The Book of Nahum: Written for Our Day
Possibilities of the Present Day Location of Nahum's Hometown
Nahum: The Man, Prophet, Poet and Writer
The Book of Nahum is the 7th book in the section of the Holy Bible known as the minor prophets. Like all books in this section, the Book of Nahum is named after its author, the prophet Nahum.
Little is known about the prophet Nahum. The first verse of the book says he was an Elkoshite. However, scholars are unsure if this means that his father’s name was Elkosh or if he was from a city named Elkosh. It is more commonly believed that he came from a city named Elkosh.
Jerome, the Catholic priest who translated the Vulgate, said the birthplace of Nahum was in a small village named Elkosh in Galilee (remember that he lived in 400 AD, easily a thousand years after Nahum). Others believe that Elkosh was a small village east of the Jordan River.
While we can't definitively say where Nahum was from or who his father was, we do know to whom he was called to preach. The last verse in the first chapter tells us that Nahum was preaching to the Jews.
There are also many discrepancies about when Nahum wrote his prophecy. Some say he wrote it as early as 740 BC during King Ahaz’s reign over Judah. Others believe it was written during King Hezekiah’s reign at the end of the 8th century BC. It is most commonly believed that it was written between 625 BC and 612 BC, just before Nineveh was destroyed. This theory is supported by the reference to Thebes’ destruction in Nahum 3:8, as Thebes was destroyed in 663 BC. It is also supported by the reference to the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel in Nahum 2:2, which occurred in 721 BC. However, there are some who hold the theory that it was written as if it was a prophecy, but that it was actually written between 612 and 600 BC after Nineveh was destroyed.
While we can't pinpoint when the prophecy was written, we do know that it was originally written in poetic form.
Nahum: A Book and Man of Both Comfort and Destruction
Although it is hard to pinpoint many of the details surrounding Nahum, we do know what his name meant. In Hebrew, Nahum means comforter. This is significant because Hebrew prophets often had names that referred to their ministry. His name is particularly fitting when one remembers that his prophecy would have been of great comfort to the Jews, to whom it was written, if this prophecy were written between 612 and 721 BC.
One of the main themes of the book is the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians were a ferocious people and the primary empire during the 7th century. They maintained their power by expanding their territory, which they did by ferocious warfare. Neighboring states were placed under tribute or made vassal. If the neighboring state would pay a very high tax and remain loyal to the Assyrian empire, the state could keep their own leader, and the state received military “protection” from the Assyrian army. If a vassal state stopped paying tribute, the empire would destroy their major cities, and kill or deport the rich, the learned, and the leadership, leaving the poor to work the land and bring the empire income. Often, instead of taking captives of war who would eat supplies, they would force them to kneel and beat their skulls in or cut their heads off. Parents were frequently forced to watch their children be blinded or dismembered, and leaders would have their ears, hands, and feet cut off, and eyes cut off in front of their subjects.
The Jews believed that God had promised the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah to the descendants of their ancestor, Abraham, in what is known as the Abrahamic covenant. Assyria had overthrown the Kingdom of Israel in 721 BC, and the Kingdom of Judah was vassal to Assyria. So, hearing that the capital of the empire was going to be overthrown would have been “Comforting” to the Jews, who desperately wanted to keep their land and their national heritage and religion. The meaning of Nahum’s name and how well it would have applied at this time is one of the reasons many scholars believe that this prophecy was written during the 7th century.
Other Prophecies of Nineveh's Destruction
Nahum was not the only prophet to foretell Nineveh’s destruction. Both Jonah and Zephaniah also prophesied the downfall of Nineveh.
The Book of Jonah, was written at the beginning of the 8th century, approximately 150 years before the Book of Nahum. The third chapter of the Book of Jonah records that Jonah was a prophet sent by God to warn Nineveh. Jonah told the people that if they did not repent, they would be destroyed in 40 days. The book continues to explain that they repented at that time and God did not destroy them.
Not only had Nineveh been warned by the prophet Jonah 100-200 years before Nahum, but Zephaniah, Nahum’s contemporary also prophesied concerning Nineveh’s destruction.
Chapter 1: The Greatness of the Lord
The theme of the first chapter of the Book of Nahum is the Greatness of the Lord. The book begins by describing the Lord as jealous and revengeful and furious against his enemies. It continues to say that the Lord is slow to anger, but is great in powerful and does not acquit the wicked. It then explains that the Lord is more powerful than the forces of nature, which He has at His control.
