Click here to join the effort!
by Daniel Whedon
OF the life of Nahum we know practically nothing. The name occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament; in the New Testament it is found in Luke 3:25; it is not uncommon in the Mishna; and it has been discovered in Phoenician inscriptions. It means consolation or consoler, and is therefore in a sense symbolical of the message of the book, which is intended to comfort the oppressed and afflicted people of Judah.
The prophet is called “the Elkoshite” (Nahum 1:1), which undoubtedly means that he came from a place Elkosh, just as Morasthite (Micah 1:1) means a citizen of Moresheth. It has been interpreted also as meaning “of the family of Elkosh,” but that is less probable. For Elkosh four locations have been suggested:
1 . It has been identified with a modern village, Elkush or Alkosh, not far from the left bank of the Tigris, two days’ journey north of the site of ancient Nineveh. Concerning this place Layard ( Nineveh and Its Remains, 1: 197) says: “Alkosh is a very considerable Christian village. Its inhabitants, who were formerly pure Chaldeans, have been converted to Roman Catholicism. It contains, according to a very general tradition, the tomb of Nahum, the prophet.… It is a place held in great reverence by Mohammedans and Christians, but especially by Jews, who keep the building in repair, and flock here in great numbers at certain seasons of the year. The tomb is a simple plaster box, covered with green cloth, and standing at the upper end of a large chamber. On the walls of the room are slips of paper, upon which are written, in distorted Hebrew characters, religious exhortations and dates and particulars of the visits of various Jewish families. The house containing the tomb is a modern building. There are no inscriptions nor fragments of any antiquity about the place; and I am not aware in what the tradition originated, or how long it has attached to the village of Alkosh.” If this village or its predecessor upon the same site is the home of Nahum, the prophet must be regarded as a descendant of one of the families of the northern kingdom carried into exile by Sargon in 721. In support of this view attention has been called to the prophet’s accurate knowledge of Nineveh and things Assyrian. He uses Assyrian words (see on Nahum 3:17); is well acquainted with the capital city, its brick wails (Nahum 3:15), the river gates (Nahum 2:6), its temples and images (Nahum 1:14), its immense wealth (Nahum 2:9; Nahum 2:12), its vast population (Nahum 2:8; Nahum 3:15), the crowd of merchants (Nahum 3:16), etc. From a resident of a neighboring village, who might have visited the capital on many occasions, all this would sound very natural. It is not strange, therefore, to find that several scholars, especially Assyriologists like Jeremias, Friedrich Delitzsch, and others, believe that the Assyrian Alkosh was the home or, at least, the temporary dwelling place of the prophet Nahum.
Others do not consider the evidence conclusive. (1) The knowledge of Nineveh is not so minute that the writer could not have acquired it without actually living in Assyria. His knowledge of No Amon is no less precise, but few would insist that Nahum ever saw the Egyptian city. Enough was known of Assyria in Palestine during the seventh century B.C. to make it quite possible for a man possessed of the poetic genius of Nahum to draw the vivid pictures contained in chapters 2, 3. (2) The tradition connecting Nahum with the Assyrian Alkosh cannot be traced beyond the sixteenth century A.D.; indeed, all references to the place itself are later than the seventh century A.D. (3) There is not the slightest indication in the book that its author was a descendant of a northern family. His interest centers in Judah (Nahum 1:11; Nahum 1:15). These considerations make it appear quite probable that a comparatively late age is responsible for the connection of Nahum with the Assyrian Alkosh. The similarity of the name to that of the prophet’s home and the fact that he prophesied concerning Nineveh might easily give rise to such tradition. In a similar manner a late age seems to have found a resting place for the prophet Jonah in the city of Nineveh, because he was thought to have preached there; a part of the ruins of the ancient city bears even to-day the name Nebi Yunus, “Prophet Jonah.”
