THE BOOK OF NAHUM
Introduction to the Book
1. Date of Composition
a. The Fall of Thebes
b. The Fall of Nineveh
2. The History of Nineveh
3. Who was Nahum?
4. Assyrian and Ninevite Scriptures
a. Historical References
b. Prophetic References
c. Judgment References
The superscription - Nahum 1:1
The Five Statements of God's Character - Nahum 1:2-3b
1. Nahum 1:2a-b
b. Vengeance and Anger
2. Nahum 1:2c
3. Nahum 1:3a-b
The Unopposable Nature of God - Nahum 1:3c-6
1. Nahum 1:3c - God's approach
a. His way is in whirlwind and storm
b. The clouds are the dust of His feet
2. The Four Effects
a. Nahum 1:4a - Water
b. Nahum 1:4b - Regions
c. Nahum 1:5a - Topography
d. Nahum 1:5b - Earth
3. Nahum 1:6 - God's unopposable anger
The lines have already been drawn - Nahum 1:7-8
1. A puzzle solved
2. Other thoughts
The Structure of Nahum 1:9-2:2
1. To Judah - Nahum 1:9-10
a. What do you reckon to God, then?
b. Once is enough
2. To Nineveh - Nahum 1:11
3. To Judah - Nahum 1:12-13
4. To Nineveh - Nahum 1:14
5. To Judah - Nahum 1:15
A note on Nahum 2:1-2
6. To Nineveh - Nahum 2:1
7. To Judah - Nahum 2:2
The battle narrative - Nahum 2:3-10
1. The advancing army - Nahum 2:3-4
2. The defending Ninevites - Nahum 2:5
3. The moment the defences are breached - Nahum 2:6
4. The city has fallen - Nahum 2:7
5. The fleeing Ninevites - Nahum 2:8
6. The plundering of the city - Nahum 2:9
7. The sacking of the city - Nahum 2:10
Wondering where the lions are - Nahum 2:11-13
1. Lion upon lion
2. The lions of Nineveh - Nahum 2:11-12
3. I am against you - Nahum 2:13
The sins of Nineveh - Nahum 3:1-7
1. Nahum 3:1
a. City of Bloods
b. Limitless prey
2. Nahum 3:2-3
a. Chariots and Cavalry
b. The dead
3. Nahum 3:4
a. Her titles
b. Her works
4. Nahum 3:5-7
a. It's a real shame
b. Mudslinging is of God
c. Mourners, apply here
Nahum's final words - Nahum 3:8-19
1. Nahum 3:8-10
2. Nahum 3:11-13
a. The three inevitabilities
3. Nahum 3:14-17
4. Nahum 3:18-19
References and Sources
This work could not have been completed without the enormous support offered to me by my wife. It was she who took a lot of the 'household' chores off me so I could devote myself to hours upon hours thinking through this book and committing the exposition to writing.
If that hadn't happened, I would probably have ended up a gibbering wreck.
Lee H Smith
Introduction to the Book
1. Date of Composition
Accepting that the book or prophecy of Nahum was composed prior to events happening that were being foreseen (a matter not open to debate and the underlying principle when discussing prophetic works on this website), the date of composition has to be placed between two established historical dates that become the absolute limits outside of which the book's creation is impossible to place.
These are the past event of the Fall of Thebes and the future event of the Fall of Nineveh.
a. The Fall of Thebes
Thebes, which lies some four hundred miles upriver of present day Cairo, fell to the Assyrian armies (Nineveh being one of the royal cities) in 663BC, was sacked and the extensive treasures of the then existing temples were carried away to the kingdom of Assyria.
From an inscription found in 1878 at Nineveh, Nahsmi quotes the over-simplified explanation of the conquest and then goes on to note the record as announcing that
'From Thebes I carried away booty, heavy and beyond counting: silver, gold, precious stones, his entire personal possessions, linen garments with multicoloured trimmings, fine horses, (certain) inhabitants, male and female. I pulled two high obelisks, cast of shining zahalu-bronze, the weight of which was 2,500 talents, standing at the door of the temple, out of their bases and took (them) to Assyria. (Thus) I carried off from Thebes heavy booty, beyond counting...With full hands and safety, I returned to Nineveh, the city (where I exercise) my rule'
In Nahum 3:8-10, this is spoken of as a past event, YHWH reasoning through His servant Nahum that Nineveh is no better than the city of Thebes (or, more correctly, the Hebrew should be rendered 'No-Amun' or 'the city of the god Amun') that the Assyrians overthrew.
It's interesting to note that the prophet doesn't speak of Thebes as being the city that 'you [that is, the Assyrians, the Ninevites] carried away' but abstractly as if it was a totally separate nation that brought it about.
Thebes was constructed on either side of the Nile but the main residences for the living lay on the east bank along with an extensive temple to the god Amun. Around the area were other necropolis buildings including the modern-titled Valley of the Kings and various funerary temples on the west bank. Indeed, comparing it to Nineveh, it was probably a much larger capital, attracting many more people to visit its precincts and worship centres than Nineveh ever did.
The logic behind Nahum's pronouncement, therefore, is that if the large was overcome by the smaller, it would be impossible not to suppose that the smaller would not itself be susceptible to overthrow and destruction.
Nahum's mention (Nahum 3:8) of Thebes that
'...sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her wall...'
is normally taken to imply that the city was significantly defended by the use of irrigated channels and moats.
Unlike Nineveh, Thebes didn't cease to exist after Assyria's conquest but eventually became a provincial city with building work taking place. Political power flowed away from the city (even before the sacking by Assyria) but it continued to exist as a centre of worship for many centuries.
It faded from the pages of political importance with successive centuries and was never either fully or finally destroyed in an invading conquest.
b. The Fall of Nineveh
Assyrian Nineveh fell to Babylonian king Nebopolassar with the combined forces of Babylonians/Chaldeans, Medes and, probably, Scythians in 612BC. In the Book of Nahum, it's spoken of as an established future occurrence that will be brought about under the direction and initiative of YHWH.
There are two main extra-Biblical historical sources that are referred to when it's trying to be established whether the Biblical narrative was literally fulfilled, postponed or completely abandoned (see my notes on the function of prophecy here). These are, firstly, the Babylonian record of the fall and, secondly, the Greek record of 'World History' from the pen of Diodorus Siculus.
The first, entitled 'The Fall of Nineveh Chronicle' (this translation is taken from the web page http://www.livius.org/ne-nn/nineveh/nineveh02.html) is noted as being
'...inscribed on a medium-size tablet, BM 21901 (96-4-9, 6), which measures 132 mm long and 69 mm wide. At one time it was broken into four pieces and, although the fragments have been joined, there are several surface flaws as well as a large lacuna [a gap in the text that is unreadable, decayed, missing or the like] in the center [sic] of the tablet'.
