would make an interesting parallel with the Vg reading in the parallel line: desolati sunt (“are desolate,” “laid waste”). The MT, however, is fully defensible here both contextually and in the light of the intransitive use of נָשָׂא elsewhere (cf. Ps. 89:9 [HB 89:10]; Hos. 13:1; Hab. 1:3) and has the general support of LXX ἀνεστάλη (“was raised up”) and Vg contremuit (“trembles violently”). Thus the various emendations are unnecessary.52

וְתֵבֵל: The last line has also undergone critical examination. Particular attention has been paid to the two conjunctions, the first of which is missing in LXX and Pesh. and the second of which has {1.36}been considered awkward. W. F. Albright proposes the deletion of the second waw so that the line reads watte‚bal (from אָבַל, “mourn”) בָה יוֹשְׁבֵי כָּל, “and all its inhabitants drooped” (cf. Amos 8:8; 9:5). W. L. Moran takes the second waw with תֵּבֵל, viewing the resultant reconstruction as a remnant of an ancient taqtulu„(na) form and reading te‚ba„lu‚ “(all its inhabitants) mourned.”53 Ingenious as these suggestions are, there is no reason to reject the MT. תֵּבֵל is a common set synonym with אֶרֶץ (“earth”), which is found in the parallel line (cf. 1 Sam. 2:8; Isa. 18:3; 24:4; 26:9, 18; 34:1). Further, as Maier points out, the double occurrence of waw in the disputed line is probably intentional, yielding “not only the earth but all who dwell in it.”

1:6 זַעְמוֹ: Those who see a rigid acrostic in vv. 2-10 usually transpose זַעְמוֹ to the first slot in a sentence, thus forming a case of anticipatory emphasis. Although such a procedure may preserve the desired alphabetical sequence, such may not be necessary to Nahum’s poetic scheme, as noted previously. The order of the MT is reminiscent of Ps. 147:17 and may be intentionally formed so as to emphasize the juxtaposed verbal phrases that follow, while leaving wrath as a frame for the double rhetorical question that it encloses ( אַפּוֹ בַּתֲרוֹן . . . זַעְמוֹ).If so, the utter hopelessness of Nineveh’s situation is stressed. The use of זַעַם with אַף חֲרוֹן is attested also in Pss. 69:24 (Heb. 69:25); 78:49; Zeph. 3:8.

The use of rhetorical question in a hymn of praise is common enough (cf. Ps. 113:5). עָמַד and קוּם may find a parallel use as a set pair in Job 8:15.

1:6b The figure of wrath is continued in the first of the couplets that makes up v. 6b. It is a wrath that burns so intensely that even usually impenetrable rocks are broken up before it (cf. Deut. 32:22; 1 Kings 19:11; Jer. 4:26; 23:29; 51:26; Mic. 1:4). Cathcart calls attention to the combination of נָתַךְ and חֵמָה in contexts of divine judgment elsewhere in the OT and notes the use of נָתַךְ in the pouring out of Hadad’s wrath in the Panammu„ I inscription. The employment of נָתַץ in the parallel line leaves a picture of a wrath so great that it is like an intense fire that shatters solid rock. God’s judgment melts all opposition before it.

2. Who Destroys The Plotters (1:7-10)
Translation

Good (better) is Yahweh as (than) a fortress

      in the day of distress,{1.37}

and He knows* those who seek refuge in Him

      in the overwhelming flood*.

8He makes a(n) (complete) end of those who rise up against Him*

      and pursues His foes into darkness*.

9What(ever) (will) you plot against Yahweh(?)

He will make an end* (of it);

      trouble* will not arise a second time.

10Indeed, they shall be as (totally) consumed

      as a completely entangled thorn bush,

(or) as those utterly satiated with their drink,

(or) as fully dry stubble.

Exegesis and Exposition

Nahum begins the latter portion of his hymn with the second of his statements regarding God’s nature. He points out that God’s goodness and concern for His own do not diminish His power and determination to judge the wicked (cf. Ps. 145:7-9). Rather than being a weakening quality, God’s goodness assures all people that He will execute His judgment equitably (cf. Pss. 98:9; 145:17-20).

Verse 7 stresses the positive aspect. Like those within a fortress on the day of siege, so those who trust* in God’s goodness and loving concern for them may rest secure. The verse provides a dramatic contrast with v. 6 in that Nahum moves from the subject of wrath to that of compassion. God is compared metaphorically to a refuge (cf. Ps. 37:37-40), and the effect is to make Israel a literary foil to Nineveh. Thus, in the midst of a context emphasizing vast destruction, a picture that will quickly be applied to Nineveh, the scene takes a momentary shift to assure God’s people of His goodness and protection. The practical result will be to place in stark contrast Israel’s blessedness and Nineveh’s defenselessness before God’s all-consuming wrath (cf. Ex. 15:7; Isa. 5:21-25; 33:11-12).

Having painted such a poignant portrait, Nahum returns to the subject of the destruction of God’s foes (vv. 8-10). God, in His judicial wrath, will come against them like a victorious commander pursuing his foes to the farthest recesses of the earth. Indeed, God’s enemies will come to understand that He will overturn their insolent plotting against Him so thoroughly that, like men entangled in thorns or overcome with their own drunkenness, they will be easily overthrown. As dry stubble is devoured by fire, God’s fiery wrath will consume them. They will not devise their devious plot a second time.

The contrast between the fortunes of believers and the wicked is often drawn in the Scriptures (e.g., Psalms 1; 37; Prov. 4:10-19; Matt. 7:13-14, 24-27). He who trusts in God is the one who knows and believes in Him (cf. Gen. 15:6) and hence has the assurance (Isa. 26:3) {1.38}that God will take note of him in the adversities of life (Pss. 17:7; 18:30 [HB 18:31]; 31:19-20 [HB 31:20-21]), when life’s circumstances rush in upon him like an overwhelming flood (Pss. 18:1-6 [HB 18:2-7]; 32:6-7; 124). Indeed, to all such believers God’s goodness reaches out, and He becomes their fortress in distress (Ex. 152; Pss. 27:1-3; 28:8; 91:2; Isa. 25:4; Jer. 16:19). Conversely, those who trust in self, who rise up against God, will find that He will in turn stand against them. Those who plot against Him (Pss. 1:1; 2:1-3; 21:11 [HB. 21:12]), among whom Assyria was often named (e.g., Ps. 83:5-8 [HB 83:6-9]), can be assured that their plot not only will not succeed (cf. Pss. 1:4-5; 2:12; Hos. 7:15-16), but it will also self-destruct, leaving them in danger of certain judgment.

The figures that Nahum has chosen to use in these verses are particularly apropos. Because proud Nineveh plotted against God (cf. v. 11) instead of trusting in Him, she would know no safety in the overwhelming floods of life that were to come. Both tradition and archaeological excavations record that Nineveh’s fall was enhanced physically by the weakening effect of floodwaters. Likewise, historical traditions recount that on the night of the city’s capture its defenders, convinced of Nineveh’s impregnability, were engaged in eating and drinking. Thus Diodorus (Bibliotheca historica 2.26.4) reports:

It happened at this very time that the king of the Assyrians ... turned to indulgence and divided among his soldiers for a feast animals and great quantities of both wine and all other provisions. Consequently, since the whole army was carousing, Arbaces, learning from some deserters of the relaxation and drunkenness in the camp of the enemy, made his attack upon it unexpectedly in the night.

The reference to fire not only echoes the concluding lines of the first portion of the hymn (v. 6) and adds dramatic pathos to the divine sentence of judgment in this section but is also distinctly appropriate. The ruins of Nineveh show abundant evidence of the intensity of the conflagration that consumed the fallen city. Whatever application these verses have to God’s enemies in general, it is obvious that Nahum’s prophetic pronouncements have a particular relevance for Nineveh.

Additional Notes

1:7 A contrast in subject matter (wrath in v. 6 vs. goodness in v. 7) and syntactic structure (note the employment of an intentional asyndeton to introduce v. 7) indicate the initiation of a new portion in the hymn.

לְמָעוֹז יהוה טוֹב has been variously rendered. לְמָעוֹז is commonly taken as apposition and placed in a separate line:{1.39}

The Lord is good,

      a refuge.... (NIV)

The Lord is good,

      a stronghold.... (KJV, NASB, NKJV, RSV).

Leaving לְמָעוֹז in the first line makes the second line short. Some alleviate the situation by inserting into the line such phrases as “for those who trust in him” (Brockington). BHS solves the problem by rearranging the words in the verse and augmenting it to read: “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, a fortress in the day of distress.” NJB takes the lamedh as a comparative particle and translates the line “Yahweh is better than a fortress,” thus leaving the phrase in question with the first poetic line. Cathcart at first translated the words similarly, calling attention to Song of Sol. 1:2b-3a as support.54 On the whole, the retention of לְמָעוֹז with the first line would seem to make both good sense and better literary style, whether or not one takes the lamedh to be a comparative particle. Thus construed, the resultant two lines give a good balance with the following couplet, yield good sense, and furnish additional evidence for an acrostic in vv. 2-10. The end result is reflected in my translation above. NJB, while translating differently, follows the same poetic arrangement:

Yahweh is better than a fortress

in time of distress;

he recognises those who trust in him

even when the flood rushes on.

וּבְשֶׁטֶף: The waw is an example of explicative waw.55

זְיֹדֵעַ: Several suggest an expanded use of ידע here, such as “care for” (NIV, NEB) or “recognize” (NJB). Because this verb has a wide semantic range when used of divine knowledge, however, it is perhaps better to translate “and He knows” and leave the precise nuance to the expositor.56

As for חָסָה (“trust”), though Girdlestone reports that, of the many synonyms employed to render the idea of trust, this verb is used when the concept of God as a refuge is intended or where God is compared to a rock or shield, Gamberoni suggests that extensive use of the word has developed a strong concept of the believer’s absolute and exclusive trust in Yahweh.57 Thus, for those who put their total trust in the Lord and in him alone, God is a strong fortress. Such a person can stand the test even in the day of adversity, when the troubles of life come rushing in like an overwhelming flood. Isaiah (Isa. 25:4) employs similar language to praise God for His power in the stresses of life: “For You have been a refuge/fortress [ מָעוֹז] for the poor, a refuge/fortress [ מָעוֹז] for the needy in his distress, a refuge/shelter [ מַחְסֶה] from the storm, and a shade from the heat.”

1:8מְקוֹמָהּ: The MT “her place” has been taken to refer to Nineveh (1:1). However, the LXX τοὺς ἐπεγειρομένους, “those who rise up” (against Him; cf. NJB, “those who defy him”), suggests a different reading, perhaps מְקִימֵיהוּ. Cathcart proposes miqqo‚me‚hu‚ “of his assailants.” Either reading would make a more suitable parallel with אֹיְבָיו than the pointing of the MT. Similar in sentiment are the instances of the use of the qal participle of קוּם in parallel with אֹיֵב (“enemy”; e.g., Ps. 18:39-40 [HB 18:40-41]) and the cases where the two are utilized in close proximity (cf. Deut. 28:7; Ps. 18:48 [HB 18:49]; Mic. 7:6). Note also Ps. 59:2 where the hithpael participle of קוֹם stands in parallel with אֹיֵב. The MT reading “her place” has its able defenders, however (e.g., Keil, Maier).

The phrase “and pursues his foes into darkness” has occasioned some controversy due to the lack of a clear precedent for the use of רָדַף with a double accusative. The translation suggested here (cf. NIV) nevertheless makes good contextual sense, especially in view of the parallel with the thought of God’s making a complete end of His enemies. “Darkness” can be construed either as the land of death (the final end of the wicked), a thought found in such texts as Job 10:20-22; 17:13; 18:18; Ps. 35:6, 8, 10-12 (HB 35:7, 9, 11-13), or simply as an idiom for God’s relentless pursuit that brings punishment in a final extermination of His foes (Isa. 8:22; Zeph. 1:15). In the light of v. 9 the latter suggestion is perhaps better. Maier’s “with darkness” appears forced.

1:9מַה־תְּחַשְּׁבוּן has been taken either as a rhetorical question, “Why/what will you plot against Yahweh?”—a question directed at the heathen (= Nineveh) or at Judah—or as an indirect question, “Whatever you plot against Yahweh” (cf. NIV, NASB). In light of the following verse, it is perhaps better to adopt the latter alternative. The verbal form could also be viewed as a piel imperfect 3d masc. pl. archaistically constructed (or retained) in poetic fashion in conformity to a Northwest Semitic teŒqat£t£eŒlu‚(na) form, “(whatever) they will plot.” In any case, whether the clause is viewed as a direct or indirect question, it answers schematically to a similar development in the first section of the hymn (cf. v. 6).

†With כָּלָה “(make) an end (of),” cf. Ugaritic kly, “finish off,” “destroy”; Akkadian kalu‚.

צָרָה (“trouble/opposition”) has been emended by some (e.g., BHS) to read צָרָיו (“his enemies/adversaries”; e.g., NJB, NEB) on the basis of its frequent association with קוּם (cf. Pss. 3:1 [HB 3:2]; 44:5 [HB 44:6]; 74:23). But no manuscript evidence exists for such an emendation, and the MT makes good sense as it stands. The use of קוּם here in conjunction with the previous עֹשֶׂה ... כָּלָה argues strongly for the reading of a verbal form in v. 8 ( קוּם) rather than the noun מָקוֹם (“place”). The thought reemphasizes that of v. 9a: God’s just judgment will bring a total end to the opposition of His foes. There will be no second rebellion.58

1:10 †Verse 10 is an often debated crux interpretum. Cathcart affirms: “This must be one of the most difficult texts in the Old Testament. No satisfactory translation of the passage has been offered to date.”59 Each line of the verse, as well as the sense of the whole, has been subjected to critical scrutiny. The first two images have been particularly troublesome: (1) סְכֻכִים סִירִים (“entangled thorns”) has met with such despair of solution that many (e.g., Ehrlich, J. M. P. Smith) have dubbed it hopelessly corrupt. Various textual emendations and rearrangements have been attempted, none of which appears to be an improvement upon the basic figure given in the MT. (2) סְבוּאִים וּכְסָבְאָם (“and like those drunken from their drink”) is usually translated so as to yield a rendition that emphasizes becoming totally drunk. Although numerous conjectures have been put forward, none has proved to be entirely satisfactory.60

Not only must the difficulty of establishing the precise meanings of the words involved in the two figures be solved, but once the meanings are established the resultant figures must be related to the third image of the verse: “like fully dry stubble.” Some common ground of comparison must be found if one is to make good sense of the three parallel lines in the verse. Although certainty regarding the verse’s flow of thought is problematic, it is simplest to follow the MT and find the clue to the solution of the total picture in the introductory double particle עַד כִּי (lit. “for unto”; cf. LXX). Unfortunately these words have proved to defy smooth interpretation, causing them to be variously rendered, emended, or even left untranslated. Three syntactic factors must be kept in mind: (1) עַד usually carries with it the recognition of the farthest point to which the action/thought has come and often occurs in contexts demanding a note of emphasis (e.g., Ex. 9:7; 14:28; Judg. 4:16; 2 Sam. 17:22; Job 25:5; Ps. 147:15; Hag. 2:19).61 (2) כִּי is often used in poetic structures to emphasize the preceding material, while signaling the conclusion of the whole thought, or to bring the poem/hymn to a close.62 (3) Verse 10 must be contextually related in meaningful fashion to v. 9 but not to v. 11. (See the introductory remarks to vv. 11-15.) Taking account of these data and following the MT (although ignoring the placement of the athnah£), the translation given at the beginning of this unit emerges.

The point of the comparison in all three seemingly unrelated cases is that of total consumption: the bush by its thorns, the drunkard by his drink, the stubble by fire. The effect is heightened by the use of the prophetic perfect of אָכַל (significantly in the pual stem, unless this is a qal passive63) and the piling up of the s sound (6 times) in this otherwise k verse. Doubtless each of the lines belongs to the proverbial literature, and the three are brought together by Nahum as a fitting conclusion to the hymn proper in such a way as to reemphasize the impossibility of God’s enemies ever rising up again after He has judged them. The verse and the whole hymn look forward to God’s judgment of Nineveh. He will make a complete end of the proud city.

C. Application: God’s Justice For Nineveh And Judah
(1:11-15 [HB 1:11-2:1])

With the completion of the hymn, Nahum turns to the two nations and their capitals that are the subject of his prophecies. The latter half of his hymn had been directed against those who plot against God. Keying in on that term, Nahum turns to the supreme example of such activity: Assyria and its capital city of Nineveh. In four short verses Nahum brings God’s charges against Nineveh for which it will be judged (v. 11) regardless of its seemingly limitless strength (vv. 12a, 14), a judgment that will result in a respite for Judah in its affliction (vv. 12b-13). The section is closed with a stirring message of good news: Because wicked Nineveh has been judged, a repentant Judah may once again worship God in peace (v. 15).

From a literary perspective this narrative unit is characterized by such features as the stitch-word “one who plots” (v. 11; cf. v. 9), a monocolon (v. 12), and a concluding refrain (v. 15). That these verses compose a single literary unit is guaranteed not only by the presence of an initial stitch-word and closing refrain but also by the employment of the enveloping/bookending word בְּלִיַּעַל ( beŒliyyaàal, “wicked[ness]”) in verses 11, 15. This short section is thus distinct from the previous hymn in 1:2-10 and from the announcement in 2:1 ff. Schematically it forms the application of Nahum’s stated theme (v. 2) and hymn of praise (vv. 2-10).

Translation

From you has come forth one who plots evil against Yahweh, a

      counselor of wickedness*.

12Thus says Yahweh*,

“Even though they have allies* and are very numerous, so much

      the more will they be cut off* and pass away. Although I have

      afflicted you, I will not afflict you again.

13But now I will break his yoke from upon you, and I will tear

      your shackles away.”

14Yahweh has issued a command concerning you*: “None of your

      name will be sown again;

I will cut off the (carved) images and (molten) idols, and I will

      make* your grave, for you are vile*.”

15Behold*, on the mountains the feet of one who brings glad

      tidings, who proclaims peace!

Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, fulfill your vows! For the wicked

      one shall never again pass through you; he is completely cut off.

Exegesis and Exposition

In a dramatic structural shift from hymnic to narrative style, Nahum turns to Nineveh in application of the teaching of his hymn. Nineveh/Assyria is identified as a plotter*, an identification that seems obvious in the light of the military exploits of its most prominent kings. The primary reference may well be to Sennacherib, who launched his infamous third campaign against the western countries of the Fertile Crescent in general and Judah in particular. According to his own records, having subdued the northern lands, he took Eltekeh, Timnah, and Ekron on the Philistine coast and some 46 cities of Judah. Although he failed to subdue Jerusalem, the booty that he carried away from the campaigning was enormous. The scriptural record likewise indicates that the Judahite king paid a huge tribute to Sennacherib and that the Assyrian king spent considerable time in taking the key towns of Lachish and Libnah in the western Shephelah (2 Kings 18:13-19:8). The writer of Kings also records something of Sennacherib’s own secret plottings against the Lord at that time (2 Kings 19:21-28). Because of the viciousness of the plotter’s thoughts, he is aptly termed “one who counsels wickedness.” The word translated in v. 11 as “wickedness” (NIV) is בְּלִיַּעַל ( be†liyyaàal) and is often translated “worthlessness.” It speaks of a character of life so totally reprobate that the term came ultimately to be applied to Satan himself (2 Cor. 6:15). Whether or not directly applicable to Sennacherib, Nahum’s words would doubtless be welcomed by God’s people, many of whom had been alive during Sennacherib’s campaigns and in whose memories the horror of those earlier days was etched indelibly.

The initial phase of Nahum’s messages against Nineveh follows in vv. 12-14. As the opening monocolon declares, Nahum’s words were nothing less than a solemn pronouncement from the Lord. However flawless and numerous Nineveh’s armies might be, it was also true that God could cut them off so that the Assyrian forces would melt away. It had happened previously (2 Kings 19:32-36). Such a fact could serve as a guarantee that the Assyrian menace would never again bring affliction* to God’s people. Indeed, the Lord had a personal word for each of the parties involved. For Judah there was reassurance that its Assyrian vassalage* would soon pass away, a condition that became a virtual reality during the latter days of Josiah’s reign. In contrasting Judah’s previous and future situations, Nahum compares Judah’s unjust treatment to a yoke and shackles, all of which shall be broken (v. 13). For Nineveh there was the solemn affirmation that her long night of cruel domination was soon to end. This vile and ruthless nation would shortly pass from the scene of earth’s history and leave it without any to carry on its political identity.

The gravity of the sentence against Nineveh/Assyria is underscored by Nahum’s use of a different figure, that of sowing. The pronouncement that Nineveh would lack descendants to bear her name* reads literally in the MT “There shall not be sown (any) of your name again/anymore.” As a farmer sows his seed in anticipation of harvest, so a man’s posterity is viewed as his seed (e.g., Gen. 13:16). The metaphor is common in the Old Testament.64 Stress is laid here on the impossibility of Nineveh’s recovery. Never again will it know its former fame, for it will have neither status nor descendant to perpetuate its name.

Along with the idea of sowing, Nahum’s use of the word “name”* is particularly appropriate. Whereas the term often carries with it the nuances of “character” and “reputation” it also connotes “existence”. In this case, to “cut of the name” was to destroy a person or leave him without descendant (cf. 1 Sam. 24:21; Job 18:17; Isa. 14:22). Conversely a man continued to exist in his posterity, for it was his name and seed (Isa. 66:22; cf. Jer. 13:11). Alas, Nineveh/Assyria would never again have its name sown!

The pathos of Assyria’s demise is further deepened by the notice that none of her vaunted gods, so long venerated in Mesopotamia, would be able to deliver her from God’s sentence of death. Rather, their limitations are clearly spelled out. These “gods” are what they appear to be—mere temple “images”* and “idols”* that could never be of help (cf. Isa. 44:9-20) to a doomed Nineveh. Worse still, those same gods will be cut off, doubtless as an indication of the usual custom in the ancient world whereby the victor desecrated the temples of the conquered foe and carried off the idols. The Assyrians themselves were past masters of such activities. Now it was their turn to suffer such indignities. Maier reports concerning the time-honored temples of Nineveh:

Some sections of the Nabu temple were so completely overturned that competent investigators decided further exploration of these sites would not pay. Slabs written by Ashurbanipal have been found at Nineveh in both temples, Ê-mash-mash and Ê-zida. On one with official repetition the king asks Ishtar (and Nabu on the other) “For all time, O Ishtar, look upon it (the temple) with favor.” The utter devastation of this sanctuary only fourteen years after Ashurbanipal’s death proved Ishtar’s impotence.65

Armerding adds, “The statue of Ishtar was discovered, prostrate and headless, amid the ruins of her temple, which had stood at Nineveh for almost fifteen centuries.”66

The divine sentence ends with a dreadful dictum. So hopeless was Nineveh’s case and so devastating would be her demise that she would not even have a memorial left to her greatness (cf. Ps. 49:16-17 [HB 49:17-18]), nor would anyone erect a monument to her memory. So poor and wretched will she be that only the God who planned her doom will be there to mark out her lowly grave in the ruins of the once proud city. Further reason for the necessity of the divine interment is given in the observation that none will want to preserve Nineveh’s remembrance, for she is utterly reprobate. Because of her debased activity she has gained such contempt for herself that her demise will bring to the lips of the observers of her fall a sigh of relief and a song of rejoicing (v. 15; cf. 3:19).

With the pronouncement of the irreversible decision of divine judgment, once again there is a word for Judah. Again there is a change of figure—from that of bondage (v. 13) to that of a herald. It is a message of good news.* A messenger comes (from Nineveh?) bearing the glad tidings of peace, not only relief from warfare but also restoration of prosperity. Once again conditions will be favorable for the resumption of Judah’s sacrifices and feasts.* So, too, the many promises made to God, doubtless made mostly during the dark days of the Assyrian presence, could be carried out. Likewise, thanksgiving could be rendered to God, for the wicked Assyrian invader has been destroyed, never again to be a threat to God’s people.

