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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Nahum 1

Verse 1

1. The title. The first part names the subject of the prophecy.

Burden of Nineveh Better, with R.V. margin, “oracle concerning Nineveh” (compare Isaiah 13:1; Zechariah 9:1). The noun is derived from a verb “to lift up,” that is, the voice, or “to take up,” that is, a parable or speech (Numbers 24:3; Jeremiah 7:16), hence “utterance” or “oracle.” The second part names the author and his home.

Nahum the Elkoshite See Introduction, pp. 426ff.

Vision Primarily this noun denoted only those revelations which were received in visions or trances (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 11:24), but it underwent a process of generalization, so that it came to denote revelations of every kind, whatever the method by which they were received. Finally it came to be used so here in the headings of the prophetic books (compare Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1; Obadiah 1:1) as a collective noun in the sense of “ prophetic utterances.” Concerning the origin of this twofold title A.B. Davidson says that the first part “is probably due to the editor of the book, as the phrase is common in introducing prophecies.… The other part… may very well have come from the prophet himself.”

Verses 2-6

Divine manifestations and their effects, Nahum 1:2-6.

These verses serve a twofold purpose: 1. They bring the judgment upon Nineveh, which is announced in the rest of the book, into connection with the universal purpose and providence of Jehovah; 2. They remove all doubt concerning the possibility of the execution of the threat.

The entire book deals with the manifestations of the divine wrath against the enemies of Jehovah and of the people of Jehovah. These manifestations are not due to arbitrary decisions on his part; they are the inevitable outgrowth of his character; he cannot rest until sin and wickedness, and all who represent these, are swept away. To emphasize this side of the divine character is the purpose of Nahum 1:2-3. For the sake of greater emphasis the divine name is mentioned three times, as also the fact of the divine vengeance; and the intensity of the divine emotions is brought out in a climax jealous, furious, preserveth wrath. Like other prophets seeking to describe the divine attributes, Nahum is compelled to resort to very bold anthropomorphisms.

Jealous See on Joel 2:18.

Revengeth Better, R.V., “avengeth.” Jehovah must vindicate himself and his character, he must show himself holy; hence he is bound to avenge all wrongdoing, and to sweep away all who seek to prevent the carrying out of his holy purpose. Applied to the case in hand, he must destroy the Assyrians, who, through ill treatment accorded to the chosen people, have proved themselves his own enemies.

Furious R.V., “full of wrath”; literally, possessor of wrath. The divine wrath may be defined as “an energy of the divine nature called forth by the presence of daring or presumptuous transgression, and expressing the reaction of the divine holiness against it, in the punishment or destruction of the transgressor.” The divine wrath, jealousy, and vengeance, all express essentially the same idea (see further A.B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, 318ff.).

Verses 2-15

DECREE OF NINEVEH’S DOOM, Nahum 1:2-15 (+ Nahum 2:2?).

Nahum 1:2-15 (+ Nahum 2:2?) contains the first section of the Book of Nahum. On its originality and poetic form see pp. 432ff. It opens with a sublime description of Jehovah as a God jealous and merciful, the avenger of evil, at whose appearance no one can stand; even heaven and earth tremble (2-6). In Nahum 1:7 the prophet turns to his specific theme, and shows what bearing these phases of the divine character have upon the future history of Judah and of Nineveh. Jehovah will be faithful toward those who rely upon him (Nahum 1:7), but woe unto his enemies (8). The destruction of the chief of these is already decreed: Nineveh must fall, and her downfall will bring deliverance and rejoicing to Judah (9-15.)

Verse 3

3. While punishment is sure to come, sometimes it is delayed.

Slow to anger Or, long-suffering. He delays the execution of judgment to give the sinner an opportunity to repent (Exodus 34:6).

Great in power The relation of this clause to its context is uncertain. Some understand it of power of compassion and magnanimity. If this is correct it goes with the preceding, the thought being, “Jehovah is slow to anger and great in power of compassion; nevertheless, he will by no means acquit the wicked.” The postponement of the punishment must not be taken as an indication of weak indulgence. A comparison with Exodus 34:6-7; Joel 2:13, leads Nowack to change “power” into “loving-kindness.” Others take “power” in the sense of power to accomplish a thing, or ability to execute judgment; “Jehovah is, indeed, slow to anger, but he is also great in power, and will by no means acquit the wicked.” Either interpretation gives good sense.

Acquit the wicked R.V., “clear the guilty.” “Wicked” or “guilty” is not in the original. The verb is used absolutely, since the context makes it plain who will not be acquitted or left unpunished (Exodus 34:7).

From the description of the divine character the prophet passes to a description of the manifestations of the divine wrath. The appearance of Jehovah in judgment is pictured, as frequently, in the imagery of a fierce thunderstorm.