The tablet is translated
'The fourteenth year [612-611]: The king of Akkad mustered his army and marched to Assyria. The king of the Medes marched towards the king of Akkad and they met one another at [...]u. The king of Akkad and his army crossed the Tigris; Cyaxares had to cross the Radanu, and they marched along the bank of the Tigris. In the month Simanu, the Nth day, they encamped against Nineveh.
'From the month Simanu until the month Abu -for three months- they subjected the city to a heavy siege. On the Nth day of the month Abu they inflicted a major defeat upon a great people. At that time Sin-sar-iskun, king of Assyria, died. They carried off the vast booty of the city and the temple and turned the city into a ruin heap The [lacuna] of Assyria escaped from the enemy and, to safe his life, seized the feet of the king of Akkad.
'On the twentieth day of the month Ululu [14 September 612] Cyaxares and his army went home. After he had gone, the king of Akkad dispatched his army and they marched to Nasibina. Plunder and exiles [lacuna] and they brought the people of Rusapu to the king of Akkad at Nineveh. On the [lacuna] of the month [lacuna] Assur-uballit [II] ascended to the throne in Haran to rule Assyria. Up until the [lacuna] day of the month [lacuna] the king of Akkad set out and in [lacuna].'
As can be seen, descriptions of the way the city was overthrown are lacking.
Initially, one might imagine that such military information was being withheld because Nineveh continued to be occupied and the method of siege represented a hint for a future besieging army that might come against it. However, the city was never reoccupied and was turned into a pile of ruins, mounds of debris still being visible today east of the present day city of Mosul in Iraq where the line of almost eight miles of ancient walls can still be traced (according to some sources, this length of wall is an external or secondary wall, the inner fortification being around three miles in circumference).
No doubt, local inhabitants robbed the remains of usable building material over the centuries after its destruction so that what remains is a small fraction of the total. Jonah's note (Jonah 3:3) that the city
'...was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth'
has been disputed from time to time but, along with suburbs and absorbed satellite towns that lay outside the twin set of walls, this observation is highly likely to be accurate. It became unrecognisable as the once great city of Nineveh, so much so that Zondervan notes that it went
'...unrecognised by Xenophon and his retreating Greeks as they passed in 401BC'
for, although they noted the giant earthworks, they were unable to attribute a name to them. However, we must qualify this statement for Strabo, the Greek historian (c.64BC-23AD) makes mention of Nineveh several times in Chapter 16 and writes (16.1.3) that
'The city Nineveh was destroyed immediately upon the overthrow of the [As]syrians...In the country on the other side of the Lycus are the plains of Aturia, which surround Nineveh'
Although it remains unlikely that Strabo was relaying an eyewitness account of the remains of Nineveh, his description is clear enough to make the reader think that the location could be located easily an, therefore, it may have well been personal ignorance on Xenophon's part that caused him to fail to identify the mounds four centuries previously.
Zephaniah's description of the continuing state of the former city (Zeph 2:12-15) was proven to be literally true and no subsequent rebuilding of the city is ever known to have taken place.
Returning to the first record quoted above, perhaps we may conjecture that the overthrow of Nineveh came about more apart from the Babylonians than because of them so that any reason supplied would not have elevated either the pride of the army or the sovereignty of royalty had it been recorded.
However, details do exist in the second of the sources, 'The Library of History' by Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian who lived in the first century BC. The text of what follows (26:8-27:3) can be found on http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/2A*.html. It must be noted that Ninus was generally accepted as being the founder of Nineveh (which was also called Ninus). The translation of the Greek text below is faithful to the rendering Ninus but it refers to the city of Nineveh.
'26:8 Sardanapallus, realizing that his entire kingdom was in the greatest danger, sent his three sons and two daughters together with much of his treasure to Paphlagonia to the governor Cotta, who was the most loyal of his subjects, while he himself, despatching letter-carriers to all his subjects, summoned forces and made preparations for the siege.
'9 Now there was a prophecy which had come down to him from his ancestors: "No enemy will ever take Ninus by storm unless the river shall first become the city's enemy." Assuming, therefore, that this would never be, he held out in hope, his thought being to endure the siege and await the troops which would be sent from his subjects.
'27:1 The rebels, elated at their successes, pressed the siege, but because of the strength of the walls they were unable to do any harm to the men in the city; for neither engines for throwing stones, nor shelters for sappers, nor battering-rams devised to overthrow walls had as yet been invented at that time. Moreover, the inhabitants of the city had a great abundance of all provisions, since the king had taken thought on that score. Consequently the siege dragged on, and for two years they pressed their attack, making assaults on the walls and preventing inhabitants of the city from going out into the country; but in the third year, after there had been heavy and continuous rains, it came to pass that the Euphrates, running very full, both inundated a portion of the city and broke down the walls for a distance of twenty stades.
'2 At this the king, believing that the oracle had been fulfilled and that the river had plainly become the city's enemy, abandoned hope of saving himself. And in order that he might not fall into the hands of the enemy, he built an enormous pyre in his palace, heaped upon it all his gold and silver as well as every article of the royal wardrobe, and then, shutting his concubines and eunuchs in the room which had been built in the middle of the pyre, he consigned both them and himself and his palace to the flames.
'3 The rebels, on learning of the death of Sardanapallus, took the city by forcing an entrance where the wall had fallen, and clothing Arbaces in the royal garb saluted him as king and put in his hands the supreme authority.'
There are at least a couple of problems in the text. The statement that the siege lasted three years is clearly incorrect (the Babylonian record notes that it took three months) and that it was the Euphrates that swelled with flood waters affecting the city is also a discrepancy (it should be the Tigris).
Such errors undermine the likely accuracy of the account but a possible confirmation of the record comes from the Book of Nahum itself. The BBE translation of Nahum 2:6 relates that, in the future overthrow
'The river doorways are forced open, and the king's house is flowing away.'
which could, with Diodorus Siculus' explanation accepted, be considered to be a description of the final moments before the breach of Nineveh's walls where, weakened by flood waters, the water gates were forced and part of the fortifications dissolved in the resultant flooding of the city.
However, equally, the author may have interpreted Nahum's text - or received a tradition based upon it - and committed it into his historical account as what was generally accepted in the Ancient World as having been the cause of the overthrow of Nineveh.
Alternatively, the RSV's translation of Nahum 2:6 reads
'The river gates are opened, the palace is in dismay'
(also following Nahsmi's translation) where the first phrase leaves the reader to decide whether the defenders (for fear that the flooding waters will destroy the walls) or the attackers (seeing the weak point in the defences and exploiting it) open the water gates. The latter phrase explains the palace's response to the fact that the gates are being opened (that is, it appears to them to be detrimental to their welfare, seemingly only interpretable as a military breach by an external attacking army).