Nahum’s prophecy is a near historical realization of Isaiah’s prophecy relative to the eschatological scene. Isaiah foresees the day when an oppressed Israel shall be freed at last from oppressors and invaders, and its people shall not only hear the message of the Lord’s salvation but also experience the everlasting serenity that comes with His presence in royal power in their midst (Isa. 52:1-10; cf. Joel 3:18-20 [HB 4:18-21]). Jerusalem shall be holy (cf. Jer. 33:16) and in turn bear the good news of the tender care of her saving shepherd to the other cities of Judah (Isa. 40:94-11). Under the direction of the Messiah (Isa. 52:13-53:12) Zion will be rebuilt and her enemies subdued, and she shall live in everlasting felicity with her God (Isa. 61:1-7).

The emphasis of Isaiah and Nahum on God’s good news becomes an important motif for the New Testament revelation. Jesus’ birth was thus announced as an occasion of glad tidings (Luke 2:10), and Christ announced that His ministry was in initial fulfillment of the message of salvation and joy that Isaiah prophesied (cf. Luke 4:16-21 with Isa. 61:1-2). Peter makes clear to Jew and Gentile alike that Christ has effected their full salvation, with the result that God’s full peace can be enjoyed by all (Acts 10:34-43), a message of good news that Paul likewise affirms (Eph. 2:14-18). It is no wonder, then, that Paul later builds on the theme of the message of good news and peace that Christ has provided both as scriptural evidence for the Jew and as a challenge to all believers to bear the gospel to a needy mankind (Rom. 10:9-15; cf. Isa. 52:7; Nah. 1:15 [HB 2:1]).

Nahum’s prophecy, together with that of Isaiah 52:7, is thus related not only to Paul’s missionary challenge but also to the theme of the good news of Christ’s saving work. But in contrast to Isaiah, who uses the motif of good news to depict those eschatological events so important to the purposes of God, which begin with Christ’s first advent and are exhausted only in His second, Nahum employs the theme to depict events in the near historical scene. In a sense, Nahum’s prophecy of the joyous news of the impending demise of Assyria/Nineveh and of Judah’s subsequent peace stands as a harbinger of the defeat of the “Assyrians” and of the great promises of God that shall be realized by the Zion of the eschatological era. Because of the saving work of Israel’s Messiah and the earth’s Lord Jesus Christ, all can rejoice in the essence of Nahum’s great prophecy. P. C. Craigie puts it well:

Thus, although Nahum spoke of Nineveh’s defeat before the event had happened, his faith here outstrips the contemporary realities of his time. A messenger would indeed come one day soon, and his message would be one of peace.

Nahum ... here anticipates the Gospel.... The message is one of peace, a peace from external oppression and a new kind of peace with the God who is the giver of all life.67

May the saints of all ages take up Nahum’s challenge to those of his day to maintain their spiritual commitment!

Additional Notes

1:11 The participle חשֵׁב (“plotter”) is the literary hook between this section and the preceding hymn (cf. תְּחַשְּׁבוּן, v. 9). As in the case with narrative structure, where the existing conditions under which the account proceeds are given with a suffix-conjugation verb, so here the Lord’s charges against Nineveh are rehearsed with the facts being introduced by the phrase יָצָא מִמֵּךְ, after which the divine pronouncement is made.68 The employment of this phrase represents a clear structural break with the preceding hymn. There is also a thematic shift from a hymn of general application to the specific case of Nineveh.

†The term בְּלִיַּעַל יֹעֵץ (“one who counsels wickedness”) stands in stark contrast to the coming Messiah, who will be a יוֹעֵץ פֶּלֶא (“wonder of a counselor,” Isa. 9:6 [HB 9:5]). The word בְּלִיַּעַל emphasizes the worthlessness of the counsel that is given. Although the etymology of the word is uncertain, causing בְּלִיַּעַל to receive varying and even contradictory translations, the term has unsavory associations in the OT. It is used of utter reprobates (Judg. 19:22; 1 Sam. 10:27), serving as an appropriate designation for Jezebel’s two false witnesses against Naboth (1 Kings 21:10).

1:12 †While a prophet’s words are often introduced by some such phrase as “thus says the LORD,” this phrase occurs only here in Nahum.69 The singular use of so common a formula argues for a certain deliberate emphasis, perhaps expressing Nahum’s sense of the awesomeness of the Lord’s pronouncement that he was about to deliver.

†The divine sentence is expressed in the form of a condition whose protasis is formed with the particle אִס and a participle. Such constructions usually have a present or immediate future time reference and express a real contingency or possibility.70 Therefore, the likelihood of a strong and sizeable military force at the disposal of the Assyrians is in view. That army is described as being רַבִּים וְכֵן שְׁלֵמִים, a difficult phrase that has been variously translated and emended. The problem centers in the first word, which can bear such nuances as “health,” “completeness,” “safety,” “prosperity.” Cathcart, citing a Ugaritic text where sŒlm occurs in parallel with àzz (“strengthen”), proposes the translation “be strong” here.71 The NIV translation “allies” depends on a study by D. J. Wiseman72 and is perhaps the best solution to the time-honored crux. Together with the following רַבִּים וְכֵן (Ex. 1:12), it suggests the thought “even though they will have allies and so be all the more numerous.”73 Thus construed, the following apodosis becomes an argument a fortiori: “so much the more will they be cut off and their armies pass away.”

נָגֹזּוּ is usually understood as coming from the root גָּזַז, which is customarily employed for the shearing of sheep or the cutting of human hair. The unpointed form, however, could also be explained as coming from גָּזָה (“cut/cut off”) or גּוּז (“pass over/away”), either of which would yield a suitable sense here. The concluding עבר may be a collective perf. sing. (so Keil) or be repointed as an infinitive absolute or 3d masc. pl. perf. (so Cathcart). The MT is perfectly understandable as it stands and may indicate a change in emphasis from the cutting off of the individual soldiers/units to the resultant demise of the entire army.

The following line forms a second portion of the divine decree (hence the waw) and is a suppressed condition formed by deletion of the particle. The protasis is constructed with a perfect to express a condition assumed to be true: “If it is true that I have afflicted you (i.e., Judah), I will afflict you no longer.” The NIV not inappropriately translates the two conditional sentences in v. 12 as introductory concessive clauses. Certainly a clear contrast is envisioned in each case. However many the enemy might number, they will be reduced to zero; however much God might have used the Assyrians to chastise His people, such would no longer be the case. For עָנָה (“afflict”) in contexts of God’s judicial punishment of His people, see Deut. 8:2-3; Pss. 90:15; 119:75. Joel reports that the Assyrians would be used as instruments of God’s chastisement if no repentance was forthcoming in Judah and Jerusalem (Joel 2:1-27). Habakkuk (Hab. 1:5-11) similarly warns of God’s use of the Chaldeans. Armerding sees a reflection of Isa. 51:22-52:1 in the changed circumstances given here and in the following verses.

1:13 וְעַתָּה (“and/but now”) is used in cases of rhetorical analysis to introduce the next point in consequence. Not only will conditions between Assyria and Judah be reversed; God’s people will also be set free of Assyrian vassalage. “Yoke” and “shackles” (or “bonds”) are common terms to depict the fate of those held in vassalage by treaty arrangement with their overlord (cf. Jer. 27:1-10). Although מוֹט refers properly to the “bar” of the yoke, Nahum is using the word synecdochically (the bar for the whole yoke). The yoke itself is often a figure of servitude or vassalage (cf. Lev. 26:13; Isa. 14:25; Jer. 28:10-12; Ezek. 30:18). Similar language abounds in the secular literature of the period. Thus Nabopolassar boasts: “As for the Assyrians who since distant days had ruled over all the people and with heavy yoke had brought misery to the people of the land, from the land of Akkad I banished their feet and cast off their yoke.”74 The Lord’s promise of freedom from chains for those who follow Him stands in bold contrast with the complaint of those who would refuse His rightful sovereignty over them (Ps. 2:1-2).

1:14 †Just as the divine decree concerning Judah’s changed status had been specially introduced with Yahweh’s name (v. 12), so also here. What follows is a clear command from Yahweh for Nineveh. The variation in addressee is accomplished via a contrast in subject matter and a change in the gender of the persons addressed. Although the promise to Judah was constructed with a 2d fem. sing. objective suffix, a 2d masc. sing. suffix is employed here, probably either in reference to Nineveh’s king or in personification of Assyria or Nineveh. The shift in gender as well as in tone (from promise to threat) indicates a shift in referent.

The loss of name and seed would mean total annihilation for Nineveh. Armerding rightly remarks:

The “name” of a population represented its living identity, perpetuated in its “descendants”; to be destitute of descendants therefore represented obliteration of identity and of life itself (cf. Deut 7:24; 9:14; 1 Sam 24:21; et al.). The root underlying “descendants” (zr’, “seed,” “sow”) is used of physical and particularly dynastic succession. It implies the eradication of Nineveh’s dynastic rule, therefore, and of the nation whose cohesion derived from the Neo-Assyrian monarchy now centered at Nineveh; a similar sentence is passed on Babylon and its king in Isaiah 14:4, 20-23.75

The term “name” also has important connotations for the understanding of God, for it calls attention to His revealed character and reputation. It eventually became a technical term for God (cf. Dan. 9:18-19; Amos 2:7; 9:12) and hence was applied by the writers of the NT and the early church Fathers to Christ (e.g., Acts 4:12; 5:41; 3 John 7; Ign. Eph. 3:1; 7:1; Phil. 10:1; 2 Clem. 13:1, 4; and often in Hermas).76 It is still used to this day and may be frequently heard in the Hebrew equivalent of the phrase “God willing” ( áim yirs£eh hasŒsŒe„m, “If the Name is willing”).

The מ with מִשִּׁמְךָ (“of/from your name”) can be viewed either as a partitive use of the preposition or as an enclitic mem after the preceding verb.77 The critical emendations of this line usually drop m and read יִזָּכֵר instead of יִזָּרַע, thus changing the image from sowing to remembering.78 J. M. P. Smith calls this conjectured emendation “gratuitous” but goes on to restructure the section so as to bring vv. 11 and 14 together with 2:2 and 2:4-14 as part of a series of five strophes pointing to the destruction of Nineveh.

פֶּסֶל and מַסֵּכָה are usually taken to refer to carved and molten images respectively. As such, they constitute two of several words for idols and images in the OT.79 But the usual definitions do not always apply, and we cannot be certain concerning the original significance of the two terms.

†For אָשִׂים (“I will make/set”) Cathcart prefers the root שָׁמַם (“to devastate”), relating the thought here to the widespread ancient fear of tomb desecration. The contextual stress, however, appears to focus on God’s personal preparation of Nineveh’s grave rather than on Nineveh’s dread of the destruction of her grave. Although J. M. P. Smith declares that the thought “make your grave” is not “used elsewhere as the equivalent of ‘put to death’ or ‘bury thee,’“ Maier appears to be correct in asserting that “these passages with a markedly similar point of view should be noted: Isa. 53:9; Ezek. 39:11.”80 The MT, then, should be retained.

קַלּוֹתָ כִּי: The charge “for you are vile” represents a moral extension of the meaning of the root קָלַל (“be light”). It is used of a person’s slighted reputation (2 Sam. 6:22) and also of actively treating someone contemptuously (2 Sam. 19:44; Isa. 23:9), hence of cursing (Gen. 12:3; 1 Sam. 17:43; 2 Sam. 16:5). Some have suggested taking the form as a pual (Horst) or relating it to the Ugaritic qll, “fall” (Haldar), while others have emended the text into a noun, for example qi‚qa„lo‚t, “dung heap” (BHS), or qlyt, “shame” (G. R. Driver). J. M. P. Smith resolves the felt need for an active meaning here by omitting the כִּי and reading קָלוֹן (“dishonor”), thus translating the whole line, “I will make thy grave a dishonour.” In the light of the context, it is best to retain the MT and translate the form “you are vile” (lit. “of little account,” hence “contemptible”).

1:15 (HB 2:1) † Nahum uses the particle הִנֵּה to call attention to key descriptive statements in his prophetic discourses. Here it introduces the close of the first portion of the book.

The verb בִּשַּׂר does not necessarily mean a message of good news but simply indicates the bearing of a message (cf. 1 Sam. 4:17-18). Similarly, the Akkadian cognate bussurum means basically “bring a message.”81 Nevertheless, it is most often used in the OT, as in Ugaritic, of bearing glad tidings, hence is translated that way in most English versions. For the combination of good news and peace, see Isa. 52:7; Luke 2:10, 14; Acts 10:36.

חַגַּיִךְ... תָגִּי (“celebrate your feasts/festivals”): The noun is cognate accusative. The great yearly feasts (perhaps often curtailed during the years of Assyrian oppression) centered on God’s saving acts in behalf of His people (Deut. 16:16).

Votive offerings were a matter of the believer’s free will, but once made they were to be kept and were to be of high quality (cf. Lev. 22:18-25; 27:1-13; Num. 15:2-16; Deut. 12:6-7; 23:21-23 [HB 23:22-24]; Prov. 20:25; Eccles. 5:4-7 [HB 5:3-6]). Gordon Wenharn’s remarks on Leviticus 27 are most appropriate:

Vows are made in the heat of the moment. In retrospect, when the crisis is over, they may well seem foolish and unnecessary, and the person who made the vow may be tempted to forget it or only fulfil it partially. Scripture includes a number of warnings about such an attitude.... It may well be part of the purpose of this chapter to discourage rash swearing by fixing a relatively high price for the discharge of the vows, and penalizing those who change their minds.82

נְדָרָיִךְ (“your vows”) rhymes with חַגַּיִךְ (“your feasts”) of the preceding line, a fact that probably accounts for the sandwiched position of “Judah” between חַגַּיִךְ and חָגִּי.

נִכְרָת כֻּלּה: This line not only illustrates the familiar poetic device of ending a stanza with a short line; its brevity also gives the effect of an action that is quick and thorough. The promise of complete annihilation of the enemy such that it could never again invade Jerusalem/Judah, together with the promise of peace and prosperity for God’s people, is repeated elsewhere in the prophets (e.g., Isa. 52:1, 7; Joel 3:17 [HB 4:17]). The prophecy of certain judgment and sure deliverance is basic to the scriptural teaching concerning the Day of the Lord.83

2
The Doom of Nineveh Described, Part One
(Nahum 2:1-13 [HB 2:2-14])

Having declared Nineveh’s certain doom and Judah’s sure relief, Nahum turns to the chief consideration of his prophecy: the fall of Nineveh. Chapters 2 and 3 will again be punctuated with a style of alternating considerations. None of this bears the slightest resemblance, however, to theories of a sort of pan-Babylonian prophetic liturgy proposed by men like Sellin and Fohrer who isolate some three groups of liturgical material in Nahum. Bullock correctly points out that

an alternating pattern between addresses to Nineveh and Judah is identifiable in chapter 2, but the kind of responses one would expect in a liturgy are hard to find in the book. Further, the superscription calls it an “oracle” and a “vision,” terms that hardly qualify for a liturgical composition.84

Rather, the alternating considerations take the form of an introductory theme that once again traces the respective fortunes of Nineveh and Judah (2:1-2), followed by a pair of descriptions of Nineveh’s fall (2:3-10; 3:1-7), and capped by concluding taunt songs (2:11-13; 3:8-19) that underscore the helplessness of Nineveh’s situation. The whole section, then, flows from an introductory reiteration of the book’s basic thesis: God is a just governor of the nations who will punish wicked Nineveh and restore His own people. This theme is developed with regard to Nineveh by means of a long narrative section (2:3-10) and a woe oracle (3:1-7) and is specifically applied in the form of taunt songs, a literary technique well attested in ancient victory songs (2:11-13; 3:8-19). Graphic literary figures abound in these two chapters, discussions of which can be found in the introductory remarks to the individual units.

A. Theme (2:1-2 [HB 2:2-3])

Translation

A scatterer has come against you*.

“Guard* the fortress,

      watch the road,

strengthen your loins,

      summon all your strength!”

2For Yahweh will restore the splendor of Jacob

      like* the splendor* of Israel;

for plunderers have plundered them

      and destroyed their vines.*

Exegesis and Exposition

The fate of plotting Nineveh (cf. 1:11-15) is carried forward in the announcement of the arrival of its attacker. Nineveh’s besieger is called literally “a scatterer.”* The reference is doubtless to the coming army composed of Chaldeans, Medes, and Ummanmanda (Scythians?) before whom Nineveh eventually fell.

The demise of the decaying Assyrian empire was assured from the moment of Ashurbanipal’s death in 626 B.C. In the following year the Chaldean king Nabopolassar would gain independence for Babylon and initiate the Neo-Babylonian kingdom. Over the course of the next dozen years Nabopolassar would succeed in gradually reducing the Assyrian hold on Mesopotamia, especially as he would finally make common cause with his allies. The ancient capital city of Ashur was to fall in 614 B.C.; Nineveh’s own fall would take place a scant two years later. Because the Assyrians would survive to fight two still later campaigns (Haran, 609 B.C.; Carchemish, 605 B.C.), “scatterer” (cf. 3:18) is an appropriate designation for Nineveh’s attackers. Nahum’s prophecy centers on the fall of Nineveh, for its capture would mark the end of an era and the onset of the Neo-Babylonian empire, whose greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.), would prove to play a dramatic role in Judah’s own later history (2 Kings 24:1-25:26; 2 Chron. 36:5-21; Jer. 37-39; 52:1-30; Ezek. 24; Dan. 1-4).

In the light of the critical announcement, Nahum issues a four-fold command. Each of the imperatives is expressed asyndetically, thus producing a staccato effect and lending urgency and dramatic appeal to the scene. Nahum’s admonitions are probably to be understood as irony, perhaps with a touch of sarcasm. The four lie in a double set of brief commands, the first pair of which concerns the city itself and the second its citizens. The defenders are to “guard the fortress” and to “watch the road.”* They are urged to make Nineveh’s fortifications secure, at the same time watching closely the routes that would lead the enemy to the city. Having seen to the city’s protection, they are to draw up their courage (lit. “strengthen your loins”*) and gather all their strength in order to be ready for instantaneous action, mentally and physically. Because Nineveh’s doom had already been announced (chap. 1), all such efforts were obviously destined for failure. Mighty Nineveh would be powerless before its assailants, despite any and all efforts to defend it.

In contrast to the certain destruction of Nineveh, oft-destroyed Israel/Judah, whose defeat had frequently been reported in the Assyrian annals, would know the restoration* and splendor that only a sovereign and beneficent God can give. Indeed, the prophets frequently predict that God will yet “restore the fortunes” of His people (cf. Hos. 6:11; Joel 3:1 [HB 4:1]; Amos 9:14; see also Jer. 30:18; 31:23; 32:44) in an era of renewed refreshment, prosperity, and happiness. The promise harks back to God’s people as heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 17:3-8; 22:17-18; 28:13-15). The play on words here, Jacob/Israel, is probably not to distinguish between the northern and southern kingdoms, for only Judah now existed, but rather, as Cyril suggested so long ago, to emphasize the great future revival and blessing of God. As a disciplined, repentant, and more matured Jacob had been given reassurance of his participation in God’s covenant with Abraham, signified by his receiving the new name Israel (Gen. 32:28; 35:9-15), so God’s people would yet know the glorious provisions of His irrevocable promises. Keil expresses it well:

Both names stand here for the whole of Israel.... Jacob is the natural name which the people inherited from their forefather, and Israel the spiritual name which they had received from God.... He will exalt the nation once more to the lofty eminence of its divine calling.85

The realization of Israel’s full covenant blessings will find fulfillment in a great future day when the glorious one (Isa. 24:14-16) will dwell (cf. Joel 3:17, 21 [HB. 4:17, 21]; Ezek. 48:35) in the midst of His people, thus giving glory to His nation and land (cf. Deut. 33:27-29; Isa. 4:2; 60:15).

Additional Notes

2:1 (HB 2:2) † The announcement of the advance of the “scatterer” provides a thought that is bookended in 3:18-19 by the mention of the scattered refugees. The thought of destruction in 2:1-10 forms a literary link with 1:11-15 (cf. v. 14). The identity of the scatterer has been discussed often. Because the hiphil is regularly used of God as the disperser of nations (cf. 2 Sam. 22:15; Ps. 144:6; Isa. 24:1; Hab. 3:14), the possibility must be entertained that God could be intended here. But human agency is also expressed by the stem of this verb (cf. Jer. 23:1-2) and seems clearly the intent (although under the control of God) of the description that follows (cf. 3:5-7). Likewise, the synonym פָּזַר (“scatter”) is used of both divine (Ps. 89:10 [HB 89:11]) and human (Jer. 50:17) agency. Attempts to identify any one particular scatterer (e.g., Cyaxeres the Mede, Nabopolassar, or Nebuchadnezzar) are pointless, the masc. sing. participle being either the common collective singular or simply singular because the precise enemy was not further identified in Nahum’s predictive perception. If Nahum had been written later, as some critics affirm, more than likely the foe(s) would have been clearly designated. Attempts to emend the text to read “hammerer” (cf. BHS) are not suitable to the context.

†The phrase עַל ... עָלָה (“come up against”) is often used as part of the technical vocabulary for military action (cf. Isa. 7:1; Joel 1:6). It occurs with place names 12 times in the OT and with general designations 8 times.

נָצוֹר (“guard”) is an infinitive absolute, used here as a substitute for an imperative to give greater vividness. Accordingly Cathcart may be correct in suggesting that the three succeeding verbal forms ( צַפֵּה, חַזֵּק, and אַמֵּץ) are also to be so identified. If so, all four verbal forms refer to the near antecedent “you” (i.e., Nineveh). Nevertheless, because it is true that an infinitive absolute when used as a substitute for a finite verbal form will often be constructed with a following required finite form, Gesenius considers the three verbal forms in question to be imperatives.86 If Gesenius is right, since they are masc. sing. they could refer to the army of Nineveh or to the citizenry as a whole. Armerding’s suggestion that they must refer to the “scatterer” (a masc. sing. participle), although yielding tolerable sense, is unnecessary and unsuitable both on the basis of the perceived literary structure of the book, which views vv. 1-2 as a restatement of the theme, and because the simplest understanding of the command takes them to refer to the defenders. Moreover, although the latter pair of imperatives might apply equally well to attacker or defender, the former pair seems clearly to be related to matters of defense.

צַפֵּה (“watch,” cf. Akkadian s£apu‚, “watch”, “look out”) carries with it the idea of an intense gazing (Ps. 66:7; Prov. 15:3). As a substantive it is used of a watchman, one usually stationed on a wall, whose duties included that of informing his superiors of impending danger (e.g., 2 Kings 9:17-20). The LXX ἐχ θλίΨεως (“out of tribulation”) arises from a wrong understanding of the MT.

Strengthening the loins” implies not only the more familiar “girding up the loins” (i.e., of the full-flowing garment so as to be ready for action) but also gathering all of one’s personal and physical strength, as the parallel line makes clear.

2:2 (HB 2:3) The phrase “restore the splendor” carries with it the more usual thought of “restore the fortune.” The latter phrase is at times rendered “bring again the captivity” (KJV), an idea supported by the LXX and Pesh.87 The thoughts are supplementary: A repentant, redeemed Israel will be freed from exile and restored to its promised land to enjoy an era of peace and prosperity permeated by the glorious presence of her heavenly Redeemer. It is small wonder, then, that Nahum can speak of the restored glory of Jacob or that Daniel can speak of the land of Israel as “the beautiful land” (Dan. 11:41).

