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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary


- Nahum

by Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch



Person of the Prophet. - All that we know of Nahum ( Nachūm , i.e., consolation or comforter, consolator , Gr. Ναούμ ) is, that he sprang from the place called Elkosh; since the epithet hâ'elqōshı̄ , in the heading to his book, is not a patronymic, but the place of his birth. Elkosh is not to be sought for in Assyria, however, viz., in the Christian village of Alkush, which is situated on the eastern side of the Tigris, to the north-west of Khorsabad, two days' journey from Mosul, where the tomb of the prophet Nahum is shown in the form of a simple plaster box of modern style, and which is held in great reverence, as a holy place, by the Christians and Mohammedans of that neighbourhood (see Layard, Nineveh and its Remains, i. 233), as Michaelis, Eichhorn, Ewald, and others suppose. For this village, with its pretended tomb of the prophet, has not the smallest trace of antiquity about it, and is mentioned for the first time by a monk of the sixteenth century, in a letter to Assemani ( Biblioth. or. i. 525, iii. 1, p. 352). Now, as a tomb of the prophet Jonah is also shown in the neighbourhood of Nineveh, the assumption is a very natural one, that the name Elkush did not come from the village into the book, but passed from the book to the village (Hitzig). The statement of Jerome is older, and much more credible, - namely, that “Elkosh was situated in Galilee, since there is to the present day a village in Galilee called Helcesaei (others Helcesei, Elcesi), a very small one indeed, and containing in its ruins hardly any traces of ancient buildings, but one which is well known to the Jews, and was also pointed out to me by my guide,” - inasmuch as he does not simply base his statement upon the word of his guide, but describes the place as well known to the Jews. This Jewish tradition of the birth of Nahum in the Galilaean Elkosh, or Ἐλκεσέ , is also supported by Cyril of Alex., Ps. Epiphanius, and Ps. Dorotheus, although the more precise accounts of the situation of the place are confused and erroneous in the two last named. We have indeed no further evidence that Nahum sprang out of Galilee. The name of the Elkesaites furnishes just as little proof of the existence of a place called Elkosh, as the name Capernaum, i.e., village of Nahum, of the fact that our prophet lived there. Whether the sect of the Elkesaites really derived their name from a founder named Elxai or Elkesai, is just as questionable as the connection between this Elxai and the place called Elkosh; and the conjecture that Capernaum received its name from our prophet is altogether visionary. But Jerome's statement is quite sufficient, since it is confirmed by the contents of Nahum's prophecy. Ewald indeed imagines that he can see very clearly, from the general colouring of the little book, that Nahum did not live in Palestine, by in Assyria, and must have seen with his own eyes the danger which threatened Nineveh, from an invasion by powerful foes, as being one of the descendants of the Israelites who had formerly been transported to Assyria. “It moves,” he says, “for example, round about Nineveh only, and that with a fulness such as we do not find in any other prophecy relating to a foreign nation; and it is quite in a casual manner that it glances at Judah in Nahum 1:13-2:3. There is not a single trace of its having been written by Nahum in Judah; on the contrary, it follows most decidedly, from the form given to the words in Nahum 2:1 (Nahum 1:15), compared with Isaiah 52:7, that he was prophesying at a great distance from Jerusalem and Judah.” But why should not an earlier prophet, who lived in the kingdom of Israel or that of Judah, have been able to utter a special prophecy concerning Nineveh, in consequence of a special commission from God? Moreover, it is not merely in a casual manner that Nahum glances at Judah; on the contrary, his whole prophecy is meant for Judah; and his glance at Judah, notwithstanding its brevity, assumes, as Umbreit has correctly observed, a very important and central position. And the assertion, that there is not a single trace in the whole prophecy of Nahum's having been in Judah, has been contested with good reason by Maurer, Hitzig, and others, who appeal to Nahum 1:4 and 1:13-2:3, where such traces are to be found.