Nahbak notes that the Hebrew word translated 'is flowing away' and 'is in dismay' (Strongs Hebrew number 4127, M1156) is only metaphorically used of the latter and more literally conveys the idea of the former. However, TWOTOT notes that the root might be connected to the verb 'to tremble' and that the word
'...is a figure for the panic-stricken condition which God's judicial acts cause in the heathen'
It seems impossible, however, to be able to determine which is meant to be understood here as both are possible and make sense.
Concluding, although we are unable to determine the exact circumstances under which Nineveh fell, that Nahum speaks of the city's overthrow as being still an event that lay in the future means that the final composition of the Book must be placed no later than 612BC, the date for the overthrow of Nineveh.
We have seen above how the composition of the Book of Nahum must fall between the dates 663BC (the conquest of Thebes) and 612BC (the destruction of Nineveh). Is it possible for us to narrow down that fifty-two year period into a specific reign of a Judahite king (Israel went in to final exile in 722BC with the fall of Samaria)?
Using the chronological list of kings here, there are only three possibilities:
i. Manasseh (who began to reign in 697BC) - II Chr 33:1-21
He began reigning unrighteously but was considered to have ended as righteous.
55 year reign
ii. Amon (who began to reign in 642BC) - II Chr 33:21-25
He was considered to have reigned unrighteously for the full length of his reign.
2 year reign
iii. Josiah (who began to reign in 640BC) - II Chr 34-35
He was considered to have reigned righteously throughout his reign.
31 year reign
Nahbak believes that
'The strength of the Assyrian empire indicates a date prior to the death of Ashurbanipal (668-627BC). Subsequently the nation rapidly declined before the ascendancy of Babylonia'
but this isn't necessarily the right way to go. Even if correct, Nahum could well be speaking in language that echoed in the minds of those to whom the prophecy came (it seems more likely that the message was delivered to the Judahites in Israel and not taken to Assyria and delivered there. Judah is spoken to directly in places [1:12-13] and the prophet pronounces things about them that would be irrelevant to a Ninevite [2:2]) that Nineveh was perceived as being a strong and undefeatable city within Assyria, a supreme and all-conquering kingdom - in much the same way as Victorian England thought itself unconquerable at the end of the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century relying on the spin of previous victories and the fear generated from past glories on the people of the world.
Nahbak also speculates on other possibilities, using Nahum 2:2 to suggest a date of either late in the reign of Manasseh (when he had turned from his rebellion against YHWH, the prophecy being almost a promise granted to the kingdom because of its repentance - although Nahbak sees them as being fulfilled only in Josiah who was yet to come) or sometime in the reign of Josiah if the verse is taken as the recounting of a completed event.
He also comments that the prophecy could have been the catalyst for causing Manasseh to rebel against the rule of Assyria - but I can't find a clear statement that there was any rebellion, only that YHWH brought the king of Assyria against him for an unspecified reason. This would imply some sort of offensive behaviour on behalf of the vassal king, Manasseh, towards the king of Assyria, but it could have been no more than an inability to pay tribute rather than a deliberate act of the will.
We could, equally, see the rebellion of king Amon's servants as being inspired by Nahum 2:2 (II Chron 33:24) and the reaction of the people of the land being not a righteous response but a traditional and cultural one in which the king is seen as God's anointed and, therefore, unjustifiably killed (II Chron 33:25).
Although a date of composition of 663-612BC is certain, I'm happy to speculate (and no more than speculate) that Nahum seems to me to have been written before Ashurbanipal's death in 627BC when the power and authority of Assyria was still tangible in the land of Israel. Nahum presupposes a strong and powerful nation, not a weakening shadow of something once great.
It also seems likely that the prophecy would have been given when restoration was beginning to take place to encourage its continued progress, when the might of Assyria would have started to be feared to intervene as Israelite sovereignty or self-determination grew. In a similar manner, the message of Haggai and Zechariah can only rightly be understood when there is a desire and move to serve God but a threatened and realistic opposition against it.
Unfortunately, after understanding the passage in a similar light, Nahpal then continues by saying that
'...his public proclamation of the utter devastation of Nineveh could not have been a very popular message. It was hardly a political thing to say, even in the days of Manasseh's reform'
If the prophecy had been delivered at a time when allegiance with Assyria prized and prided, then I would certainly agree with such a position (as Amos found himself in). But it was that the message was needed to strengthen the restoration of the kingdom that causes such a statement to be incorrect - politically, it fit in well with what was beginning or continuing to take place in the kingdom of Judah.
Also worth considering is the fact that there are no messages to the Israelites in Nahum that they must be careful to turn from the error of their own ways in order to escape the falling judgment. Although an argument from silence, it seems more likely that Josiah's restoration of the worship of YHWH in Judah had granted them unprecedented favour so that God has this message delivered to assure them that their enemies are being taken care of.
His zeal for YHWH demonstrated through the land that had been resettled by Assyrian subjects could not have failed to have been noticed by emissaries of the kingdom and reported back to the capital. The events of II Kings 22:3, 23:8,19 and II Chron 34:6 appear all to have taken place in the eighteenth year of his reign - that is, c.622BC, ten years before the fall of Nineveh - but he appears to have begun cleansing Judah of idolatrous practices from an earlier time. II Chron 34:3 notes that in the eighth year of his reign (632BC)
'...while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father...'
but that, in his twelfth year (which began sometime during 629BC),
'...he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the graven and the molten images'
going on to note other events that seem attributable to this time. It may well be, therefore, that a perceived threat to Assyrian rule came to the Judahites' minds around 629BC, one year prior to Ashurbanipal's death.
Nahum's prophecy may have prompted Josiah to go from strength to strength and not to heed the implications of his ventures into the old northern kingdom of Israel that took place later in his reign.
It seems, therefore, possible to place the pronouncement through Nahum to have been delivered within the first five years of Josiah's reign (640-635BC) if we could accept that reform began to be brought in that demonstrably undermined the continued nature of Judah as Assyria's vassal state or the last two years of Ashurbanipal's reign when we know that major restorations were taking place (629-627BC) - rather than within the latter years of Manasseh's reign (c.650-642BC). Although the latter's restoration of Israelite worship seems to have been a local event that bore little threat to the continued vassal nature of the king's reign, there's the statement in II Chron 33:14 that, after his return to Jerusalem following repentance
'...he built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering in at the fish gate, and compassed about Ophel, and raised it up a very great height, and put captains of war in all the fenced cities of Judah'
Such rebuilding work and seeming preparation for war could have caught the attention of the King of Assyria very easily and the date for the delivery of Nahum would be much nearer proving that the person of Nahum 1:11 could have been Sennacherib.