כִּגְאוֹן: The כּ is customarily taken as a comparative particle, “like,” even though Cathcart insists that the whole sentence be translated “for Yahweh is restoring the glory of Jacob, indeed the glory of Israel”88 (i.e., rendering the particle as emphatic). גָּאוֹן can be translated positively (“splendor”), as here, or negatively (“pride”; cf. Prov. 8:13; 16:18; Isa. 16:6). Because of the occurrence of “their vines” in the latter part of the verse, some (cf. BHS) have suggested that the proper reading here should be גֶּפֶן (“vine”). Thus J. M. P. Smith declares: “The following line demands the mention of a vine here as the antecedent of its thought. The words ‘vine’ and ‘pride’ in Hebrew vary only in one consonant; hence confusion in copying was easy.”89 Some suggest that the “their” of the last line logically calls for an antecedent that is best provided by reading “vine” instead of “splendor” in the earlier parallel line. The proper antecedent of “their vines,” however, as well as for the previous “plundered them,” is the earlier occurring pair “Jacob” and “Israel.” Those two names, though mentioned individually for the purpose of drawing an analogy between Jacob/Israel and present/future Judah (see Exegesis and Ex-position), taken together traditionally symbolized “all Israel.” A logical plural, Jacob/Israel forms a proper antecedent for the pronouns “them” and “their” in the last two lines of v. 2. It may be added that the plurals in both cases could also refer to the people of Jacob/Israel.

Still further, the occurrence of “vines” does not necessitate a change of גָּאוֹן to גֶּפֶן, for obvious progression of thought is intended by introducing the subject of vines. The vine was a well-known symbol of the covenant relation between God and Israel (Isa. 5:1-7; Ezek. 17; cf. Ps. 80:8 [HB 80:9]). Together with the fig tree, the vine was symbolic of God’s blessing upon His people (Hos. 2:12; Amos 4:9; Mic. 4:4; cf. 1 Kings 4:25 [HB 5:5]; 2 Kings 18:31; see also Ps. 105:33; Isa. 36:16; Jer. 5:17; 8:13; Hag. 2:19; Zech. 3:10). The point of the flow of thought in the verse is not repetition of figure but advance. Israel’s glory/splendor lay in her relation to the glorious One. The evidence of His presence and blessings consisted in the fruitfulness of the vine. When the vine lay devastated by plague (e.g., Joel 1:4) or the invader’s heel (as here), it was indicative of God’s chastisement of His people. God used such means and symbols to bring His people to repentance and spiritual growth, from being “Jacob” to being “Israel.” With repentance and restoration would come renewed splendor and fruitfulness.

†Some have seen in וּזְמֹרֵיהֶם (“and their vines”) an indication of the meaning “branches/shoots” and hence another need for reading גֶּפֶן for גָּאוֹן in the earlier part of the verse. But Cathcart is probably right in suggesting that this is simply a case of pars pro toto, with a whole plant (vine and branches) being intended. Cathcart’s own further suggestion of relating the word to the root dmr (“protect”) and to an Ugaritic word for a class of soldiers seems forced, as does Stone-house’s proposal to translate the phrase “their oliveyards.”90 It is interesting to note, however, that גָּאוֹן and the root dmr occur in close proximity in Ex. 15 where, after Moses says, “Yah is my strength and power” ( זִמְרָת, v. 2), he tells of the greatness of God’s majesty ( גָּאוֹן). It is of course impossible to ascertain whether Nahum was drawing upon the Exodus hymn (as did Isaiah [Isa. 12:2] and the psalmist [Ps. 118:14]), but if he was indebted to such a setting, the argument for retaining גָּאוֹן would be further strengthened and the final זְמֹרֵיהֶם could be translated “their defenses.” Significantly, שָׁחַת, which follows, is often used in military contexts by the prophets (cf. Isa. 14:20; Jer. 48:18; Ezek. 26:4).

It should be noted in passing that Maier attempts to build a case for the negative use of גָּאוֹן here by postulating that the previous verb is not derived from שׁוּב (“return/restore”) but from שָׁבַב (“cut off/destroy”). Although this makes for a tolerable translation and allows the image of destroying to form an inclusio for the verse, it does not yield the smoothest exegetical sense. Verses 1-2 are clearly a reiteration of the theme of the book and thus contain, as traditionally affirmed, a contrast between the fate of Nineveh and that of Judah. Both instances of the particle כִּי are to be taken causally, the information contained in the second כִּי clause deriving from that introduced by the first.

בֹּקְקִים בְקָקוּם (“plunderers have plundered them”): Two roots have generally been seen to lie behind these words: bqq I, “lay waste,” and bqq II, “be luxuriant.”91 Because the reasons for the restoration of God’s people/land are being introduced, the former root is the more appropriate one. It will figure prominently again in v. 11. The repetition of the root reflects Nahum’s literary flair (cf. מְצֻרָה נָצוֹר in v. 2). Nahum’s piling up of similar sounds is also to be noticed, s occurring eight times (cf. five uses of in v. 1). Because the chief emphasis of the judgment is directed against Nineveh, “the plunderers” are probably the Assyrians primarily, even though Israel had known the incursion of many invaders from all sides. Since Nahum prophesied during the reign of wicked Manasseh, the recent campaigns of Sennacherib and Esarhaddon would have been fresh in the memories of Nahum and all Judah. The annals of Sennacherib’s third campaign report the following:

As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-stamped (earth-)ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near to the walls (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove out (of them) 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting and considered (them) booty.92

Esarhaddon records that he summoned his vassal Manasseh to Nineveh: “And I summoned the kings of the Hittiteland (Syria) and (those) across the sea,—Ba’lu, king of Ty-re, Manasseh, king of Judah. . . .”93 If Nahum’s prophecy dates from as late as Ashurbanipal’s later western campaigns (650-648 B.C.), his words would be all the more vivid.94

B. Development: First Description Of Nineveh’s Demise
(2:3-10 [HB 2:4-11])

Nahum turns from his introductory theme to the first of two descriptions of Nineveh’s certain destruction. The section contains two parts: (1) a description of the attackers of Nineveh (vv. 3-6), and (2) the consequences of the attack for Nineveh (vv. 7-10). It is marked by several distinctive literary features (references are to the MT) such as the use of simile (vv. 5, 8, 9), metonymy (v. 4), and synecdoche (v. 5), chiasmus (vv. 5, 8), enjambment (v. 8), and especially paronomasia, by which the poet makes skillful plays on words (vv. 9, 10, 11), sounds (vv. 5, 9, 10, 11), and even letters (vv. 5-6: y, q, h; 9: m; 10: k, q; 11: b). There may be an instance of irony in v. 9.

Translation

The shields of the soldiers are red(dened),

      the warriors are dressed in scarlet;

the coverings* on the chariot are like fire in the day of its preparation,

      and the spears* are brandished.

4Through the streets the chariots race wildly,

      they rush to and fro through the squares.

Their appearance is like (flaming) torches;

      like (streaking) lightning they flash here and there.

5He gives orders to* his mighty men*,

      they stumble forward* on their way;

they hasten to the wall*,

      and the protective shield* is put in place*.

6The river gates are opened,

      and the palace collapses and crumbles.

7Her exiles* are carried away,

      and her handmaidens moan*—

      like the sound of doves

      (while) beating* on their breasts.

8As for Nineveh, her waters* are like a pool* of water,

      and they (her citizens) are fleeing away.

“Stop! Stop!”* But no one turns around*.

9”Plunder* the silver! Plunder* the gold!”

For there is no end* to the treasure*,

      the abundance/wealth of all its precious things*.

10She is destroyed, despoiled, and denuded*;

      hearts melt and knees shake;

there is trembling in all the loins,

      and all faces grow pale*.

Exegesis and Exposition

Nahum’s description of the attack against Nineveh begins with a consideration of its attackers (vv. 3-6). The invading army’s attire and equipment are described first (v. 3). They are clad in scarlet* and carry reddened* shields, all of which would not only give a distinctive color to the army in the hand-to-hand combat that was sure to come but would also provide a grim forecast of the shedding of the defenders’ blood that would soon be mingled with the reddish clothing and equipment of the striking force. Adding to the awesome appearance of the “scatterer” was the terrifying sight of its chariotry. With horse and chariot bedecked with highly polished metal that gleamed like fire in the brilliant Near Eastern sunlight and with soldiers equipped with polished cypress spears (which often give a reddish appearance) that they brandished smartly (perhaps at first in military drill, but soon in battle), the effect of the whole spectacle was designed to strike terror into the stoutest of hearts.

A well-known question arises concerning the description of the chariots: Does the activity of the chariots continue the depiction of the basic preparatory actions of the besiegers (v. 3), or does it constitute the first movement in the attack against the city’s walls (vv. 5-6)? The solution to the problem probably lies in viewing v. 4 as a hinge, a unit of thought that has individual existence and yet binds two portions of a narrative together. That such is the case may be corroborated by noting the designed stitching effect of the word “chariot” (v. 3) and the image of hurrying (cf. v. 5). The transitional nature of v. 4 as a hinge may be further seen in the employment of a first-slot preposition to introduce new, yet related, material (cf. 1:11) and the use of pivot-pattern parallelism, a feature often utilized in introducing a new unit.95 The result is a clear pattern describing the siege of Nineveh: the enemy’s assembling of his forces (v. 3), the initial advance (v. 4), and the all-out attack (vv. 5-6) and its aftermath (vv. 7-10). Thus the hurrying and scurrying of men and chariots described in v. 4 constitute the preparatory stage that will lead to the opening assault. What a sight it must have been for the defenders, with metallic trappings sending back the sun’s rays in such reflective splendor that they doubtless seemed to the observing eve to be now like a gleaming torch* and now like a flash of lightning!*

The scene progresses from one of preparation and advance to one of conflict (vv. 5-6). With the staging operations completed, the enemy commander gives the order to charge the wall. The seasoned warriors respond instantly. Hastening forward, they reach Nineveh’s massive city wall where they put in place the mantelet that will give them protection from Nineveh’s defenders during the siege operations (cf. Jer. 52:4; Ezek. 4:2). Thus protected from the flying arrows, falling stones, and lighted torches that came down from the city’s protectors atop the wall, the process of breaching the city could begin. Typically this would include the use of siege mounds and towers, scaling ladders and tunneling operations, battering rams and axes, and the torching of the city gate. For Nineveh the means of defeat, however, came from an unexpected source. Nineveh trusted not only in her massive walls that Sennacherib had begun and named “The Wall That Terrifies the Enemy” (outer wall) and “The Wall Whose Splendor Overwhelms the Foe” (inner wall) but also in her surrounding moat and the proximity of the Tigris River. Yet ironically these defenses would work against the proud city. Diodorus reports that a series of torrential downpours swelled the “Euphrates” (i.e., the city’s river systems: the Khosr, which flowed through the city, and the Tigris) and flooded Nineveh, thereby undermining its wall and causing the collapse of a significant part of it.

Sennacherib had also built a double dam for the Khosr River to form a reservoir for Nineveh’s populace. This was augmented by a series of dam gates or sluices to regulate the supply of water to the city. Maier may be right in suggesting that the primary intent of Nahum’s prediction is that the advancing enemy would shut the sluices, thereby cutting off the city’s drinking supply. But with the reservoir full, the gates would again be opened, causing the already flooded Khosr to destroy the surrounding walls where it entered the Ninlil Gate. Furthermore: “The Quay Gate, at which the Khosr left the city, might also be devastated and in the intervening city much serious damage done. After the flow subsided, the entrance to Nineveh would have been made much easier for the besiegers.”96

Perhaps these data are to be received as representing the true intent of the prophecy. In any case, biblical evidence (cf. 3:8ff.) and historical tradition combine to indicate that neither wall nor water would deliver the seemingly impregnable city. Accordingly, Zephaniah’s prophecy takes on a touch of poignancy and pathos: “He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and as dry as the desert” (Zeph. 2:13).

Nahum next envisions the subsequent collapse of Nineveh’s magnificent palace. As the account unfolds, entrance to the city has been gained by the attackers, for the Assyrians are seen as being captured and led away into exile, while the women, pleading for mercy and bewailing their fate, are being led away moaning plaintively. Michael Travers aptly remarks:

It is in this narrative unit that Nahum creates one of his most pathetic scenes, that of the terror of the innocent people of Nineveh. In a simile, Nahum depicts the anguish of the innocent slave girls of the city as the moan of doves (2:7). The slave girls are helpless victims of their masters’ demise. The simile evokes pathos, compassion for the slaves’ imminent deaths.97

Whether the magnificent north palace (recently built by Ashurbanipal and furnished with stunning examples of Assyrian beaux artes) or the south palace (built by Sennacherib and restored by Ashurbanipal, who kept most of the documents of his famous library there) is meant is not certain. Obviously, however, the city has been breached and the end is near.

The inevitable consequences that follow upon a city’s capture are then detailed (vv. 8-10). The progression in the scene is heightened through anticipatory emphasis: “As for Nineveh.” Henceforth the fate of the fallen city is in view. Conquered Nineveh is said to be “like a pool of water.” The simile is both effective and apropos. Mighty Nineveh was situated in a favorable location that blessed her with an adequate water supply, one made more abundant by wise administrative leadership. But now the blessing has turned into a curse at the hands of the enemy whose siege operations have left Nineveh a veritable “pool of water.” From the waters and the crumbling city the masses flee away in sheer panic.

In the midst of the clamor of the departing throng an impassioned voice rings out: “Stop! Stop!” Whether the person crying out is an Assyrian civil or military official, or whether the words were uttered by Nahum himself and intended to be taken as irony, is not certain. One thing is sure: No one turns around, much less halts, in his desperate flight. Another cry is heard (the entire scene is depicted with the author’s characteristic picturesque brevity): “Plunder the silver! Plunder the gold!” Are they the words of the invaders, the prophet, or God Himself? Regardless, it is ultimately the certain judgment of God. Nineveh, who had heaped up hordes of captured treasure, would now face despoliation. The precious possessions of nations that poured into the Neo-Assyrian capital as a result of trade, tribute, and booty were almost beyond counting. Now Nineveh in turn would have her riches taken away. Maier’s observations are once again to the point:

In remarkable agreement with Nahum’s prophecy that “there is no end to the store” is the factual account in the Babylonian Chronicle that the spoil taken at Nineveh’s capture was “a quantity beyond counting.” To understand that this statement was not a conventional exaggeration but that the plunder in the city which once plundered the adjacent world was fabulous in amount and value, one need but scan the records of the Sargonide dynasty to find the lists of heavy loot exacted by Nineveh. During Ashurbanipal’s long reign the wealth of Babylon, Thebes, and Susa were brought to the capital. Significantly, little gold or silver has been discovered in the Kouyunjik mounds. The city was completely sacked.98

The call to loot the great city does not go unanswered. The final description comes to its readers like the repeated tolling of a bell in dirge-like wailing: bu‚qa‚! u‚meŒbu‚qa‚! u‚me†bulla„qa‚! Nineveh was “destroyed, and despoiled, and denuded.” The sight would send such a shudder through the strongest people that uncontrollable trembling would seize the entire body and their faces blanch. The portrayal is one of abject terror, painted again in synecdoche and picturesque brevity: melting hearts, knees knocking together, bodies writhing, faces made colorless with fright. Laetsch describes it well:

The heart of the people, their spirit, once so fearless, so proud, so indomitable, now is melted like wax. Alarm, fear, terror, consternation, black despair grip them. No longer can they form any plan of resistance; their knees tremble; sickening anguish, nauseating horror grips their loins. Their faces “gather blackness,” assume the livid, ashen color of people frightened to death.99

Additional Notes

2:3 (HB 2:4) The reddened shields refer perhaps to highly polished metal fittings that gleamed in the sunlight or to the dyeing of the shields with red color so as to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy. Some have suggested that it might be a veiled reference to the Assyrians’ blood that would yet be splattered on them. The adjective מְאָדָּם (“red”) is sing., agreeing with מָגֵן, which, though sing., must be translated as a pl. in accordance with the demands of the context. Singular construct nouns followed by plurals may be translated as plurals. Interestingly enough, Nahum utilizes the opposite structure to express the pl. in the parallel line, the construct pl. being followed by a sing. noun אַנְשֵׁי־תַיִל (“warriors”).100

“Redness” is also indicated in the parallel line by the adjective מְתֻלָּעִים (“scarlet,” a plural in agreement with אַנְשֵׁי), referring to the attire of the soldiers. Some evidence exists for the wearing of reddish or purple dress into combat, perhaps to strike awe and terror into the hearts of the enemy (see Xenophon, Cyropaedia 6.4.1; cf. Ezek. 23:5-6). It is possible, of course, that this term may have simply been selected as a suitable parallel for מְאָדָּם, both words being used metonymically for the effects that the enemy’s spattered blood had on the warriors’ shields and garments.101 Final interpretation must be correlated with the succeeding lines, which appear to focus on the description of the army at the outset of the campaign (v. 3b) before moving on to detail its approach (v. 4) and attack (vv. 5-6). If so, the scenario of “spattered blood” is probably out of synchronization.

†The translation of the word פלדות has been much disputed. On the basis of the Arabic fu‚la„d (cf. Syriac pu‚la„d, “steel”), it is often taken to mean some such metal (cf. NASB, NIV, NJB). Others have suggested a transposition of the first two consonants to read lappi‚do‚t (“torches”; cf. BHS, Pesh., KJV), which, with the preceding “fire,” can be rendered something like “flash like fire” (RSV). Some have suggested a complete transposition of the consonants to read dlpt (from the root דָּלַף, “drop”) and propose the meaning “flickering” (thus NEB, “like flickering fire”). The difficulty of this well-known crux and the uncertainty reflected in the ancient versions (cf. LXX αἱ ἡνιαι and Vg habenai, “[the] reins”) have brought forward many guesses. One of the more interesting is that of Cathcart who relates the word to Ugaritic pld, a type of covering, and takes the following “chariots” to be metonymy for the harnessed chariots. He therefore translates the clause as “fiery are the caparisons of the horses.” Final certainty still escapes the expositor. Perhaps Cathcart and BHS are on the right track in relating the term to the Ugaritic word. Accordingly I have provisionally translated the line “the coverings on the chariot are like fire.” Thus construed, the thought is that the reflected gleam of the bedecked horses and chariots would strike yet further terror into the hearts of those who beheld the sight “on the day of its preparation” (i.e., for battle; cf. Prov. 21:31). Stylistically the whole thought is contained in two full lines that constitute a clear case of designed enjambment.

וְהַבְּרשִׁים has likewise been the subject of debate. The mention of a chariot in the previous clause has suggested to some the possible confusion of b and p in this one, thus an original וְהַפָּרָשִׁים (“steeds”; cf. NEB, RSV; or “horsemen,” NJB, LXX). One may note the combination of רֶכֶב and פָּרָשִׁים in Isa. 21:7. Because the connection of the word in the MT with cypress wood seems inescapable, however, the idea of highly polished spears or lances being brandished by the accompanying infantry or by the members of the chariot team seems to be most likely.102 The whole picture in verse 3b is clouded at best, with uncertainty attaching not only to the proper reading of the words in question but to the understanding of the final text. The difficulty of these lines was already apparent by the time of the ancient versions, as underscored by the great confusion evidenced in the LXX translation: “... with fire. In the day of his preparation the reins of their chariots and the horsemen will be disordered in their ranks.”

2:4 (HB 2:5) בַּחוּצוֹת (“through the streets”): As the note in The NIV Study Bible points out, the scene of the action described in this verse has been understood as that of the attackers or the defenders.103 The parallel term רְחֹבוֹת basically means “open places” and is used most often for wide places within a city or village (cf. Deut. 13:16 [HB 13:17]; Ezra 10:9; Neh. 8:1; Esther 4:6) but may possibly designate open places outside the city as well.104 The flow of thought in the passage appears to demand a location outside Nineveh proper. Therefore, “streets/squares” should probably be understood of the surrounding villages that made up Nineveh’s suburbs. The two words are used in parallel in such texts as Prov. 5:16; 7:12; 22:13; 26:13; Jer. 5:1; 9:20; Amos 5:16.

יִתְהוֹלְלוּ (“[the chariots] race wildly”), יִשְׁתַּקְשְׁקוּן (“they rush to and fro”), and יְרוֹצֵצוּ (“they flash here and there”) are all alternate D-stem verbs (hithpolel, hithpalpel, and polel respectively) expressing intensity of motion or special energy.105 Certainly each is well utilized by Nahum, who again demonstrates his literary expertise in choosing not only words but also forms that stress the activity and movement of the advancing chariotry. The first verb is found in a similar context in Jer. 46:9; the other verbal forms are hapax legomena, although their roots are attested elsewhere in the MT.

The swift movement of the chariots with their polished metal glistening in the sunlight makes an appearance כַּלַּפִּידִים (“like [flaming] torches”) and כַּבְּרָקִים (“like [flashing] lightning”). Again the whole effect produces awe and fright in the sight of all who beheld the spectacle. That vv. 3-4 have been preparatory to the actual attack to follow in vv. 5-6 is evident from Nahum’s employment of the unit-ending pivot device combined with a double chiasmus.106

2:5 (HB 2:6) † יִזְכֹּר (“he remembers”; cf. LXX, Vg; NASB, NKJV) seems to make little sense in the context unless, as some suggest, Yahweh is the subject, not the attacking enemy. The difficulty has occasioned numerous alternative suggestions for understanding the verb, such as “summon” (NIV, RSV; cf. NJB) or “recount” (KJV), as well as several conjectural emendations.107 Because the subject of the chapter thus far has been the “scatterer” and it would thus appear somewhat forced to suggest God as the subject here, because the usual meaning of the verb seems to be inappropriate if the “scatterer” is the subject, and because none of the conjectured readings can be viewed as satisfactory, some such alternative meaning as those suggested by several of the English versions needs to be found. “Recount (KJV) gives little sense to the context; “summon” (NIV, RSV), while not attested elsewhere in the OT for this verb (unless perhaps Job 14:13), yields tolerable sense here. Perhaps the best solution is to see the precise nuance as something like “(give) order(s) (to),” a meaning found in the Akkadian cognate zaka„ru,108 the thought being that of the commander giving the order to charge (the wall, v. 6b).

יִכָּשְׁלוּ (“they stumble”) has proved no less difficult. As Cathcart points out, the verb ka„sŒal is customarily used in military contexts to indicate weariness and lack of progress. Since none of the conjectural emendations rests on authoritative grounds or appreciably improves the sense, the nuance of the verb in this context must be decided in accordance with its normal semantic range. Because the following lines, like the one preceding this verb, envision the attacking force, it cannot be the defenders who “stumble on their way.” Although a final solution is not yet forthcoming, it may be helpful to view the stumbling as occurring among the attacking soldiers. Thus, if the command to charge the wall has just been given (as suggested above), an overzealous response might well occasion a first stumbling, much as an athlete often stumbles by an initial overstride from a standing start. Even normally quick movements can cause stumbling. This idea is supported by the report of the next line: “They hasten to the wall.”

†The sense of אַדִּירָיו (“his great ones”) is not necessarily the more usual “officers/nobles/chieftains” or “picked troops” of the NIV, for the word probably refers to the magnificently attired (v. 3) general soldiery, here designated according to their established reputation, hence “his mighty men.”

חוֹמָתָהּ: Although some have suggested a repointing of the word to yield a directive he at its end (cf. Tg. Neb., Pesh.), the MT is fully defensible as an adverbial accusative with 3d fem. sing. suffix, “(to) her (Nineveh’s) walls (cf. LXX).”109

הַסֹּכֵךְ וְהֻכַן (“and the protective shield is put in place”): Although Cathcart proposes repointing the verbal form וְהֻכַן to a hiphil infinitive absolute (to continue a preceding verbal clause, as is common in Northwest Semitic), the shift from an active verb to a passive one in parallelism is not without precedent (cf. Pss. 24:7; 69:14 [HB 69:15]; Jer. 31:4; Hos. 5:5). An emendation to a 3d masc. pl. verb (cf. LXX) is also not necessary. The shift from prefix- to suffix-conjugation verb not only brings the bicolon to an end but also portrays the result of the action of the initial surge to the wall.

