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Bible Commentaries
Nahum 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1


The writer introduced this book as an oracle concerning Nineveh. An oracle is a message from Yahweh that usually announces judgment. It is sometimes called a "burden" because it frequently contains a message that lay heavy on the prophet’s heart and came across as a "heavy" message. In this case it is a "war-oracle." [Note: Longman, pp. 771, 786.] This book records the vision that Nahum the Elkoshite received from the Lord.

"Having been founded by Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12), Nineveh had a long history. It was located on the east bank of the Tigris River, which formed the western and southern boundaries of the city. A wall extended for eight miles around the northern and eastern boundaries. The section of the city within the walls was nearly three miles in diameter at its greatest width, and it held a population that has been estimated to have been as high as 150,000. The three days’ walk required to traverse Nineveh (. . . Jonah 3:3) is no exaggeration." [Note: Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 796.]

As noted above, the location of Elkosh is presently uncertain. The two most likely general locations are Mesopotamia or Canaan. I tend to think that Elkosh was in Judah since all the other Old Testament prophets were from Canaan, and Nahum prophesied during the history of the surviving kingdom of Judah (ca. 650 B.C.).

Nahum evidently used "Nineveh," the capital of the Assyrian Empire, to stand for the whole empire in some places as well as for the city in others. In some texts the city is definitely in view, as is obvious from the fulfillment of the prophecy, but in others all of Assyria seems to be in view. It is common, especially in prophetical and poetical parts of the Old Testament, for the writers to use the names of prominent cities to represent their countries. The most frequent example is the use of Jerusalem in place of Judah or even all Israel. This is an example of the common figure of speech called metonymy in which a writer uses the name of one thing for that of another associated with or suggested by it.

Verse 2

Nahum drew a picture of Yahweh as a God who is jealous for His chosen people (cf. Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 5:9). That is, He greatly desires their welfare (cf. Deuteronomy 6:15). He is also an avenging God who takes vengeance on all who violate His standards of righteousness (what is right), though not with human vindictiveness. Third, He is full of wrath against those who oppose Him and disregard His grace, those who set themselves up as His adversaries and enemies (cf. Deuteronomy 32:35; Deuteronomy 32:41). The repetition of avenging, vengeance, and wrathful in this verse creates a strong impression of an angry God. The word "wrath" (Heb. hemah) means "to be hot" and describes burning rage and intense fury. Why was God so angry? The rest of the oracle explains that it was the behavior of the Ninevites that had aroused His anger.

This is the first of several rhetorical allusions to uniquely Neo-Assyrian conquest metaphors in the book. The figure of a destroyer of mountains and seas continues through Nahum 1:6, and the figure of the self-predicating warrior extends through Nahum 1:8. Other metaphors are the raging storm and the overwhelming dust cloud in Nahum 1:3, the overwhelming flood and the uninhabitable ruin in Nahum 1:8, the sheep slaughterer in Nahum 1:12, and the Assyrian yoke in Nahum 1:12-13. The metaphor of the mighty weapon appears in Nahum 2:1 and that of the consuming locust swarm in Nahum 3:16-17. [Note: See Gordon H. Johnston, "Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions to Neo-Assyrian Conquest Metaphors," Bibliotheca Sacra 159:633 (January-March 2002):21-45.]

"Verse 2 lays a foundation for the entire prophecy: all that follows is rooted in this revelation of the justice and burning zeal of the Lord exercised on behalf of his people." [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," p. 462.]

Verses 2-8

A. The anger and goodness of Yahweh 1:2-8

"The opening verses of Nahum form a prologue dominated by the revelation of God’s eternal power and divine nature in creation (cf. Romans 1:20). As in Romans 1:18-32, this revelation is characterized preeminently by God’s justice, expressed in retribution (Nahum 1:2) and wrath (Nahum 1:2-3; Nahum 1:6) that shake the entire creation (Nahum 1:3-6)." [Note: Carl E. Armerding, "Nahum," in Daniel-Malachi, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 460.]

Armerding made much of the similarities between this section and the Exodus event, God’s self-revelation at Mt. Sinai, His appearance to Elijah at Mt. Horeb, and parallels in Isaiah.

"The seventh-century minor prophets focused on the justice of God as exhibited in powerful judgment on an international scale." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "A Theology of the Minor Prophets," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 413.]

"In the Book of Psalms there are three types of Divine Warrior hymns: those sung before a battle, calling on God’s aid (Psalms 7); those sung during a battle, focusing on the Lord’s protection (Psalms 92); and those celebrating the victory God has won for his people (Psalms 98). Nahum 1:2-8 bears a remarkable similarity to the last type of psalm, the original function of which was to sing the praises of Israel’s Warrior God in the aftermath of a victory. What is significant, then, is the placement of Nahum’s Divine Warrior hymn. The victory is celebrated before the battle is actually waged. The victory of God against Nineveh is certain. So much so, that the prophet could utter the victory shout years before the battle [cf. Revelation 5:9]." [Note: Longman, p. 788.]