Trying to establish a date for Manasseh's rebellion, Nahpal notes that Ashurbanipal suffered a rebellion in 648BC and that, while he was putting this down, Manasseh could have found opportunity to throw off Assyrian rule. Somewhere between 648-639BC, the Assyrian records show that the king sent armies west to put down the revolting nations and, even though Judah isn't mentioned, this would be the most likely period in which Manasseh was captured and transported to Babylon.
As Manasseh's reign came to an end in 642BC, the years in which Manasseh could have been restoring Judah could not have been much more than between 647-642BC and this must be the bounds of the other possible date for the composition of Nahum.
We must therefore suggest three very narrow time periods in which a message such as Nahum's would be required - either 647-642BC in the last years of the reign of Manasseh (a date that Nahpal prefers), 640-635BC during the early years of Josiah or 629-627BC under the same king.
My own personal preference is towards the latter of these while the second would be the most unlikely.
2. The History of Nineveh
Having had a look through the known history of the city of Nineveh and kingdom of Assyria in which the city lay (in fact, Assyria is only mentioned once in Nahum in 3:18 and, even there, it's a descriptor of the king who's resident within the city. As such, Nahum's prophecy is not a declaration of the overthrow of a kingdom but more specifically of its main capital which, ultimately, had national implications), it seems to me that there isn't too much to be gained by providing here an extensive record of the foundation, formation, development, expansion and overthrow of either the kingdom or the city itself.
The message of Nahum is that God has purposed that Nineveh's time of supremacy and dominion over the earth has come to an end and that it would receive payment for its own way of living and its dealings on earth.
We don't read too much as to the specific reason for the judgment - if there were one or two major traits - and we simply read of YHWH's pronouncements concerning how the end will come. The only two places where the offence could be retrieved from the text are Nahum 1:11 (which is usually taken by commentators to be referring to king Sennacherib in the events of II Kings chapters 18 and 19 - although judgment for that action had already been received), 3:1 (the city is declared to be full of lies and exploitation - presumably, of those nations against which it had previously come) and 3:4 (where the betrayal of the nations is specified and Nineveh is labelled a harlot. Even so, the nature of such actions isn't specified - that is, in what ways had they betrayed the nations? We simply aren't told).
At the same time, God's people were about to have their fortunes restored and this as a consequence of the oppressor's bonds being broken from off them. There is a slight hint that God has used Nineveh's aggression for His own will and purpose in Nahum 1:12 but this isn't spelt out in any great detail (though it's plainly stated in Isaiah 10:5-11,24 for example) and we're left with a text that deals mainly with God's judgment on Nineveh rather than to provide a framework in which such an action can be seen to be just (but notice Isaiah 10:12,25-27 where Nahum's prophecy concerning Nineveh could well be seen as the conclusion of YHWH's use for the nation of Assyria, even more so as, with the fall of Nineveh, Assyria as a sovereign nation ceased to exist).
Jonah and Nahum have this in common in that they both pronounce an imminent judgment without specifying the reason for such a decision being reached. However, as previously noted, they also differ in that Jonah was sent to the city with the message of judgment while it appears better to accept that Nahum's message was delivered to the people of Israel to inform and encourage them as to what was shortly to take place.
Although not spelt out, we may not be going too far to conclude that, while repentance followed Jonah's preaching, a lapsing into ways that were unacceptable to YHWH had subsequently occurred and that repentance was no longer being offered to the people.
Having stated that the history of Nineveh is of minimal importance, there are some historical events that need to be outlined as background information.
The name 'Nineveh', according to Zondervan, is
'...a transliteration of the Assyrian ninua, a name of the goddess Ishtar written ideographically with the cuneiform sign of a fish within an enclosure'
something that causes us to see the natural effect that a preaching Jonah would have had if he had declared that he had come to the city from the inside of a fish!
Biblically, we first read of Nineveh in Gen 10:11-12, the RSV reading that
'From [Babylon], [Nimrod] went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.'
and making Nimrod the founder of the city with all that that would imply (see here). However, the text is more likely to read
'From that country, Ashur went out and built Nineveh...'
implying an expansion from Nimrod's first settlement but not as a direct result of his hand. Even so, the implication is that Nineveh was the daughter of the mother city and, therefore, that it shared the foundational traits.
Archaeologically, it's generally accepted that the site was occupied since at least 4500BC (although there are some dissenters) and, therefore, it appears to have been one of the great founding cities of ancient history, just as the Biblical record maintains.
Nineveh grew progressively in significance through the centuries with rebuilding and expansion work being undertaken frequently. It rose to become one of the main centres of royal administration following it's enlargement and refortification under Shalmaneser I (1263-1234BC) and Tukulti-Ninurta I (1233-1197BC).
Therefore, three future kings - Tiglath-Pileser I (1114-1076BC - the first king to reach the shores of the Mediterranean Sea through conquest), Ashurnasirpal II (883-859BC) and Sargon II (722-705BC) - built palaces here. It would have been to Nineveh especially that the wealth of the cities that were plundered in battle would have been brought, increasing its wealth and prosperous ease, providing adequate funds for the continuing development of the city itself.
It was to a prosperous city that Jonah would have come, built on the plundered wealth of the nations, probably prior to Sargon II's building work - a prophet by exactly the same name is recorded for us (II Kings 14:25) in the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (782-753BC - although he probably began to reign as co-regent alongside his father in 793BC) which, if it's assumed to be referring to the same prophet, places him as alive somewhere in the eighth century BC. There is, unfortunately, no specific dating evidence within the scroll of Jonah itself.
Shalmaneser V (727-722BC) was the Assyrian king who was responsible for the final exile of the northern tribes (II Kings 17:1-7) and it's not hard to imagine that the wealth taken from the land would have been used in part by his successor, Sargon II, to build his palace at Nineveh.
It was Sennacherib (705-681BC), however, who re-established Nineveh on a grand scale, rebuilding the city walls, bringing new water supplies in to the city from around thirty miles distant to provide for the increase in inhabitants within the new fortifications (that is, the increased water supply would have been necessary to provide for its inhabitants in times of siege, otherwise water could have been obtained from the numerous sources around the urban area). It was Sennacherib who elevated Nineveh to be the supreme royal city above all the others in the kingdom.
In a prism inscription found in 1830, it's recorded that the tribute exacted from Hezekiah of Judah (II Kings 18:13-16) was brought to Nineveh. Indeed, Assyria - of which Nineveh was a part - plagued Israel and Judah for many years until its overthrow by Babylon - who then took up where Assyria left off (incredibly, the rejoicing of the Israelites over Assyria's destruction was to be short lived but, even so, Scripture makes it plain that the oppression by a new empire came about and continued through disobedience to the will of YHWH).