2 . A second tradition, apparently of greater antiquity, locates Elkosh in Galilee. Jerome, in the preface of his commentary on Nahum, says: “Elkesi (or Helkesei) is still at this day a hamlet in Galilee, small indeed, and scarcely showing traces by ruins of ancient buildings, but for all that known to the Jews and pointed out to me by a guide.” The fact that Jerome saw this place does not necessarily prove that the identification with the home of Nahum is well founded; for Jerome may simply repeat a popular tradition, or the identification suggested by the similarity of the two names may have its origin with him. The place named by Jerome has been identified, though not conclusively, with the modern El Kauze, near Ramieh. Other ancient writers repeat Jerome’s statement, and there are some moderns who accept his identification as correct. A few peculiarities in the diction of the book have been adduced as favoring a Galilean origin, but these are more or less doubtful. If Jerome’s view concerning the home of Nahum is correct we would have to think of the prophet as a descendant of one of the families left behind in 721, who moved from his northern home into the territory of Judah.
The correctness of this identification cannot be proved nor can it be disproved; but on this theory the silence of Nahum concerning the northern kingdom and his apparent indifference toward its restoration seems strange; hence many believe that the contents of the book point in a different direction.
3 . Others who seek the home of the prophet in the north identify Elkosh with the city of Capernaum, whose name means village of Nahum. The original name of the city, it is thought, was Elkosh, but in honor of its renowned citizen it was changed into Capernaum. The identification finds its only support in the present name of the city, but this can hardly be considered conclusive; there certainly is no indication anywhere of a change in name such as is assumed by those favoring it.
4 . A fourth tradition places Elkosh in the south of Judah, or, more correctly, in the territory of Simeon. It first appears in a collection of traditions entitled Lives of the Prophets, ascribed, though perhaps erroneously, to Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus during the latter part of the fourth century A.D. In it we read, “Nahum was from Elkosh, beyond Bet Gabre, of the tribe of Simeon.” Bet Gabre is undoubtedly the modern Beit Jibrin, the ancient Eleutheropolis, northeast of Lachish (see on Micah 1:13). Cyril of Alexandria also says that Elkese was a village in the country of the Jews. A place in Judah is undoubtedly more in harmony with the interest the prophet takes in the southern kingdom; and the present writer inclines to this view, though certainty on this point is perhaps not attainable.
Date of the Prophet.
The date of Nahum’s activity must be determined from the contents of his prophecies.
The terminus a quo is the capture and destruction of No Amon, the Egyptian Thebes, which in Nahum 3:8 ff., is referred to as an accomplished fact. The catastrophe alluded to can be no other than the capture of Thebes by Ashurbanapal, king of Assyria (668-626 B.C.). Of the capture of the city during his second campaign the annals of the king say: “In confidence upon Ashur and Ishtar my hands completely captured the city. Silver, gold, precious stones, the possessions of his palace, as many as were there, garments of gay-colored goods, gorgeous garments, great horses, men, people male and female, two high obelisks of shining zahalu, whose weight was twenty-five hundred talents, which stood before the entrance of the temple, I removed from their positions and carried them to Assyria. Heavy booty without number I carried away from Thebes. Over Egypt and Ethiopia I caused my arms to glitter and I established my sovereignty. With full hands and in safety I returned to Nineveh, my capital.” In another place he says, “This city they (the soldiers) took from all sides, and dashed it to pieces like a hurricane.” This expedition against Thebes occurred about 663 B.C., hence 663 is the earliest date to which the prophecy of Nahum can be assigned.
The terminus ad quem is the destruction of Nineveh; for the tone of the entire prophecy implies that, while the destruction of the city is imminent, it is still in the future. Nineveh fell in 607-606 B.C. Hence between 663 and 607 the activity of Nahum must be placed.
Can the date be fixed more definitely between the two dates? On this point opinions differ very widely. The vividness of the description of the fall of No Amon leads some to favor a date soon after that catastrophe; on the other hand, the realistic picture of the distress of Nineveh causes others to select a date just before the latter’s doom. The following dates have been suggested: Riehm, 660-607; Strack, about 660; Rogers and Koenig, about 650; Kirkpatrick, soon after 640; Cornill, 624; Davidson, “a date 610-608 for the prophecy is well within the range of possibility”; Nowack and Marti favor the same date; and G.A. Smith says, “He might as well have written it about 608 as about 625.”
One thing is made quite clear by the prophecy itself, namely, that at the time the words were uttered or written Nineveh was passing through some grave danger. Now, during the period indicated Assyria passed through two, and perhaps three, serious crises: 1. During the revolt of Shamashshumukin, of Babylon, against his brother Ashurbanapal, of Assyria, 650-648 B.C. 2. Herodotus reports that about 625 Nineveh was seriously threatened by foreign invaders. These invaders are undoubtedly to be identified with the Manda of the Assyrian inscriptions, the savage hordes, commonly called Scythians, which threatened the integrity of the Assyrian empire as early as the reign of Esarhaddon (681-668 B.C.). The Manda are not identical with the Medes, though the latter are probably related to the former. The statement of Herodotus that this attack upon Nineveh was made by the Medes rests probably upon a confusion of the two names Manda and Medes (see introduction to Zephaniah; article “Medes,” in Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible; but compare article “Scythians” in Encyclopaedia Biblica). 3. Nineveh, after a siege of two years, was taken and destroyed in 607-606.
The first crisis does not offer a suitable occasion for Nahum’s prophecy, because at that time the city of Nineveh was never threatened. The crisis was serious enough, for Shamashshumukin was supported by several states that, like himself, were anxious to throw off the overlordship of Assyria, but the territory of Assyria was not seriously menaced. The Assyrian king found it an easy task to drive the rebels from his own land; he carried the war into hostile territory, where he inflicted a series of crushing defeats upon the rebels.
The inscriptions throw little light upon the events connected with the inroads of the Scythians, and it is generally recognized that the statements of Herodotus must be received with considerable caution. Some question the truth of the latter’s statement concerning an attack upon Nineveh about 625. For this there may be insufficient reason; but it is impossible to tell how seriously Nineveh was menaced at that time. This uncertainty makes it impossible either to prove or disprove that the crisis of 625 offered a suitable occasion for Nahum’s utterances.
During the last years of Ashurbanapal’s reign the Assyrian empire was slowly going to pieces. After his death the end approached more rapidly. In 625 Nabopolassar established an independent kingdom in Babylon. With the Scythians pressing from the north and the new Babylonian power from the south, Assyria was, indeed, in serious peril. Finally, about 610, Nabopolassar entered into an alliance with the Manda and together they advanced against Nineveh. The struggle continued for two years. The united forces met determined resistance; at last a breach was made in the northeast corner of the wall; the city was taken, plundered, and burned. The Assyrian world power was at an end. Judah had suffered much from the proud Assyrian, and it is not difficult to understand how, with the doom of Nineveh so imminent, a prophet-patriot might burst into shouts of exultation and triumph over the distress of the cruel foe. The years immediately preceding the final overthrow of the city offer the most suitable occasion for Nahum’s utterances. “If,” says A.B. Davidson, “the distress of Nineveh referred to were the final one, the descriptions of the prophecy would acquire a reality and naturalness which they otherwise want, and the general characteristics of Hebrew prophecy would be more truly conserved.”
Since the prophecy deals almost exclusively with the fall of Nineveh, it is not necessary to consider in this connection conditions in Judah at the same time (see below, on Zephaniah).
The Integrity of the Book.
Until quite recently no doubts were expressed concerning the integrity of the Book of Nahum; but within recent years scholars have, with growing unanimity, denied the originality of Nahum 1:2 to Nahum 2:2 (Hebrew Nahum 2:3), with the exception of Nahum 2:1, which is considered the beginning of Nahum’s utterances. This change of opinion is closely bound up with the alleged discovery of distorted remnants of an old alphabetic poem in chapter 1. In his commentary on Psalms 9:0, Delitzsch, following a suggestion of “Pastor Frohnmeyer of Wurtemberg,” makes the remark, “Even the prophet does not disdain, as is evident from Nahum 1:3-7, to allow the sequence of the letters of the alphabet to have an influence upon the arrangement of his thought.” Following this clue, Gustav Bickell, who deserves much credit for his efforts toward a better understanding of Hebrew poetry, has at various times between 1880 and 1894 attempted a restoration of this ancient poem. Several other scholars have undertaken, in their own way, the solution of the problem, among them Gunkel, Nowack, Happel, G.B. Gray, T.K. Cheyne, and W.R. Arnold. The last-named characterizes the several efforts apart from his own in these words: “Starting with a bald assumption as to the main point at issue, conjecture has been substituted for conjecture in matters of detail, and not the slightest endeavor made to justify the hypothesis or conjecture by reference to observed facts.” These words apply with equal justice to the work of Arnold himself. Of those who have studied the subject in detail G.B. Gray appears to approach the subject with greatest caution. “We must therefore,” says he, “distinguish between the proof that Nahum contains traces of an acrostic which, when the evidence is duly presented, is cogent, and certain details of reconstruction, which are requisite if an entire acrostic is to be restored, but for which the evidence is in one or two cases strong, in many slight, and in some nil.” A full discussion of the subject would require more space and a more extensive use of the Hebrew than a commentary of this character permits. Those who desire to study the subject at greater length may see article “Nahum” in Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible; Expositor of 1898, pp. 207ff.; Zeitschrift fuer Alt-testamentliche Wissenschaft, 1901, pp. 225ff.
In Nahum 1:2-7, there are unquestionable traces of alphabetic arrangement, but even here the artistic arrangement is not carried through consistently; in the rest of the chapter the evidence is slight. “The first nine verses,” says Kennedy, “have suffered little, the next four or five considerably more, and the rest so much that their restoration can never be more than an academic exercise.” In order to restore the acrostic it becomes necessary, at least from verse 7 onward, to take much liberty with the text; frequently words must be inserted or omitted; words and even clauses must be transposed; sometimes a passage must be almost entirely rewritten. In the presence of such difficulties and uncertainties the differences of opinion among those who have attempted reconstructions are not surprising; nor is it strange that many excellent Old Testament scholars hesitate to accept as correct any of the numerous reconstructions attempted, and that they doubt even the possibility of restoring, with any degree of assurance, the original acrostic. “Even if it should be assumed,” says A.B. Davidson, “that an alphabetical poem lurks under chapter i, the attempt to restore it can never be more than an academic exercise.” Driver expresses similar doubts: “Undoubtedly there are traces of an alphabetic arrangement in the successive half verses; but we own to feeling great doubt whether this was ever intended to be carried systematically through, or whether it is due to anything more than the fact that the author allowed himself here and there, perhaps half accidentally, to follow the alphabetical order; the very extensive alterations, especially the inversions and transpositions through which, if the restoration be correct, the text must have passed, seem to us to be intrinsically impossible.”
In many places the text of chapter 1 has undoubtedly suffered in transmission (see comments), but the assumption that it contained originally an alphabetic poem presupposes so many corruptions where otherwise no difficulties could be seen that one may well hesitate to accept any of the ingenious restorations offered; and one may safely say that both the presence of an acrostic and its recovery are still open questions.
A comparison of the translation of Nahum 1:2 to Nahum 2:2 (except Nahum 2:1), in R.V. with the following, which reproduces the text as reconstructed by Nowack, may be of interest. Wherever possible the wording of R.V. has been retained:
2. א A God jealous and avenging is Jehovah, An avenger and full of wrath is Jehovah.
3 c. ב In storm and tempest is his way,
Clouds and dust are at his feet.
4. ג He rebuketh the sea, so that it drieth up,
And he maketh dry all the rivers,
ד Bashan and Carmel languish,
And the flower of Lebanon withereth.
5. ה Mountains quake because of him,
And the hills do melt.
ו The earth becometh desolate before him,
The world with all that dwell therein.
6. ז Who can endure his indignation?
Who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?
ח His wrath is poured out like fire, And rocks are kindled by him.
7. שׂ Good is Jehovah toward those who trust in him, A stronghold in the day of trouble.
י Jehovah knoweth those who trust in him, 8. And in the overflowing flood he delivereth them.
כ An utter end he maketh of his adversaries, And his enemies he thrusteth out into darkness.
9 c. ל Not twice he taketh vengeance on his adversaries, 9 b. An utter end he maketh of them forever.
9 a. מ What think ye of Jehovah?
3 a. Jehovah is slow to anger and great in loving-kindness,
2 c. נ An avenger is Jehovah against his adversaries, And he reserveth wrath for his enemies,
10. ס Like plucked-up thorns they are swept away, Like dry grass they are withered.
12. ע The arrogance of tyrants is like high water, But soon it subsides and disappears.
פ I humble thee, and I will humble thee not again,
13. Now I will break in pieces thy staff.
14. צ Jehovah hath given commandment concerning thee; Thy name shall be remembered no more,
ק Thy grave I will make an object of disgust (?), Graven and molten images I will cut off.
15. ר The feet of him that bringeth good tidings are upon the mountains;
Behold! He publisheth peace. Nahum 2:2.
שׂ Jehovah restoreth the vine branch to Jacob,
Yea, he delighteth in the excellency of Israel
ת To compensate, because emptiers have emptied it,
They have destroyed its vine branches.
Nowack considers Nahum 2:1, followed by Nahum 2:3, the opening words of the genuine prophecy of Nahum; Marti considers Nahum 1:11, omitted by Nowack, the beginning of Nahum’s prophecy. The result achieved by Nowack is a much smoother and “more poetic” poem; but is there sufficient warrant for the liberties taken with the present Hebrew text?
The artificial character of acrostic poetry is generally supposed to point to a late date; hence those who believe that chapter i was originally an alphabetic poem consider it an exilic or postexilic production which was, at a still later date, prefixed to the genuine prophecies of Nahum. In support of this it is pointed out further that the prophecy in chapter 1 is vague, its historical background is not clearly defined, while the utterances in chapters 2, 3, are definite and to the point. The latter announce judgment upon an historical foe of Judah, but the poem speaks of a universal world judgment. “We find here an approach, on the one hand, to the manner of the didactic alphabetic songs of a later age, and, on the other, to that of certain eschatological and apocalyptic appendices by the insertion of which the framers of the prophetic canon sought to adapt other older prophetic books to the tastes of the readers of their own day.” If sufficient evidence were found to deny the section to Nahum, the interpretation suggested by this quotation would seem quite possible; but is it really impossible to believe that chapter i proceeded from the prophet himself, and that he meant it to serve as a general introduction to the more specific denunciations in chapters 2, 3? Such introduction, emphasizing, as it does, the justice, majesty, and omnipotence of the One who has decreed the doom of Nineveh, would certainly add weight to the specific threats. But if chapter 1 is interpreted thus, one may discover, even in chapter i, frequent allusions to Nineveh and to events in the history of Judah and Assyria (for details see comments).
Some derive support for a late date also from the language and style of the poem. Gunkel, for example, finds a want of originality in language and style, and “many touches that betray connection not only with the Psalms but with late eschatological literature.” Others see little force in the linguistic argument (compare Joel, p. 137), and a detailed examination shows that in this as in other cases the linguistic and stylistic data are indecisive.
That difficulties exist in chapter 1, that in some respects it differs from chapters 2, 3, even the student of the English text can see, and that the Hebrew text has suffered in transmission is very probable. On the other hand, it is equally true that thus far no conclusive evidence has been discovered, and no convincing argument has been presented against the genuineness of Nahum 1:2 to Nahum 2:2; hence the question must still be regarded as undecided. “Therefore,” says G.A. Smith, “while it is possible that a later poem has been prefixed to the genuine prophecies of Nahum, and the first chapter supplies many provocations to belief in such a theory, this has not been proved, and the able assays of proof have much against them. The question is open.”
Contents, Outline, and Teaching.
1 . Contents. In the absence of conclusive proof to the contrary, the entire book may be treated here as a unit. The title (Nahum 1:1) names the author and his home, and the subject of his utterances.
The first section (Nahum 1:2-15, to which some add Nahum 2:2) opens with a solemn proclamation of the twofold character of Jehovah; he is a God of vengeance and a God of mercy (Nahum 1:2-3). At times he may seem slack in punishing iniquity, but retribution will surely come; and when it does come, “who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken asunder by him” (Nahum 1:4-6). From the general description of the divine character and of the terrible manifestations of Jehovah’s anger the prophet passes to the specific case in hand (see introductory remarks to Nahum 1:7 ff.). This divine wrath is about to manifest itself in the overthrow of the enemies of the chosen people. The prophet affirms that Jehovah will be the stronghold of those who put their trust in him, but his enemies he will pursue into outer darkness (Nahum 1:7-8). Judah had suffered so much, and in times past disappointments had been so many, that hope had given place to despair. To drive away the gloom of despair the prophet turns to the people (see on Nahum 1:9) with the question, Do you think that Jehovah cannot or will not carry out this threat against your present enemy? This is a grievous error, for he will surely bring utter destruction upon him (Nahum 1:9-10). In Nahum 1:11 he turns to Nineveh to make clear to her why her doom is decreed; she hath “devised evil against Jehovah.” Once more glorious deliverance is promised to Judah (Nahum 1:12-13), followed by a reiteration of the decree against Assyria (Nahum 1:14). Already the seer beholds the mighty foe fallen, and the messengers speeding over the mountains to tell the glad tidings in the holy city; he bids Judah to proclaim feasts of rejoicing and to pay the vows made in the days of adversity (Nahum 1:15); for Jehovah is about to restore the excellency of Jacob (Nahum 2:2).
The second utterance (Nahum 2:1-12) deals almost exclusively with the assault upon Nineveh and the sack of the city. The avenger is approaching, and she must prepare for defense (Nahum 2:1). The fall of the archenemy is necessary, in order that Jehovah may exalt his own people (Nahum 2:2; see comment). There follows a vivid description of the hostile army and the furious charges of its chariots (Nahum 2:3-4). Desperate efforts are made to defend the city, but they are futile, and the city falls (Nahum 2:5-6). The queen and her companions are captured (Nahum 2:7); in terror the people seek to escape (Nahum 2:8); the city is sacked and left a desolate ruin (Nahum 2:9-10). The prophet gazing upon the ruins cries out exultantly, “Where is the den of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and the lioness walked, the lion’s whelp, and none made them afraid?” Jehovah has made an utter end thereof (Nahum 2:11-13).
Once more (Nahum 3:1) the prophet turns against Nineveh, and pronounces a woe upon the corrupt and bloody city (Nahum 3:1). Surely she deserves judgment. Already the noise of the onslaught may be heard, and the glitter of the arms may be seen (Nahum 3:2-3). “Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well-favored harlot” the anger of Jehovah is aroused (Nahum 3:4). The part of a harlot she has acted, the fate of a harlot she must endure, and no one will bemoan her (Nahum 3:5-7).
Nineveh may boast in her power and her strong defenses, but they will avail nothing. Was not No Amon in Egypt equally well protected? Yet she suffered inglorious defeat, and Nineveh can expect no better fate (Nahum 3:8-11). Rapidly the enemy advances; the fortresses throughout the land fall readily before him; the soldiers have turned into weak and cowardly women (Nahum 3:12-13). A siege is imminent; preparations for it must be made, but all resistance is in vain; the city and its inhabitants will be utterly cut off (Nahum 3:14-18). The downfall of Nineveh and Assyria is complete; and “all that hear the report of thee clap their hands over thee; for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?” (Nahum 3:19).
2 . Outline. TITLE THE PROPHET AND THE SUBJECT OF HIS PROPHECY Nahum 1:1
I. DECREE OF NINEVEH’S DOOM Nahum 1:2-15
1. Jehovah a God of vengeance and of mercy Nahum 1:2-3
2. Terribleness of the divine anger Nahum 1:4-6
3. Overthrow of Nineveh; rejoicing in Zion Nahum 1:7-15
(1) Jehovah a stronghold of the faithfulNahum 1:7; Nahum 1:7
(2) Jehovah the pursuer of his enemies Nahum 1:8
(3) Jehovah will not fail his people in the present crisisNahum 1:9-10; Nahum 1:9-10
(4) Justification of the decree against Nineveh Nahum 1:11 (5) Deliverance of Judah Nahum 1:12-13
(6) Destruction of AssyriaNahum 1:14; Nahum 1:14
(7) Rejoicing in Mount ZionNahum 1:15; Nahum 1:15
II. SIEGE AND DESTRUCTION OF NINEVEH Nahum 2:1-13
1. Assault upon Nineveh; sack of the city Nahum 2:1-10
(1) Approach of the enemy Nahum 2:1
(2) Humiliation of Nineveh a preparation for the exaltation of Judah Nahum 2:2
(3) Furious onslaught of the hostile army Nahum 2:3-4
(4) Hopelessness of resistances Nahum 2:5-6
(5) Capture of the queen and her attendants Nahum 2:7
(6) Flight of the people Nahum 2:8
(7) Sack of the cityNahum 2:9-10; Nahum 2:9-10
2. Exultation of the prophet over the city’s destruction Nahum 2:11-13
III. NINEVEH’S VICES AND INEVITABLE DOOM Nahum 3:1-19
1. Her doom the just retribution for her outrages against other nations Nahum 3:1-7
(1) Woe upon the corrupt and bloody cityNahum 3:1; Nahum 3:1
(2) The clatter of the chariots; the glitter of the arms Nahum 3:2-3
(3) No one will pity her in her distress Nahum 3:4-7
2. The fate of No Amon to be the fate of Nineveh Nahum 3:8-11
3. Inability of her resources to save her Nahum 3:12-19
(1) Fall of the outlying strongholdsNahum 3:12-13; Nahum 3:12-13
(2) Siege and destruction of the cityNahum 3:14-19; Nahum 3:14-19 a
( 3) Universal exultation over the fall of Nineveh Nahum 3:19 b
3. Teaching The utterances of Nahum center around one single theme, the destruction of Nineveh. As a result they contain little direct religious teaching; and what there is of it is confined very largely to the opening verses of chapter 1. These verses emphasize the twofold manifestation of the divine holiness, the divine vengeance and the divine mercy (Nahum 1:2-3). The manifestation of the one results in the destruction of the wicked (Nahum 1:2), the other in the salvation of the oppressed (Nahum 1:15; Nahum 2:2). Faith in Jehovah will secure the divine favor and protection (Nahum 1:7).
In one respect Nahum differs widely from his predecessors, namely, in his silence concerning the sin and guilt of Judah. The other prophets point to the present or impending distress and affliction of the people as brought upon them by their sin, and they insist that salvation can be theirs only if they repent and turn to Jehovah. “For this Nahum had no thought. His heart, for all its bigness, holds room only for the bitter memories, the baffled hopes, the unappeased hatreds of a hundred years.” This silence concerning the sin and guilt of his own nation is not due to the lack of high ethical ideals or to ignorance of the people’s moral condition, but rather to the narrowness of the prophet’s purpose in delivering the message. His purpose was to point out the hand of God in the impending doom of Nineveh and the significance of the catastrophe for the oppressed Jews. To do this it was not necessary to dwell upon the shortcomings of his people. The fierceness of Nahum, and his glee at the thought of Nineveh’s ruin, may not be in accord with the injunction, “Love thine enemy,” but it should be borne in mind that it is not personal hatred that prompts the prophet; he is stirred by a righteous indignation over the outrages committed by Assyria. He considers the sin and overthrow of Nineveh not merely in their bearing upon the fortunes of Judah, but in their relation to the divine moral government of the whole world; hence his voice gives utterance to the outraged conscience of humanity. Thus, while Nahum’s message, in its direct teaching, appears to be less spiritual and ethical than that of his predecessors, it sets in a very clear light Jehovah’s sway over the whole universe; and it emphasizes the duty of the nations as well as of individuals to own his sway and obey his will. This attitude alone will assure permanent peace and prosperity; on the other hand, disobedience to his purpose and disregard of his rule will surely bring calamity and distress. The emphasis upon these ethical principles gives to the message of Nahum a unique significance for the present day and generation. “Assyria in his hands,” says Kennedy, “becomes an object lesson to the empires of the modern world, teaching, as an eternal principle of the divine government of the world, the absolute necessity, for a nation’s continued vitality, of that righteousness, personal, civic, and national, which alone exalteth a nation.”
In a broad sense, Nahum 1:15, is of Messianic import. The downfall of Nineveh and Assyria prepares the way for the permanent redemption and exaltation of Zion; “the wicked one shall no more pass through thee.”
A word should be added concerning the diction and style of Nahum. Opinions concerning the religious significance of the Book of Nahum may differ, but from the standpoint of language and style all students assign to Nahum an exalted place among the prophet-poets of the ancient Hebrews; for all are impressed with the intense force and picturesqueness of his language and style. “Each prophet,” says Kirkpatrick, “had his special gift for his particular work. Nahum bears the palm for poetic power. His short book is a Pindaric ode of triumph over the oppressor’s fall.” So also G.A. Smith: “His language is strong and brilliant; his rhythm rumbles and rolls, leaps and flashes, like the horsemen and chariots he describes.”
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29