Shortly before the fall of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, in 612 B.C., Nahum uttered his prophecy against the hated city. To understand the prophet’s exultant outburst of joy over the impending destruction it is necessary to recall the savage cruelty of Assyria, which had made it the scourge of the ancient Near East for almost three centuries. The royal inscriptions of Assyria afford the best commentary on Nahum’s burning denunciation of “the bloody city.” In the wake of their conquests, mounds of heads, impaled bodies, enslaved citizens, and avaricious looters testified to the ruthlessness of the Assyrians. Just such a conquest was suffered by Israel, when its capital Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722/721 B.C., and by Judah, when its capital Jerusalem nearly fell to invading Assyrian armies twenty years later. Little wonder that in 3:19 Judah is shown as joining in the general outburst of joy over the destruction of Nineveh!
But Nahum is not a prophet of unrestrained revenge. He asserts God’s moral government of the world. Nineveh’s doom is evidence that God stands against oppression and the abuse of power. As an ancient Near Eastern superpower, Assyria had terrorized its smaller and weaker neighbors, exploiting their economies and subjugating their people for its own ends. Thus Nineveh’s demise is viewed as an act of divine justice, and it is greeted by the small, oppressed countries as a time of deliverance, as a moment of renewal, and as a message of peace (2:1; 3:19).
The book is divided as follows:
1Oracle* concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.
2* A jealous and avenging God* is the LORD,
an avenger is the LORD, full of wrath;
The LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries,
and rages against his enemies;
3The LORD is slow to anger, yet great in power;
the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.a
In stormwind* and tempest he comes,
and clouds are the dust at his feet;
4He roars at the sea and leaves it dry,
and all the rivers he dries up.
Laid low are Bashan and Carmel,
and the bloom of Lebanon withers;*
5The mountains quake before him,
and the hills dissolve;
The earth is laid waste before him,
the world and all who dwell in it.
6* Before his wrath, who can stand firm,
and who can face his blazing anger?b
His fury is poured out like fire,
and boulders break apart before him.
7The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
a refuge on the day of distress,
Taking care of those who look to him for protection,
8when the flood rages;
He makes an end of his opponents,
and pursues his enemies into darkness.
9What do you plot against the LORD,
the one about to bring total destruction?
No opponent rises a second time!
10* Like a thorny thicket, they are tangled,
and like drunkards, they are drunk;
like dry stubble, they are utterly consumed.
11From you has come
one plotting evil against the LORD,
one giving sinister counsel.*
12Thus says the LORD:
though fully intact and so numerous,
they* shall be mown down and disappear.
Though I have humbled you,
I will humble you no more.
13Now I will break his yoke off of you,
and tear off your bonds.c
14The LORD has commanded regarding you:*
no descendant will again bear your name;
From the house of your gods I will abolish
the carved and the molten image;
I will make your grave a dung heap.
* [1:1] Oracle: (Heb. Massa’) a word used frequently to describe a prophetic statement against a foreign nation or occasionally Israel; it is used favorably for Israel in Zec 12:1 and Mal 1:1. Nahum of Elkosh: Nahum means “comfort.” Elkosh is a clan or village of unknown location, perhaps in southern Judah.
* [1:2–8] A poem written in the style of the alphabetic psalms (cf. Ps 9; 25; 111; 119) in which each verse unit begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The second half of the alphabet is not represented here.
* [1:2] A jealous…God: see note on Ex 20:5.
* [1:3–6] In stormwind: the power of God is often pictured by natural forces and cosmic disruption (Ex 19:9–25; Ps 18:8–16; 104:1–9).
* [1:4] Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon were famous for their mountainous terrain and lush forests.
* [1:6–7] When God comes in judgment those who oppose God will be destroyed, and those who trust in God will be saved.
* [1:10] Thorns (Is 34:13), drunkenness (Lam 4:21; Na 3:11), and burning stubble (Ob 18) are all images of the judgment of God’s enemies.
* [1:11] From you…giving sinister counsel: addressed to Nineveh, the capital city of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, who besieged Jerusalem ca. 700 B.C.
* [1:12–13] They: the enemies of Judah. You: Judah. His yoke: the dominion of the Assyrian king over Judah.
* [1:14] You: the king of Assyria.
a. [1:3] Ex 34:6–7; Jl 2:13.
b. [1:6] Is 30:27–28; Zep 1:15.
c. [1:13] Is 9:4; 10:27.
1At this moment on the mountains
the footsteps of one bearing good news,
of one announcing peace!a
Celebrate your feasts, Judah,
fulfill your vows!
For never again will destroyers invade you;*
they are completely cut off.
2One who scatters has come up against you;*
guard the rampart,
Watch the road, brace yourselves,
marshal all your strength!
3* The LORD will restore the vine of Jacob,
the honor of Israel,
Because ravagers have ravaged them
and ruined their branches.
4The shields of his warriors are crimsoned,
the soldiers clad in scarlet;
Like fire are the trappings of the chariots
on the day he prepares for war;
the cavalry is agitated!
5The chariots dash madly through the streets
and wheel in the squares,
Looking like torches,
bolting like lightning.
6His picked troops are called,
ranks break at their charge;
To the wall they rush,
their screen* is set up.
7The river gates* are opened,
the palace is washed away.
8The mistress is led forth captive,
and her maidservants* led away,
Moaning like doves,
beating their breasts.
9Nineveh is like a pool
whose waters escape;
but none turns back.b
10“Plunder the silver, plunder the gold!”