Following Sennacherib's assassination in 681BC (II Kings 19:36-37), Nineveh fell in to the hands of insurgents until Esarhaddon (681-669BC) recaptured the city in 680BC and built a palace there, although it didn't serve as his primary place of residence.
However, his successor, Ashurbanipal (669-627BC) returned to live at Nineveh. It was towards the end of his reign that Nineveh went in to decline and, following continued economic contraction under three successive kings, it weakened its influence until its overthrow in 612BC.
Present day Nineveh lies as a waste with just two mounds of debris visible named Quyunjiq (or Kuyunjiq - meaning 'many sheep') and Nebi Yunus ('the prophet Jonah') on the east side of the Tigris, although the city once covered a much larger expanse. The remains are constantly under threat from the continued expansion of the city of Mosul nearby and, presumably, looting of the archaeological deposits (the Iraqi war will not have helped matters in this regard).
3. Who was Nahum?
The name 'Nahum' occurs only twice in Scripture, once at the beginning of the prophetic book (Nahum 1:1) and the other included in the genealogical list of Jesus Christ (Luke 3:25). The Hebrew word (Strongs Hebrew number 5151) is literally translated 'Comfort' and whether it was the prophet's assumed or original name is indeterminable.
It's certainly a fitting description of the prophecy if delivered - as we've already noted - to the Israelites in the southern kingdom of Judah rather than as a word of warning to Nineveh itself. Nahsmi points out, however, that the name
'...is intensive in form...so Nahum should mean "full of comfort"'
so that, what emanates from the servant is considered to be an overflow from the person he is - that is, the message of comfort is a natural extension of the character of the man.
Nahsmi notes that the name
'...occurs frequently in Northwest Semitic inscriptions, once in the Arad ostraca (seventh century BC) and once in the Lachish letters (seventh century BC)'
as well as being common in the Mishnah (although this observation is probably attributable to Jews naming their son after the Biblical prophet as the text was compiled during the first two centuries AD).
The compound name 'Nehemiah' is the title of a more 'famous' Israelite and means 'YHWH comforts' but Nahum is better attributed to the prophecy itself as being 'the comfort' - that is, although 'YHWH comforts' His people, His means through His servant are the words contained within the scroll and are, therefore, 'the comfort' itself. The man and the message therefore become YHWH's gift of comfort to them.
Nahum is declared as being 'of Elkosh', a village, city or region that's now unknown, the literal translation of which is variously rendered by commentators.
As we've seen above, we've been able to attribute the delivery of the message within the parameters of 663-612BC so the same dates give us some framework in which to place the prophet himself. More than this, however, is impossible to be certain about.
4. Assyrian and Ninevite Scriptures
In this brief section, I aim to deal with most of the Biblical references to both Assyria and Nineveh and try to lay out some common themes and background prophetic pronouncements that don't appear in Nahum's vision.
a. Historical References
Assyria is first mentioned in Gen 2:14 simply as a locating descriptor of the river Tigris. It seems a strange use of both names as the Flood will take place in the narrative beginning in Gen 6:1 and the earth that then existed will be so radically changed from what it once was that the location of the areas should be different. But these labels were used by the writer to give contemporary meaning to ancient events.
After the Flood, Assyria and Nineveh are mentioned together in Gen 10:11-12 but it's the latter that's the real reason for the passage as the text describes the founding of the city which is then observed to be in the land of Assyria - again, this latter name is probably added to inform the reader of the region's contemporary name to confirm that the same city is being referred to that was then in existence.
Assyria is then only mentioned once more (while Nineveh is ignored) before the Israelites are established in the Land in a passing reference in Gen 25:18 where it's the general vicinity in which Ishmael's sons settle.
By the time Assyria is mentioned again, it's become a thorn in the side of Israel.
King Menahem of Israel (752-742BC) is recorded as being forced to pay tribute to King Pul of Assyria (the name 'Pul' is the Israelite name - attested in the Babylonian Chronicle also - for king Tiglath-Pileser III who's mentioned by his longer name in the days of Pekah, below) in order for his support in establishing his throne (II Kings 15:19-20) when the king came against Israel. It's also apparent that some exiling of Israel took place under this Assyrian king (I Chron 5:6,26).
In the days of King Pekah of Israel (740-732BC), Tiglath-pileser began to capture Israelite territory and to remove the people in to Assyria, presumably as slaves (II Kings 15:29).
During the days of Pekah (the date must have been somewhere between 736-732BC), King Ahaz of Judah paid tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria to come up and help him defeat Israel and Syria that were waging war against him (II Kings 16:5-9, II Chron 28:16) but it appears that he came not as an ally but as an enemy (II Chron 28:20-21). Ahaz even went so far as to have a replica of the altar he saw in Damascus (where he'd gone to meet the Assyrian king) built in Jersusalem for the worship of YHWH (II Kings 16:10-16, II Chron 28:22-23). He also modified his palace to keep in alliance with Tiglath-pileser III (II Kings 16:18).
King Hoshea of Israel (732-722BC) became king Shalmaneser of Assyria's vassal (II Kings 17:3) but rebelled against his rule by attempting an alliance with Egypt (II Kings 17:4). Having imprisoned the Israelite king, Shalmaneser invaded Israel and lay siege to Samaria, the capital, for three years before it finally fell in 722BC (II Kings 17:5-6, 18:9-12), exiling the people away from the land into Assyria (II Kings 17:24).
It's clear from the explanation given in the Scriptures that Assyria was the tool used by YHWH to judge His people because of their continued rebellion against Him (II Kings 17:7-23).
Resettlement of the land took place under the Assyrian king (II Kings 17:24ff) which, presumably, was the standard practice of the empire - absorbing nations into their infrastructure and placing more faithful subjects over conquered lands. It's worthy of note that the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (681-669BC) also appears to have moved some of his citizens in to the land at a future date (Ezra 4:2).
King Hezekiah of Judah (726-697BC), who began to reign during the final years of the Israelite kingdom, also suffered at the hands of the Assyrian empire. As the northern kingdom grew weak and crumbled, the natural cushion against such an attack was removed.
But Hezekiah refused to become a vassal state to Assyria (II Kings 18:7), becoming weaker as the fortified cities of Judah were overthrown by Assyria's advancing armies (II Kings 18:13). However, he relented and paid tribute (II Kings 18:14-16) only after pronouncing deliverance to Judah and Israel from Assyria in the first year of his reign as he attempted to bring the people back to a national celebration of Passover (II Chron 30:6). The paying of tribute took place in his fourteenth regnal year (II Kings 18:13) and appears only to have been a temporary blip, occurring in approximately 712BC, a year before Ashdod fell to Assyria (Isaiah 20:1-6) under king Sargon II (722-705BC).