Jehovah hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm A picture of the terribleness of his coming. No wonder his enemies will be thrown into confusion (compare Micah 1:3-4; Psalms 18:7 ff.).

Clouds are the dust of his feet As he advances in the storm he treads upon the clouds as if they were nothing more than the dust of the street. Nowack’s change, “clouds and dust are at his feet,” is a weak emendation in this highly poetic passage. In the alphabetic arrangement of the same author 3a is placed after Nahum 1:9 a, which is followed by Nahum 1:2 c, d (see p. 435).

Verses 4-5

4, 5. He rebuketh the sea By the blast of the whirlwind (Nahum 1:3) he rebukes the sea, and in terror it dries up (compare Psalms 18:15). There may be an allusion to the dividing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21; compare Psalms 106:9), and of the Jordan (Joshua 3:17).

Drieth up all the rivers Either in the same manner or, as the following clauses make probable, by means of drought, which was always considered an expression of the divine wrath (Joel 1:20; 1 Kings 17:7). For 4b compare Amos 1:2.

Bashan See on Amos 4:1.

Carmel See on Amos 1:2; Amos 9:3.

Flower of Lebanon See “his smell as Lebanon” (Hosea 14:6).

Languisheth The same word is used in Joel 1:10; Joel 1:12 (see there).

The mountains quake at him Literally, from him. The power that makes them quake proceeds from Jehovah. The imagery of Nahum 1:3 is continued; when the mountains hear the roar of the thunder they tremble in terror (Micah 1:3-4; Judges 5:4; Habakkuk 3:6).

The hills melt The thunderstorm is accompanied by heavy rainfall; the water rushes down the hills in such torrents that it looks as if the hills themselves are melting (Micah 1:4; Judges 5:5).

The earth is burned at his presence R.V., “upheaved.” The translation of A.V. follows late Jewish authorities; it derives no support from the Old Testament usage of the verb; that of the R.V. also is not without difficulties. Literally, the earth lifts up. To secure the meaning “is upheaved” or “lifts itself up,” the verb form needs to be changed. If that is done the reference will be to the terror produced by the terrible manifestation of Jehovah. The earth seems to start up and tremble when it hears the thunder (Psalms 29:8; a different picture is in Amos 9:5).

Some commentators trace the verb to a different root and give to it a different meaning; Nowack renders, “becomes waste”; Marti, “roars.”

The world The habitable portion of the earth.

All that dwell therein Man and all other living creatures. A common Old Testament expression (Psalms 24:1; Psalms 98:7).

Verse 6

6. In the face of these terrible manifestations of Jehovah, which may be likened to devouring fire (Deuteronomy 4:24), and which break asunder the rocks (Jeremiah 23:29), no human being can stand.

Poured out like fire The divine wrath in its destructiveness is often likened to a stream of fire (Jeremiah 7:20; Isaiah 30:33; 2 Chronicles 34:25).

Thrown down R.V., “broken asunder.” A very slight alteration would give “are kindled,” which, in the light of the parallel clause, seems preferable.

Verse 7

7. Jehovah is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble LXX., “Good is the Lord to those who trust in him in the day of trouble,” which gives a sentence parallel in thought to the one following. Nowack and others think that neither the present Hebrew text nor LXX. has preserved the original; he reconstructs 7a, partly to secure his alphabetic arrangement, “Good is Jehovah to those who trust in him, a stronghold in the day of trouble.”

Stronghold A place of defense, of shelter. Whatever the exact wording of the original, the sense is that Jehovah cares for those who put their trust in him even in the hour of deepest distress (Psalms 37:39). Hence Judah, though oppressed, need not despair.

He knoweth See on Hosea 8:4. Here in a favorable sense, “care,” “guide” (Hosea 13:5; Psalms 1:6). “God is said to know them who hope in him, because he always watches over them, and takes care of their safety; in short, this knowledge is nothing else but the care of God, or his providence in preserving the faithful” (Calvin).

Verses 7-15

Overthrow of Nineveh; deliverance of Judah, Nahum 1:7-15.

In Nahum 1:7-15, the prophet applies the general truths expressed in Nahum 1:2-6, to the case in hand. The divine wrath will manifest itself in the overthrow of the enemies of God’s people, chief among whom is Assyria, with its capital, Nineveh. With this power out of the way, the excellence of Judah may be restored. Nahum 1:7-8 are still, in a sense, introductory; they affirm in general terms the fact that Jehovah is the stronghold of those who put their trust in him, and, on the other hand, that he “pursues his enemies into darkness.”