On the other hand, if the book had been written by a prophet living in exile, there would surely be some allusions to the situation and circumstances of the exiles; whereas we look in vain for any such allusions in Nahum. Again, the acquaintance with Assyrian affairs, to which Ewald still further appeals, is not greater than that which might have been possessed by any prophet, or even by any inhabitant of Judah in the time of Hezekiah, after the repeated invasions of Israel and Judah by the Assyrians. “The liveliness of the description runs through the whole book. Ch. Nahum 1:2-2 Chronicles : is not less lively than Nahum 2:1-1 Chronicles :; and yet no one would infer from the former that Nahum must have seen with his own eyes all that he sets before our eyes in so magnificent a picture in Nahum 1:2.” (Nägelsbach; Herzog's Cycl.) It is not more a fact that “ Nahum 2:6 contains such special acquaintance with the locality of Nineveh, as could only be derived from actual inspection,” than that “ Nahum 2:7 contains the name of the Assyrian queen (Huzzab).” Moreover, of the words that are peculiar to our prophet, taphsar (Nahum 3:17) is the only one that is even probably Assyrian; and this is a military term, which the Judaeans in Palestine may have heard from Assyrians living there. The rest of the supposed Aramaeisms, such as the suffixes in גּבּוריהוּ (Nahum 2:4) and מלאככה (Nahum 2:13), and the words גהג , to sigh = הגה (Nahum 2:8), דּהר (Nahum 3:2), and פּלדות (Nahum 2:4), may be accounted for from the Galilaean origin of the prophet. Consequently there is no tenable ground whatever for the assumption that Nahum lived in exile, and uttered his prophecy in the neighbourhood of Nineveh. There is much greater reason for inferring, from the many points of coincidence between Nahum and Isaiah, that he was born in Galilee during the Assyrian invasions, and that he emigrated to Judaea, where he lived and prophesied. Nothing whatever is known of the circumstances of his life. The notices in Ps. Epiphan. concerning his miracles and his death (see O. Strauss, Nahumi de Nino vaticin. expl. p. xii.f.) can lay no claim to truth. Even the period of his life is so much a matter of dispute, that some suppose him to have prophesied under Jehu and Jehoahaz, whilst others believe that he did not prophesy till the time of Zedekiah; at the same time it is possible to decide this with tolerable certainty from the contents of the book.

2. The Book of Nahum contains one extended prophecy concerning Nineveh, in which the ruin of that city and of the Assyrian world-power is predicted in three strophes, answering to the division into chapters; viz., in Nahum 1:1-Ezra : the divine purpose to inflict judgment upon this oppressor of Israel; in Nahum 2:1-1 Chronicles : the joyful news of the conquest, plundering, and destruction of Nineveh; and in ch. 3 its guilt and its inevitable ruin. These are all depicted with pictorial liveliness and perspicuity. Now, although this prophecy neither closes with a Messianic prospect, nor enters more minutely into the circumstances of the Israelitish kingdom of God in general, it is rounded off within itself, and stands in such close relation to Judah, that it may be called a prophecy of consolation for that kingdom. The fall of the mighty capital of the Assyrian empire, that representative of the godless and God-opposing power of the world, which sought to destroy the Israelitish kingdom of God, was not only closely connected with the continuance and development of the kingdom of God in Judah, but the connection is very obvious in Nahum's prophecy. Even in the introduction (Nahum 1:2.) the destruction of Nineveh is announced as a judgment, which Jehovah, the zealous God and avenger of evil, executes, and in which He proves Himself a refuge to those who trust in Him (Nahum 1:7). But “those who trust in Him” are not godly Gentiles here; they are rather the citizens of His kingdom, viz., the Judaeans, upon whom Asshur had laid the yoke of bondage, which Jehovah would break (Nahum 1:13), so that Judah could keep feasts and pay its vows to Him (Nahum 1:15). On the destruction of Nineveh the Lord returns to the eminence of Israel, which the Assyrians have overthrown (Nahum 2:2). Consequently Nineveh is to fall, and an end is to be put to the rule and tyranny of Asshur, that the glory of Israel may be restored.

The unity and integrity of the prophecy are not open to any well-founded objection. It is true that Eichhorn, Ewald, and De Wette, have questioned the genuineness of the first part of the heading (the Massâ' of Nineveh), but without sufficient reason, as even Hitzig observes. For there is nothing that can possibly astonish us in the fact that the object of the prophecy is mentioned first, and then the author. Moreover, the words משּׂא נינוה cannot possibly have been added at a later period, because the whole of the first half of the prophecy would be unintelligible without them; since Nineveh is not mentioned by name till Nahum 2:8, and yet the suffix attached to מקומהּ in Nahum 1:8 refers to Nineveh, and requires the introduction of the name of that city in the heading. There is just as little force in the arguments with which Hitzig seeks to prove that the allusion to the conquest of No-amon in Nahum 3:8-2 Samuel : is a later addition. For the assertion that, if an Assyrian army had penetrated to Upper Egypt and taken that city, Nahum, when addressing Nineveh, could not have related to the Assyrians what had emanated from themselves, without at least intimating this, would obviously be well founded only on the supposition that the words “Art thou better than No-amon,” etc., could be taken quite prosaically as news told to the city of Nineveh, and loses all its force, when we see that this address is simply a practical turn, with which Nahum describes the fate of No-amon not to the Ninevites, but to the Judaeans, as a practical proof that even the mightiest and most strongly fortified city could be conquered and fall, when God had decreed its ruin. From the lively description of this occurrence, we may also explain the change from the third person to the second in Nahum 3:9, at which Hitzig still takes offence. His other arguments are so subjective and unimportant, that they require no special refutation.

