Discovering Nahum

Background Information

A man named Nahum (1:1) delivered this message, a man from the city of Elkosh. This city (later renamed Elcesi) was located in southern Judah, near Moresheth, where the prophet Micah had been from. The word Nahum means “comfort.”

The date for this book and Nahum’s ministry is sometime between approximately 663-612 B.C. This places him as much as a century after Micah and more than a century after Jonah. It also places his message only years or decades before the prophetic ministries of Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk, respectively, and he may have been a contemporary of these men or may even have known some of them personally.

Nahum ministered during the reign of Manasseh, a long-reigning (55-year reign) king of the southern kingdom. The OT describes him as the most wicked of Israelite kings, even more wicked than the ungodly kings of the northern kingdom and also of the surrounding pagan nations (2 Kgs 21:1-2; 2 Chron 33:1-2). It was this king’s personal sins and his implementation of unprecedented ungodly policies and practices which cemented God’s coming judgment on Judah through the Babylon invasion (2 Kgs 21:10-15). Late in Manasseh’s reign, he was taken prisoner by Babylon, and while there, he repented of his sin and turned to God in faith (2 Chron 33:10-17).

Historically speaking, Nahum seems to have written sometime before the fall of Nineveh, in Assyria (which occurred in 612 B.C.), but after the fall of Thebes (No-Amon) to Ashurbanipal (an Assyrian king) in 663 B.C. Nahum refers to this recent, prior destruction of Thebes in 3:8-10. The destruction of Thebes was an effective point of reference because it was the second most significant city in Egypt at the time, set deep within Egypt, behind the Nile River, and surrounded by hazardous terrain. Despite this seeming impenetrable status, it was still defeated. If this could happen to Thebes, then the great and powerful Assyrian city, Nineveh, could also be defeated.

Purpose for the Book

The purpose for this book is simple – to announce God’s coming judgment on Assyria. This message, in turn, would provide comfort to the godly remnant of faithful believers living in Judah during dark times.

This book provides a fascinating contrast to the prophetic ministry of Jonah. More than a century before, Jonah had strongly desired for Nineveh to be destroyed, but the people of that city repented and received mercy from God instead. Now, more than one hundred years later, Nahum gets to preach the message the Jonah wished he could have given instead. The book and message of Nahum focuses exclusively on God’s coming judgment of Nineveh, the powerful capital city of Assyria. This defeat would occur at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of the next up-and-coming world superpower, Babylon.

Outline and Content

This small book arranges neatly into three chapters or sections:

  • Introducing Nineveh’s Judge (Ch. 1)
  • Announcing Nineveh’s Destruction (Ch. 2)
  • Guaranteeing Nineveh’s Destruction (Ch. 3)

In this arrangement, Chapter 1 emphasizes both the character and intentions of Yahweh. Though he is patient (“slow to anger”), he is also jealous, powerful, and just, with nothing able to prevent him from acting at the appropriate time. Knowing this is both a comfort to the faithful who trust in him but a terror to the wicked.

Chapter 2, then, describes with dramatic and vivid detail, what Nineveh’s destruction would be like. This is not a reflective description of Nineveh’s destruction looking back to the event, but a prophetic description looking forward to what had not yet occurred.

Of special note, 2:6 refers to “the gates of the river” opening and the palace being dissolved. Built on the banks of the Tigris River, with two tributaries of that river running through the city, placed the city at risk of flooding. Historical records indicate that heavy rains and resulting flooding caused severe damage to the gates and walls of Nineveh during the Babylonian siege, prompting a mass exodus of its residents, which Nahum also predicted (2:8).

Chapter 3 pronounces the absolute certainty of Nineveh’s coming judgment. They would be unable to prevent the coming judgment by any means. No matter how heavily they fortified themselves, how many commercial and political alliances they formed, how many military officers they employed, they would certainly be defeated.

Throughout his message, Nahum uses abundant figures of speech and literary devices to color and strengthen his message, such as: irony (2:1, 8; 3:14, 15),  metaphor and simile (1:3b, 6, 10, 13; 2:4, 7, 8, 11–13; 3:4, 5–6, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19), rhetorical question (1:6; 2:11; 3:8, 19), satire (2:11–13; 3:8–13, 14–19), and synecdoche (2:4, 10, 13; 3:13). He also features numerous observations from the natural world (1:4, 8; 2:2, 11-12; 3:12, 15–17, 18).

As Nahum delivers his message, it is as though he starts the car and puts it into gear in Chapter 1, then “places his foot on the gas pedal” in Chapter 2 and only accelerates faster through Chapter 3. He gives an intense, relentless, and gripping announcement of Nineveh’s soon and certain judgment by a just, decisive, and resolute God.

Personal Takeaways

The key personal takeaway from this book is simple – God is good to those who trust in him and terrible to those who don’t (1:3, 7-8). Therefore, it is best and wise (to say the least) to repent of your sins and receive his mercy while you may. If you do this, then you will not only be delivered from his coming judgment of the wicked but will find comfort and joy in his future judgment as well. But if you persist in your sin, then your destruction will be certain and terrible.

As a secondary takeaway, it is also appropriate to find hope in a message like Nahum’s, knowing that no matter how ungodly the nations of the world may be today, God will judge the world righteously and relentlessly in the end – at the right time and in the right way.

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