J. B. Hewitt, Chesterfield
Nothing is known of the prophet Nahum except that he belonged to Elkosh, the location of which cannot be established with certainty. Some say that it “was not far from Capernaum”, which means “village of Nahum”. Nahum may have been a descendant of Israelites who had been left in the north after the deportations by the Assyrians, 2 Kings 18. 9-11. He addressed Judah and not Israel, though he spoke in the land of Israel. It is clearly with Judah that he is concerned.
Name. The prophet’s name means “comforter” or “consolation” and this aptly describes his ministry which was not only timely but particularly consoling to Judah, 1. 7, 15. Possibly the name was given him by his parents in some time of trial, indicating that God was to comfort their hearts by the child He had bestowed. His book presents the comfort of retribution, and his message is a cry in the light of the execution of divine vengeance upon the oppressors of his people. For Judah it is an exultant shout of triumph over the speedy downfall and destruction of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.
Date. The date is not given but may be assumed from its theme and contents. The fall of Nineveh, though still future, must be after the sack of Thebes (No-Amon, 3. 8. R.V.) by the Assyrians in 661 B.C.; Nineveh itself fell in 607 - 606 B.C. and four years later the last of Assyria as an empire, vanished unlamented. Some time within the compass of these two dated happenings Nahum delivered his prophecy. The fall of Assyria was followed by the rise of Babylon.
It is not indicated who were the kings reigning in Israel or in Judah at the time of his ministry. Probably his message was given during the reign of Hezekiah when Jerusalem was besieged by Assyria; see Isa. 36.
Setting. “The Assyrians were the cruellest of all the great empires of antiquity. They gloried in their record of a ferocity at which we stand aghast”, (Sayce). Farrar writes, “Judged from the vaunting inscriptions of her kings, no power more useless, more savage, more terrible, ever cast its gigantic shadow on the page of history as it passed on to the way of ruin. They cut down warriors like weeds or smote them like wild beasts in the forests and covered pillars with the flayed skins of rival monarchs”. This is the power upon which Nahum, filled with unshaken faith in the Eternal Righteousness, is commissioned to pronounce the doom of God.
Purpose. Nahum reveals the twofold character of Jehovah exercising judgment and mercy; judgment to His adversaries and mercy and grace to His own people. His theme is the overthrow and destruction of Nineveh. He reveals the continued conflict between good and evil, between right and might, and that the final issue is with God. It was to Nineveh that Jonah was sent. To them he declared the might and the power of God; and as a result they turned to God. Nahum’s prophecy opens about 150 years later, and what a drastic change in the moral condition of the nation is pictured here. There is complete apostasy from God and Nahum declares what God is going to do in consequence of their sin and apostasy.
Title. This is given in the very first sentence, “The burden of Nineveh”, and provides a key to the understanding of the book. The sub-title, “The book of the vision of Nahum” suggests that he had seen the things which he declares. He had been caught up into the secret place of the most High, and had looked out upon both Judah and Nineveh from this vantage ground. This is an essential pre-requisite for any divine ministry. The book is an historic illustration of the text “Vengeance belongeth unto me”, Rom. 12. 19 R.V.; cf. Psa. 94. 1; 99. 8.
One of the clearest basic outlines is that by G. Campbell Morgan. Ch. 1. The Verdict of Vengeance. Ch. 2. The Vision of Vengeance. Ch. 3. The Vindication of Vengeance. A more detailed review of contents may be shown as follows:
- The doom of Nineveh decreed, ch. 1.
- Introduction - the voice and the vision, 1.
- The Description of the Judge, 2-6. The vision. The voice of Jehovah - the Lord is jealous, He avengeth. Vindication of His power - patient, “slow to anger”, powerful - in the air, sea and land; persistent - “by no means clear the guilty”, R.v. His anger is real, righteous and terrible, 6.
- The Deliverance of Judah, 7-15. The verdict. Protection for His own, 7. His goodness is powerful and watchful. Destruction for His enemies, 8-14. Nineveh’s power removed as stubble, 10, as a yoke, 13, as a bond, 13, cut off, 14. For Judah a promise of restoration, 12, redemption, 13, rest, 15.
- The doom of Nineveh described, ch. 2.
- The Coming Conqueror, 1-2. The Medo-Babylonian army.
- The Conditions of the Conflict, 3-6. The coming army terrible and invincible, 3-4; the defenders brave but beaten, 5-6.
- The Conquest, 6-9. Gates opened, palace destroyed, queen captured, inhabitants flee, city spoiled.
- The Consummation, 10-12. Its site obliterated, 11; rulers defeated, 12; resources destroyed, 13. In verses 1-13 we see the manner of its destruction and in verse 13 we have the mystery of it.
- The doom of Nineveh defended, ch.3.
- Vice Rampant, 1-3. Corruption and cruelty.
- Vengeance Retributive, 4-7. Exposed, 5; disgraced, 6; forsaken, 7.
- Vice brings Ruin, 8-19. Comparison with Egypt, 8-12; no protection, 8-13; no preparations, 14-18; no pity, 19.
Message for Today
Nahum is the complement of Jonah. In Jonah judgment on Nineveh is withdrawn but in Nahum the judgment is executed. Note the two-fold nature of the ministry suggested by the text, “Behold therefore the goodness (Jonah) and severity (Nahum) of God”, Rom. n. 22; cf. Gal. 6. 7-8 and Nah. 1. 7-8.
We know what God is by what He does. His nature is known by His works. The conception of God’s character governs the moral condition of a nation. According to a man’s conception of God, so will be his conception of morality,, of goodness, of responsibility, and so will be the purity and the power of his life. And whilst God has spoken finally and more fully in His Son than in the prophets of Old Testament times, it is still true that the place we give to God, the honour we ascribe to Him, the consciousness we have of His holiness, His justice, His goodness, His truth, His faithfulness, and the degree to which we draw upon His sufficiency and grace, will govern the moral and spiritual condition of our lives. We may see in Nineveh a picture of the world that knows not God, Psa. 10.1-6, and which is hovering under the judgment of God.
This book reveals God as Ruler over His universe and emphasizes the duty of nations as well as individuals to own His sway and obey His word.
This book reinforces our faith by a vindication of Jehovah as the avenger of His people, as the punisher of oppressors, cf. 2 Thess. 1. 6-10. It is still true that “the wheels of God grind slowly but they grind exceeding small”, cf. 1. 2. Sin is a principle of self-annihilation. Evil contains within itself the seed of inevitable decay. Only goodness lasts. Only love is eternal, for “love is of God”. “Of the thirty Roman Emperors and Governors who persecuted Christians, not one came to a peaceful end”.
For Your Study
Trace the “I wills” in this book and the references to “the Lord”.
Meditate on Divine judgment. It is real, ch. 1: provoked, 2- 3; portrayed, 4-6; and promised, 13-14. It is righteous, ch. 2: the ravages of war, 1-7; the enemy’s approach and the attack, 3- 7. The ruin of the city, 8-13; despair, 8-9, desolation, 10, destruction, 11-13. It is retributive, ch. 3; massacre in its streets, 1-3; manifestation of its shame, 4-7; the moving of its inhabitants, 8-13; the mighty melt away, 14-18; and none mourn her disappearance, 19.