Verses 2-14


The rest of chapter 1 declares Nineveh’s destruction in rather hymnic style, and chapters 2 and 3 describe its destruction. Each of these major parts of the book opens with a revelation of Yahweh.

Verse 3

However, Yahweh was not out of control in His anger. His anger was slow in coming to the boiling point (cf. Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18). He waited as long as possible to pour out His judgment (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). About a century before Nahum prophesied, God sent Jonah to warn the Ninevites. This is an evidence of His being slow to anger. God’s patience accounts for His allowing the Assyrians to abuse the Israelites for so long. Patience is sometimes a sign of weakness, but not so with the Lord. He is also great in power, which makes the prospect of His releasing His anger terrifying (cf. Deuteronomy 8:17-18). He will not pass over any guilty person and leave him or her unpunished but will bring them to judgment eventually. Whirlwinds and storms manifest this angry aspect of God’s character and His power (cf. Job 9:17). He is so great that the clouds are for Him what the dust on the ground is for humans (cf. 2 Samuel 22:10; Psalms 18:9). The great clouds overhead are like dust to the great God who resides in the heavens.

Nahum 1:2-3 repeat "Yahweh" five times. This literary device has the effect of underlining the identity of Israel’s covenant God. There should be no mistake whom Nahum was describing even though he drew attention to characteristics of the Lord that were not the ones that His people liked to think about. Nahum frequently used Yahweh’s name throughout the book.

Verse 4

A simple word from Yahweh can cause the humanly uncontrollable sea and the rivers to dry up. The Lord had demonstrated this power when He parted the Red Sea and stopped the Jordan River from flowing (Exodus 14:21; Joshua 3:16). It can make Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon, which were normally lush, productive regions, wither away. The Lord had likewise sent many droughts on various parts of Canaan to encourage His people to return to Him (cf. 1 Kings 17-18). It is heat that causes bodies of water to dry up and bodies of land to wither away, but it is the heat of God’s wrath in judgment that is sometimes behind this physical heat.

Verse 5

Yahweh produces earthquakes and landslides, other evidences of His awesome power. Mountains are the most stable physical features on this planet, yet God can move them. Mt. Sinai quaked when God revealed Himself there (Exodus 19:18). His very presence can cause the entire earth and all its inhabitants to convulse and upheave. The vast Assyrian Empire, therefore, was not too much for Him to overthrow.

Verse 6

No one can continue to exist if Yahweh is indignant with him or her. Nahum did not mean that the final destiny of God’s enemies is annihilation. He meant that no one can survive His unchecked wrath. The Hebrew word translated "indignant," za’am, means to be enraged, like boiling water. No one can endure Yahweh’s burning anger. Nahum made these points strongly by using two rhetorical questions.

"Unlike a regular question, which is soliciting information, a rhetorical question assumes the answer is already known by both the asker and the asked. Instead of the statement which could have been used in its place, the rhetorical question forces the hearer to get actively involved in the discussion. . . . The technique is used elsewhere in Nahum (Nahum 2:11; Nahum 3:7-8) and in other prophetic texts." [Note: Baker, p. 29.]

The Assyrians should have learned this truth when God destroyed their army, as it surrounded Jerusalem, in one night (2 Kings 18-19). Yahweh’s wrath pours out like fire, and then even solid rocks break up (cf. 1 Kings 19:11). How much less will human flesh and manmade walls stand against His anger!

Verse 7

In contrast, Yahweh is also good, not just angry and vengeful (cf. Romans 11:22). He Himself is a more secure hiding place than any mountain, hill, or great city, like Nineveh, when people face trouble (cf. Psalms 27:1; Psalms 37:39; Psalms 43:2; Psalms 52:7). Furthermore He knows those who take refuge in Him by drawing near to Him and resting their confidence in Him. He takes note of those who trust in Him as well as those who incur His wrath. Whereas the previous revelations of God reflect His imminent dealings with the Assyrians, this aspect of His character (name) should have encouraged the Israelites to trust and obey Him.

Verse 8

Nahum returned to the wrathful aspect of God’s character because that was the focus of his oracle. Without identifying Nineveh, the prophet described Yahweh destroying it totally and permanently, as with a tidal wave. Johnston showed that Nahum’s maledictions are unique among the prophets and probably key off the Neo-Assyrian treaty curses, which were unusually brutal in the ancient Near East. [Note: Gordon H. Johnston, "Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions to Neo-Assyrian Treaty Curses," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:632 (October-December 2001):415-36.] Nahum probably described an unrestrained army invasion (cf. Isaiah 8:7-8; Jeremiah 47:2; Daniel 9:26; Daniel 11:40). However, when her enemies overthrew Nineveh, its rivers overflowed and washed away part of Nineveh’s walls. [Note: The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Nineveh," by D. J. Wiseman.]

