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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Nahum

- Nahum

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

TITLE AND WRITER

The title of the book comes from the name of its writer.

We know nothing about Nahum ("compassion," "consolation," or "comfort") other than what we read in this book. His name proved significant since he brought comfort and consolation to the Judeans with his prophecies. He was "the Elkoshite" (Nah_1:1), so he evidently came from a town named Elkosh, but the location of such a town has yet to be discovered. Scholars have suggested that it stood near Nineveh, in Galilee, near Capernaum (City of Nahum?), east of the Jordan River, or somewhere in Judah. Since he was a Jewish prophet and evidently lived after the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C., a location in Judah seems most likely to me. Perhaps the Assyrians had carried his family away to Mesopotamia when they conquered the kingdom of Israel and large parts of Judah, and Nahum somehow managed to return to Judah later. [Note: Richard D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, pp. 7-8.] This may explain Nahum’s familiarity with things Assyrian.

UNITY

Some scholars have tried to prove that someone other than Nahum wrote sections of the book (Nah_1:1; Nah_1:1 to Nah_2:3; Nah_1:2-10; Nah_2:4 to Nah_3:19), but their arguments are largely speculative. Jewish and Christian authorities have long held that Nahum was responsible for the whole work.

"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." [Note: Ibid., p. 11.]

The canonicity of Nahum has never been seriously challenged, and the Hebrew text has been well preserved.

DATE

Nahum mentioned the fall of the Egyptian city of Thebes (Nah_3:8), so we know he wrote after that event, which took place in 663 B.C. The Assyrian king Ashurbanipal conquered it. The prophet predicted the fall of the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, which happened in 612 B.C., so he must have written this book between 663 and 612 B.C. Evidently, Nineveh fell to the Medes. [Note: See any good Bible dictionary or encyclopedia for the history of Nineveh.]

"There is some ambiguity in the Babylonian and later descriptions of the fall of Nineveh (Zawadzki 1988), but it appears to have been the Medes who actually destroyed the city. Indeed, the Babylonians were very careful in their records to distance themselves from the general looting of the city and especially the temples of this great city. However, it is clear that the Medes were either uninterested or unable to keep the city for a permanent possession, and it fell to their allies, the Babylonians, to possess it." [Note: Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 459. Their reference is to S. Zawadzki, The Fall of Assyria and Median-Babylonian Relations in Light of the Nabopolassar Chronicle.]

There is some evidence that points to Nahum writing shortly after Thebes fell. First, Nahum’s description of Nineveh (Nah_1:12; Nah_3:1; Nah_3:4; Nah_3:16) does not fit the city as it existed between 626 and 612 B.C. when Ashurbanipal’s sons, Ashur-etil-ilani (626-623 B.C.) and Sin-shar-ishkun (623-612 B.C.), ruled over it. Second, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was under the yoke of Assyria when Nahum wrote (Nah_1:13; Nah_1:15; Nah_2:1; Nah_2:3), a condition that marked the reign of Manasseh (697-642 B.C.) more than that of Josiah (640-609 B.C.). Third, if Nahum wrote after 654 B.C., his rhetorical question in Nah_3:8 would have had little or no force since Thebes rose to power again in that year. [Note: Walter A. Maier, The Book of Nahum: A Commentary, pp. 30, 34-37.] Thus a date of composition between 660 and 650 B.C. seems most likely. This means he probably ministered during the reign of wicked King Manasseh of Judah (697-642 B.C.). Leon Wood dated Nahum a bit later, namely, about 630 B.C., during the reign of good King Josiah (640-609 B.C.). [Note: Leon Wood, The Prophets of Israel, p. 316.]

PLACE OF COMPOSITION

No one knows for sure where Nahum was when he wrote the book, and our lack of knowledge of his hometown complicates the task of discovering the place of composition. However, traditionally Nahum lived and ministered in Judah, so most conservative scholars assume he wrote somewhere in that kingdom.

AUDIENCE AND PURPOSE

Nahum was a Jewish prophet and wrote primarily for the Jewish people. While the main subject of his prophesying was Nineveh, his message was for the Jews. Similarly, Jonah wrote about Nineveh and Obadiah wrote only of Edom, but they too wrote for the Jews. Both Nahum and Obadiah probably served as preaching prophets in Judah as well as writing prophets, as Jonah did in Israel.

"Nahum’s prophecy was the complement to Jonah, for whereas Jonah celebrated God’s mercy, Nahum marked the relentless march of the judgment of God against all sinners world-wide." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 221.]