Verses 8-15

8. Toward his enemies he manifests a darker side.

Make an utter end of the place thereof Literally, he will make her place a full end. The pronoun can refer only to Nineveh, but in the absence of a previous naming of the city in the address proper the mention in the heading is not sufficient the use of the pronoun is strange. LXX. and other ancient versions read, instead of “of the place thereof,” “of those who rise up against him,” equivalent to “his adversaries,” which gives a good parallel to the succeeding clause, and is probably to be accepted as original. If the present text is retained the destruction of Nineveh is announced. The personified Nineveh (compare Nahum 3:4) is distinguished from her city; the latter Jehovah will sweep away.

An overrunning flood A picture of the resistless power of Jehovah or of the unchecked advance of the divinely appointed executioner (compare Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 28:15).

Darkness shall pursue his enemies R.V., “he will pursue his enemies into darkness.” Darkness symbolizes calamity and despair. The ancient versions agree with A.V. in taking “darkness” as the subject, and this is perhaps preferable.

The English translations interpret Nahum 1:9-10 as addressed to the enemies of Jehovah (Nahum 1:8). These are, if chapter 1 is a part of Nahum’s utterances, the Assyrians, represented throughout the book by their capital city, Nineveh. However, it is possible to understand the words as addressed to Judah, intended to comfort the nation in its present distress. If so, the translation must be changed (see below).

What do ye imagine [“devise”] against Jehovah In anger Jehovah asks the Assyrians what are their unrighteous schemes against him (compare Hosea 7:15), or against his people. They will not be able to carry them out, for he will utterly destroy them (compare Isaiah 7:5-7). If Judah is addressed the words must be translated, “What think ye of Jehovah?” In Nahum 1:11, where the translation is rightly “imagine against,” a different construction is used in the original. The question addressed to the anxious and oppressed Jews, would mean, Do you think that Jehovah cannot or will not deliver you from your present enemies, that in the present crisis he will fail to carry out the threat of Nahum 1:8? Reassurance is given in 9b, 10. He will indeed make a full end of them.

Affliction If addressed to Nineveh the noun is used in the sense of “judgment,” a rather uncommon usage; if addressed to Judah the usual meaning is retained.

The second time If addressed to Nineveh the thought is that the blow about to be dealt will be sufficient to annihilate; a second judgment is not needed (1 Samuel 26:8). If addressed to Judah, it becomes a promise that the present deliverance will be permanent. Once Jehovah permitted Judah to be afflicted by Sennacherib; he will not do it again.

Nahum 1:10 is obscure. It seems best, however, to consider it the continuation of the threat of judgment upon Jehovah’s enemies. With one interpretation of Nahum 1:9 it becomes principally a threat against Assyria; with the other, a message of comfort for Judah. The translation of R.V., which differs considerably from that of A.V., is to be preferred: “For entangled like thorns, and drunken as with their drink, they are consumed utterly as dry stubble.” A more satisfactory connection with Nahum 1:9 would be established if the first conjunction could be rendered “though.” Entangled like thorns (R.V.) Though the Ninevites were apparently unassailable, because surrounded with defenses as with impenetrable thorn hedges, and though, like these, they could inflict injury upon anyone approaching them, they will be unable to withstand the fierce anger of Jehovah. Drunken as with their drink (R.V.) Though the thorn hedge would be so soaked with water that ordinary fire could not harm it, the fire of Jehovah will be effective. If this is the meaning, instead of “drunken” we should read “wet” or “wetted.” “As with their drink” may be an allusion to the excesses and revelry of the Assyrian court. It is not easy to get the above-suggested meaning from the present Hebrew text; besides, A.B. Davidson suggests, not without reason, “a witticism of this sort is altogether improbable.” It is quite possible that the Hebrew has suffered in transmission. The ancient versions do not relieve the difficulty. As dry stubble (R.V.) Which is readily consumed (Isaiah 5:24). For Nowack’s emendation see p. 435; similarly Marti.

In Nahum 1:9-15 the persons addressed seem to change very frequently, without any indication of the fact in the Hebrew. Nahum 1:9-10 seem to be addressed to Judah; 11, to Nineveh; 12, 13, to Judah; 14, to Assyria; 15, to Judah; Nahum 2:1, to Assyria; Nahum 2:2, to Judah; Nahum 2:3 ff., to Nineveh. Such frequent changes are unusual, but only sweeping emendations, otherwise unnecessary, can remove the peculiarity (compare Nowack’s emendations, p. 435). Nahum 1:11 seems to be addressed to Nineveh; she deserves the destruction decreed by Jehovah, because she has devised evil against him.

There is one come out of thee Perhaps an allusion to Sennacherib, who devised evil against Jehovah, against his sanctuary, and against his city (Isaiah 10:5-15; Isaiah 36:14-20); but the prophet may think also of other hostile acts of the Assyrians against the people of Jehovah. Jehovah must vindicate himself against any attempt to discredit his supremacy.