Using another figure, Yahweh said He would pursue His enemies until He caught up with them and killed them, even if it took all night. Normally battles ceased at nightfall and resumed at daybreak because fighting became so difficult at night. But the Lord would not let night stop Him from pursuing and slaying His enemies. They would not escape from Him simply because time passed. Darkness also has the metaphorical connotation of evil, spiritual lostness, and eternal judgment (e.g., Job 17:13; Psalms 82:5; Psalms 88:12; Proverbs 4:19; Proverbs 20:20; Isaiah 8:22; Isaiah 42:7; Jeremiah 23:12; Matthew 4:16; Matthew 8:12; John 3:19; Colossians 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9; Judges 1:6; Revelation 16:10).

The Lord is angry with those who abuse others, especially those who abuse His people, and He will punish them. This section stresses the justice, power, and goodness of Yahweh.

"We must keep in mind that the message of Nahum is not concretely applied to Assyria and Judah until later in the book. The psalm that occurs at the beginning of the book [Nahum 1:2-8] presents a picture of God applicable for all times-he is the Warrior who judges evil." [Note: Longman, p. 776. See idem, "The Divine Warrior: The New Testament Use of an Old Testament Motif," Westminster Theological Journal 44 (1982):290-307; and Kevin J. Cathcart, "The Divine Warrior and the War of Yahweh in Nahum," in Biblical Studies in Contemporary Thought: The Tenth Anniversary Commemorative Volume of the Trinity College Biblical Institute 1966-1975, pp. 68-76.]

The first eight verses of Nahum are a partial acrostic.

"If an entire acrostic conveys completeness, half an acrostic may well be a prophetic way of indicating completeness with still more to come. Assyria faces imminent judgment, but only half of what is eventually in store for her." [Note: Duane L. Christensen, "The Acrostic of Nahum Reconsidered," Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 87 (1975):25.]

Verse 9

Yahweh will frustrate and destroy all attempts to thwart His will. Even though they may appear to succeed at first, they will not endure. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, had besieged Jerusalem once (1 Kings 18), but the Assyrians never did so a second time. Their plan to oppose God’s people was really opposition to Him, and He did not permit it to succeed. Once Nineveh fell, it was never rebuilt. [Note: The New Bible . . ., s.v. "Nineveh."]

Verses 9-11

1. The consumption of Nineveh 1:9-11

Verses 9-14

B. Yahweh’s plans for Nineveh and Judah 1:9-14

Whereas the previous section assured Nineveh’s doom, the primary focus of attention in it was the character of Yahweh and His ability to destroy His enemies. Now the focus shifts more directly to Nineveh. Three sections reveal Yahweh’s plans for Nineveh (Nahum 1:1-11; Nahum 1:14) and Judah (Nahum 1:12-13) in chiastic form.

Verse 10

Tangled (Heb. sebukim) thorns are tough to penetrate, but they are no match for fire. Likewise the Ninevites, as confused as they would be when their city was under attack, would be no match for the consuming fire of Yahweh’s wrath (cf. Nahum 1:6). Many of the Ninevites were confused because they were drunk (Heb. sebu’im). Yahweh would destroy them as easily and quickly as fire burned up the dead stalks left in fields after harvest.

Verse 11

Since the Lord will destroy any plot against Him and His people (Nahum 1:9), the Assyrians were in trouble. One of the Assyrians had gone forth who plotted evil against Him. This is probably a reference to Sennacherib. He was wicked and worthless because He had opposed Yahweh (cf. 2 Kings 18).

Verse 12

Yahweh declared that even though the Assyrians were powerful and numerous, He would cut them off and they would pass off the stage of history. This must have been hard for many Israelites to believe since the Assyrians had been their dreaded enemy for centuries. Even though the Lord had afflicted the Israelites, He would afflict them no longer. Evidently He meant that He would not afflict them with the Assyrians any longer since other nations did afflict them after Assyria passed off the scene. This is the only place in the prophecy where, "Thus says the LORD," occurs, guaranteeing that what He said would definitely happen. This verse is the clearest indication that Nahum ministered before the decline of Assyria as a military and political state. [Note: Longman, "Nahum," p. 798.]