The hapax legomenon הַסֹּכֵךְ must refer to some type of covering, as a glance at its cognates shows.110 The consistent attention directed to the activities of the scatterer suggests a mantelet, or large protective shield, used by the attackers to shield them from the arrows and missiles of the defenders on the wall. Laetsch points out that

the Assyrians used smaller, hutlike shelters which could be readily carried by a few men, or larger, towerlike structures rolled on wheels to the top of the embankments built round about the besieged city. The sheds offered protection to the soldiers while building these embankments, and later while seeking to undermine the foundations of the walls to hasten their collapse. The towers were provided with machines hurling stones and firebrands against the walls and into the city, in order to smash the fortifications and start conflagrations. Moved close to the walls, they also offered vantage points for attack by the soldiers.111

The presence of the double k in this word is a reminder of the prophet’s frequent use of the repetition of a particular consonant for sound effect. (k is employed six times in this verse, three occurrences being found in this clause alone.) Such assonance not only links the action more closely but underscores dramatically the rushing movement to the wall.

2:6 (HB 2:7) †With the Hebrew שְׁעָרִים (“sluice/dam gates”) compare Old South Arabic tàrt (“sluices”). For the root מוּג (“melt”), see the discussion in the note on 1:5. The “melting” here could be viewed as a description of the fear aroused among the inhabitants of the palace or as the collapsing of the palace walls (so the ancient versions) due to flooding or fire. The noun הֵיכָל (cf. Sumerian É-GAL; Akkadian e„kallu), “large house,” “palace,” “temple,” was also used in the OT for the holy place of the Solomonic Temple (1 Kings 6:17).112 The definite article here renders it probable that the reference is to the king’s palace rather than to one of Nineveh’s several temples.

והצב occurs as the first word in v. 7 (HB v. 8). It has proved to be a time-honored crux interpretum. Maier provides a list of more than a dozen suggestions that have been put forward as a sample of the many ideas that have been proposed. The ancient versions are likewise in disagreement. Basically three positions have been taken. (1) The form is a noun ( hus£s£a„b) meaning something like “beauty,” “lady,” “mistress” and refers either to Nineveh itself or to the statue of Ishtar that was housed there (Cathcart). (2) The form is a verb that is to be translated either “it is decreed” (NIV, NKJV) or “dissolved” (NASB; i.e., the palace or its column base113). (3) The form should be emended entirely.114 The problem is heightened by the two feminine verbs that follow. J. M. P. Smith declares the form “insoluble” and the meaning of the whole line “hopelessly obscured.”115 Although final certainty continues to escape Nahum’s interpreters, perhaps the solution lies along literary lines in (1) understanding (with Saggs) הֻצַּב in the sense of “dissolved” (cf. Akkadian nas£a„bu, “suck out,” or Arabic d£abba, “to hew to the ground”) and (2) placing the word in v. 6 (HB v. 7), a procedure that would yield a poetic 3/3 structure for this verse and a resultant double set of 2/2 in the following verse. This procedure would also provide a second consecutive verse that is closed by a passive suffix-conjugation verb. Thus construed the verse yields good sense: “The palace collapses and crumbles.”

2:7 (HB 2:8) †It is better to point the MT גֻּלְּתָה (“[she was] stripped”) as גָּלתָהּ (“her exiles/captives”).116 Such a reading nicely anticipates the employment of the same figure in 3:10. By taking וְהֻצַּב with v. 6 and by following the pointing suggested here, v. 7, though in narrative structure, takes on poetic proportions as a deliberately designed instance of enjambment. Not only does such a procedure allow Nahum’s literary abilities to be seen more clearly and provide a smooth translation of vv. 6 and 7, but there is also no interpretive need for the supposed presence of a stripped Assyrian queen, as suggested by some. Nor is there need for seeing the statue of Ishtar being carried away. The NIV translation “(the city) be exiled” rests on a repointing of MT to גָּלְתָה (cf. Vg captivus abductus est, “is carried away captive,” and NEB “[the train of captives] goes into exile”).

†The root נָהַג (“moan”) is a hapax legomenon, although it is well attested in Syriac and Arabic. מְתֹפְפֹת (“beating”) is a denominative from תֹּף (“tambourine”), here in the polel stem to indicate the women’s repeated striking of their breasts in lamentation. Cathcart appropriately calls attention to a similar sentiment in the Curse of Agade. Such actions were typically carried out by women who were pleading for mercy in situations like these.117

2:8 (HB 2:9) † כִּבְרֵכַת־מַיִם (“like a pool of water”): The word for pool is frequently attested in the OT and appears in the Siloam inscription (line 5)118 as well as in Ugaritic, South Arabic, and Egyptian (= brkt). Recent scholarship has tended to suggest a second root alongside the more customary one that yields בָּרַךְ (“bless”).119 It at times implies an artificial pool (Neh. 3:16), a meaning that is appropriate here.

הִיא מִימֵי (“her waters”): These words have occasioned numerous comments. Among those that attempt to retain the consonantal text of the MT, two primary ideas have been put forward. (1) Some have opted for dividing the two words as מִן (“from”) plus the pl. of יוֹם (“day”) plus הָ (= 3d fem. sing. pronominal suffix) and translating “throughout her days” (NASB; cf. KJV, “of old”). (2) Most view the first word as the pl. construct of מַיִס (“waters”), as suggested by the ancient versions. But, because the pl. construct form is followed by a fem. sing. independent pronoun, a construction that grammarians have generally considered to be “evidently corrupt,”120 critical scholars have tended to emend the text to read מֵימֶיהָ (“her waters”).121 This approach, combined with the following phrase, has produced translations such as “whose waters run away” (RSV; cf. NJB). As Cathcart demonstrates, however, precedent for the reading found in the MT is attested amply in Ugaritic, where the independent pronoun in such cases is found in both the genitive and accusative.122 Taking the MT at face value and following Keil’s observation that the next clause deals with Nineveh’s citizens, not water,123 the whole idea makes good sense by rendering it according to the translation provided at the beginning of this section. The effect is again almost poetic, yielding three lines composed as 3/2/2, with enjambment over lines one and two.

עֲמֹדוּ עִמְדוּ (“Stop! Stop!”): The second imperative is pausal. NIV inserts “they cry” after the two imperatives ad sensum, a proposal put forward by several critics who insert some such form as אָמַר (“say/cry”) or זָעַק (“cry/yell”) before or after the imperatives. The compressed speech and asyndetically juxtaposed imperatives of the MT are far more dramatic as the text stands.

מַפְנֶה וְאֵין (“but no one turns around”): The words are reminiscent of Jer. 46:5, 21. Cathcart perspicaciously calls attention to the heaping up of the letter m in this verse (nine times), an assonance that enhances dramatic effect.

2:9 (HB 2:10) † בֹּזּוּ (“plunder!”): The double imperative doubtless answers to the pair in the previous verse. LXX reads διήρπαζον (“they seized”), suggesting an original suffix-conjugation in their exemplar. Although this reading is followed by some critics, it is unnecessary and at variance with the dramatic effect in the MT. Silver and gold often appear as set pairs to express wealth or booty (Gen. 24:34; Josh. 6:19).124

קֵצֶה אֵין (“there is no end”; cf. 3:3, 9) occurs in the OT outside Nahum only in the remarkable parallel in Isa. 2:7. Armerding points this out as one of many texts that show a literary interdependence between the two prophets.

חֶמְדָּה כְּלִי (“precious things”) occurs elsewhere with silver and gold (2 Chron. 32:27; Dan. 11:8; Hos. 13:15). The root h£md connotes a strong desire, hence “desirable/precious things,” and as such was intended possibly as a suitable literary envelope with the earlier כֶּסֶף (“silver”).

תְּכוּנָה (“treasure,” from כּוּן [“be established,” “prepare”]) refers to the furnishings of proud Nineveh. The booty to be taken from Nineveh thus included not only its precious metals but also the many objects and utensils made from them. Together with the next line, the general sense is that Nineveh possessed untold wealth of every conceivable kind. TeŒku‚na‚ also performs a rhyming function with h£emda‚.

2:10 (HB 2:11) † וּמְבֻלָּקָה וּמְבוּקָה בּוּקָה (“destroyed and despoiled and denuded”): The assonance and alliteration are striking. Cathcart calls attention to a stylistic resemblance with Isa. 22:5 as well as to the employment of the root בָּלַק with בָּקַק in Isa. 24:1 followed by the use of בָּקַק and בָּזַז two verses later. Although this type of paronomasia is common enough in the OT (e.g., Joel 2:2; Mic. 1:10ff.; cf. Nah. 2:2 [HB 2:3]), the parallels with Isaiah are striking and may point to a further literary relationship between the two prophets.

†The appearance of the root חוּל (“tremble”) in parallel with קִבְּעוּ פָּארוּר (“[all faces] grow pale”) recalls Joel 2:6.125 Though the first root is common enough, the word פָּארוּר is a rare and somewhat troublesome word. Several etymologies have been proposed. (1) פָּרוּר (“pot”). Combined with קִבֵּץ, the thought is assumed to be describing a reaction of terror. Much as one gathers blackness from the burned part of a pot, so terrified faces “gather blackness” (KJV).126 (2) פָּרַר (“break in pieces”). Due to great fear, all faces have gathered wrinkles (Ehrlich).127 (3) פַּאֲרוּר (“glow,” “red/crimson”). Faces glow with excitement due to the press of the fierce battle (KB).128 (4) פֵּאֵר (“beautify”). Combined with the verb קִבֵּץ the idea would be “to draw in beauty,” “to withdraw (healthy) color,” hence “grow pale” (NASB, NIV; S. R. Driver).129 On the whole the last alternative seems the simplest and has been followed in the translation above.130

Cathcart demonstrates the close connection of the last three lines of v. 10 with the thought of Isa. 13:7-8:

Both texts mention the melting of hearts.... In Nahum, there is mention of the trembling of the knees; in the Isaiah text, the feebleness of the hands. Anguish in the loins and the change of the colour of the face are found in both passages. For anguish in the loins, compare also Is. 21:3.131

Once again a connection between Isaiah and Nahum seems certain.

Nahum’s first description of Nineveh’s fall ends on a tragic but powerful note. Herbert Marks captures it well: “The description culminates in a magnificent cadence in which the repetition of ‘all’ enforces the note of finality, and the conversion of splendor to ruin is represented not in itself, but more powerfully by its effect on those who suffer it.”132

C. Application: The Discredited City
(2:11-13 [HB 2:12-14])

If the prophet’s own words were not evident in the preceding cries (vv. 9b-10), they surely come forward here. Contemplating the demise of arrogant Nineveh, Nahum utilizes a taunt song, a literary form that was common in the ancient Near East. As a taunt song it takes its place as a subtype of satire, the first of three such pieces directed against Nineveh (cf. 3:8-13; 3:14-19). The satirical tone is Juvenalian. Using an extended metaphor (or allegory), Nineveh is ironically compared to a lion’s den, now no longer the lair of an invincible predator or a den of refuge for its cubs but reduced to ashes. The point of the satirical taunt song is clear. Nineveh shall be judged for its selfishness, rapacity, and cruelty. Other literary features include rhetorical question, enjambment, and paronomasia (v. 11), chiasmus (v. 12), oratio variata and synecdoche (v. 13), and the employment of repetition and refrain: “behold” (v. 13; cf. 2:1; 3:5, 13), “I am against you” (v. 13; cf. 3:5), and the motif of the message/messenger (v. 13; cf. 2:1; 3:7, 19).

Translation

Where* is the dwelling place* of the lion*,

      the place* for the young lions*,

where the lion, the lioness* went,

      the lion cub, and none made (them) afraid*?

12The lion tore for the sake of his cubs*

      and strangled* for his lionesses;

yes, he filled his lair* with prey

      and his dens* with torn flesh.

13Behold*, I am against you—

      the declaration of Yahweh Sabaoth:

I will burn up her chariots in smoke*,

      and a sword will devour your young lions*;

I will cut off your prey from the earth,

      and the voice of your messengers*

      will be heard no more.

Exegesis and Exposition

The lion motif is particularly appropriate. History attests that Sennacherib compared himself to a lion,133 decorating his palace freely with sphinxlike lion statues. Other Assyrian kings referred to themselves as lions and adorned their palaces with various artistic representations of the lion. Reliefs of the Assyrian kings on the lion hunt appear frequently on the palace walls.

With the description of the demise and despoliation of the supposedly invincible city of Nineveh given and the notice of the plight of its citizenry completed, Nahum can now ask, “Where?” The mighty lion of the nations (Assyria) used to proceed at will from its impenetrable lair (Nineveh) to return its prey to its pride (the citizens of Nineveh). Where is all of that now? Once Nineveh bulged with the bounteous booty that her kings had brought within its walls. The annals of the Assyrian kings repeatedly report the ravenous rapacity of the Assyrian conquerors and the barbaric cruelty with which they acquired their ill-gotten gain. Thus Assyria’s great king Ashurbanipal boasts of his subjugation of Akkad:

As for those men ... I slit their mouths (v., tongues) and brought them low. The rest of the people, alive, by the colossi, between which they had cut down Sennacherib, the father of the father who begot me,—at that time, I cut down those people there, as an offering to his shade. Their dismembered bodies (lit. flesh) I fed to the dogs, swine, wolves, and eagles, to the birds of heaven and the fish of the deep.134

And in a campaign against Elam he reports:

At the command of Assur and Ishtar, I entered into its palaces and dwelt there amidst rejoicing. I opened his treasure-houses, wherein were heaped up the silver, gold, property and goods, which the former kings of Elam, down to (and including) the kings of these (present) days, had gathered and laid up, and into which no foe other than myself had ever brought his hand,—(these treasures) I carried out and counted as spoil.135

In the light of such brutality God’s pronouncement again is heard: “Behold, I am against you.” Such is the solemn utterance of the Lord of Hosts (Yahweh Sabaoth). This term (found about 260 times in the OT) declares God’s sovereignty not only over creation (Amos 4:13) but also over all nations and over earth’s history (Isa. 37:16). Although God had used Assyria as His agent to punish an unrepentant Israel, He could and would use still another army (who in turn will one day suffer God’s chastisement for its own sin, Jer. 50:18) to effect the just judgment of haughty Assyria (Zeph. 2:13-15), the very nation for whom a merciful God had earlier been so concerned (Jonah 4:2, 11). Ultimately Israel herself will triumph through her Lord of Hosts, who will rule everlastingly over all forces, heavenly and earthly alike (1 Sam. 17:45; Isa. 24:21-23; 34:1-10).

The results of the divine sentence for Nineveh are spelled out: The city will go up in smoke*, her citizens will be put to the sword, and her immense treasures will be carried off, never to be replenished. The voice of those messengers who carried the words and business of the Assyrian king to the far-flung provinces of the once mighty empire will be heard no more.

In v. 13, several of Nahum’s themes come temporarily to the surface before finding their final expression in chap. 3: “declares the LORD” (cf. 1:12 with 3:5), “against/concerning you” (cf. 1:14 with 3:5), “fire” (cf. 1:6; 2:4 with 3:13, 15), “devouring” (cf. 1:14-15 with 3:15), cruelty/wickedness (cf. 1:11 with 3:19), “no one/none” (cf. 1:14-15 with 3:6-7, 18-19), and the motif of the messenger/message (cf. 1:15 with 3:5, 19). Armerding’s observation is well taken:

This verse draws together the major motifs and vocabulary of Nahum’s prophecy: the Lord’s inexorable opposition to Nineveh; the destruction of its military resources; the role of “sword” and “fire” that “consume” the enemy; the cutting off of Nineveh and its “prey”; the termination of its cruelty, symbolized by the “young lions”; and the reversal of fortunes that awaits Assyria and Judah, exemplified in the fate of the “heralds.”136

Just as in this section, so Nahum’s first oracle (chap. 1) had ended with a pronouncement of judgment for Nineveh/Assyria but had included a message of hope for Judah as well (vv. 12-15). Nahum’s second oracle is not yet through, however, and before he adds a further note of good news (3:19) he will again consider the defeat and demise of Nineveh, detailing the reasons for the divine sentence (3:1-7, 8-19).

Additional Notes

2:11 (HB 2:12) † אַיֵּה (“where?”), besides its use as an interrogative particle requesting information, can be used, as here, to introduce a taunt (cf. Jer. 2:28). It was also commonly utilized in forming personal names (e.g., אִיּוֹב = áayya áabu(m), “Where Is the Father?” [= Job]).

מָעוֹן (“dwelling place”), while used of God’s habitation, whether in heaven (Deut. 26:15) or in the Temple (2 Chron. 36:15), can also be used, as here, for the lair of animals. In the latter instances the masc. noun is consistently used by the prophets to depict the haunt of desolate cities (e.g., Jer. 9:10; 10:22; 49:35; 51:37), but such is not the case with fem. forms (cf. Job 38:40; Amos 3:4).

מִרְעֶה (“pasture”) in the parallel line has met with considerable controversy. Because the reading מְעָרָה (“cave”; cf. BHS) would seem to make a more suitable parallel with the “dwelling place” (or den) of the first line, many modern translations have decided for such an emendation (NJB, NEB, RSV). The change requires simply a transposition of two letters. But the proposed alternative reading lacks textual support and would be ungrammatical due to the presence of the following masc. pronouns. Moreover, the proposed word does not appear in the OT in the sense of a den for animals. The MT should be retained—but in what sense? Some decide for the sense of “feeding place” (from the root רָעָה, “to feed”; e.g., Keil, NASB, NIV), others for the food grown there, hence “fodder” (Maier). מִרְעֶה, however, can designate not only a pasture but open country. Consequently the word may intend simply the district where the lion’s cave was found. The translation “place” is a contextual one that leaves the final decision open. In any case, Keil’s remarks remain valid: “The point of comparison is the predatory lust of its rulers and their warriors, who crushed the nations like lions, plundering their treasures, and bringing them together in Nineveh.”137

The several words for lion here seem intended to represent the whole family (or pride) of lions: אַרְיֵה (“lion”), לָבִיא (“lioness”), אַרְיֵה גּוּר (“lion cub”), and כְּפִיר (“young lion”). The ancient versions, however understand לָבִיא as an infinitive construct, apparently reading לָבוֹא from בּוֹא (“enter”). Accordingly some (Ehrlich, Haldar, Maier) take the MT as a hiphil infinitive construct form shortened from לְהָבִיא (“to bring”; cf. Jer. 27:7).

מַחֲרִיד וְאֵין (“none made [them] afraid”; “with nothing to fear” [NIV]): The phrase is reminiscent of the often repeated description of those undisturbed by danger, whether men (Mic. 4:4) or animals and birds (Deut. 28:6; Isa. 17:2; Jer. 7:33; Ezek. 34:28; Zeph. 3:13). The שָׁם ... אֲשֶׁר (“where ... there”) in the previous line is a relative clause introduced by a relative particle and closed by a resumptive adverb. The clause has locative force. The relative pronoun here betrays its Akkadian origin as a noun ( asŒru [construct asŒar], “place”; cf. Aramaic/Syriac אֲתַר/ áaŒ tar with secondary development into a locative relative “place where,” with further development in Hebrew as a general relative particle). A similar nominal origin and development has been suggested for Phoenician áe„sŒ from West Semitic ái‚sŒ, “man (who),” but this remains unproved. The Semitic languages also know of a double particle series to express the relative idea, the demonstrative/explicative particles * du and * tu, both of which are attested in the MT (particularly in older poetic material) as זוּ (e.g., Ex. 15:13) and שׁ (e.g., Num. 24:15).138 The final two lines of v. 11 provide a case of progressive enjambment.139

2:12 (HB 2:13) † גֹּרוֹתָיו (“his cubs”): גּוּר (“whelp”) and גֹּר (“lion cub”) are attested. Since masc. sing. Hebrew nouns frequently take fem. plurals, there is no need to emend the text to a masc. pl. as some (e.g., Duhm) have done.

מְחַנֵּק (“strangled”): Although it has been charged by some that the idea of lions strangling their prey is unrealistic,140 with the result that some such translation as “tore up” (NJB) has been substituted, the verb means “strangle” throughout the Semitic family of languages and is consistently so used in the OT. As Cathcart observes:

Lions do strangle their prey and we have excellent representations from the Near East of lions strangling their prey. Most impressive is a Phoenician ivory (c. 715 B.C.) in the British Museum which shows a lioness standing over a man with its left paw around his neck. Even older, on a shell, dating from the 3rd millennium B.C., and excavated at Lagash, there is a scene of a lion attacking a bull. The lion has its paw and foreleg right around the bull’s neck, and its teeth buried in the back of its neck.141

The root t£rp (“tear/rip open”) occurs three times in this verse (“tore,” “prey,” “torn flesh”), strategically placed in poetic parallelism and in chiasmus so as to emphasize the viciousness of the lion with regard to its prey. The usual distinction between the two words for prey ( טֶרֶף and טְרֵפָה) is that the latter word lays more stress on the torn condition of the victim.142

וּמְעֹנֹתָיו חֹרָיו (“his lairs/caves ... his dens”): The plurals here may indicate the change of location that a lion makes at times, or they may reflect popular speech dealing with general activities: (a) lion(s) bring(s) the prey into his (their) lair(s). In any case, Nineveh is still in view.

2:13 (HB 2:14) † הִנְנִי (lit. “Behold me”): Nahum uses the particle הִנֵּה several times at strategic points as a transitional device (cf. 1:15; 3:5, 13). This particle is often used to introduce divine pronouncements and to authenticate a prophet’s words.143 The phrase “I am against you” contains a 2d fem. sing. pronoun referring to Nineveh, the intended comparison in the allegory. It recurs with הִנְנִי in 3:5. The introductory particle is reinforced by the noun נְאֻם (“declaration of”; cf. NIV, “declares”) that so frequently is used to confirm the divine source of a prophet’s message (cf. Jer. 9:22; 23:31; Ezek. 20:3; Zech. 12:1).144

בֶּעָשָׁן (“in the smoke”), a form of zeugma (or synecdoche), stresses the burning of the vaunted Assyrian war chariots.145

כְפִירַיִךְ (“your young lions”): The metaphor of calling royalty, leaders, or warriors by animal names is common in both Ugaritic and Hebrew.146 The figure of devouring the prey (vv. 11-12) is continued here, but with image transfer: the young lions are now the prey devoured by the enemy’s sword. With the reintroduction of direct discussion with Nineveh, the poet returns to using a 2d fem. sing. suffix (cf. “against you” in line 1 of this verse), thus making a shift from the 3d fem. sing. suffix with “her chariot(s)” in the parallel line. Such cases of oratio variata (or enallage) are common in Semitic poetry (cf. Ps. 23) and often employed by the prophets (e.g., Isa. 1:29; Jer. 22:24; Mic. 7:19). Proposed emendations to “your chariots” (cf. BHS) are therefore unnecessary.147

מַלְאָכֵכֵה (“your messengers”): The MT is strange; one would expect מַלְאָכַיִךְ. The form in the text has been taken as a dialectal variant, an Aramaism, or unusual pronominal form, or has been understood as being derived from מְלָאכָה (“work”; cf. LXX, Pesh.). The poet’s use of the messenger/message motif to end each principal section gives assurance of the meaning of the term, even though the form remains somewhat of an enigma. Maier may be correct in viewing it as a unique form that is not without a reasonable basis:

There is an unusual latitude in the form of the nominal suffixes for the second person singular. If this person in the masculine may take the ending ־ֶכָה (Ps 139:5, with the verbal suffix counterpart ־כָה, Gen 27:7); if the second sing. fem. suffix may be ־ֵכִי (Jer 11:15, with the same form for the verbal suffix, Ps 103:4), or ־יְכִי (2 Kings 4:3), is it unreasonable to assume that מַלְאָכֵכֵה is a unique suffix of the second sing. fem., the gender and number required by the context?148

3
The Doom of Nineveh Described, Part Two
(Nahum 3:1-19)

With the completion of the first description of Nineveh’s doom, which has been capped by a taunt song castigating the discredited city (2:3-13), Nahum turns once again to developing the theme (2:1-2) of the section (2:1-3:19). The demise of Nineveh is rehearsed again (3:1-7), this time however underlining the reasons that necessitate such a devastation. Nahum will again build upon that description with another taunt song, which will occupy the greater portion of the third chapter (vv. 8-19) and flow in two movements. The first unit compares Nineveh’s situation to that of once-proud Thebes, which also fell despite its seeming impregnability (vv. 8-13); the second constitutes a stinging concluding condemnation of Nineveh itself (vv. 14-19). Since this chapter (like the preceding) forms a part of the second half of the book, the headings of the individual units will reflect the outline given in the Introduction.