With regard to the date of the composition of our prophecy, it is evident from the contents that it was not written before, but after, the defeat of Sennacherib in front of Jerusalem in the reign of Hezekiah, since that event is not only clearly assumed, but no doubt furnished the occasion for the prophecy. Asshur had overrun Judah (Nahum 1:15), and had severely afflicted it (Nahum 1:9, Nahum 1:12), yea plundered and almost destroyed it (Nahum 2:2). Now, even if neither the words in Nahum 1:11, “There is one come out of thee, who imagined evil against Jehovah,” etc., nor those of Nahum 1:12, according to the correct interpretation, contain any special allusion to Sennacherib and his defeat, and if it is still less likely that Nahum 1:14 contains an allusion to his death or murder (Isaiah 37:38), yet the affliction ( tsârâh ) which Assyria had brought upon Judah (Nahum 1:9), and the invasion of Judah mentioned in Nahum 1:15 and Nahum 2:2, can only refer to Sennacherib's expedition, since he was the only one of all the kings of Assyria who so severely oppressed Judah as to bring it to the very verge of ruin. Moreover, Nahum 2:13, “The voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard,” is peculiarly applicable to the messengers whom Sennacherib sent to Hezekiah, according to Isaiah 36:13. and Isaiah 37:9., to compel the surrender of Jerusalem and get Judah completely into his power. But if this is established, it cannot have been a long time after the defeat of Sennacherib before Jerusalem, when Nahum prophesied; not only because that event was thoroughly adapted to furnish the occasion for such a prophecy as the one contained in our prophet's book, and because it was an omen of the future and final judgment upon Asshur, but still more, because the allusions to the affliction brought upon Judah by Sennacherib are of such a kind that it must have still continued in the most vivid recollection of the prophet and the men of his time. We cannot do anything else, therefore, than subscribe to the view expressed by Vitringa, viz., that “the date of Nahum must be fixed a very short time after Isaiah and Micah, and therefore in the reign of Hezekiah, not only after the carrying away of the ten tribes, but also after the overthrow of Sennacherib (Nahum 1:11, Nahum 1:13), from which the argument of the prophecy is taken, and the occasion for preaching the complete destruction of Nineveh and the kingdom of Assyria” ( Typ. doctr. prophet. p. 37). The date of the composition of our book cannot be more exactly determined. The assumption that it was composed before the murder of Sennacherib, in the temple of his god Nisroch (Isaiah 37:38; 2 Kings 19:37), has no support in Nahum 1:14. And it is equally impossible to infer from Nahum 1:13 and Nahum 1:15 that our prophecy was uttered in the reign of Manasseh, and occasioned by the carrying away of the king to Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11).

The relation which exists between this prophecy and those of Isaiah is in the most perfect harmony with the composition of the former in the second half of the reign of Hezekiah. The resemblances which we find between Nahum 3:5 and Isaiah 47:2-Leviticus :; Isaiah 3:7, Isaiah 3:10 and Isaiah 51:19-Proverbs :, Nahum 1:15 and Isaiah 52:1 and Isaiah 52:7, are of such a nature that Isaiah could just as well have alluded to Nahum as Nahum to Isaiah. If Nahum composed his prophecy not long after the overthrow of Sennacherib, we must assume that the former was the case. The fact that in Nahum 1:8, Nahum 1:13 and Nahum 3:10 there are resemblances to Isaiah 10:23, Isaiah 10:27 and Isaiah 13:16, where our prophet is evidently the borrower, furnishes no decisive proof to the contrary. For the relation in which prophets who lived and laboured at the same time stood to one another was one of mutual giving and receiving; so that it cannot be immediately inferred from the fact that our prophet made use of a prophecy of his predecessor for his own purposes, that he must have been dependent upon him in all his kindred utterances. When, on the other hand, Ewald and Hitzig remove our prophecy to a much later period, and place it in the time of the later Median wars with Assyria, either the time of Phraortes (Herod. i. 102), or that of Cyaxares and his first siege of Nineveh (Herod. i. 103), they found this opinion upon the unscriptural assumption that it was nothing more than a production of human sagacity and political conjecture, which could only have been uttered “when a threatening expedition against Nineveh was already in full operation” (Ewald), and when the danger which threatened Nineveh was before his eyes-a view which has its roots in the denial of the supernatural character of the prophecy, and is altogether destitute of any solid foundation.

The style of our prophet is not inferior to the classical style of Isaiah and Micah, either in power and originality of thought, or in clearness and purity of form; so that, as R. Lowth (De sacr. poësi Hebr. 281) has aptly observed, ex omnibus minoribus prophetis nemo videtur aequare sublimitatem, ardorem et audaces spiritus Nahumi; whereas Ewald, according to his preconceived opinion as to the prophet's age, “no longer finds in this prophet, who already formed one of the later prophets, so much inward strength, or purity and fulness of thought.” For the exegetical writings on the book of Nahum, see my Lehrbuch der Einleitung, 299, 300.