"In the context the expression ’quiet, and likewise many,’ [AV; ’at full strength, and likewise many’ NASB; ’unscathed and numerous’ NIV] although a literal translation of the Hebrew, does not seem to make much sense. Actually the Hebrew here represents a transliteration of a long-forgotten Assyrian legal formula. Excavation in the ruins of ancient Nineveh, buried since 612 B.C., has brought to light thousands of ancient Assyrian tablets, dozens of which contain this Assyrian legal formula. It proves, on investigation, to indicate joint and several responsibility for carrying out an obligation. Nahum quotes the LORD as using this Assyrian formula in speaking to the Assyrians, saying in effect, ’Even though your entire nation joins as one person to resist me, nevertheless I shall overcome you.’ As the words would have been equally incomprehensible to the later Hebrew copyists, their retention is striking evidence of the care of the scribes in copying exactly what they found in the manuscripts, and testifies to God’s providential preservation of the Biblical text." [Note: The New Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 950-51.]

Verses 12-13

2. The liberation of Judah 1:12-13

Emphasis now shifts from Assyria to Judah.

"In the form of an oracle (Nahum 1:12, This is what the Lord says) to two parties in a legal dispute, God pronounces his verdicts alternately to Judah, for her acquittal and hope (Nahum 1:12-13; Nahum 1:15; Nahum 2:2), and to Assyria, for her destruction (Nahum 1:14; Nahum 2:1)." [Note: Baker, p. 32.]

Verse 13

The Lord promised to break Assyria’s oppression of the Israelites as when someone removed a yoke from the neck of an ox or the chains that bound a prisoner. For years the Israelites had to endure Assyrian oppression including invasion, occupation, and taxation (cf. 2 Kings 19:20-37; 2 Chronicles 32:1-23; Isaiah 37:27-38).

Verse 14

3. The termination of Nineveh 1:14

The subject reverts to Nineveh.

Yahweh had commanded His heavenly host to manage the world’s affairs so Nineveh’s name (or perhaps the king of Nineveh’s name) would not continue forever. This does not mean that succeeding generations would be completely ignorant of Nineveh and its rulers. More is known about Assyrian literature than that of any other ancient Semitic people except the Hebrews. [Note: See Longman, "Nahum," p. 798.] But the residents, particularly the king, would have no surviving descendants (heirs). [Note: For a chart of the historical fulfillments of Nahum’s prophecies, see The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1495. Patterson, pp. 105-7, also catalogued some fulfillments.]

The Lord also promised to destroy Nineveh’s idols and remove them from their temples. The Assyrians often carried off the idols of the nations they conquered to demonstrate the superiority of their gods over those of the conquered, as did other ancient Near Eastern nations (cf. 1 Samuel 5). The conquering Medes, however, despised idolatry and did away with multitudes of images that existed in Nineveh. [Note: Charles Lee Feinberg, Jonah Micah and Nahum, p. 132.] Yahweh would prepare Nineveh’s grave since He would bury the contemptible city. It was a great curse in the ancient Near East to have no descendants, and it was a great humiliation to have no gods, but both fates would befall Nineveh.

A. The sovereign justice of Yahweh 1:15-2:2

Verse 15

This is the first verse of chapter 2 in the Hebrew Bible. It is a janus, a transition that looks back to what precedes and forward to what follows.

Nahum called his audience to give attention. Someone was coming over the mountains with a message of peace. Consequently the people of Judah could celebrate their feasts; they had a future. They should pay their vows to the Lord because He had answered their prayers. The wicked Assyrians would never again pass through their land, as they had done in the past. The message was that they had been cut off, like a piece of a garment, and so would be no threat in the future. The prophet spoke as if Nineveh had already fallen and a messenger had just arrived with the news. The same statement appears in Isaiah 52:7, where the messenger announces the defeat of Babylon.

"So complete was its [Nineveh’s] destruction that when Xenophon passed by the site about 200 years later, he thought the mounds were the ruins of some other city. And Alexander the Great, fighting in a battle nearby, did not realize that he was near the ruins of Nineveh." [Note: Elliott E. Johnson, "Nahum," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1499.]

The Apostle Paul quoted the first part of this verse in Romans 10:15 in reference to those messengers who bring similar good news, namely, 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." [Note: Peter C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 2:67.]

Verses 15-19


This second major part of Nahum contains another introduction and four descriptions of Nineveh’s destruction. Having revealed general statements about Yahweh’s judgment, Nahum next communicated more specific descriptions of Nineveh’s demise. As in the previous section, he also gave promises of Israel’s restoration.

"Nahum portrays [the] siege, reproduces its horrors and its savagery, its cruelties and mercilessness, in language so realistic that one is able to see it and feel it. First comes the fighting in the suburbs. Then the assault upon the walls. Then the capture of the city and its destruction." [Note: Raymond Calkins, The Modern Message of the Minor Prophets, p. 82.]

The section begins, as the first major one did (cf. Nahum 1:2-8), with an emphasis on Yahweh who contrasts with the human destroyer of Nineveh. Humans can destroy, but it takes Yahweh to deliver. This section is also chiastic, as was Nahum 1:9-14.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Nahum 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/nahum-1.html. 2012.
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