D. Development: Second Description Of Nineveh’s Demise
(3:1-7)

Nahum writes his second description of Nineveh’s certain doom in the form of a woe oracle. The initial “woe” is a word drawn from a lamentation liturgy for the dead. As utilized by the prophet, while containing a prophetic declaration and description of the coming judgment, it also constitutes a formal denunciation of the doomed city. Woe oracles normally contain three elements: invective, criticism, and threat. Here these are arranged in chiasmus: invective (vv. 1, 7), threat (vv. 2-3, 5-6), criticism (v. 4). This betrays a deliberate design that imparts information for understanding the author’s intentions not only in the whole unit but also in the well-known crux interpretum at v. 4 (see Exegesis and Exposition). Other literary features in this section include merismus (v. 1), picturesque brevity (vv. 2, 3), alliteration and staircase parallelism (v. 4), metaphor (vv. 4, 5-6), paronomasia, oratio variata, enjambment, and refrain (v. 7).

Translation

Woe* to the city of blood,

      all of it a lie;

full of plunder*,

      it never lacks* prey*.

2The crack* of whips*

      and the rumble of wheels;

galloping horses*

      and jolting chariots*;

3charging calvalry*,

      flashing* swords,

      and gleaming* spears;

an abundance of slain

      and a multitude of corpses.

There is no end to the bodies;

      they stumble over the dead.

4(It is) because of* the numerous harlotries of the harlot, she who is graciously fair*,

      the mistress of sorceries*;

(it is) she who makes merchandise* of the nations by her harlotries,

      and peoples* by her sorceries.

5”Behold I am against you”—

      the declaration of Yahweh Sabaoth:

“I will lift* your skirt over your face,

      and I will show the nations your nakedness

      and kingdoms your shame.

6I will pelt you with filth*

      and make you a contemptuous* spectacle*.

7And it shall come to pass that all who see you

      will flee* from you and say,

‘Nineveh is ruined*;

      who will mourn* for her?’

Where shall I seek*

      comforters for you?”*

Exegesis and Exposition

In pronouncing his woe against Nineveh, Nahum begins with an invective that singles out Nineveh’s established reputation. Nineveh was, first of all, a city of blood.* Keil suggests that Nineveh is being accused of being a murderous city. Certainly Nineveh’s bloody activities are well documented. The extreme cruelties perpetrated by Ashurnasirpal II, Shalmaneser III, and Ashurbanipal are especially notorious. Among many examples the following may be cited:

I [Ashurnasirpal II] took the city, and 800 of their fighting men I put to the sword, and cut off their heads. Multitudes I captured alive, and the rest of them I burned with fire, and carried off their heavy spoil. I formed a pillar of the living and of heads over against his city gate, and 700 men I impaled on stakes over against their city gate. The city I destroyed, I devastated, and I turned it into a mound and ruin heap. Their young men and their maidens I burned in the fire.149

Like Adad I [Shalmaneser III] rained destruction upon them. With their blood I dyed [the mountain] like red wool.... His cities I turned to wastes. Arzashku, together with the cities of its neighborhood, I destroyed, I devastated, [I burned with fire]. Four (?) pyramids (pillars) of heads I erected in front of its gate. Some (of his people) I fastened alive into these pyramids, others I hung up on stakes around the pyramids.150

As for those men ... I [Ashurbanipal] slit their mouths (v., tongues) and brought them low. The rest of the people, alive, by the colossi, between which they had cut down Sennacherib, the father of the father who begot me,—at that time, I cut down those people there, as an offering to his shade. Their dismembered bodies (lit. flesh) I fed to the dogs, swine, wolves, and eagles, to the birds of heaven and the fish of the deep.151

Maier appropriately remarks:

The atrocious practice of cutting off hands and feet, ears and noses, gouging out eyes, lopping off heads and then binding them to vines or heaping them up before city gates; the utter fiendishness by which captives could be impaled or flayed alive through a process in which their skin was gradually and completely removed—this planned frightfulness systematically enforced by the “bloody city” was now to be avenged.152

Further, the city was characterized as being a place of total deceit; it was full of lies*—”all of it a lie.” The description depicts the Assyrians’ use of treachery and alluring platitudes to gain others’ loyalty. They also employed psychological warfare, couching their words in false promises and outright lies to gain the submission of enemy cities in times of siege (cf. 2 Kings 18:28-32).153 Their idolatry, arrogant pride (cf. Zeph. 2:15), and misrepresentation of God Himself (2 Kings 19:21-27) were particularly loathsome. Nineveh’s ravenous appetite for robbery and plunder is also mentioned, a trait that harks back to the preceding taunt song and the figure of Nineveh as a lion’s den to which her ill-gotten prey was taken. In every way, then, Nineveh was known to all as a wicked city (cf. Jonah 1:2).

In vv. 2-3 Nahum moves on to a vivid description of the coming battle. Whether Nahum is reporting what he has seen in a vision or merely himself envisions the future scene, his portrayal is done with picturesque brevity that utilizes a number of vivid images. Michael Travers puts it well:

The writer portrays a number of graphic images of the impending military destruction. In the first image, whips crack, wheels clatter, horses gallop, and chariots jolt (3:2). This opening image draws the reader’s attention to the machines of war, the horses and chariots; the poet uses this picture to heighten the terror which he shows most graphically in the next image.154

Once again a poignant portrait of the battle scene and its din is drawn: the cracking whip that signals the chariots’ movement, the rumble of the chariots together with the pounding of the horses’ hoofs, the advance of cavalry and infantry, the battle engagement itself. And then, ever so quickly, it is over, and all the commotion is followed by a scene of deafening silence, with the slain* strewn across the battle area. It is a macabre and melancholy setting.

So many have lost their lives—and for what? Because an unalterably proud, selfish, and unholy people had come to the time of divine judgment. She who had brought havoc and ruin to so much of the ancient Near East would now face death and destruction. Here again a notable crux occurs. Does the statement (v. 4) relative to Nineveh’s harlotry explain the death and destruction described in the previous verses, or does it initiate the following declaration of God’s judgment against the city? The problem is heightened in that 3:4 is not an independent sentence and therefore would normally need to be related grammatically either with what precedes or with what follows.

Once more (cf. 2:4) the problem is solved by viewing this verse as a hinge binding two portions together with vividness and smoothness of succession. That the verse is so constructed may be noted in the use of the subunit terminator áe‚n qe„s£eh (“there is no end”; NIV “without number”) in v. 3, and the picking up of the image of harlotry in what follows. The transitional nature of the hinge verse may be further seen in the employment of a first-slot preposition to introduce new, yet related, material (cf. 1:11). Perhaps the conclusive fact is that, as indicated at the beginning of this section, the customary three elements of woe oracles are arranged chiastically so that the poet’s criticism of Nineveh (v. 4) is located centrally between the invective (vv. 1, 7) and the threat (vv. 2-3, 5-6).

Accordingly the reader is presented with a statement related to what precedes and anticipating/initiating the discussion that follows. There is thus a smooth transition from one subunit to another, the mention of Nineveh’s harlotry and witchcraft accounting for the grisly death scene that precedes, while providing the critical basis for the Lord’s judicial pronouncement that follows.

The prophet reveals the causes of Nineveh’s condemnation for which God’s judgment must inevitably come. Nineveh was a city of beauty and splendor. It was adorned with temples, palaces, parks, a botanical garden, and even a zoo. It was guarded by massive fortifications and walls. Access to the well-laid-out cosmopolitan center with its broad streets was gained via 15 gates protected by colossal stone bulls. Fresh water was brought into the city by means of a system of dams and an aqueduct. It was truly a splendid and sophisticated metropolis, but it had gained its wealth and grandeur by making merchandise of other nations through either military might or economic exploitation. Further, it had enslaved many with its sociopolitical seductions, most of which were connected with its religious harlotry. Armerding observes:

Nineveh is here seen as using both immoral attractions (the city was a center of the cult of Ishtar—herself represented as a harlot) and sorcery (Assyrian society was dominated by magic arts; IDB, 1:283-87) as a means to enslave others. The metaphor is very close to the reality.155

Truly, then, Nineveh/Assyria was a “mistress of sorceries.”

Once again (cf. 2:13) the prophet turns to threat in a declaration of divine judgment befitting the harlot Nineveh. Yahweh of Hosts Himself was against her (cf. 2:13) and would mete out a punishment corresponding to her conduct. In a simile depicting Nineveh as a harlot, Nahum declares that Nineveh, like any prostitute, will be exposed to public shame (cf. Hos. 2:3; Ezek. 16:37) by having the borders of her garment thrown violently over her face (cf. Jer. 13:26), thus fully revealing her nakedness. Her seemingly impregnable defenses will be thrown down and her substance exposed to all. A helpless Nineveh, a city that had so disgraced others, will herself be put to open shame.

Further, Nineveh will be pelted with filth. The word translated “filth” denotes that which is detested. A strong word, it is usually reserved for contexts dealing with aberrations connected with pagan worship. The word carries with it the idea of the loathing all such detestable practices produce; the thought is that despoiled Nineveh will be treated as a detested and abominable thing. Condemned for her abhorrent idolatrous worship, a thing of incredible filth in God’s sight, she is treated as an object of revulsion by having dirt heaped upon her. It is an action denoting intense disrespect (2 Sam. 16:13; cf. Mal. 2:3). The image is heightened by the further statement that Nineveh would be treated contemptuously, being made a spectacle in the sight of the nations.

The woe reaches its climax with a return to invective. It takes the form of a sarcastic appraisal of Nineveh’s hopeless plight: Nineveh is destroyed, destitute, devoid of mourners. The verse begins with a striking play on words. Nahum has prophesied that Nineveh will become a sorry sight, a horrendous spectacle ( ro„'i‚, v. 6); he reports now (v. 7) that “all who see you” ( ro„áayik) will flee from ruined Nineveh in disgust. Those who flee, bearing the news of a devastated Nineveh, will proclaim not only the city’s demise but that they can find for her neither mourners nor comforters.*

Once again Nahum ends a section or subsection with the motif of a message/messenger (cf. 1:15; 2:13; see 3:18-19), but this time with the added feature of a literary foil: a play on the word for comfort and the prophet’s name. Whereas Judah/Jerusalem had its Nahum ( nah£u‚m), Assyria/Nineveh could boast no comforters ( meŒnah£aŒmi‚m) whatever.

Additional Notes

3:1הוֹי (“woe”): This interjection is a strong word used with precision by the prophets. Zobel’s analysis leads him to point out that

fundamentally, ho‚y forms part of laments for the dead; in the prophetic literature it occurs as an element of prophetic invective. There is a formal similarity between the use of ho‚y in laments for the dead and its use in invective: in both contexts it is followed by a nominal construction. In invective, however, these nominal forms do not define the relationship of the mourner to the subject of his lament as they do in laments for the dead. They describe instead the reprehensible conduct of men toward Yahweh, thus motivating the threat that follows (Isa. 1:4; 5:8, 11; 18:1; 28:1; 45:9, 10; Amos 6:1; Mic. 2:1; Nah. 3:1; Zeph. 2:5; 3:1).156

הוֹי normally introduces a new section, frequently as poetic anacrusis.

עִיר־דָּמִים (“city of blood”; cf. Ezek. 22:2; 24:6, 9): The plural may be explained as indicating an abstract idea, “bloodshed,” or the result of an action involving the matters at hand, “blood that is shed.”157

כַּחַשׁ כֻּלָּהּ (“all of it a lie”): The basic idea is that of total falsehood; Nineveh is “full of lies” (NIV). The thought of absolute falsehood is established by such passages as Ps. 59:13; Hos. 7:3; 10:13; 12:1. The Assyrian practice of using deception as a psychological tool to gain the submission of a besieged city can be illustrated from the archives of Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 B.C.), as pointed out by H. W. F. Saggs, who finds in all of this an interesting parallel with Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 18:15-19:37):

On the 28th we came to Babylon. We stood in front of the Marduk gate. We negotiated with the Babylonian ruler [who at that time was a Chaldaean usurper named Ukin-zerl.... A servant of Ukin-zer the Chaldaean was at his side. They came out with the Babylonian citizens and were standing in front of the gate. We spoke in these terms to the Babylonian citizens: “Why should you act hostilely to us for the sake of them? ... Let Babylon agree [to surrender(?)]. I am coming to Babylon to confirm your citizen-privileges.” We spoke many words with them.... They would not agree. They would not come out; they would not talk with us. They kept sending us messages. We said to them: “Open the great gate; let us enter Babylon.”158

פֶּרֶק (“plunder”) and טֶרֶף (“prey”; cf. NIV “victims”) may as Cathcart suggests be chiastically placed and may together form a sort of merismus.159 One could argue, however, that there is here, rather, an enveloping between lines 1 and 4, with lines 2 and 3 being a case of enjambment via asyndeton and הוֹי viewed as anacrusis:

Woe!

הוֹי

City of blood,

עִיר דּמִים

All of it with deceit

כֻּלָּה כַּתַשׁ

(and) plunder filled;

פֶּרֶק מְלֵאָה

(Its) prey does not depart.

לֹא יָמִישׁ טָרֶף

יָמִישׁ לֹא (“lacks”; lit. “does not depart”): Although the verb is hiphil, the masc. sing. subject noun that follows and with which it agrees makes it intransitive. Were the verb to be viewed as transitive with the following noun as its object, the verb would need to be fem. so as to agree with עִיר (“city”). The translation for all of v. 1 given at the beginning of this section follows the usual syntactic arrangement of modern English versions (NIV, NASB).

3:2-3 The short phraseology that makes up vv. 2-3 yields a dramatic effect. The verses are characterized by a staccato style and filled with words that take on an almost onomatopoeic quality. It is a fine example of picturesque brevity. There is also progression in the individual lines that compose the passage, providing a strong touch of realism.

3:2שׁוֹט (“whip”) is rendered as a pl. in LXX (cf. NIV). While the MT noun here and in the following phrases is sing., it is doubtless a collective sing. and thus translated as a pl. What happens with individual battle chariots is reproduced by the whole chariot force.

קוֹל (“crack,” “sound”; with רַעַשׁ = “rumble”), like some of the words in the description that follows (e.g., רָקַד, לֵהַב), is found in a similar martial context in Joel 2:5. Whereas Joel speaks of the horse of the chariot, Nahum focuses on the rumbling of the chariot wheels. Although רַעַשׁ (“shake”; with קוֹל = “rumble”) is at times used for the din of battle (Isa. 9:4; Jer. 10:22), it is often used for the shaking of the earth (Amos 1:1; cf. the verbal root in Judg. 5:4; Pss. 68:8 [HB 68:9]; 77:18 [HB 77:19]; 2 Sam. 22:8). Together with קוֹל here, the translation “rumble” best serves to reproduce the force of the sound.

מְרַקֵּדָה וּמֶרְכָּבָה (“and jolting chariots”) exhibits both alliteration and assonance. The verb ra„qad is related to Akkadian raqa„„du (“leap/skip”; cf. also Ugaritic rqdm, “dancers”; Arabic raqada, “leap”). The Assyrian battle chariot was feared far and wide. Sennacherib called his private war chariot “The Vanquisher of the Wicked and Evil” ( sa„pinat raggi u s£e„ni) and also “The Vanquisher of the Enemy” ( sa„pinat za„'iri).160 דהר (“galloping”) in the previous line occurs also in Judg. 5:22.161

3:3 פָּרָשׁ (“horse”) again provides a literary correspondence with Joel (cf. Joel 2:4). Although the term can also mean “horseman,” together with the following participle the resultant phrase is probably best rendered, with the NIV, “charging cavalry.”162

לַהַב (“flashing” [sword]; lit. “flame”) and בָּרָק (“gleaming” [spear]; lit. “lightning”) provide two picturesque images of awesome battle weapons, reflecting the sunlight in their wielders’ hands. Both are used frequently in military contexts under various figures (cf. Deut. 32:41; Judg. 3:22; Job 39:23; Ezek. 21:15; Joel 2:5; Nah. 2:4 [HB 2:5]; Hab. 3:11).

The next four lines contain three terms for the bodies of those slain in battle: חָלָל (“slain”), פֶּגֶר (“corpse”), גְּוִיָּה (“dead body,” “cadaver”). One is reminded of the frequent Assyrian boast of leaving behind after the battle a host of dead bodies. For example Ashurnasirpal reports,

With the masses of my troops and by my furious battle onset I stormed, I captured the city; 600 of their warriors I put to the sword; 3,000 captives I burned with fire; I did not leave a single one among them alive to serve as a hostage. Hulai, their governor, I captured alive. Their corpses I formed into pillars; their young men and maidens I burned in the fire. Hulai, their governor, I flayed; his skin I spread upon the wall of the city of Damdamusa; the city I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire.163

The repetition of the last word and the presence of the last phrase have drawn criticism. Thus J. M. P. Smith says,

It is probable that these words are a marginal note which has found its way into the text; they may have been intended as a cross-reference to 26, or they may be only a variant of the preceding clause. That they do not belong here appears not only from the fact that they are superfluous in the poetic form, but also from the additional fact that they introduce a verb for the first and only time into a series of phrases thrown off in ejaculatory fashion one after the other, like a series of stereopticon views.164

Nahum, however, often uses repetition for effect (cf. 2:3, 9 [HB 2:4, 10]), even in this unit (vv. 2, 4). Moreover, he has already used a verbal sentence in this section (v. 1). Indeed, the description of the battle for Nineveh (vv. 2-3) is both opened and closed by repetition. Further, the shift from the staccatolike phrases of the previous nine lines to a nonverbal and a verbal sentence in the two lines involving the repetition of גְּוִיָּה provides climactic force to the whole scene. Nahum’s readers are thus presented with a somber view of a ghastly sight. The employment of the verb כָּשַׁל (“stumble”) provides a literary echo of the description in 2:5 (HB 2:6). In the previous account the attacking soldiers stumbled in their haste to reach the city wall; here they stumble over the defenders’ slain bodies. A further literary connection with chap. 2 may be seen in the phrase לְ קֵצֶה אֵין (“there is no end to”; 2:9 [HB 2:10]).

3:4מֵרֹב (“[it is] because of”): The causal use of מִן is attested amply in the OT (e.g., Ex. 2:23; Deut. 7:7; 2 Sam. 3:11; Isa. 43:4; Zech. 2:8). “Harlotry” is often used figuratively in a religious sense, particularly of the apostasy of God’s covenant nation. Noteworthy is the case of Hosea’s relationship to Gomer as a symbol of God’s relation with Israel (Hos. 1:2; 2:6, 15 [HB 2:4, 13]). Some texts appear to use the figure in a commerical sense (e.g., Isa. 23:16-17; Mic. 1:7). Perhaps both ideas are latent here, although the parallel with כְּשָׁפִים (“sorceries”) would seem to indicate that Nahum’s chief complaint against Nineveh is for its spiritual atrocities. Perhaps, as J. M. P. Smith cautions, we should not attempt to isolate any one specific feature of Nineveh’s international harlotry but rather affirm that “using all of her manifold and multiform attractions, she has succeeded in bringing nations into subjection, only to use them for the furtherance of her own selfish ends.”165 Maier adds: “As a lewd woman deceitfully displays her charms, uses enticements to deceive and ruin men, so Assyria has beguiled nations and lured them to their downfall.”166

The problem of the grammatical relationship of the full phrase is resolved in the LXX by including it with v. 3 and then beginning a new sentence with a vocative—”O comely harlot” (v. 4)—that continues into v. 5, which contains the apodosis, “Behold, I am against you.” As suggested in the Exegesis and Exposition, the solution to the grammatical relationship of v. 4 may well lie in treating it as a transitional hinge composed of an independent sentence with elided subject/conclusion (aposiopesis).167 The difficulty of determining the precise syntactical relationship of v. 4 is doubtless the cause for some modern renderings. For example, La Sainte Bible translates the MT as “C’est à cause des” rather than utilizing the more familiar comparative causal particle parce que whether in postpositive (e.g., Jer. 14:4, 5, 6) or initial (e.g., John 20:29) position.

חֵן טוֹבַת (“graciously fair”; lit. “good of grace”): The phrase is constructed as an attributive genitive and is descriptive of Nineveh. The following phrase כְּשָׁפִים בַּעֲלַת (“mistress of sorceries”) makes an interesting contrast with Nahum’s earlier חֵמָה בַּעַל (“lord of wrath,” 1:2) as a description of Yahweh. Cathcart calls attention to the designation of the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28:7) as אוֹב בַּעֲלַת (“medium”) and of the Canaanite Anat as bàlt mlk (“mistress of kingship”), bàlt drkt (“mistress of dominion”), and bàlt sŒmm rmm (“mistress of the high heavens”). Nineveh is the enchantress par excellence.

הַמֹּכֶרֶת (“she who makes merchandise”; lit. “who sells”) has been rejected by many expositors either as unsatisfactory or as a gloss. Cathcart points out that wherever this verb is constructed with the following בּ plus a noun, as here, it usually means “sell for” (cf. Ps. 44:12 [HB 44:13]; Joel 3:3 [HB 4:3]; Amos 2:6). Accordingly he follows M. Dahood in repointing the form as hammukkeret (hophal fem. sing. participle from נָכַר, “know”), translating “who is known by.”168 The simplest solution, however, is to retain the MT but to understand the verb in the sense of “make merchandise of” (cf. Akkadian maka„ru, “use in business”). Nineveh is thus described as “she who makes merchandise of the nations” by her numerous harlotries and sorceries. Thus construed, it is another picture of Nineveh’s selfish and cruel exploitation.

מִשְׁפָּתוֹת (“peoples”; lit. “families”): The word is often used in a sense wider than the English term, meaning “clan,” “kindred.” In Josh. 7:16-18 it designates one of the clans of the tribe of Judah. BDB suggests that it also can refer to still smaller subdivisions. At times it forms a subunit of the terms גּוֹיִם (“nations,” Ps. 22:27 [HB 22:28]) and עַמִּים (“peoples,” Ps. 96:7) or even appears as a parallel term to גּוֹיִם (Jer. 10:25; Ezek. 20:32). Therefore, the noun can refer to familial relations at several levels or have a still wider use (cf. Gen. 12:3; 28:14; Zech. 14:17). But, since in cases where מִשְׁפָּחָה occurs in parallel with גּוֹיִם it always is found in the second of the two parallel members, perhaps these cases indicate intensification by diminution.169 If so, such situations may actually intend a smaller rather than a larger unit. Nahum, then, may mean here both nations and the peoples that compose them—perhaps, even as H. J. Austel suggests, those with strong blood ties.170

3:5 For the statement “Behold I am against you,” see the note at 2:13.

וְגִלֵּיתִי (“and I will lift/uncover”): The verb means basically “uncover” but is used in a wide variety of contexts and displays many nuances. In a context similar to this one where, as here, the word “skirt” is used, the verb תָשַׂף (“make bare,” “expose”) is employed (Jer. 13:26-27), which may cast light on the meaning here (cf. also Jer. 13:22). The use of either verb makes it possible that “skirt” is used euphemistically for what is otherwise concealed (cf. LXX τὰ ὀπίσω σου, “your backward parts”; Vg pudenda tua, “your shameful parts”), the whole phrase thus designating the exposure of one’s private parts. The literal translation given at the beginning of the section makes perfect sense. In any case, the violent action contemplated here leaves its recipients with a great sense of shame. Such actions were often applied as punishment for prostitution (cf. Jer. 13:22, 26-27; Ezek. 16:37-39; 23:10, 29; Hos. 2:3, 9-10 [HB 2:5, 11-12]). Several scholars have followed the lead of D. R. Hillers in seeing a relation between the biblical data cited here and the curse pronounced in an Aramaic inscription of Sefîre: “[And just as] a [ha]r[lot is stripped naked], so may the wives of Matî’’el be stripped naked, and the wives of his offspring and the wives of [his] no[bles].”171 The extended figure in the parallel lines shows a progressive heightening of the thought, thus providing an intensification of the theme.