This book claims to be an oracle (Nah_1:1, an uplifting and or threatening prophecy). While most of the book threatens Nineveh with destruction, there are also words of comfort for the people of Judah (Nah_1:12; Nah_1:15; Nah_2:2). Nahum revealed that Yahweh would destroy Nineveh as punishment for the Assyrians’ cruelty to many nations, including the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. and Judah. This was a comforting message for the remaining Jews who were presently living under Assyria’s shadow in Judah. Assyria had destroyed many Judean cities and had even besieged Jerusalem, unsuccessfully, in 701 B.C. The purpose of Nahum’s book, then, was to announce Nineveh’s fall and thereby comfort the Judean Jews with the assurance that their God was indeed sovereign and just.

"God is a just governor of the nations who will punish wicked Nineveh and restore His own people." [Note: Patterson, p. 53. See also Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 840.]

"Even though God has chosen Assyria to act as his instrument of punishment against the rebellious and recalcitrant Israel (Isa_7:17; Isa_10:5-6), he holds that nation corporately responsible for the excesses and atrocities committed in fulfilling this role (Isa_10:7-19; cf. Zep_2:14-15)." [Note: David W. Baker, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, p. 23.]

LITERARY FORM

Nahum contains a prophecy of the future destruction of a city that did fall. Critics of the Bible who do not believe that the prophets could possibly predict the future have tried to explain what Nahum wrote as a description of the fall of Nineveh after the fact. Some of them consider the book as a piece of liturgy written for the Israelites’ annual "enthronement festival" in Jerusalem. This festival supposedly celebrated Yahweh’s enthronement over His people, though there is no biblical evidence that it ever occurred. Other ancient Near Eastern nations conducted similar enthronement festivals. The Book of Nahum was, according to this view, a collection of writings of various literary types that an editor compiled to magnify Yahweh’s greatness by reflecting on Nineveh’s destruction.

While conservatives reject this low view of prophecy, it is obvious that the book does consist of several different types of literature, as do most of the other prophetical books. We believe that God guided Nahum to express the messages He gave him in a variety of ways using several different forms of expression.

"Nahum, unlike many prophecies that are based on the structure of an anthology (such as Micah), has a well-delineated literary form." [Note: Tremper Longman III, "Nahum," in The Minor Prophets, p. 769.]

"The main body of the prophecy, which is introduced with the words ’This is what the LORD says,’ exhibits a chiastic structure:

A    Assyrian king taunted/Judah urged to celebrate (Nah_1:2-15)

B    Dramatic call to alarm (Nah_2:1-10)

C    Taunt (Nah_2:11-12)

D    Announcement of judgment (Nah_2:13)

E    Woe oracle (Nah_3:1-4)

D’    Announcement of judgment (Nah_3:5-7))

C’    Taunt (Nah_3:8-13)

B’    Dramatic call to alarm (Nah_3:14-17)

A’    Assyrian king taunted as others celebrate (Nah_3:18-19)" [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets, p. 428. See also Gordon H. Johnston, "A Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Nahum," (Ph.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1992) for a thorough analysis of the book’s structure.]

Nahum was a poet. He has been called "the poet laureate among the Minor Prophets." [Note: Patterson, p. 10.] He wrote in a very vivid and powerful style.

"Nahum was a great poet. His word pictures are superb, his rhetorical skill is beyond praise." [Note: J. A. Bewer, The Literature of the Old Testament, p. 147.]

"None of the minor prophets . . . seem to equal Nahum in boldness, ardour and sublimity. His prophecy . . . forms a regular and perfect poem: the exordium is not merely magnificent, it is truly majestic; the preparation for the destruction of Nineveh, and the description of its downfall and desolation, are expressed in the most vivid colours, and are bold and luminous in the highest degree." [Note: Robert Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, pp. 239-40.]

"Nahum’s poetry is fine. Of all the prophets he is the one who in dignity and force approaches most nearly to Isaiah. His descriptions are singularly picturesque and vivid . . .: his imagery is effective and striking . . .; the thought is always expressed compactly; the parallelism is regular." [Note: S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Bible, p. 336.]

"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." [Note: Maier, p. 20. See also J. S. Cochrane, "Literary Features of Nahum" (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1954), pp. 6-7.]

The "Minor Prophets" were minor only in word count, compared with the longer "Major Prophets," not in their literary quality or theological relevance.

OUTLINE

I.    Heading Nah_1:1

II.    Nineveh’s destruction declared Nah_1:2-14

A.    The anger and goodness of Yahweh Nah_1:2-8

B.    Yahweh’s plans for Nineveh and Judah Nah_1:9-14

1.    The consumption of Nineveh Nah_1:9-11

2.    The liberation of Judah Nah_1:12-13

3.    The termination of Nineveh Nah_1:14

III.    Nineveh’s destruction described Nah_1:15 to Nah_3:19

A.    The sovereign justice of Yahweh Nah_1:15 to Nah_2:2

B.    Four descriptions of Nineveh’s fall Nah_2:3 to Nah_3:19

1.    The first description of Nineveh’s fall Nah_2:3-7

2.    The second description of Nineveh’s fall Nah_2:8-13

3.    The third description of Nineveh’s fall Nah_3:1-7

4.    The fourth description of Nineveh’s fall Nah_3:8-19

Bibliography

Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Nahum-Malachi. Interpretation series. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1986.