There is no end to the treasure,
to wealth in every precious thing!
11Emptiness, desolation, waste;
melting hearts and trembling knees,
Churning in every stomach,
every face turning pale!c
12Where is the lionesses’ den,
the young lions’ cave,
Where the lion* went in and out,
and the cub, with no one to disturb them?d
13The lion tore apart enough for his cubs,
and strangled for his lionesses;
He filled his lairs with prey,
and his dens with torn flesh.
14I now come against you—
oracle of the LORD of hosts—
I will consume your chariots in smoke,
and the sword will devour your young lions;
Your preying on the land I will bring to an end,
the cry of your lionesses will be heard no more.
* [2:1] For never again will destroyers invade you: prophets are not always absolutely accurate in the things they foresee. Nineveh was destroyed, as Nahum expected, but Judah was later invaded by the Babylonians and (much later) by the Romans. The prophets were convinced that Israel held a key place in God’s plan and looked for the people to survive all catastrophes, always blessed by the Lord, though the manner was not always as they expected; the “fallen hut of David” was not rebuilt as Am 9:11 suggests, except in the coming of Jesus, and in a way far different than the prophet expected. Often the prophet speaks in hyperbole, as when Second Isaiah speaks of the restored Jerusalem being built with precious stones (Is 54:12) as a way of indicating a glorious future.
* [2:2] One who scatters has come up against you: the enemy is about to crush Nineveh, dispersing and deporting its people (v. 8; 3:18).
* [2:3] This verse does not fit its context well; it may have been the conclusion for the preceding section and have once followed v. 1, or it may be a later scribal addition.
* [2:6] Their screen: that is, a mantelet, a movable military shelter protecting the besiegers.
* [2:7] River gates: a network of canals brought water into Nineveh from the Tigris and Khosr Rivers on which the city was located.
* [2:8] Mistress…and her maidservants: either the queen of Nineveh with the ladies of her court, or the city of Nineveh itself, pictured as a noblewoman (3:4).
* [2:12] The lion: the king of Assyria.
a. [2:1] Is 52:7; Rom 10:15.
b. [2:9] Is 8:7–8.
c. [2:11] Jl 2:6.
d. [2:12] Ez 19:2–7.
1Ah! The bloody city,
Full of plunder,
whose looting never stops!a
2The crack of the whip,
the rumbling of wheels;
the flash of the sword,
the gleam of the spear;
A multitude of slain,
a mass of corpses,
to stumble upon!
4For the many debaucheries of the prostitute,
a charming mistress of witchcraft,
Who enslaved nations with her prostitution,
and peoples by her witchcraft:b
5* I now come against you—
oracle of the LORD of hosts—
and I will lift your skirt above your face;
I will show your nakedness to the nations,
to the kingdoms your shame!c
6I will cast filth upon you,
disgrace you and make you a spectacle;
7Until everyone who sees you
runs from you saying,
“Nineveh is destroyed;
who can pity her?
Where can I find
any to console you?”
8Are you better than No-amon* d
that was set among the Nile’s canals,
Surrounded by waters,
with the river for her rampart
and water for her wall?
9Ethiopia was her strength,
and Egypt without end;
Put* and the Libyans
were her allies.
10Yet even she became an exile,
and went into captivity;
Even her little ones were dashed to pieces
at the corner of every street;
For her nobles they cast lots,
and all her great ones were put into chains.
11You, too, will drink of this;
you will be overcome;e
You, too, will seek
a refuge from the foe.
12But all your fortresses are fig trees,
bearing early figs;*
When shaken, they fall
into the devourer’s mouth.
13Indeed your troops
are women in your midst;
To your foes are open wide
the gates of your land,
fire has consumed their bars.
14Draw water for the siege,*
strengthen your fortresses;
Go down into the mud
and tread the clay,
take hold of the brick mold!
15There the fire will consume you,
the sword will cut you down;
it will consume you like the grasshoppers.
Multiply like the grasshoppers,
multiply like the locusts!f
16You have made your traders* more numerous
than the stars of the heavens;
like grasshoppers that shed their skins and fly away.
17Your sentries are like locusts,
and your scribes like locust swarms
Gathered on the rubble fences
on a cold day!
Yet when the sun rises, they vanish,
and no one knows where they have gone.
18Your shepherds slumber,
O king of Assyria,
your nobles have gone to rest;
Your people are scattered upon the mountains,
with none to gather them.
19There is no healing for your hurt,
your wound is fatal.
All who hear this news of you
clap their hands over you;
For who has not suffered
under your endless malice?
* [3:5–6] The punishment for adulterous women.
* [3:8] No-amon: “No” was the Egyptian name of the capital of Upper Egypt, called Thebes by the Greeks; its patron deity was Amon. This great city was destroyed by the Assyrians in 663 B.C.
* [3:9] Put: a North African people often associated with Egypt and Ethiopia (Jer 46:8–9).
* [3:12] Early figs: the refugees from Nineveh who escape to presumably secure fortresses.
* [3:14] An ironic exhortation to prepare the city for a futile defense. Go down…brick mold: make bricks for the city walls.
* [3:16] Traders: agents of the economic exploitation that sustained and enriched the Assyrian empire.
a. [3:1] Is 10:13–14; Hb 2:12.
b. [3:4] Mi 1:7; Rev 17:1.
c. [3:5] Is 47:3; Jer 13:26.
d. [3:8] Jer 46:25.
e. [3:11] Jer 25:15–16; Ob 16.
f. [3:15] Jer 46:23.