3:6שִׁקֻּצִים (“filth”) is used here either as a plural of intensification or to indicate an abstraction.172

נָבַל (lit. “be foolish”) means in the piel “treat as a fool,” hence “treat contemptuously.” כְּרֹאִי (“as a spectacle”) has occasioned some controversy. The proposed noun רֳאִי (“seeing”) seldom occurs elsewhere in the OT (all cases may, perhaps, be explained as participles in the genitive case) and comes from the root רָאָה (“see”). Literally translated, the line would read something like “I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle” (thus NIV). The translation suggested at the beginning of this section treats the two verbs ( נָבַל and שִׂים) as hendiadys: “and make you a contemptible spectacle.” Verse 6 continues to heighten the effect: Nineveh will be treated as that which is detestable, as an utter disgrace and a public spectacle. Nahum plays on the root רָאָה in these verses: וְהַרְאֵיתִי (“and I will show,” v. 5), כְּרֹאִי (“as a spectacle,” v. 6), דֹאַיִךְ (“who see you,” v. 7).

3:7יִדּוֹד (“will flee”): Although one might expect a suffix-conjugation verb after וְהָיָה (“and it shall come to pass”), the prefix conjugation is common enough.173 The Greek tradition renders the MT by such verbs as ἀποπηδήσεται (“will leap away”), καταβήσεται (“will descend”), and ἀναχωρήσει (“will draw back”), suggesting uncertainty in the exemplar or lack of understanding of the root.

שָׁדְּדָה (“ruined/laid waste”): A pual perfect from שָׁדַד (“deal violently with”), the verb is related to the Akkadian sŒada„du (“devastate”).174

יָנוּד מִי (“who will mourn?”): The verb נוּד means basically “move to and fro,” “wander.” In contexts of sadness it is used for shaking the head in grief. Its employment here forms a word and sound play with the previous יִדּוֹד. Thus a shaking or fluttering movement can be seen in both words. As for sound play, men may “shake loose” ( yiddo‚d) from Nineveh (i.e., flee), but they will not shake the head in grief ( ya„nu‚d) for it (i.e., mourn). The poet intentionally heaps up the letters d and n, each occurring some five times in this verse.

אֲבַקֵּשׁ (“shall I seek”): This verb lays stress on individual initiative in seeking persons or things and displays a wide variety of nuances depending on the object sought or the emphasis of the context (e.g., “seek/seek out,” “search for,” “long for”; also “desire,” “ask,” “demand,” etc.).175 The most common significance of the root (“seek”) is the best meaning here.

מְנַחֲמִים (“comforters”): Grieving and comforting naturally occur together (cf. Job 2:11; Isa. 51:19; Jer. 15:5). The ancient versions read a singular here, perhaps taking the MT plural as an abstract noun (“comfort/consolation”).

לָךְ (“for you”): The form is frequently emended to 3d fem. sing. לָהּ (“to her”) so as to agree with the previous line. The MT can be defended, however, on the grounds that the shift in persons may represent a change from the fleeing exiles’ words ( לָהּ) to Nahum’s own words ( לָךְ). Whether such is the prophet’s intention, such shifts in gender or person (enallage or oratio variata; cf. 2:13) are common in poetry and prophetic discourse.176

E. Application: The Defenseless Citadel (3:8-19)

With his woeful description of Nineveh’s destruction completed, Nahum once again uses a taunt song to depict Nineveh’s dire plight. The section flows in two movements. The first, opening with a rhetorical question, reminds Nineveh that she is no more secure than once-proud Thebes, which also fell. Rather, her allegedly impregnable defenses will fall as easily as ripe figs shaken from the tree by the eater, and her most virile champions will prove to be little more than helpless women (vv. 8-13). In the second portion the prophet ironically ridicules Nineveh’s defenders, urging them to make all necessary preparations. It will be to no avail, for her protectors will be shown to be inept at best, deserters at worst. In the end, the message of her fall will be rehearsed to a rejoicing mankind (vv. 14-19).

Both halves of the taunt, like the taunt song in 2:11-13, are splendid examples of satire. Both contain a specific object of satirical attack: Assyria/Nineveh (vv. 8, 19); both provide a vehicle for carrying forward the satire: portraiture (vv. 8-10), irony (vv. 14, 15), simile (vv. 15-17), and metaphor (vv. 18, 19); both have a satirical tone: Juvenalian attack (vv. 11, 13) and sarcasm (vv. 13, 14-19); and both reveal a distinct trait that merits correction: Nineveh’s pride as seen in her trust in her vaunted defenses (vv. 11-13) and Nineveh’s haughtiness as evidenced in her disdainful cruelty toward others (v. 19). Other literary features in this section include alliteration and assonance (vv. 8, 10, 11, 18), rhetorical question (vv. 8, 19), synecdoche (v. 13), staircase parallelism accompanied by hyperbole (v. 15), enjambment (vv. 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19), oratio variata (v. 9), and refrain (v. 19).

1. A Comparison Of Nineveh and Thebes (3:8-13)
Translation

Are you better than Thebes*

      that sat by the Nile*,

      with water surrounding her,

whose (outer) wall* was the sea,

      with water her rampart*?

9Cush and Egypt were her boundless*

      strength*;

Put and Libya were among your helpers*.

10Yet she went into exile*,

      she went into captivity;

yet her infants were dashed to pieces*

      at the head of every street;

they cast lots for her nobles*,

      and all her leading men* were bound in chains.

11You too* will become drunk*,

      you will go into hiding*;

you too will seek refuge* from the enemy.

12All your fortresses* are fig trees

      with* first-ripe fruit;

if they are shaken, they fall

      into the mouth of the eater*.

13Behold*, your troops* in your midst are women;

      to your enemies* the gates of your city* are wide open,

      (for) fire consumes your bars.

Exegesis and Exposition

Thebes was the illustrious and time-honored capital of Egypt. Situated on both sides of the Nile in Upper Egypt, it achieved its greatest fame as the political, religious, and cultural center of Egypt’s great New Kingdom dynasties (18-20). Its former greatness is still attested by such impressive ruins as Karnak, Luxor, and Medinet Habu, so that Armerding justifiably observes: “Its temples and palaces are said to have found no equal in antiquity, and they are still regarded by some as the mightiest ruins of ancient civilization to be found anywhere in the world.”177

Thebes was still a thriving metropolis in the waning days of Egypt’s twenty-fifth (Nubian) dynasty (c. 751-656 B.C.), even though the dynastic capital appears to have been situated farther north in Memphis. After Esarhaddon of Assyria defeated Pharaoh Taharqa (690-664 B.C.) at Memphis in 671 B.C., the final king of the dynasty, Tanwetamani (664-656 B.C.), eventually abandoned Egypt in the wake of the advance of Ashurbanipal. This Assyrian king conquered Thebes in 663 B.C., taking vast plunder and leaving behind a client kingdom that would ultimately develop into Egypt’s last great flourishing kingdom, the twenty-sixth (Saite) dynasty.

Before Ashurbanipal’s victory, Thebes had seemed unconquerable. Surrounded by a strong defensive wall and a water system that included lakes, moats, canals, and the Nile, Thebes had been able to boast of the help of not only all Egypt but also its seventh-century allies: Sudanese Cush, Put (perhaps the fabled land of Punt in coastal Somaliland), and Libya. None of these, however, was to prove effective in protecting Thebes. Indeed, none of them supplied a source of strength for Thebes at all.

In point of fact Egyptian and Libyan relations were always somewhat tenuous, and in the future (c. 568 B.C.) a falling out between these allies would spell the end of the twenty-sixth-dynasty Pharaoh Hophra. Jeremiah (Jer. 46:9-10) likewise prophesied that Egypt’s allies—Cush, Put, and Libya—would be no deterrent to defeat in the day of the Lord’s judgment against Egypt.

Moreover, at the crucial hour, Tanwetamani so feared the power and wealth of Ashurbanipal that he left Thebes to its fate and fled for his life to the safety of the more inaccessible haunts of his Nubian homeland. Assurbanipal goes on to report:

That city (i.e. Ni’) my hands captured in its entirety,—with the aid of Assur and Ishtar. Silver, gold, precious stones, the goods of his palace, all there was, brightly colored and linen garments, great horses, the people, male and female, two tall obelisks, made of shining electrum ( ahale‚), whose weight was 2,500 talents, (and) which stood by the gate of the temple, I removed from their positions and carried them off to Assyria. Heavy plunder, and countless, I carried away from Ni’. Against Egypt and Ethiopia I waged bitter warfare and established my might.178

The scriptural account adds that the fallen city experienced the customary fate of captured cities: Those who were not killed were captured, and many were exiled; its nobility were enslaved, most via the casting of lots,* and its infants* were cruelly dashed to pieces at prominent places in the streets. All of this was designed to strike terror into the hearts of those the conquerors left behind. Thus was once mighty Thebes taken and its surviving inhabitants either exiled or reduced to captivity.

Although Tanwetamani kept up the claim of being pharaoh of Egypt after Ashurbanipal’s departure, he did not return there but retired to his Nubian capital at Napata where he died (c. 653 B.C.). With Ashurbanipal’s victory, the installation of an Assyrian client kingdom, and the death of Tanutamun, Nubia’s experiment in northward imperialism was over. Historical notices of contacts between the two nations cease except for brief mentions of Egyptian campaigns against Nubia in the early years of Psamtik I (655-610 B.C.) and the later years of his grandson Psamtik II (594-588 B.C.).179

If, as the Assyrians themselves knew full well, great Thebes, despite all of her natural defenses and vast network of allies, had not escaped such ignominy, could Nineveh expect to do better? The answer is a resounding negative. Nineveh, like Thebes, would know the terror of all-out attack. Nahum prophesies that Nineveh “will become drunk.” The stupefying effect of intoxicating drink is often applied figuratively to threats of military defeat (e.g., Jer. 25:27; Lam. 4:21; Ezek. 23:33; Hab. 2:16). At such times the military and civilian personnel in a besieged city often resort to drunkenness. Accordingly, because the Assyrians were well known for their drinking habits, it comes as no surprise to learn that an early tradition (preserved in Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historia 2.24-27) records that the smug and debased Assyrians feasted and became drunk on the very night of the city’s fall. Whether Nahum’s words are intended to be taken figuratively or literally, the fact remains that Nineveh was to know even more fully than Thebes full and certain destruction before a besieging army. Tottering and reeling before the enemy, the Ninevites, whether those left in the city or those in headlong flight, would attempt to hide themselves in places of secure refuge.

Verses 12-13 depict the hopelessness of Nineveh’s defensive measures. Nahum blends simile and metaphor to point out that the city’s massive fortifications would crumble as readily before the eager attackers as first-ripe figs fall into the mouths of those who shake the trees. Further, its famed defenders would prove to be no more successful in protecting the city than would untrained and weak women.* Although some ancient traditions report a strong measure of degenerate effeminacy among the Assyrian leadership in the closing days of the empire, Nahum’s words emphasize the relative weakness of the doomed defenders (cf. Isa. 19:16; Jer. 50:37; 51:30). The main point is that neither defenses nor defenders would be effective in the face of the coming onslaught.

The idea of a consuming fire in the last line of v. 13 is, as Armerding properly points out, a familiar key word for Nahum (cf. 1:10; 2:13; 3:15). One is reminded of the similar phraseology in the Phoenician Kilamuwa Inscription: “And I was in the hands of the kings like a fire that eats the beard and (like) a fire that eats the hand.”180 The burning of captured cities (Josh. 6:24; Judg. 18:27) and their gates (Neh. 1:3; 2:3, 13, 17) is widely attested in the records of the ancient Near East. An interesting parallel to vv. 11-13 occurs in connection with Ashurbanipal’s campaign against his rebellious brother Shamash-shum-ukin, in which mention is made of bars to the city gate, the term “my enemy” with regard to the flight of the citizens of Babylon, and the use of fire in punishing the foe.181 With fire having consumed the (bars of the) gates (“bars” being used synecdochically for the whole gate), entrance to the city would be easily gained. The addition of this line asyndetically gives a dramatic climax to the unit.182

Additional Notes

3:8אָמוֹן נֹא ( No„á áa„mo‚n, “City of Amun,” i.e., Thebes): The Assyrians knew the city as Ni’u (Amarna Ni‚), and the Greeks called it Διὸς Πόλις (“Divine City”). In Egypt itself it was known as n’iwt rst (“Southern City”) or as simply n’iwt (“The City”). Accordingly Ezekiel (Ezek. 30:14-16) can also call it just No„‘. Amun (Egyptian ‘Imn) rose to prominence in Egypt’s twelfth dynasty and, after subsequently being assimilated with the sun-god Re„à, became the principal national deity Amun- Re„à, “king of the gods,” patron deity during the New Kingdom era (c. 1570-1085 B.C.).

יְאֹרִים: The root appears to be Egyptian (‘itrw, “river”). In the OT it is most often utilized to designate the Nile (e.g., Ex. 1:22) and/or its arms/canals (e.g., Isa. 19:6).183 The plural here is generally taken to refer to the Nile’s canals around Thebes, although some suggest that the form is a plural of majesty. The former understanding seems more appropriate and is supported by the line that follows: “(with) water around it.” This line may be viewed as a case of periodic enjambment (cf. NIV) or as a nominal sentence (so Maier), introducing the succeeding two lines.

חוֹמָתָהּ ... חֵיל (“[outer] wall ... her rampart”): Cathcart made a good case for translating these words as “outer wall” and “ramparts” and for reading מַיִם (“water”) for the MT מִיָּם (“from [the] sea/river”). His suggestions have been followed here. Thebes counted heavily on its watery position for its defense. Cathcart goes on to cite R. Berger’s comparison of these lines with an inscription from Esarhaddon that reads:

 

sŒa du„ra„nu„sŒunu ta‚mtumma

whose walls are the sea and

 

edu‚ salh¬u„sŒun

whose rampart is the high water.

Those who follow the MT in reading מִיָּם suggest that the intent of the text is to indicate either substantially the same idea as the proposed emendation—that is, that the wall consisted of the sea itself (so Armerding, Keil)—or that מִן (“from”) prefixed to “sea/river” denotes origin or direction, thus “arising out of the sea” (Maier). יָם, generally translated “sea,” can at times have a wider semantic range, as when referring to the Euphrates River (Isa. 27:1; Jer. 51:36) or to the famed place of the Israelite crossing, יַם־סוּף (“Sea of Reeds,” “Red Sea”), probably one of Egypt’s eastern lakes.184 The suffix in חוֹמָתָהּ functions as a double-duty suffix, hence “(her) outer wall ... her rampart.”

3:9עָצְמָה (“her strength”): The form is probably to be understood as the masc. sing. noun עֶצֶם with the 3d fem. sing. suffix. Thus the suffix is written without mappiq as is often the case before following soft sounds.185

†The NIV is doubtless correct in translating Nahum’s oft-used phrase קֵצֶה וְאֵין (lit. “and there is no end”) as an adjective, “boundless” (or “limitless/immeasurable”).

בְּעֶזְרָתֵךְ (“among your helpers”) may have been placed last in its line by Nahum so as to serve as a bookend to עָצְמָה. If so, Nahum has once again employed oratio variata. Cathcart, having noted a relation between this verse and Ezek. 27:10, at first suggested that עֶזְרָה is derived from a second root related to the Ugaritic noun ‘gzr (“warrior”) and translated the whole phrase “in your army.” Later, however, he properly changed his mind.186 Indeed, although military might is envisioned here, the Hebrew phrase is far more wide-ranging and includes all sorts of supporting resources. Thus the translation “helpers” (so NASB) remains a convenient rendering of the MT, although the NIV “allies” is not without merit. The change ad sensum from “your” to “her” helpers/allies (NASB, NIV) is unnecessary and destroys the enallage (her ... your) that is so characteristic of Nahum (cf. 2:13; 3:7).

3:10לַגֹּלָה (“into exile”): Since the normal idiom is בַּגּוֹלָה (hence the reading of 4QNah), it may be that the presence of בַשֶּׁבִי (“into captivity”) may have occasioned the prophet’s use of stylistic variation in the shift from ב to ל. Although the meaning “in/into” is attested for both prepositions, M. D. Futato has suggested that, even though the semantic range of ב and ל may overlap and therefore yield the same English translation, the distinctive nuance of each may always be felt: בּ = position within the confines of; ל = position at, or pertaining/belonging to.187 Although the verb הָלַךְ (“went”) is to be taken with both prepositional phrases, it is possible that there may be more than stylistic variation here. Thus, the citizens of Thebes went into that which belongs/pertains to exile ( ל) and went into the confines of captivity ( בּ).

יְרֻטְּשׁוּ (“were dashed to pieces”): The form is a preterite.188 The practice of exterminating infants is recorded elsewhere in the Scriptures (2 Kings 8:12; Ps. 137:9; Isa. 13:16, 18; Hos. 10:14; 13:16; cf. Matt. 2:16-18). The perpetration of barbaric acts of cruelty against captive cities is abundantly attested in the Assyrian annals. Ashurbanipal reports that in the Elamite War

I cut off the head of Teumman, their king,—the haughty one, who plotted evil. Countless of his warriors I slew. Alive, with (my) hands, I seized his fighters. With their corpses I filled the plain about Susa as with baltu and ashagu. Their blood I let run down the Ulai; its water I dyed (red) like wool.189

In a later Elamite campaign against Bit-Imbi:

The people dwelling therein, who had not come forth and had not greeted my majesty, I slew. Their heads I cut off. (Of others) I pierced the lips (and) took them to Assyria as a spectacle for the people of my land.190

To these may be added the examples of Assyrian cruelty mentioned earlier in the additional note on 3:2-3 and the exposition of 3:1-7.

†As for the casting of lots for captives and their possessions, one may note Obad. 11; Joel 3:3 (HB 4:3).191 The practice is also documented in extrabiblical literature, as is the binding in chains of captured nobility (cf. 2 Kings 25:7; Isa. 45:15; Jer. 40:1, 4). Ashurbanipal boasts:

I entered that city; its inhabitants I slaughtered like lambs. Dunanu (and Sam’gunu, ... in shackles, fetters of iron, bonds of iron, I bound them hand and foot. The rest of the sons of Bêl-ikîsha, his family ... I carried off from Gambulu to Assyria.192

As for נִכְבַּדֶּיהָ (“her nobles”), note the appellation of the merchants of Tyre as “renowned in the earth” (Isa. 23:8). The meaning “nobles” is assured both from its relation to its root and from the contextual parallel “leading men” (lit. “great ones”). רֻתְּקוּ may form an enveloping paronomasia with יְרֻטְּשׁוּ. Cathcart calls attention to the play on the consonants d and q in the second half of the verse.

3:11גַּם (“too”) is a flavoring particle whose exact nuance needs to be felt in individual contexts. Together with its occurrences in the previous verse (“yet”) it is found four times in close proximity. Its recurrence has the effect of the clarion peal of a bell dolefully sounding out the awful truth that Nineveh, too, must surely reenact the tragic experience of Thebes.

†For MT תִּשְׁכְּרִי (“you will become drunk”) several scholars suggest תִּשָּׂכְּרִי (“you will hire yourself out,” i.e., as a prostitute), citing the familiar example of wartime conditions described in the KRT epic (lines 97-98).193 By adopting this reading one is forced also to understand differently the following נַעֲלָמָה (“hiding”). Cathcart follows Dahood194 in understanding this latter word as being related to עלמה (“maiden”) and translates the whole phrase, “you will become young again.” Although the Ugaritic parallel is interesting, the pointing of both verbs in the MT makes sense as it stands and is appropriate to the desperate conditions described here. Moreover Nahum has mentioned the problem of drunkenness earlier in another connection (in 1:10). Still further, the idea in the parallel line of seeking refuge from the enemy favors the thought of going into hiding for נַעֲלָמָה. Maier’s suggestion to take the form נַעֲלָמָה as a passive, “be hidden” (i.e., under the collapsing rubble), appears unlikely in light of the following line.

†The MT מָעוֹז (“refuge”) comes from the root עוּז (“seek refuge”). The use of the verb בִּקֵּשׁ (“seek”)195 rather than any of its numerous synonyms may suggest the earnest and frantic search by the fleeing exiles for a place of safety. Note, however, that Nahum never uses the common synonym דָּרַשׁ (“seek”), so that his employment of בִּקִּשׁ may indicate a stylistic preference.

3:12 † מִבְצָר (“fortress”) is generally taken to come from the root בָּצַר (“restrain/cut off,” hence “fortify”), although Cathcart relates the Hebrew root to Cyrus Gordon’s suggestion for the Ugaritic verb bs£r (“soar”). The idea behind the word “fortress” would then be derived from the act of “raising defenses higher.” André Parrot unnecessarily understands the fortresses here to refer to Nineveh’s supporting towns of Ashur and Tarbis£u, which fell in 614 B.C., two years before Nineveh itself was captured.196

†For עִם (“with”) in such types of subordinate structure, see Song of Sol. 4:13. For the image of early ripe figs taken into the mouth of the eater, see Isa. 28:4. וְנָפְלוּ יִנּוֹעוּ provides another example of alliteration and assonance.

3:13 † הִנֵּה (“behold”) is again used in drawing a unit to its close (cf. 1:15; 3:5). This particle stands outside the parallel structure of the verse as anacrusis.197

עַמֵּךְ (“your troops”): The military situation involved here has led several commentators (e.g., Cathcart, R. L. Smith) and modern versions (e.g., NIV, RSV; cf. NEB) to abandon the traditional understanding of the word as “people” (e.g., KJV).

Nahum’s taunt concerning Nineveh’s warriors becoming women is illuminated by D. R. Hillers’s reminder of Near Eastern treaty curses in which warriors are compared to women, especially in the treaty between Ashurnirari V of Assyria and Mati’ilu of Arpad, where the curse of warriors becoming women is juxtaposed with that of Mati’ilu’s wives becoming prostitutes.198 J. M. P. Smith arbitrarily omits עַם as a “misplaced correction of עִם in v. 12” and translates: ”Behold, women are in the midst of thee!”199 But such a suggestion is at variance with both the reading of the passage and the secular parallels, and it upsets the syntax and structure of the traditional texts.

לְאֹיְבַיִךְ (“to your enemies”) stands in emphatic position at the head of the second line of the verse. The emphatic position has been retained in the translation both to reflect the sentiment of the Hebrew and to maintain the force of the parallel pair “gates/bars” in the closing lines.

אַרְצֵךְ (“your city”): I have related the noun to the Akkadian cognate ers£etu (“city quarter”). Thus “gates” probably refers to the gates of (sections of) Nineveh. If one follows the traditional understanding for אֶרֶץ (“land”), the reference would probably be to the fortified cities leading to Nineveh.

2. A Concluding Condemnation Of Nineveh (3:14-19)
Translation

Draw for yourself water for the siege;

      strengthen your defenses;

go to the clay

      and tread the mortar

      —strengthen* the brickwork!

15There* the fire will consume you.

      the sword will cut you down,

      it will devour you like a grasshopper*.

Multiply* yourselves like grasshoppers,

      swell your ranks like locusts*.

16You have increased your merchants

      more than the stars of the heavens;

(they are) grasshoppers (that) strip (the land) and fly away.

17Your guards* are like locusts,

      your officials like a swarm of locusts that settle on the walls* on

      a cold day;

(when) the sun rises, they flee*,

      and their place is unknown.