Armerding, Carl E. "Nahum." In Daniel-Minor Prophets. Vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.

Baker, David W. Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah: An Introduction and Commentery. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries series. Leicester, Eng., and Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Bewer, J. A. The Literature of the Old Testament. 3rd ed. New York: Columbia University, 1962.

Bright, John. A History of Israel. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1959.

Bury, J. B.; S. A. Cook; and F. E. Adcock, eds. The Cambridge Ancient History. 12 vols. 2nd ed. reprinted. Cambridge, Eng.: University Press, 1928.

Calkins, Raymond. The Modern Message of the Minor Prophets. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947.

Cathcart, Kevin J. "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. Edited by Miriam Ward. Somerville, Mass.: Greeno, Hadden, 1975.

Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. Handbook on the Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2002.

_____. "A Theology of the Minor Prophets." In A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 397-433. Edited by Roy B. Zuck. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991.

Christensen, Duane L. "The Acrostic of Nahum Reconsidered." Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 87 (1975):17-30.

Cochrane, J. S. "Literary Features of Nahum." Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1954.

Craigie, Peter C. Twelve Prophets. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985.

Driver, Samuel R. An Introduction to the Literature of the Bible. 11th ed. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1913.

Dyer, Charles H., and Eugene H. Merrill. The Old Testament Explorer. Nashville: Word Publishing, 2001. Reissued as Nelson’s Old Testament Survey. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.

Feinberg, Charles Lee. Jonah Micah and Nahum. The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets series. New York: American Board of Missions to the Jews, 1951.

_____. "Nahum." In The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, pp. 863-69. Edited by Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison. Chicago: Moody Press, 1962.

Freeman, Hobart E. Nahum Zephaniah Habakkuk. Everyman’s Bible Commentary series. Chicago: Moody Press, 1973.

Johnson, Elliott E. "Obadiah." In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, pp. 1493-1504. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1985.

Johnston, Gordon H. "Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions to Neo-Assyrian Conquest Metaphors." Bibliotheca Sacra 159:633 (January-March 2002):21-45.

_____. "Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions to Neo-Assyrian Treaty Curses." Bibliotheca Sacra 158:632 (October-December 2001):415-36.

_____. "Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions to the Neo-Assyrian Lion Motif." Bibliotheca Sacra 158:631 (July-September 2001):287-307.

_____. "A Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Nahum." Ph.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1992.

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Toward an Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.

Keil, Carl Friedrich. The Twelve Minor Prophets. 2 vols. Translated by James Martin. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949.

Longman, Tremper, III. "The Divine Warrior: The New Testament Use of an Old Testament Motif." Westminster Theological Journal 44 (1982):290-307.

_____. "Nahum." In The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expositional Commentary, 2:765-829. 3 vols. Edited by Thomas Edward McComiskey. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992, 1993, and 1998.

Longman, Tremper, III and Raymond B. Dillard. An Introduction to the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Lowth, Robert. Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews. Translated by George Gregory. London: Tegg, 1839.

Luckenbill, Daniel David, ed. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylon. 2 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926-27.

Maier, Walter A. The Book of Nahum: A Commentary. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980.

Morgan, G. Campbell. Living Messages of the Books of the Bible. 2 vols. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1912.

The New Bible Dictionary. 1962 ed. S.v. "Nineveh," by D. J. Wiseman.

The New Scofield Reference Bible. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, William Culbertson, et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Patterson, Richard D. Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary series. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991.

Pritchard, James B., ed. The Ancient Near East in Pictures. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954.

_____, ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3rd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Thomas, D. Winton., ed. Documents from Old Testament Times. New York: Harper & Row, 1958.

Thompson, R. Campbell, and Hutchinson, R. W. A Century of Exploration at Nineveh. London: Luzac, 1929.

Voightlander, E. von. "A Survey of Neo-Babylonian History." Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Michigan, 1963.

Waltke, Bruce K., with Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology: an exegetical, canonical, and thematic approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Wiersbe, Warren W. "Nahum." In The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, pp. 405-10. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Cook Communications Ministries; and Eastbourne, England: Kingsway Communications Ltd., 2002.

Wood, Leon J. The Prophets of Israel. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979.

Yadin, Yigael. The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963.

Zawadzki, S. The Fall of Assyria and Median-Babylonian Relations in Light of the Nabopolassar Chronicle. Delft, Holland: Eburon, 1988.