If the Hebrew of Nahum 1:12, which, like that of Nahum 1:10, is peculiar and obscure, is correct, R.V. gives a more satisfactory rendering than A.V.: “Though they may be in full strength, and likewise many, even so shall they be cut down, and he shall pass away. Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more.” Even the ancient translators found this verse obscure, and they greatly differ from one another in their reproductions of the same. The words seem to be addressed to Judah concerning the dreaded foe, the Assyrian.

In full strength Literally, intact. Though they may use all their marvelous resources.

Likewise many Their numbers are great. Isaiah likens them to a swarm of bees (Isaiah 7:18).

Even so In spite of their unlimited resources and great numbers.

Cut down The verb is “used elsewhere only of shearing sheep or the hair of the head”; the noun derived from the same root is used also of the mowing of grass (Psalms 72:6; compare Amos 7:1). Either the prophet changes the figure and thinks of the armies spread out like a meadow ready to be mowed, or he generalizes the meaning of the verb. If the latter, he may be thinking of slaughter by the sword or the cutting down of a thorn hedge (Nahum 1:11).

He shall pass away LXX. reads the plural “they,” and this is preferable, unless we assume that the author used the singular purposely, to express the idea that the mighty army will vanish like a single individual. For Nowack’s reconstruction of 12a see p. 435.

Though I have afflicted thee During the Assyrian supremacy. The end is now in sight; Jehovah will not again afflict his people. Another possible rendering is suggested in margin R.V., “So will I afflict thee, that I shall afflict thee no more.” This would compel us to understand the words as a threat addressed to Nineveh. There will be but one blow; it will be sufficient to annihilate; a second one will not be needed. If the present text of Nahum 1:13 is retained the first interpretation is to be preferred. As Nahum 1:13 stands at present (compare Nowack, p. 435), it states how the humiliation is to be brought to an end.

Break his yoke… thy bonds Jehovah will break the yoke which Assyria has laid upon Judah; he will burst asunder the bonds which hold Judah in the power of the enemy (compare Isaiah 10:27; Jeremiah 30:8; Ezekiel 34:27; Psalms 2:3).

Nahum 1:14 is addressed to Assyria or Nineveh in the person of their king. Their utter annihilation has been decreed by Jehovah.

No more of thy name be sown If understood of the king himself it means that his family will die out; his name will not be perpetuated in his children. It is better, however, to understand it of the city or state; its name and renown will no longer be heralded over the world, for it will be completely destroyed. The expression is peculiar, and Nowack reads, “No more shall thy name be remembered,” which, while retaining the same idea, is smoother; the very names of Assyria and Nineveh will be forgotten. In the general upheaval the idols will be cut off.

Graven image See on Micah 5:13.

Molten image Images of metal, made by running melted metal into a mold. The two combined denote, in this passage, all kinds of idolatrous images (Deuteronomy 27:15).

I will make thy grave I will prepare a grave for thee; a threat which implies the destruction or death of the one against whom the threat is uttered. Peshitto, “I will turn it (“the house of thy gods”) into thy grave” (similarly Targum).

For thou art vile Or, thou art light. He has been weighed and found wanting (Daniel 5:27), hence he will be cast away. With the common rendering the idea is that his measure of iniquity is full, hence he must die. Bickell unites what are the last two clauses into one, by reading for the last two words in Hebrew, a single word, and translates, “I will make thy graves into dunghills,” that is, objects of loathing and disgust. The noun which he translates “dunghills” occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament, but a similar word is found in Habakkuk 2:16, and the above meaning may be established from the Aramaic. That there is some corruption of the text is quite possible, but it may be questioned whether Bickell has furnished the right solution (for Nowack’s emendation see p. 435).

15. The destruction of the Assyrian will mean the exaltation of Judah. The prophet sees the messenger speeding over the mountains to tell the glad news to the hitherto oppressed people. He bids Judah to behold the messenger, to proclaim joyous feasts, and to pay to Jehovah the vows made in adversity. A very sublime passage.

Upon the mountains Of Judah. He is hastening toward the holy city; and from the mountain tops he proclaims the good tidings that they may be heard far and wide.

Keep thy… feasts Or, pilgrimages (see on Hosea 2:11). During the period of oppression these could not be kept properly; now they may be resumed with rejoicing.

Perform thy vows Those made in the days of adversity. Now they may be paid, for permanent deliverance has come. The wicked [“one”] Literally, wickedness, or worthlessness (Nahum 1:11).

Assyria, in the person of the king, is wickedness personified. He can no longer disturb the peace of Jerusalem for he is cut off forever.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nahum 1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/nahum-1.html. 1874-1909.