18Where* are your shepherds slumbering, O king of Assyria,

      your nobles taking their rest?

Your people are scattered* upon the mountains

      with no one to gather (them).

19There is no healing* for your fracture;

      your injury is severe*.

All who hear the news about you

      will clap (their) hands over you;

for on whom has not passed

      your evil continually*?

Exegesis and Exposition

With v. 14 Nahum approaches the end of his prophecy. The verses that follow form the second portion of an extended taunt song that again functions as satire. Although the closing verses constitute one literary unit, several movements are discernible. Thus, this short pericope contains two short commands given in irony (vv. 14-15a; 15b-17) and a final gibe that forms both a concluding denunciation and a doleful dirge (vv. 18-19).

The first movement emphasizes the futility of physical preparations in view of the coming siege. Nahum’s sarcasm is evident throughout. He tells the Ninevites first of all to lay in a good water supply. Maier points out the lack of natural water resources for Nineveh, a fact that heightens the force of Nahum’s taunting exhortation:

This scarcity of potable water in Nineveh itself gives unusual force to the prophet’s urging, “Draw thyself water for a siege.” If the invaders followed the usual strategy of hostile forces in antiquity, one of their first actions would have been to cut off the water supply furnished by Sennacherib’s dam and its reservoir. Nahum foreseeing that the water would be withheld from the city, and inferring a long, protracted siege, tauntingly directs the Ninevites to lay up stores for the beleaguered days.200

Similarly Nahum urges the citizens of Nineveh to strengthen the strategic points of the city’s defenses.* That would mean giving particular attention to repairing the brickwork of the fortifications and key pressure points in the wall, such as at the city gates, where the walls were doubly thick. It is known that both Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal devoted considerable effort to matters of repair and to the strengthening of Nineveh’s defenses, including its walls. The force of the irony becomes immediately apparent. In those matters where the most extensive preparations are urged to be taken—water and walls—the city was to meet its demise (see the exposition of 2:6-7).

Nahum prophesies that Nineveh would know the besieger’s fiery* torch and sword as the enemy sweeps through the city like a horde of devouring locusts. The devastation wrought by locusts was well-known to the ancients and is amply chronicled in many sources.201 The dreaded locust attack became a ready point of literary comparison to a military assault. One is reminded of Joel 2:2-11, where attacking Assyrians are compared to a locust invasion.

The mention of the fearsome locusts occasions Nahum’s shift in the use of irony. Once again the figure of the locusts is utilized. Locusts—how appropriate! You too, Nineveh, should perform like locusts, multiplying your defensive forces to locustlike proportions. Should that not be easy for Nineveh? Indeed, it could be truly said of the city that she had acted before like a locust. As a result of her far-flung conquests, Nineveh had become filled with booty and with the famed Assyrian merchant* who, plying his trade, filled the city with every conceivable commodity. But with the coming of the threat of invasion, Nineveh’s merchants will take their wares and flee, leaving the city deprived of its provisions, many of which would be so desperately needed in the ensuing struggle. As locusts who come only to satisfy their insatiable appetites and then fly off, so her merchants would take their goods and go, leaving a needy populace behind.

Likewise, Nineveh’s trusted officials could be likened to locusts that come out of the ground in great swarms, lodge during the cooler part of the day on walls, and then, with the rising of the sun, fly away. Ancient sources record the flight of the Assyrian nobility with the advance of the combined enemy force against Nineveh.202 The Assyrian kings repeatedly boasted that, on hearing of the advance of the Assyrian monarch, the enemy king and his officials fled for their lives. Particularly instructive are the words of Ashurbanipal:

In my second campaign I made straight for Egypt and Ethiopia. Tandamanê heard of the advance of my army and that I was invading the territory of Egypt. He forsook Memphis and fled to Ni’, to save his life.203

Ummanaldasi, king of Elam, heard of the entrance of my armies into the midst of Elam, forsook Madaktu, his royal city, fled and went up into the (lit., his) mountain(s). Umbahabua, who, after Elam had risen in revolt, had fled to the city of Bubilu, and had seated himself on the throne of Elam in place of Ummanaldasi, heard, like that one, (of my invasion), forsook Bubilu, the city that was his royal seat, and like a fish betook (himself) to the depth of the distant waters.204

Now the Assyrian king and his officials would be cast in the same role. With the heat of the day’s battle, Nineveh would be left without her leadership to provide her defense. How skillfully Nahum has played upon the figure of the locust! Like locusts her merchants and officials flee and leave Nineveh alone, leaderless, ill-equipped to meet the advance of the locustlike army that was even now about to surround her. M. Travers puts it well:

No defense and no government. Stripped within and under siege from without, Nineveh stands defenseless. Nahum emphasizes the absolute vulnerability of Nineveh with these few brief similes. It is too late for Jonah’s invitation to repentance.205

As Nahum approaches the end of his prophecy he changes the figure one last time. Nineveh’s leaders are now compared to shepherds* (cf. Jer. 23:1-2) who have nodded off to sleep and allowed the sheep (the Ninevites) to be scattered (in flight or in exile) and subjected to harm. Even worse, no one comes to regather them. The choice of this motif as the final one for the book may suggest, as many commentators have observed, that the “sleep” of the shepherds/officials is the sleep of death (cf. Jer. 51: 57). With its officialdom dead in battle, Nineveh’s citizens have fled or been captured. With all leadership lost, there was none left to gather them. The “scatterer” (2:1) had come and done his work.

It was Nineveh’s final hour. The once mighty city had fallen and would soon become a ghost town; it would become a ruins, haunted only by wild animals moving through the rubble (cf. Zeph. 2:13-15). Nahum’s final denunciation of the city tolls out like a bell for a state funeral: Gone! Gone! Both city and citizenry, gone! Nineveh’s last wound had been the coup mortel. But there would be no lamentation over the deceased city, only universal relief and rejoicing. She who had so cruelly treated mankind had reaped the reward of her evil deeds (cf. Hos. 8:7).

Before listening to the last words of the messenger, it is appropriate to give a summary word concerning the accuracy of Nahum’s prophecies. As indicated in the various preceding comments, Nahum’s words have been dramatically precise in their fulfillment. Indeed, the prophecies concerning the siege and fall of Nineveh stand as a remarkable example of fulfilled prophecy.

(1) The fact of an intense siege (3:14) is validated both in the Babylonian Chronicles and by Diodorus Siculus. Although Diodorus tells of a protracted siege of more than two years, Assyriologists suggest that the evidence indicates a campaign that took little more than three months. H. W. F. Saggs maintains that

Greek tradition speaks of Scythians eventually coming into alliance with the Medes, and Nabopolassar must have been a party to this, for in 612 he joined the Ummanmanda and the Medes in besieging Nineveh. The city fell within three months, a surprisingly brief period in view of the fact that the comparable city of Babylon withstood the Assyrian army, masters of siegecraft, for well over a year.206

In any case, Nahum’s taunting words concerning siege preparations find corroboration in the findings of archaeologists who note the hasty strengthening of the walls at strategic defensive positions.

(2) The fall of the city due to water (1:8; 2:7, 9) has been attested both by archaeologists and the ancient historians Xenophon and Diodorus. The latter, reporting that an oracle had predicted Nineveh’s defeat only when the river declared war on it, subsequently adds, “It came to pass that the Euphrates, running very full, both inundated a portion of the city and broke down the walls for a distance of twenty stades.”207 Unusually heavy rains were known to have given difficulty to Nineveh, which was served by three rivers: the Tigris, the Khosr, and the Tebiltu. A high-water season and a sudden storm, accompanied by the swelling of any or all three rivers, would account for the fulfillment of Nahum’s prophecy as confirmed by Diodorus. Maier suggests that an added dimension could have been the opening of the sluice gates along the second and third rivers, thereby increasing the already dangerous floodwaters.

(3) Nahum also predicts the burning of the city (1:10; 2:13; 3:3, 15; cf. 1:6), a fact confirmed by archaeological excavation. Diodorus Siculus charges that the reigning king, a depraved and effeminate man, acted out of fear and superstition:

At this the king, believing that the oracle had been fulfilled and that the river had plainly become the city’s enemy, abandoned hope of saving himself. And in order that he might not fall into the hands of the enemy, he built an enormous pyre in his palace, heaped upon it all his gold and silver as well as every article of the royal wardrobe and then, shutting his concubines and eunuchs in the room which had been built in the middle of the pyre, he consigned both them and himself and his palace to the flames.208

Nahum’s emphasis on the destruction of Nineveh’s temples (1:14) is also confirmed by the excavations at Nineveh.209

(4) Minute details concerning the events of the final days before Nineveh’s fall, such as the drunkenness (1:10; 3:11), cowardice, degeneracy (3:3), and the desertion (2:9; 3:17) of the city by its leadership are also abundantly recorded in the ancient traditions. Diodorus speaks of the carousing of the Assyrian officials and troops and reports that the Assyrian king sent away his family with much treasure.210 Maier believes that moral perversion was rampant during Nineveh’s last days and contributed strongly to the nation’s downfall.

(5) Nahum’s prophecies concerning the final slaughter of Nineveh’s citizens (3:3) and the looting of the city (2:10, 11), its utter destruction (2:11; 3:7), and the virtual disappearance of its people (3:18-19) are facts confirmed in the ancient records.211 The essential truth of Nahum’s words is the consensus of modern researchers (e.g., Layard, Thompson, and Hutchinson) as well.212 So dramatic was the demise of Nineveh and disappearance of Assyria that Sidney Smith observes:

The disappearance of the Assyrian people will always remain an unique and striking phenomenon in ancient history. Other, similar, kingdoms and empires have indeed passed away, but the people have lived on.... No other land seems to have been sacked and pillaged so completely as was Assyria; no other people, unless it be Israel, was ever so completely enslaved.213

While some natural factors may help to account for Assyria’s final condition, such as the nation’s degeneracy, the deportation of its skilled craftsmen, and the composite nature of Assyrian society,214 the ultimate cause was the divine judgment pronounced by God’s prophets, such as Nahum and Zephaniah (Zeph. 2:13-15; cf. Jer. 50:18; Ezek. 32:22-23). The specter of Assyria’s disappearance haunts every great empire. Nahum’s opening words concerning divine justice are general, so that wherever a godless lifestyle so pervades a nation as to be characteristic of its people, it stands in danger of judgment. P. C. Craigie’s words of warning are apropos: “If we have grasped Nahum’s message, we will not volunteer to join the ranks of Nineveh’s attackers; rather, we shall seek to transform the evil within the nation to which we belong.”215

Nahum’s last words contain the message that the news of Nineveh’s fall has spread across the landscape (v. 19).216 But the tidings of that event are not met with a tear; they are welcomed with a clap of hands and, perhaps, a heaving sigh.

The poet’s skill continues to the very end. Once more he utilizes a rhetorical question to conclude a section, here with sobering effect. Had any escaped Nineveh’s cruelty that continually threatened people all around her? The implied negative answer guarantees the universal rejoicing over Nineveh’s demise. This last use of a rhetorical question (a double one, in the light of v. 18) is one of five such instances that have been woven into the book’s fabric. Twice rhetorical questions introduce the poet’s satirical taunt song (2:11; 3:8). Three times a rhetorical question closes a unit with striking effect: to underscore God’s irresistible judgment of sin (1:6), and to emphasize Nineveh’s much deserved destruction (3:7, 19).

Israel would doubtless join in that exultation and take comfort in the good news (cf. 1:7, 12, 15; 2:2). Her dreaded enemy was gone, a reminder of God’s promise concerning His judgment of all Israel’s foes (e.g., Gen. 12:3; Judg. 5:31). Unlike Assyria’s shepherds, Israel’s eternal Shepherd “slumbers not nor sleeps” (Ps. 121:3) and will yet regather her lost sheep (Jer. 23:3) so that Israel’s redeemed cities can “be filled with flocks of people” (Ezek. 36:38). Moreover the divine shepherd Himself (Ps. 23:1) will be with them: “I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Ezek. 37:27, NIV). May Nahum’s words, as well as those of God’s prophets, teach all God’s people to trust fully Him who is the shepherd and overseer of their souls (1 Pet. 2:25).

Additional Notes

3:14 A comparison of the three extended pieces of satire in Nahum yields the schema at top of pg. 109.

מִבְצָרָיִךְ ... מָצוֹר מֵי (“water for the siege,” “your defenses”): Nahum’s literary prowess continues in evidence through his use of assonance. מִבְצָרָיךְ also provides a hook to the previous subsection (cf. v. 12). The imperative חַזְּקִי (“strengthen”) anticipates the repetition of the same verb in the hiphil stem in the last line of the verse. Although

Element

2:11-13

3:8-13

3:14-19

       

Object of attack

Nineveh

Nineveh

Nineveh

       

Vehicle of attack

Metaphor of lion’s den

Comparison with Thebes

Irony, simile, and metaphor

       

Satirical tone

Juvenalian

Juvenalian

Sarcasm

       

Satirical emphasis

Nineveh’s rapacity

Nineveh’s defenses

Nineveh’s cruelty

this latter occurrence of the verb is frequently taken by expositors (e.g., Maier, R. Smith) to have the meaning “grasp/seize,” “take hold of,” such need not be the case. Rather, the full phrase of the last line of the verse may intend the strengthening of the 50- to 100-foot thick walls surrounding Nineveh. Such is the force of NIV “repair the brickwork.” If one so construes it (cf. Neh. 5:16; Ezek. 27:9, 27), he need not choose the alternative translation of מַלְבֵּן as “brick kiln” (KJV, Keil) or “brick mold” (Cathcart, Maier), despite the attestations of such a meaning in late Hebrew and Syriac. The Hebrew word found here is best translated “brickwork” and is related to the Akkadian libittu (“brickwork”).217

For טִיט (“clay”; i.e., for use in making brick; cf. Isa. 41:25) and חֹמֶר (“mortar” or [reddish] soil [note its use in parallel with לְבֵנִים, “bricks,” in Ex. 1:14]) occurring together in parallel, see Isa. 41:25, where the same two verbs בּוֹא (“go”) and רָמַס (“tread”) are also found together, although in somewhat different fashion.218 Thus the full taunt expressed here is to draw water for the coming siege and to strengthen the fortifications/defenses by going and kneading the clay so as to make bricks for the repair of the walls.

3:15שָׁם (“there”): Instead of the traditional meaning, Cathcart suggests “behold” on the analogy of Akkadian sŒumma (as attested in Amarna). Maier proposes the translation “then,” citing such texts as Pss. 14:5; 36:12 (HB 36:13); 66:6. Perhaps a better solution might be to follow C. F. Whitley219 in postulating an asseverative force for שָׁם in several contexts. Nevertheless the translation “there” is not without merit, especially if, as BDB suggests, the particle often points to a “spot in which a scene is localized vividly in the imagination.”220 In this case, disaster will strike in the very place where the workers did their reinforcing.

Again the figure of consuming/eating is employed, here as sandwiched repetition for dramatic emphasis.221 As Maier points out, the terms “fire” and “sword” often appear together as a pair in connection with catastrophes. The two are also often placed together in Ugaritic.222 Noteworthy as well is the heaping up of the letter aleph throughout the verse.

הִתְכַּבֵּד (“multiply”) is probably to be construed as an infinitive absolute, anticipating the following imperative.223

אַרְבֶּה ... רֶלֶק (“grasshopper ... locust”): The precise identification of the various Hebrew words for locusts is debated. אַרְבֶּה (cf. Akkadian erbu) is generally taken to be the adult winged insect (cf. Greek ἀχρίς, Latin locusta), whereas יֶלֶק is often rendered “young locust” or “licker.” גּוֹב/ גֹּבַי (v. 17) are generally conceded to refer to locusts, here in repetition to indicate a locust swarm. Other words for locust include גָּזָם (“gnawer”?) and חָסִיל (“consumer”?), both of which are found in Joel 1:4.224

3:16 רֹכְלַיִךְ (“your merchants”): The noun comes from the root rkl, known in South Arabic where it means “go about as a trader.” This final section abounds in literary features. First the Assyrian “merchants” are compared in number to the stars of heaven (cf. Gen. 26:4), then to locusts that stay only long enough to gain their advantage and then leave. Some have seen in the mention of the merchants a reference to the Assyrians’ far-flung trading enterprises. They reason as follows: The Assyrian armies had reduced the entire Fertile Crescent to political subservience. In the wake of their frequent military excursions, there would soon follow the appearance of the time-honored Assyrian merchant. Their ubiquitous presence in the vast Assyrian empire could be likened to the innumerable stars of heaven. All such commercial activities scarcely benefited their subdued trading partners, however, for when the merchants had accomplished their desired ends they would disappear, leaving a people disadvantaged and deprived of their finest goods. Although this scenario was doubtless usually the case, such was not always true. In any event the parallel with Nineveh’s fleeing guards in the next verse favors the explanation given in the Exegesis and Exposition.

3:17מִנְּזָרַיִךְ (“your guards”): Since the following term טַפְסְרַיִךְ (“your officials”; lit. “your tablet writers/scribes”) is clearly Akkadian, doubtless this term is also. Because the Akkadian root naza„ru (“curse”) scarcely makes sense here, probably the root is nas£a„ru (“guard”), which has undergone regressive contiguous phonemic dissimilation. The alternating between z and is common enough in Akkadian. Certainly nas£a„ru is attested with z written for and with dissimilation via n (nasalization), particularly in Babylonian.225

גְּדֵרוֹת (“walls”) can also refer to fences or hedges.

נוֹדַד (“flee”) is poal perfect 3d masc. sing. agreeing with the masc. sing. pronominal suffix in מָקוֹם (“place”). The form is a hapax legomenon. No‚dad ... no‚daà provides still another example of alliteration and assonance.

3:18אַיָּם (“where”): The word appears in v. 17 in the MT and hence is usually translated with that verse: for example, “And no one knows where” (NIV; cf. NASB, KJV). The form can also be taken as an adverbial particle with 3d masc. pl. suffix: “Where are they?” (so Maier, who includes it with v. 17). It can also be understood as the interrogative particle אֵי (“where?”), usually lengthened to אַיֵּה but here written with (enclitic?) formative m (cf. GKC par. 100g), much like Amarna (124:15; 131:43) ayyami.226 I have followed the lead of BHS and some expositors (e.g., Cathcart) in translating it as an interrogative particle introducing the question contained in v. 18. Thus understood, Nahum has once again closed a literary unit with a question (cf. 1:6, 9?; 2:11; 3:7).

The parallel term “your nobles” renders it certain that רֹעֶיךָ is to be translated “your shepherds.” Therefore, attempts to view the latter word as the plural of רֵעַ (“friend”; cf. Pesh.) are in error. The sequence שָׁכַן ... נוּם (“slumber ... be at rest”) is probably chosen instead of the more common pair יָשַׁן ... נוּם (“slumber ... sleep”; cf. Pss. 76:5 [HB 76:6]; 121:4; 132:4; Prov. 6:4, 10; 24:33; Isa. 5:27) to emphasize a sleep of finality, i.e., death (cf. Ps. 94:7; Isa. 26:19). The Semitic root sŒkn can bear the meaning “rest” (e.g., Arabic sakana). The semantic range represented in the words of the MT may contain a picturesque progression. The king of Assyria’s trusted officials, far from being awake to the emergency, grow drowsy and take their rest—one that will prove to be final.

נָפשׁוּ (“are scattered”) is doubtless from the root פּוּשׁ (“spring about”; niphal = “be scattered”). Dahood’s suggestion (followed by Cathcart) to take the form in question as a piel denominative from נֶפֶשׁ (“soul”), hence נִפְּשׁוּ (“expire”), is forced at best and unlikely at all in the light of the parallel image of (re)gathering, i.e., that which is scattered. Cathcart’s further proposal, that מְקַבֵּץ וְאֵין (“with no one to gather them”) is to be understood as “there is none to remove them,” is still more forced and necessitated by his repointing of na„po„sŒu‚ to nippe†sŒu‚. Likewise the usual understanding of the MT עַמְּךָ as “your people” is certainly preferable to Cathcart’s attempt to translate the form as “your troops.” The whole picture is one of a totally dispersed populace, officials and citizens alike, scattered across the countryside like sheep on the mountains with no shepherd to regather them to safety (cf. 1 Kings 22:17).

3:19כֵּהָה (“healing”): The word is a hapax legomenon. If it is taken from the root כָּהָה (“grow faint/dim”), it may mean something like “relief.” It is commonly equated with the word גֵּהָה (“healing”), also a hapax legomenon (Prov. 17:22). In light of the established usages of the verbal root, something like “alleviation” probably is intended. But in the light of the following לְשִׁבְרֶךָ (“for your fracture”) either sense is tolerable. The masc. sing. pronominal suffix on the word for “fracture” refers to the king of Nineveh.

מַכָּתֶךָ נַתְלָה (“your injury is severe”): Similar phraseology is found in contexts containing שֶׁבֶר (“break”) in Jer. 10:19; 14:17; 30:12. For חָלָה in the sense of an incurable sickness, see Isa. 17:11; for its use as a severe wounding, see 1 Sam. 31:3

תָּמִיד רָעָתְךָ (“your evil continually”): The translation suggested here takes the word תָּמִיד as a simple adverb (cf. NASB). The NIV translation, “your endless cruelty,” reflects the possibility of a broken construct chain.227


1 H. E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1968), p. 226.

2 In the discussion of Nahum, all textual references adhere to the standard English format rather than to the MT, which renders 1:15 as the first verse of chap. 2.

3 Walter A. Maier, The Book of Nahum (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959), p. 20.

4 See my discussion in R. D. Patterson and M. E. Travers, “Literary Analysis and the Unity of Nahum,” GTJ 9 (1988): 48-50.

5 J. A. Bewer, The Literature of the Old Testament, 3d ed. (New York: Columbia U., 1962), p. 147.

6 J. M. P. Smith, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Micah, Zephaniah and Nahum, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911), pp. 273-74.

7 For details, see Bewer, Literature, p. 147; Smith, Nahum, pp. 268-70; R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York: Harper, 1941), pp. 594-95; G. A. Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, rev. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1929), 2:81-88.

8 See Carl E. Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:451-52.

9 For details, see Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984), pp. 65-67.

10 H. W. F. Saggs, Assyriology and the Study of the Old Testament (Cardiff: U. of Wales, 1969), p. 13.

11 Kevin J. Cathcart, Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973), p. 13.

12 Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 76.

13 J. G. Vos, “The Ethical Problem of the Imprecatory Psalms,” WTJ 4 (1942): 123.

14 C. K. Lehman, Biblical Theology (Scottsdale, Pa.: Herald, 1971), 1:439.

15 Gleason Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 1974), pp. 452-53.

16 Chalmers Martin, “Imprecations in the Psalms,” in Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, ed. W. C. Kaiser, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), pp. 123-24. For his excellent discussion, see pp. 128-30.

17 Martin, “Imprecations,” p. 128.

18 J. Carl Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” BS 138 (1981): 44. Laney’s treatment (e.g., pp. 35, 45) is particularly penetrating and should be consulted in any study of imprecation. Martin’s remarks on the subject are also highly beneficial.

19 See the discussion in J. M. P. Smith, Micah, Zephaniah, and Nahum, ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1911), pp. 295-97.

20 See, e.g., Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody, 1974), p. 353. See also Walter A. Maier, The Book of Nahum (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), pp. 52-62.

21 R. D. Patterson and Michael E. Travers, “Literary Analysis and the Unity of Nahum,” GTJ 9 (1988): 56-57; see also Hummel, The Word Becoming Flesh (St. Louis: Concordia, 1979), p. 339.

22 See Kevin J. Cathcart, Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973), pp. 36-37; KB-3 2:604.

23 Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:657; see also W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “ נָשָׂא,” TWOT 2:602.