After describing the greatness of the Lord, Nahum asks who can stand against a being like that when He is angry with him. Nahum then immediately contrasts the anger of the Lord and pitiful situation of him who angered the Lord with the goodness of the Lord. He turns from describing the destructive power of the Lord to the safe harbor the Lord can be for those who trust Him. After dedicating two or three verses to the positive nature of being one who pleases God, Nahum returns to the former discussion of the Lord’s destructive power against those who don’t obey Him.
This literary pattern is known as a chiasmus and tells the reader that the book of Nahum was originally a beautiful Hebrew poem. This literary device is used to focus the reader’s attention on the central point, in this case, the blessings that come to those who obey the Lord. This point is reiterated by the last verse in the first chapter, which almost fits as an epilogue to the chiasmatic structure of that first chapter and tells the Jews to live their religion more attentively.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the enemy of the Kingdom of Judah to whom Nahum prophesied. Nahum foretold the destruction of Nineveh.
Jerusalem was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, to whom Nahum prophesied.
This is the location of the great city Babylon, the capital of the major empire that would eventually overthrown Assyria and fulfill Nahum's prophecy.
Chapter 2 and 3: The Destruction of Nineveh
The second and third chapters are dedicated to foretelling the destruction of Nineveh. The fourth and fifth verses of the third chapter explain that the Lord is unhappy with Nineveh for its whoredoms and witchcraft and having sold nations and families to their iniquities. The remainder of the chapters describes the terrible destruction awaiting Nineveh.
The final five verses of the third chapter, and the Book, of Nahum, use various bugs the agrarian peoples in Nahum’s day would have been familiar with to describe the destruction of Nineveh. Verse 15 says a fire and swords will eat Nineveh up like a Cankerworm. Cankerworms are inch long worms that eat the buds and expanding leaves as soon as their eggs hatch in the spring. These worms cause massive crop destruction and severely weaken plants. While a tree can come back from a year of a cankerworm infestation, repeated years of cankerworm infestation will kill even the strongest trees. Verse 16 says the cankerworms will come and feed and then fly away, leaving the tree, or the city Nineveh is ruins.
Verse 17 continues the analogy by describing the crowned rulers of Nineveh as locusts. Locusts are grasshoppers in the swarming stage. Locusts cause even greater damage, flock together and look after the interests of their own kind. Verse 17 continues by describing the military leaders of Nineveh as grasshoppers. Grasshoppers are active when it’s cool, but flee under heat. They are also solitary creatures, except during the locust stage and don’t congregate. This analogy is saying that part of Nineveh’s destruction will come from within. There are too many leaders, and the leaders are only looking after themselves. Also, there are too few military captains, and those that do exist will flee when the battle gets heated.
Verse 18 tells the people of Nineveh that destruction is imminent and there are no religious leaders that will be able to save them. Frequently in the Bible shepherds are used to refer to pastors and other religious leaders that “gather the sheep” or “gather the flock” from the wolves of the world and protect them. (With The Good Shepherd being Christ) Here, in verse 18, Nineveh is told that their shepherds are asleep on the job and their noble (righteous) are dead, which leaves the sheep (the people) scattered and vulnerable to the desolation that is coming.
Some Christians see Chapter 2 and 3, particularly Chapter 2, as a dualistic prophecy that correlates to both the destruction of Nineveh and the destruction of the wicked at the last days. Chapter 2 verse 5 says that the Lord will defend his worthies, the noble, who humble their paths. Verse 6 continues by saying that the palaces will be dissolved. For those who believe that the wicked will be destroyed on the last day and Jesus Christ will return to the earth to rule and reign, these verses are consistent with the latter-days. This suggests that the destruction of Nineveh is being used as a type to foretell the destruction of the wicked of the world at the last days.
Fulfillment of Nahum's Prophecy
In 625 BC, under Nabopolassar, the Chaldeans and the Babylonians reclaimed Babylonia from the Assyrians in 625 BC. In 614 the Medes joined the Babylonians and captured Ashur. And, finally, in 612, the collective army overturned Nineveh, the capital of the great Assyrian empire itself. Babylon then became the great world power.
Unfortunately for the Jews the comfort of Nahum’s prophecy and its fulfillment was short lived. After two previous deportations, Jerusalem finally fell to the Babylonians in 587 BC. Some of the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple in 538. The temple was completed in 515. However, the majority of the Jews still have not managed to reclaim their homeland.