The book of Nahum (Nahum 1)

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We know nothing of the author of this book, the prophet Nahum, other than that he came from Elkosh, a village of unknown location. Based on his harsh condemnation of Nineveh, some interpreters suggest that he was a kind of “super-patriot” prophet similar to Hananiah, a false prophet condemned by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 28). This is an unnecessary conclusion; even Jeremiah spoke words of judgement against other nations (Jeremiah 46-51). Nahum did not simply cheer for the fall of Nineveh; he set this event within the  context of the Biblical theology of the justice of God.

Nahum 3:8-10 mentions the destruction of Thebes in Egypt, which took place in 663 B.C., and the book of Nahum anticipates the fall of Nineveh, which occurred in 612 B.C. We can therefore assume that the book was written during the latter half of the seventh century B.C., or about 630.

Nahum addressed his prophecy to the people of Nineveh, the capital city of the ruthless Assyrians, as well as to the nation of Judah. His message of doom for Nineveh (approximately 100 years after the Ninevites’ evidently short-lived repentance under Jonah’s ministry) was a comfort to the people of Judah. who had seen the northern kingdom of Israel defeated and carried into exile by the Assyrians and who were themselves suffering under that nation’s cruelty. Nahum reminded his readers that God is just and that the evil nations of the world cannot and will not escape His judgement.

Nahum prophesied the fall of Nineveh, the capital of the Neo-Assyrian empire at the height of its power (see Nineveh also under Nahum 1). The brutality of the Assyrians was legendary, and their treatment of Israel and Judah had been particularly harsh.

As you read, pay attention to the literary devices Nahum employed in this poetic book, noting and appreciating his rich vocabulary and the intense moods he attempted to evoke; his masterful use of simile and metaphor; his vivid word pictures; his effective use of repetition; his penchant for short, staccato phrases (see e.g. 3:1-3); and his frequent rhetorical questions.

Did you know that it was common practice for people in the ancient world to identify their deities with observable, awe-inspiring natural phenomena (1:3-6)? Did you know that Nineveh’s wall, which was almost 13 km long with 15 gates, was surrounded by a moat nearly 46 m wide? The moat had to be filled in before attackers could reach the city wall. The “protective shield” refers to a large defensive shelter covered with hides to deflect stones and arrows (2:5). Did you know that the lion is an appropriate image for Assyria, which was known for its viciousness? Nineveh itself contained numerous lion sculptures (2:11). Did you know that the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III boasted of having erected a pyramid of chopped-off heads in front of an enemy’s city? Other Assyrian kings stacked corpses like cordwood by the gates of defeated cities (3:3). Did you know that atrocities against civilians were common in ancient warfare? Infants were routinely killed, leaders often put in chains and lots cast to determine which prisoners of war would be taken into exile and resettled in other lands (3:10). Did you know that Nineveh’s destruction was so complete that the decimated city was never rebuilt? Within a few centuries it was covered with windblown sand, leaving no trace except a mound that is known today as Tell Kuyunjik, “the mound of many sheep” (3:19).


 

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