24 See A. Jepsen, “ חזה,” TDOT 4:280-90.

25 See further Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 1:24.

26 See the additional note at Hab. 1:1 and the discussion of C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:9.

27 See the discussion in J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, p. 285. Many scholars suggest that part of Nahum’s oracles are “vision reports”; see M. Sister, “Die Typen der prophetischen Visionen in der Bibel,” MGWJ 78 (1934): 399-430; A. S. Van der Woude, Jona, Nahum: Prediking Old Testament (Nijkerk: Callenbach, 1978), p. 97.

28 Hummel, The Word, p. 342.

29 Hermann Schulz, Das Buch Nahum (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1973), pp. 67, 131-33.

30 See Theodor H. Gaster, Thespis (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 143; J. Gray, “The Hebrew Concept of the Kingship of God: Its Origin and Development,” VT 6 (1956): 280.

31 Barker, “Zechariah,” in EBC, 7:612. See also the discussion in Maier, Nahum, pp. 159-60.

32 P. B. Yoder, “A-B Pairs and Composition in Hebrew Poetry,” VT 21 (1971): 475-76.

33 M. Held, “Studies in Biblical Homonyms in the Light of Akkadian,” JANESCU 3 (1971): 46-55, as cited by Cathcart, Nahum, p. 43.

34 G. R. Driver, “Studies in the Vocabulary of the Old Testament III,” JTS 36 (1935): 361-66.

35 Carl E. Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:454-56.

36 For the statement that metaphor as an example of a trope constitutes meaning, see Paul Ricoeur, “The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling,” in On Metaphor, ed. Sheldon Sacks (Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1979), pp. 141-57. Ricoeur’s thesis is that metaphor creates meaning rather than embellishes it.

37 Patterson and Travers, “Literary Analysis,” p. 51.

38 See further my remarks in “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), pp. 130-31; see further R. D. Patterson, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” GTJ 8 (1987): 163-70.

39 For the declarative use of the piel stem, see Delbert Hillers, “Delocutive Verbs in Biblical Hebrew,” JBL 6 (1967): 320-24.

40 A. Haldar, Studies in the Book of Nahum (Uppsala: Lundequistska Bokhandeln, 1947), p. 18. For emphatic lamedh, see Mitchell Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970), 3:406-7.

41 Cathcart, Nahum, pp. 46-47; for the full text of Ludlul Be„l Ne„meqi, see W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960), pp. 30-62.

42 J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, p. 289.

43 Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:455.

44 W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSM Press, 1986), p. 196.s

45 See AHW, p. 944; G. Liedke, “ רכב,” THAT, 2:777-82. See also R. D. Patterson, “A Multiplex Approach to Psalm 45,” GTJ 6 (1985): 37 n. 35.

46 See further Cathcart, Nahum, p. 48.

47 See the full discussion in A. Cooper, “Divine Names and Epithets in the Ugaritic Texts,” RSP, 3:369-83.

48 See, e.g., Sennacherib’s penetration of this area as recorded in D. D. Luckenbill, AR, 2:161-62. Sennacherib’s boast is also noted in 2 Kings 19:23. See further A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago: University Press, 1963), pp. 6-7.

49 K. Cathcart, “Kingship and the Day of Yahweh in Isaiah 2:6-22,” Hermathena 125 (1978): 52, 55.

50 For details, see J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, p. 298. For the existence of pulal forms in Hebrew, see GKC par. 55d.

51 See Cathcart, Nahum, p. 53.

52 For full details, see Maier, Nahum, pp. 170-71.

53 See further Cathcart, Nahum, p. 53; W. L. Moran, “The Hebrew Language in Its Northwest Semitic Background,” in The Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. G. Ernest Wright (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965), pp. 71, 83 n. 108.

54 Catheart, Nahum, P. 55. Cathcart subsequently changed his mind and translated the passage in question as follows: “Yahweh is good, indeed a fortress”; for details, see K. Cathcart, “More Philological Studies in Nahum,” JNSL 7 (1979): 4.

55 See further M. Pope, “‘Pleonastic’ Waw before Nouns in Ugaritic and Hebrew,” JAOS 73 (1953): 95-98; D. W. Baker, “Further Examples of the WAW EXPLICATIVUM,” VT 30 (1980): 129-36.

56 For details, see G. F. Botterweck, “ ידע,” TDOT 5:448-54.

57 See R. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), pp. 103-4; J. Gamberoni, “ תסה,” TDOT 5:64-75.

58 For s£a„ra‚ as “rebellion” or “opposition,” see T. H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament (New York: Peter Smith, 1969), p. 665.

59 Cathcart, Nahum, p. 60.

60 For details, see Maier, Nahum, pp. 193-95; J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, pp. 294-95, 301-2.

61 See BDB, p. 724.

62 For details, see R. Gordis, “The Asseverative Kaph in Ugaritic and Hebrew,” JAOS 63 (1943): 176-78; M. Dahood, Psalms, 3:402-6.

63 For the existence of the qal passive in biblical Hebrew, see R. J. Williams, “The Passive Qal Theme in Hebrew,” in Essays on the Ancient Semitic World, ed. J. W. Wevers and D. B. Redford (Toronto: University Press, 1970), pp. 43-50.

64 See H. D. Preuss, “ זָרַע,” TDOT 4:150-62.

65 Maier, Nahum, pp. 212-13.

66 Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:469.

67 P. C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985), 2:66-67.

68 For details as to the use of the suffix conjugation in narrative verbal sequence, see W. L. Moran, A Syntactical Study of the Dialect of Byblos as Reflected in the Amarna Tablets (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1950), pp. 36-39; S. Schrader, “Was the Earth Created a Few Thousand Years Ago?—Yes,” in The Genesis Debate, ed. R. Youngblood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), pp. 76-77.

69 For áa„mar as a term of divine communication, see S. Wagner, “ אָמַרTDOT 1:335-41.

70 For details, see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 2d ed. (Toronto: University Press, 1976), p. 85; A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1958), p. 176.

71 Cathcart, Nahum, p. 63.

72 D. J. Wiseman, “‘Is It Peace?’ Covenant and Diplomacy,” VT 32 (1982): 311-26.

73 For כֵּן used as an adverbial particle of degree, see BDB, p. 486.

74 Stephen Langdon, “Die Neubabylonischen Königsinschriften*,” Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology (1912): 17ff.

75 Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:468.

76 See further G. Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), pp. 76-77; M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York: Pardes, 1950), 2:1590.

77 For enclitic -m, see H. D. Hummel, “Enclitic MEM in Early Northwest Semitic, Especially Hebrew,” JBL 76 (1957): 85-107; M. Pope, “Ugaritic Enclitic -m,” JCS 5 (1951): 123-28.

78 See BHS; J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, pp. 327-28.

79 See further J. Gray, I & II Kings, 2d ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), p. 337; “Idol,” IDB 2:673-75; F. B. Huey, Jr., “Idolatry,” ZPEB 3:242-48; R. D. Patterson, “ סֶמֶל,” TWOT 2:628.

80 J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, p. 312; Maier, Nahum, p. 215.

81 See A. L. Oppenheim, “The Archives of the Palace of Mari II,” JNES 13 (1954): 145; H. S. Pelser, “The Verbal Roots bsÃr/bsŒr/bsr (!) and sbr in the Semitic Languages,” O.T. Werk Suid A 15 (1972): 68-73; R. W. Fisher, A Study of the Semitic Root BSR to Bring (Good) Tidings (Columbia: University Press, 1966).

82 G. J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 337. For short lines to mark a stanza ending, see Watson, Poetry, p. 165.

83 See R. D. Patterson, “Joel,” in EBC, 7:256.

84 C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody, 1986), p. 220.

85 C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:19.

86 See A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1901), p. 122.

87 For the phrase “restore the fortunes,” see my remarks on Joel 3:1 in “Joel,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:259.

88 Kevin J. Cathcart, “More Philological Studies in Nahum,” JNSL 7 (1979): 6.

89 J. M. P. Smith, Micah, Zephaniah and Nahum, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911), p. 305.

90 See Kevin J. Cathcart, Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973), pp. 85-86; G. G. V. Stonehouse, The Books of the Prophets Zephaniah and Nahum, Westminster Commentaries (London: Methuen, 1929), p. 115. For literature and examples of this root, see H. B. Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1965), pp. 187-88.

91 See KB-3, 1:144.

92 ANET, p. 288.

93 AR, 2:265.

94 Cf. 2 Chron 33:11; see further R. D. Patterson and H. J. Austel, “1, 2 Kings,” in EBC, 4:277-80.

95 For details, see W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), pp. 214-20.

96 W. A. Maier, The Book of Nahum (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), p. 253. For full details relative to warfare in the ancient Near East, see Y. Yadin, The Art of Biblical Warfare (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963); see also R. DeVaux, Ancient Israel, trans. John McHugh (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), pp. 215-57.

97 Richard D. Patterson and Michael E. Travers, “Literary Analysis and the Unity of Nahum,” GTJ 9 (1988): 53.

98 Maier, Nahum, p. 270. Maier devotes several pages (pp. 268-70) to documenting from the Assyrian records the immense riches acquired by the Assyrians in tribute and booty.

99 T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956), p. 305.

100 For the pl. in compound expressions, see Davidson, Syntax, par. 15. For the parallel terms אַנְשֵׁי חַיִל|| גְּבוֹרִים , see the remarks of H. Eising, “ תַיל,” TDOT 4:350.

101 See further T. H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament (New York: Peter Smith, 1969), p. 727.

102 For suggestions on the various elements of the whole line, see The Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, ed. Barthélemy et al. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1973-80), 5:342-43.

103 For full details, see the discussion in Maier, Nahum, pp. 243-44.

104 So BDB, p. 932a.

105 See J. Muilenburg, “Hebrew Rhetoric: Repetition and Style,” in Congress Volume, VTS 1 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1953), p. 101.

106 For details, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, pp. 214-21.

107 See further Maier, Nahum, pp. 247-48; Cathcart, Nahum, pp. 92-93. Maier concludes that “the variety and mutual exclusiveness of these emendations testify to their unsoundness.” J. M. P. Smith (Nahum, p. 330) observes that “none of the emendations offered can be considered satisfactory.”

108 See CAD, 21:16-17.

109 See further GKC par. 118d.

110 See R. D. Patterson, “ סָכַךְ,” TWOT 2:623-24.

111 T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets, p. 302. See for full details A. H. Layard, Nineveh and Its Remains (New York: Putnam, 1849), 2:281-86.

112 For details, see M. Ottosson, “ הֵיכָל,” TDOT 3:382-88.

113 See H. W. F. Saggs, “Nahum and the Fall of Nineveh,” JTS 20 (1969): 221-22.

114 See further J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, pp. 320-21.

115 For suggestions as to solving the several problems in the whole line, see Old Testament Text Project, 5:343-45.

116 For the collective meaning “exiles” here, see BDB, p. 163b.

117 See S. N. Kramer’s translation of “The Curse of Agade” in ANETS, p. 214. The figure of the weeping woman is abundantly attested in the literature and artistry of the ancient Near East and the OT, as is the action of beating the breast in contrition (cf. Jer. 31:15; Luke 18:13; 23:27). For weeping women pleading for mercy and subsequently lamenting their captured state, see Layard, Nineveh, 2:286-87.

118 KAI, no. 189.

119 See, e.g., KB-3, 1:154.

120 For details, see GKC par. 130d (n.); note also the remarks of J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, pp. 322, 332; A. R. Hulst, Old Testament Translation Problems (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960), pp. 247-48.

121 See the critical note in BHS.

122 See for further details C. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965), pp. 34-36; M. Dahood, “The Independent Personal Pronoun in the Oblique Case in Hebrew,” CBQ 32 (1970): 86-90; Psalms, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 3:374. Maier’s suggestion (Nahum, p. 266) to read the independent pronoun as הִי (“lamentation”), here written with an added aleph due perhaps to a scribal corruption (cf. GKC par. 23i), rests on a hapax legomenon in Ezek. 2:10, which itself is a crux interpretum that has occasioned much controversy. The proposal has little to commend it. For the Ezekiel problem, see the remarks of M. Greenberg, Ezekiel, 1-20, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983), p. 67.

123 C. F. Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:25.

124 See M. Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” RSP, 1:234-35. Note also the several entries on the black obelisk of Shalmaneser III, in ANET, p. 231; AR, 1:211 (pars. 589, 590, 592, 593).

125 For discussion of the use of these words in Joel 2:6, see my note in “Joel,” in EBC, 7:249.

126 This derivation is followed by J. A. Thompson in his comments on Joel 2:6 (IB, p. 745); cf. LXX.

127 The image is thus that of the puckered forehead. For details, see S. M. Lehrman, “Joel,” in Soncino Edition of the Bible, ed. A. Cohen (New York: Soncino Books, 1948), p. 66.

128 KB, p. 750. Although differing etymological associations are put forward to substantiate the position, several scholars favor the idea of redness; cf., e.g., L. C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), p. 65; Julius A. Bewer, Obadiah and Joel, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1985), pp. 101-2. One may also note W. Rudolph, who has defended this idea in several publications; for bibliographical data, see KB-3, 3:860.

129 Among those advocating paleness as the thought here, see S. R. Driver, The Books of Joel and Amos (Cambridge: University Press, 1915), p. 53; C. F. Keil, Minor Prophets, 1:192-93; A. Haldar, Studies in the Book of Nahum (Uppsala: Lundquistska Bokhandeln, 1947), p. 59.

130 Numerous miscellaneous attempts have been made to solve this crux interpretum. To my knowledge no one has suggested viewing the p in pa„áru‚r as the Semitic conjunctive particle “and (then)” (cf. Ugaritic p; Arabic f) prefixed to the verb áa„rar (cf. Akkadian ara„ru II, “fear”). Together with the previous קִבְּצוּ, the twice occurring phrase (Joel 2:6; Nah. 2:10) could be an example of hendiadys that became idiomatic, “convulsed with fear.” Although such a meaning is unattested in the OT for áa„rar, the idiom as such could be a borrowed one. With repointing, the usual understanding of the verb (“curse”) would also yield tolerable idiomatic sense, the whole line reading, “every face contracts/is contracted and curses.” קִבְּצוּ here could of course also be repointed as a qal passive. An intransitive sense is known in Arabic ( qabad£a, V form). For proposed examples of conjunctive p in the OT, see M. Dahood, Psalms, 3:410. The phrase remains an insoluble crux; I have followed the majority of scholars in translating (ad sensum), “all faces grow pale.”

131 Cathcart, Nahum, p. 104.

132 Herbert Marks, “The Twelve Prophets,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1987), p. 215.

133 See AR, 2:129. J. M. P. Smith (Nahum, p. 324) properly remarks: “The lion was the favourite animal for artistic and decorative purposes in Assyria; hence the figure is peculiarly fitting.”

134 AR, 2:304.

135 AR, 2:309; for other examples of Assyrian cruelty and rapacity, see H. E. Freeman, Nahum Zephaniah Habakkuk, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1973), pp. 36-38; Maier, Nahum, pp. 281-83.

136 C. Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:479.

137 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:27.

138 Note also the employment of the explicative/relative particle in Judg. 5:5; see R. D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), pp. 127, 131, 154 n. 31. For examples of the possibility of Hebrew אִישׁ employed as a relative pronoun, see 1 Sam. 22:2; 2 Sam. 23:7; Ps. 112:1; Prov. 26:19. The possible relatival use of אִישׁ has been suggested in recent years by R. Gelio, “È possible un ái‚sŒ relativo/demonstrativo in ebraico biblico?” RivB 31 (1983): 410-34.

139 For progressive enjambment, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 334.

140 See J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, pp. 325, 333.

141 Cathcart, Nahum, pp. 107-8.

142 See BDB, p. 383.

143 See D. Vetter, “ הִנֵּה,” THAT, 1:505-7.

144 See further L. J. Coppes, “ נָאַם,” TWOT 2:541-42.

145 A similar use of “fire” in synecdoche occurs at 3:5.

146 See Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 268.

147 Note that the LXX reads πληθός σου, “your multitude” (cf. 4QNah rwbkh, “your abundance”). For oratio variata in change of discourse in Greek, see A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), pp. 442-43; for its employment in the Song of Solomon, see M. H. Pope, Song of Songs, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977), p. 297.

148 Maier, Nahum, p. 289.

149 AR, 1:156.

150 AR, 1:219-20.

151 AR, 2:304.

152 W. A. Maier, The Book of Nahum (reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), p. 292.

153 See further H. W. F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984), pp. 256-57.

154 R. D. Patterson and M. Travers, “Literary Analysis and the Unity of Nahum,” GTJ 9 (1988): 53.

155 C. Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:481.

156 On הוֹי , see R. J. Clifford, “The Use of ho‚y in the Prophets,” CBQ 28 (1966): 458-64. For the consideration of this particle as an extrametrical element, see W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: Sheffield U., 1986), p. 110.

157 For details, see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 2d ed. (Toronto: U. of Toronto, 1976), p. 6; GKC, par. 124n.

158 H. W. F. Saggs, Assyriology and the Study of the Old Testament (Cardiff: U. of Wales, 1969), p. 17.

159 Kevin J. Cathcart, Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973), p. 126. For the use of merismus here, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 323.

160 For the text, see R. Borger, Babylonisch-Assyrische Lesestücke (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1963), Table 49, V:70; Table 50, VI:8; for a translation, see AR, 2:126-27.

161 For discussion, see R. D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), p. 139.

162 For various suggestions as to the force of מַעֲלֶה (lit. “bringing up”), see Maier, Nahum, pp. 299-300.

163 AR, 1:146.

164 J. M. P. Smith, Micah, Zephaniah and Nahum, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911), p. 337.

165 Ibid.

166 Maier, Nahum, p. 302.

167 For literary hinging, see H. Van Dyke Parunak, “Transitional Techniques in the Bible,” JBL 102 (1983): 540-41.

168 For details, see Cathcart, Nahum, pp. 129-30. For good discussions on the form, see J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, p. 365; Maier, Nahum, pp. 304-6.

169 For discussion of methods of intensification in Hebrew parallel structures, see Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985), pp. 13-26, 62-84.

170 H. J. Austel, “ שׁפח,” TWOT 2:947.

171 Basing his conclusions on the study of this verse in Nahum, D. R. Hillers (Treaty-Curses and the Old Testament Prophets [Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1964], pp. 58-60) has suggested the reading of the Sefi‚re inscription given in the note. See also J. A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefi‚re (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1967), pp. 14-15, 56-57.

172 See further A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1901), pp. 18-19.

173 See GKC, par. 112y.

174 For its use in the divine title El Shaddai, see my remarks in “Joel,” in EBC, 7:243 n. 15.

175 For a full discussion, see S. Wagner, “ בִּקֵּשׁ,” TDOT 2:229-41.

176 See n. 64 in chap. 3 and GKC, par. 144p.

177 Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:484.

178 AR, 2:296.

179 For details, see A. H. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961), pp. 349-50; K. A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1973), pp. 394-406.

180 For the text and commentary, see H. Donner and W. Röllig, Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1966), 1:5; 2:32-33; for English translation, see ANET, p. 654.

181 See AR, 2:300-4.

182 For similar use of asyndeton in Akkadian, see my remarks in Old Babylonian Parataxis (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1971), pp. 167-69.

183 See T. O. Lambdin, “Egyptian Loan Words in the Old Testament,” JAOS 73 (1963): 151; see also H. Eising, “ יְאֹר,” TDOT 5:359; R. D. Patterson and H. J. Austel, “1, 2 Kings,” EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 4:269-70.

184 See R. D. Patterson, “ סוּף,” TWOT 2:620.

185 See GKC, par. 91e. Note also the renderings of the ancient versions: LXX: ἰσχὺς αὐτῆς; Vg: fortitudo eius, both of which may be translated “her strength.”

186 Kevin J. Cathcart, “More Philological Studies in Nahum,” JNSL 7 (1979): 10.

187 M. D. Futato, “The Preposition ‘Beth’ in the Hebrew Psalter,” WTJ 41 (1978): 68-83.

188 For the use of the Hebrew preterite, see Williams, Syntax, pp. 32-33; see also Z. S. Harris, Development of the Canaanite Dialects (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1939), pp. 47-48.

189 AR, 2:300.

190 AR, 2:306.

191 See my remarks in “Joel,” in EBC, 7:261-62.

192 AR, 2:300.

193 For the text, see C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965), p. 250.

194 M. Dahood, “Review of T. H. Robinson, F. Horst, Die Zwölf Kleinen Propheten,” CBQ 17 (1955): 104.

195 See footnote 27.

196 André Parrot, Nineveh and the Old Testament (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955), p. 279.

197 See Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 110.

198 See D. R. Hillers, Treaty-Curses, pp. 66-68.

199 For translation of the text of the treaty between Ashurnirari and Matiáilu, see ANET, p. 533.

200 Maier, Nahum, pp. 339-40.

201 See the valuable excursus in S. R. Driver, The Books of Joel and Amos (Cambridge: Cambridge U., 1915), pp. 64-93.

202 See Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, 2.26.8; the text and its translation are given in the Loeb Classical Library, ed. E. H. Warmington, translated by G. H. Oldfather (Harvard: University Press, 1933), p. 439. See also D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1956), p. 61.

203 AR, 2:295.

204 AR, 2:306.

205 Patterson and Travers, “Literary Analysis,” p. 55.

206 Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria, p. 120.

207 Bibliotheca historica, 2.27.1, LCL, pp. 440-41.

208 Bibliotheca historica, 2.27.2, LCL, pp. 440-41.

209 Details as to the destruction of Nineveh may be found in R. Campbell Thompson and R. W. Hamilton, “The British Museum Excavations on the Temple of Ishtar at Nineveh, 1930-31,” Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 19 (1932): 55-73.

210 Bibliotheca historica, 2.26.4, 8, LCL, pp. 436-39.

211 Bibliotheca historica, 2.28.7-8, LCL, pp. 444-45; Wiseman, Chaldaean Kings, p. 61.

212 A. H. Layard (Nineveh and Its Remains [New York: Putnam, 1849], 1:29) remarks concerning the disappearance of the inhabitants of the land: “Those of whose works they are the remains, unlike the Roman and the Greek, have left no visible traces of their civilizations, or of their arts: their influence has long since passed away.” R. Campbell Thompson and R. W. Hutchinson, “The Excavations on the Temple of Nabu at Nineveh,” Archaeologia 79 (1929): 73-74, 106-7, detail the devastation and desolation of the site. Maier, Nahum, pp. 135-38, has a compendium of testimonies, ancient and modern, as to the disappearance of the Assyrians and their great capital.

213 CAH, 3:130-31.

214 Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria, pp. 129-30.

215 P. C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985), 2:76.

216 For the motif of the message/messenger, see 1:15; 2:13; 3:7.

217 See CAD, 9:176-79.

218 For חֹמֶר and טִיט, see H. Ringgren and A. S. Kapelrud, TDOT 5:1-4, 322.

219 For details, see C. F. Whitley, “Has the Particle שם an Asseverative Force?”, Bib 55 (1974): 394-98.

220 BDB, p. 1027.

221 For further details, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 279.

222 See UT, p. 168, text no. 49, II:30-33; p. 197, text no. 137, line 32.

223 For details, see Williams, Syntax, pp. 38-39.

224 See also Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, WEC, ed. Kenneth Barker (Chicago: Moody, 1990), p. 21.

225 For details, see CAD, 10 part 1, pp. 333-34; 11 part 2, pp. 34-47. See further S. Moscati, An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1964), p. 59; GAG, par. 30b, 32a, b.

226 For this particle, see CAD, 1 part 1, p. 220. See also D. Cohen, Dictionnaire des racines sémitiques (Paris: Mouton, 1970), 1:16-17.

227 For this proposed construction, see D. N. Freedman, “The Broken Construct Chain,” Bib 53 (1972): 534-36; A. C. M. Blommerde, “The Broken Construct Chain, Further Examples,” Bib 55 (1974): 549-52; M. Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, NY.: Doubleday, 1970), 3:52. For a dissenting opinion, see J. D. Price, “Rosh: An Ancient Land Known to Ezekiel,” GTJ 6 (1985): 76-88.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines