Introduction to Nahum

By James M. Rochford

Nahum’s name means “compassionate” or “consolation.” This is one of the great ironies of this book, because it describes God’s judgment over the Assyrians. God is compassionate through his judgment, however, because he is showing compassion on weak people who were harmed by the Assyrians—namely, Israel. While many have speculated where Nahum grew up (1:1 “the Elkoshite”), this isn’t certain. It could be anywhere from Elkosh in Iraq (a town near Galilee) to Capernaum (“Town of Nahum”).[1]

Nahum has a strong dependency on the book of Isaiah.[2] He shows that God will not just judge his people, but all people. Remember, this book was written a couple of generations after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) in 722 BC. The people were probably wondering if God was only going to punish Israel, and not the bloodthirsty Assyrians. As Habakkuk asked, “How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save” (Hab. 1:2). God answers this question in Nahum 1:12.

Date

Nahum wrote the book sometime between 663 and 612 BC. Nahum refers to the fall of Thebes[3] as a past event (663 BC), but he predicts the fall of Nineveh (1:8; 2:6; 3:8) as a future event (612 BC). Since Jonah preached to Nineveh in the 8th century and the people repented (Jon. 3:6-7), this means that God spared the Assyrians from judgment for over a hundred years.

Historical background

The historical background for the book is the occupation and oppression of Israel by the Assyrians. The Assyrians had invaded in 722 BC, and they were a vicious and sadistic nation. God used the Assyrians to judged Israel, but now God speaks about the judgment for Assyria.

Commentary on Micah

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Nahum 1 (Judgment for Assyria)

(1:1) For a discussion of Nahum, see the introduction above.

(1:2) God was “jealous” for his people (see comments on Exodus 20:5). Because he cares about them, he will bring judgment on those who hurt them.

(1:3) This is similar to God’s revelation to Moses after the Exodus (Ex. 34:6). God’s restraint is from his meekness—not his weakness—and “is not to be misunderstood as passivity.”[4]

(1:4) This is also similar to the language of the Exodus (Ps 106:9; Isa 42:15; 44:27; 50:2). All of these regions that will be judged are “are frequently represented together as the choicest forest and pasture regions of the Promised Land.”[5] This drought is so bad that it even affects the “sea” and the “rivers.”

(1:5) God is so overwhelmingly powerful that the earth quakes in his presence.

(1:6) This summarizes the wrath and power of God. This rhetorical question communicates that no one can stand in God’s presence.

(1:7) Despite God’s wrath and judgment (vv.2-6), God is still good. The placement of this verse here shows how God is gracious to the people.

(1:8) The enemies will not experience God’s grace and protection (v.7), because they do not seek refuge in God.

(1:9) If people try to fight against God, he will wipe them out. There will be no rematch! (“Distress will not rise up twice”)

(1:10) “Thorns” were only useful for burning (Eccl. 7:6). The “drunkard” imagery could imply that the Assyrians were “entangled,” and therefore, helpless.[6]

(1:11) This figure is the king of Assyria (Nah. 3:18). His evil was not just a plot against Israel, but against God himself.

(1:12-13) The size, power, or numbers of a nation do not matter if God is going to attack the nation.

(1:14) The “name” of a person (or nation) represented its “living identity.”[7] Armerding comments, “The sentence was duly fulfilled… The temple of Nabu, a major deity at Nineveh, was razed to the ground and buried with ash from the blaze. The statue of Ishtar was discovered, prostrate and headless, amid the ruins of her temple, which had stood at Nineveh for almost fifteen centuries.”[8]

(1:15) The nation of Israel would never have to worry about Ninevah again, because of God’s judgment.

Nahum 2 (The fall of Nineveh)

(2:1) The “scatterer” could be used to describe the people as sheep (cf. Nah. 3:18). Cyaraxes—the king of the Medes—attacked Nineveh in 614 BC, but he didn’t take the city.[9] Cyaraxes allied with Nahopolassar of Babylon, and they conquered Ninevah in 612 BC.

God is mocking the soldiers of Nineveh to fight (“Strengthen your back, summon all your strength”).

(2:2) The nation of Judah and Israel were judged (or going to be judged in the case of Judah), but God promised to “restore the splendor” of the nation.

(2:3-4) The figure here is the “scatterer” of verse 1. The Ninevites were known for their powerful chariots.

(2:5) This refers to the troops trying to defend the city against a siege.

(2:6) This is a big turning point in the battle, where the palace is overtaken. The “rivers” refers to the three rivers that surrounded Nineveh: the Tigris, the Khosr, and the Tebiltu.[10]

(2:7) Ancient pictures described the evil perpetrated on women during battles like this.

(2:8) The “water” refers to the “watered parks and orchards”[11] that Nineveh had. However, the city was flooded when the Babylonians crushed through the water gates. The military men wouldn’t “stop” and stay at their posts, because the battle was lost.

(2:9) Nineveh had become rich from plundering other conquered nations, and they had massive treasuries of stolen goods. Now, their good were being stolen.

(2:10) The city was emptied of its treasure, and the Ninevites themselves lived in abject terror.

(2:11) The reference to lions fits what we know of Nineveh: “The metaphor is particularly appropriate as a designation of Nineveh: its kings compared themselves to lions in their terrible power (e.g., Sennacherib: ‘Like a lion I raged’); and its game parks sheltered such lions.”[12]

(2:12) The Assyrians were brutal with their enemies: “Assyrian brutality matched and surpassed such displays of violence; and it is extensively chronicled, with sickening detail, with references to flaying, walling up, and impaling of captives.”[13] The metaphor refers to Nineveh killing other nations to feed its people.

(2:13) The lion is the “king of the jungle.” But God is the true king, and he states that he is going to dethrone Nineveh and judge them.

Nahum 3

The bodies will be piled up (v.3). People will celebrate their destruction (v.19).

(3:1) This verse contextually fits much better with chapter 2, than with chapter 3.[14] The mention of the “bloody city” and the “prey” fits with the lion motif.

(3:2-3) There is wordplay with Nahum 2:9 here: The city had “treasure” (kāḇōḏ), but now they have a “mass” (kōḇe) of dead bodies instead!

(3:4) Armerding comments, “Both sorcery and harlotry suggest a control that is exercised by illicit, surreptitious yet deadly means, and they recur together elsewhere.”[15]

(3:5-6) The NET states, “I will strip off your clothes… I will pelt you with filth.” This metaphorical harlot will be shown naked to the nations that she once deceived (cf. Mal. 2:3).

(3:7) Sennacherib—the king of Nineveh—said that his city was immutable: “Nineveh, the noble metropolis, the city beloved of Ishtar, wherein are all the meeting-places of gods and goddesses; the everlasting substructure, the eternal foundation; whose plan had been designed from of old, and whose structure had been made beautiful along with the firmament of heaven.”[16] However, within the span of 80 years, the city was wiped off the face of the Earth. Both Xenophon (400 BC) and Lucian (2nd c. AD) saw no remains of the city. The Babylonian Chronicle states, “They … turned the city [Nineveh] into a ruin mound and a heap of debris.”[17]

(3:8) “No-amon” comes from the roots “no” (“city”) and “amon” (the chief god of the Theban pantheon.[18] It lay inside of Thebes, which was 400 miles south of Cairo.[19] The city was on both sides of the Nile River (“with water surrounding her”).

(3:9) Thebes was not only surrounded by natural defenses (i.e. the Nile) but military allies (i.e. Ethiophia).

(3:10-11) Despite the city’s advantages, the Assyrians conquered Thebes in 664 BC. Nahum seems to be saying that Nineveh will fall just like Thebes did. Just like the Ninevites (Assyrians) decimated Thebes, Babylon would destroy Nineveh.

(3:12) This is a comical metaphor. If the defenders of Nineveh are scared (“shaken”) a little bit, they will fall apart.

(3:13) “Women” are not as physically strong as men (in the vast majority of cases), and in the ancient Near East, they were not trained for warfare. So these would not be good soldiers to defend the city. Nahum is basically saying that the city will not be defended well.

(3:14) During a time of siege, the people needed an internal supply of water. Otherwise, they would quickly die of dehydration.

The reference to the “clay” and “mortar” refers to the massive 50 foot clay bricks that surrounded the city, which would need constantly maintained and fixed.[20]

(3:15) Nineveh was burned to the ground. The fire was so intense that the bricks turned to lime.[21] The imagery of the “locusts” describes the fire “eating” or “devouring” the city like a locust swarm (v.15).

(3:16) The “merchants” are also compared to locusts. Like locusts, they feed on the city and then leave without caring for the city.

(3:17) Nahum now applies the metaphor of the locusts to the guards and soldiers. Here, these men are depicted as locusts because they flee at the first sign of trouble.

(3:18-19) Nahum finishes by addressing the king of Assyria that his nation is doomed.

[1] Armerding, Carl. Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 452.

[2] Armerding, Carl. Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. See #6 Literary Parallel, pp.453-456.

[3] Thebes is called “No-amon” (Nah. 3:8). Thebes fell to Ashurbanipal in 663 BC. Armerding, Carl. Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. See #6 Literary Parallel, p.452.

[4] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 462). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[5] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 463). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[6] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 466). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[7] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 468). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[8] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 469). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[9] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 472). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[10] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 476). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[11] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 476). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[12] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 478). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[13] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 478). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[14] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 480). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[15] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 481). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[16] Cited in Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 482). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[17] Cited in Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 482). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[18] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, pp. 483–484). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[19] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 484). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[20] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 487). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[21] Armerding, C. E. (1986). Nahum. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7, p. 488). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.