He was soon again beseiged by the Assyrian armies, probably immediately before the delegation of officials that came from the king of Assyria during the reign of Sennacherib (705-681BC) and he took measures to block up all the land's sources of water (II Chron 32:1-8).
Then followed one of the most memorable stand-offs in Biblical history where a weakened and beleaguered nation refused to bow down before an army that could easily have wiped it off the map of world history as it had done with Israel and Samaria (II Kings 18:17-19:37, II Chron 32:9-22, Isaiah 36:1-37:38). Eventually, Sennacherib, king of Assyria was murdered upon his return to Nineveh, a fulfilment of Isaiah's prophetic message but occurring numerous years afterwards, even after Hezekiah's death, although the Biblical text causes the reader to think that it occurred immediately.
Having been given the assurance that Jerusalem would be safe against Assyria (II Kings 20:6), Hezekiah welcomed messengers from the rising star of Babylon and was told that, ultimately, Babylon would overthrow the land after Hezekiah's death (II Kings 20:12-19, II Chron 32:31, Isaiah 39:1-8).
King Manasseh of Judah (697-642BC) was exiled from the land by commanders of the Assyrian army who took him to the city of Babylon (II Chron 33:10-13), then under Assyrian control.
We hear about Assyria next in the reign of king Josiah of Judah (640-609BC) when Josiah unwisely tried to prevent Pharaoh Neco from advancing through the land to lend support to the last king of Assyria (II Kings 23:28-30) who was then besieged by the Babylonian army. It resulted in Josiah's death and took place three years after the destruction of Nineveh when king Ashur-uballit II had established continued Assyrian rule at Haran for a final two or three years.
Mention must be made of Ezra 6:22 where the king of Assyria is mentioned as having given aid and help to the rebuilding of the Temple. Strictly speaking, there was no Assyrian king at this point in history, for the kingdom had long since been absorbed into the Babylonian and, then, Median and Persian kingdom - neither is there any evidence to suggest that this is an early scribal error. It seems best to accept the text as indicating that the king who now ruled over the old Assyrian empire is being meant, with an implication for readers that, today, is not easily perceivable.
It would be the same as calling the Queen of England, the Queen of Wessex.
b. Prophetic References
The prophetic mixes with the historical in such a way that it becomes difficult at times to extricate the two so they can stand separate. However, it's important that we attempt a division to be able to see what pronouncements were made regarding both Nineveh and Assyria.
The story of Jonah (an event that we have, above, placed firmly as having occurred in the eighth century BC) is that YHWH is concerned not only about the people who He's called to serve Him as a special possession in the earth but about the continued existence of nations who don't profess to know Him.
For this reason, the prophet Jonah is sent to Nineveh - not with a message of repentance but of judgment (Jonah 3:4). Yet, because the city believes that the message is true and that they can do something about their impending fate, they repent and find YHWH willing to forgive and turn from the pouring out of His wrath upon them.
It would be too much a stretch of the imagination if we were to assert that there were already Israelites present in Nineveh, brought there during the reign of Pekah of Israel (740-732BC) as mentioned above, and that they were instrumental in persuading the Ninevites to take Jonah's message seriously.
But Nineveh was almost certainly made up of a cross-section of many people who had been brought there from the conquered nations of the Assyrian army. It's this incident that lies as the foundation of three references in the NT (Mtw 12:41, Luke 11:30,32), two of which hold up the willingness of the Ninevites to repent along with the preaching of the OT prophet as an example to Jesus' contemporaries who were unwilling to turn round their lives at a time when something greater was taking place in their midst.
II Kings 19:20-37 represents the pronouncement of a judgment that had already been fulfilled by the time Nahum delivered his message. We've dealt with the context of this passage above and we need not go in to the details of the pronouncement here seeing as it has no real relevance to Nahum's message.
It almost certainly took place after Jonah's visit to Nineveh but it would be wrong for us to think that in attacking Israel, Nineveh had turned back to the wickedness that God was about to judge years before. The message of Jonah is that the city was wicked before God - not that they had an unacceptable foreign policy.
The prophet Isaiah mentions the Assyrians the most often of all the prophets.
In the days of king Ahaz of Judah (736-726BC), Isaiah was told to prophecy concerning the Assyrian kingdom that it would overcome the Syrians and the northern kingdom of Israel and would flow into the land of Judah as a victorious conqueror (Isaiah 7:1-8:8 - the Assyrians are mentioned in 7:17,18,20, 8:4,7. The passage that begins with 7:1 includes the 'virgin birth' discourse - which makes sense and finds fulfilment in the context of and contemporaneously with the time of delivery - and is probably meant to be thought of as continuing, uninterrupted, until the end of chapter 12).
As such, the Assyrians were therefore considered to be God's tool of judgment (as are other nations within the pages of Scripture, most famously Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28-45:6) and the prophet goes on at some length to outline the use to which YHWH is employing them (Isaiah 10:5-27). It's clearly God who sends the nation against others (Isaiah 10:5-6) even though the Assyrians regard their purposes as dreamed up in their own imagination (Isaiah 10:7-11,13-14). But YHWH will return the arrogance of the Assyrians upon their own heads when His purpose is finished (Isaiah 10:12,15-19).
It's clear, therefore, that we should see in the historical records something of YHWH's hand directing the Assyrians to wake His people up to a pure and devoted service rather than to see them as a series of unfortunate and unrelated events.
The restoration of His people is subsequently promised but only once the Assyrian has been destroyed (Isaiah 10:20-27, 11:11,16, 27:13). It seems plain, however, that a restoration of the nation was dependant upon a correct response to the prophetic message being delivered, the Israelites serving Him and placing their trust in Him rather than going after material security that could neither profit nor deliver.
Isaiah went even further by declaring that the Assyrians and Egyptians would be converted to serve Him (Isaiah 19:23-25) to such an extent that they would become equal thirds of the one true worship of God in the earth (I bet that didn't go down very well with the remaining Israelites who received the message from Isaiah!).
c. Judgment References
In summary, there are three main passages that deal with the judgment that was to be poured out on the Assyrian empire and/or Nineveh (the message of Isaiah to Hezekiah concerning the Assyrian army and king Sennacherib was fulfilled partially immediately and fully a few years later but the remaining prophetic utterances fall into three sections).
Firstly, Isaiah 10:5-27 looks at the use of Assyria that YHWH made but how that, once their usefulness came to an end, He would judge them for their evil ways. This is a warning not only in days gone by but also today to all who are used by God, not to elevate themselves above the One who commissions. The passage gives a good reason to underpin the pronouncements of Nahum against Nineveh as 'specifics' are generally lacking from that message. As such, it provides a good explanation as to why nations and empires are overthrown throughout the course of history.
Secondly, Nahum deals with the actual destruction and overthrow of the capital city of Nineveh rather than trying to give background reasons why the judgment is justified. If we were to provide a simplistic summary of the book, we could say that it's a record of the way God will destroy the Assyrian empire through the overthrow of their capital city.
It's up to Zephaniah 2:13-15, however, to deal with the end result of this action. The sacking of Nineveh results in there being desolation left where wild animals regain the ground as a wild habitat, something that has been true since its overthrow even until the present day.
The superscription is in two parts, the prophet's name being relegated to second place before the importance of the subject matter. There probably isn't meant to be too much read in to such an order as these superscriptions served readers who picked up a scroll to determine the subject matter and author without needing to make an assessment based on content that would have taken time.
This appears to have been how superscriptions found themselves becoming 'verse 1' in our 'book' forms of the scrolls - instead of faithfully reproducing only the body of text that was contained within the scroll, the scribe prefixed the text by what had been committed on the outside of the scroll, while even later scribes assigned a name to the book based on the superscription (the name by which we now call the book).
It's therefore strange that commentators draw too many unusual conclusions from them. For example, Nahoza writes that
'The word "book" is not found elsewhere in a superscription of this kind, and may underline the fact that Nahum was a written document'
This only demonstrates a failure to understand the need for a descriptive label in a library full of text works (and it's why present day book spines have the title and author on them and why libraries have a referencing system to be able to identify volumes that are trying to be located).
Probably the most important word to be mentioned at the very outset is 'Nineveh' because it's not obvious from the beginning of the work that it's this city that's being addressed. We only read the name in two places in the text - in Nahum 2:8 and 3:7 - but the superscription allows the browser to view a 'Contents' statement before deciding whether it's the scroll that they're either looking for or wanting to read.
Although the superscriptions are important and worthy of consideration, we must remember that they were primarily an indexing tool and too much information can be read in to them.
Moving on to the superscription itself, then, firstly we have the statement that this scroll is
'An oracle concerning Nineveh'
For a discussion of the word translated 'oracle' see here where the conclusion drawn was that
'...a weight [is] placed upon the prophet which he's forced to carry and bring to the necessary recipients by committing it to writing...in much the same way as any beast of burden is loaded with a weight that must be borne to whichever destination that the master chooses. It may be disturbing for us to think of these 'words' as being 'weights' or compulsions which are difficult to oppose but that seems to be the intention of the word of YHWH as it came through prophets...It wasn't that [Nahum] had sat down and dreamed the message up, neither that he'd consulted the former prophets, reworked their messages and come up with his own brand of 'spirituality', but that a coercion or pressure had come upon him that he was at pains to despatch to whomsoever he was directed'
The burden deals with Nineveh. We've already noted in the introduction that the message is not directed towards the Assyrian kingdom but that, as a consequence, it would have an effect on it. In retrospect, it was the final catastrophic event that would undermine and destroy Assyria, the kingdom being absorbed into the Babylonian empire, but this is not the primary message of the prophecy.
Instead, Nahum is careful to show only that God has judged the city of Nineveh and will pour out His wrath upon it. However, certain Scriptures do hint at the likelihood that this prophecy was meant to be understood as having consequences that would ultimately overthrow Assyrian itself.
For example, Nahum 1:15 speaks of the city being destroyed so that the threat of an invasion of Israel is no longer a possibility. This could only be a possibility if the kingdom was to fall alongside the city. Likewise, Nahum 3:18 speaks of all the king of Assyria's subjects being leaderless, wandering like sheep that are obeying no one, with no royal head over them - something that could only come about if the sovereignty of the Assyrian throne had been removed along with the destruction of the palatial city. And, in Nahum 3:19, that the peoples of the world would rejoice in the city's destruction because Nineveh's evil had come upon them all is more plausible if the ability to conquer had been taken from it - that is, if the kingdom of which Nineveh was a part had been rendered impotent.
Although Nineveh didn't become the main capital of the Assyrian empire until the times of Sennacherib, in the days of Nahum it most certainly was the sovereign and political capital of the empire.
Even in the present day, one would think of the overthrow and destruction of London as being the annihilation of England as a sovereign, self-determining state for it's here that the Government and the Crown are based. To remove the rulers would be to remove the need for their subjects to obey and, therefore, the State would be considered to no longer exist.
So, although the oracle concerns specifically the city of Nineveh, it seems obvious from other passages within the scroll that, in that overthrow, the kingdom of Assyria was also to be completely destroyed, never to rise again (although an attempt was made for the three years after Nineveh's destruction to continue Assyrian rule from Haran after which Babylon sacked the city and repulsed the Egyptian military help that came north to aid it).
Secondly, we have the statement that what follows is
'The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh'
Both the name of the prophet and the city or area from which he came have been dealt with in the introduction above. It would appear that the vision was committed to parchment in living memory of it having been delivered as, otherwise, the name and origin of the prophet concerned may well have been forgotten.
The word translated 'book' (Strongs Hebrew number 5612, M1540a) is more properly rendered 'scroll' in this context and this would have been the form in which the work was stored in libraries. The word is derived from another meaning to 'count' or 'recount' and, therefore, the underlying implication is that the scroll has something on it that's worth being remembered.
TWOTOT notes that the term could be applied to 'legal documents' (see Deut 24:1 where the word 'bill' is the same Hebrew word and, by context, is meant to imply a small written item) and 'official letters' (see I Kings 21:8 where the word 'letters' is the translation. Again, the idea is not of something large but compact and easily transportable by messenger).
This has application and context for the work under consideration. It's worth seeing Nahum's message as being an 'official letter' from YHWH to His people, a 'legally binding document' that YHWH was carefully working out to bring to a fulfilment in the hearers' experience.
The bottom line, however, is that the word means simply 'a written document' without any original implication of how that document was to be stored. When it came to the Scriptures, however, they were kept rolled up because of their length and the need to protect the written surfaces from decay and degradation.
But, as noted above, to use the presence of this word (that only occurs in this superscription of all the prophets) to assert that it was originally a literary work is incorrect - it's only part of a label added by a library attendant to make accessibility easier. In fact, it may tell us more about the beliefs of the librarian that may have had him use it because he considered it to be an 'official letter from YHWH to His people'.
Finally, the work is described as a record of the 'vision' (Strongs Hebrew number 2377, M633a), a word that's associated with the word translated 'seen' in the superscription of Habbakuk. I noted there that the word was not meant to be taken as something that was visualised but that it meant
'...something more akin to "perceived" or "realised" - that is, the superscription is informing the reader that what follows was perceived by the prophet as being what YHWH wanted to say to him as a person and, subsequently, to any of the nation who were willing to listen...one who perceives what God had to say into a situation was thought to be a see-er of matters which had remained hidden and would have continued to be so had not a revelation from God been given'
A discussion of superscriptions amongst the prophets can be found here.
The Five Statements of God's Character
There are five statements in the opening verse and a half that each contain the name of God along with statements about His character. These set the mood of the prophecy that's to follow and, as the superscription would not have been a part of the original declaration, the listeners would not have been clear whether the statements being made were to be applied to themselves or to a Third Party at this point.
But each of the statements would have been foundational propositions that could not have been denied without also denying what was demonstrably obvious about the One they professed to serve.
I am using a reformatting of the translation so that the name of YHWH appears first in each phrase under discussion. This causes the English to be set out as:
Nahum 1:2a YHWH is a jealous God and avenging
Nahum 1:2b YHWH is avenging and wrathful
Nahum 1:2c YHWH takes vengeance on his adversaries and rages against His enemies
Nahum 1:3a YHWH is slow to anger and of great might
Nahum 1:3b YHWH will by no means clear the guilty
However, it's obvious from looking at the Hebrew at this point that, to maintain a more literal order for the translated words, it should be rendered in English along the lines of:
Nahum 1:2a A jealous God and avenging is YHWH
Nahum 1:2b Avenging is YHWH and wrathful
Nahum 1:2c Taking vengeance is YHWH on His adversaries, raging against His enemies
Nahum 1:3a YHWH is slow to anger and of great might
Nahum 1:3b He will by no means clear the guilty, will YHWH
In the following short section (Nahum 1:3c-6), a passage that draws upon phenomena of nature, the name of God is not used at all.
Many commentators propose that the original work began (Nahum 1:2-2:3) as an acrostic (the beginning of the first line is the first letter of the alphabet, the beginning of the second uses the second and so on) but there needs to be some serious reconstruction of the text to make this happen and its implications on the accuracy of the transmission of the scroll through time are major.
Besides, by comparing the text of the earliest known copies with those compiled at a much later date, it can be shown that scribal error was minimal. It has to be a vast stretch of the imagination to suppose that systematic rewriting/transmission error took place in the period from the date of composition or recording through to the time of the first received text.
Nahsmi, after refusing to accept that such an acrostic exists, goes on to comment (my italics) that
'...there seems to be a broken acrostic in 1:2-8'
which is, in effect, saying that there's no natural acrostic at all! He also notes that there's often an attempt to 'reconstruct' the text to cause an acrostic to occur that uses just half the alphabet in Nahum 1:2-8 but this appears to be a struggle to catch the wind, bottle it and market it as 'fresh and vibrant, full of natural goodness, just as nature intended'.
Perhaps I'm just cynical, but I can't help but be of the opinion that such considerations are best avoided. It seems to be more sound reason that sometimes it's best to cross to the other side of the street to make sure you don't step in the dirt.
Perhaps more significantly - and definitely of more interest - is the way there's a repetition of use of Hebrew words in these five statements of God's character. Using the more literal order of words of the untranslated text that I reproduced above, this can be represented as:
Nahum 1:2a A jealous God and avenging (S5358) is YHWH (S3068)
Nahum 1:2b Avenging (S5358) is YHWH (S3068) and wrathful
Nahum 1:2c Taking vengeance (S5358) is YHWH (S3068) on His adversaries, raging against His enemies
Nahum 1:3a YHWH (S3068) is slow to anger and of great might
Nahum 1:3b He will by no means (S5352) clear (S5352) the guilty, will YHWH (S3068)
where 'S' is the number assigned to it in Strongs Exhaustive Concordance. Ten of the twenty-three words employed are represented by just three originals. By using such repetition, forgetting the main points of the passage is made less likely (it's clear where modern day preachers must get their inspiration from).
Nahsmi, commenting on the same section we will be dealing with, writes (my italics)
'It is a descriptive psalm, not concerned with the attributes of Yahweh, but with His actions'
but this is hardly close. Describing God as 'jealous', 'wrathful' and 'slow to anger' hardly demand action as stated. Indeed, YHWH being, especially, 'slow to anger' would, by implication, require a lack of action while the first two don't necessarily require activity for them to be true.
I fully agree that YHWH is not a God of passivity and that His character prompts Him to act, to be involved, to take a purposeful hand in all His Creation but some of the descriptors here don't in themselves cause us to see an associated action.
1. Nahum 1:2a-b
YHWH is a jealous God and avenging,
YHWH is avenging and wrathful
God is here described as both jealous (Strongs Greek number 7072, M2038c) and avenging (Strongs Greek number 5358, M1413), a God who is wrathful (Strongs Hebrew number 2534, M860a).
Although not seemingly significant - except to some who wish to assert that such a statement shows that the opening words are borrowed from another source in the compilation of this work - I mention in passing that the word for 'God' (Strongs Hebrew number 410, M93a) is used only here in Nahum.
Please note that if anyone at some future time should find any of my web pages to contain a single word not repeated anywhere else on that web page, I still intend claiming authorship for it and expecting royalties.
The word translated 'jealous' is used on only one other occasion in the OT in Joshua 24:19 where Joshua says to the Israelites (my italics)
'You cannot serve YHWH; for He is a holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins'
The word is an adjective - that is, a word that modifies, defines or gives some meaning to the noun that follows it. Here, Nahum causes the reader to think not of the fulness of the character of God (or he would have written 'YHWH is God') but of one particular aspect, His jealousy. This is the type of God that the Israelites serve and it's because of this part of His nature that the following message will only make sense and be seen as an outworking of that part of His character.
We shouldn't get hung up that the word occurs only twice - the word group occurs not infrequently (S7065/M2038 - 33 times, S7067/M2038b - 6 times, S7068/M2038a - 43 times) and is used of both God and men.
As a useful way to understand the meaning behind the word, TWOTOT suggests that
'It may prove helpful to think of zeal as the original sense from which derived the notions:
zeal for another's property = envy
zeal for one's own property = jealousy'
Both man and God's jealousy, therefore, are centred in the desire or expectation that what belongs to them by right should only be enjoyed by or provide benefit for them. A distorted characteristic would be to throw an expectation of enjoyment on something that isn't rightly under one's control or ownership - that is, envy.
The word group, therefore, is occasionally translated 'envy' where such a definition seems to be necessary (Gen 26:14, 30:1, 37:11, Job 5:2, Prov 3:31, 14:30, 23:17, 27:4, Eccles 9:6, Isaiah 11:13, 26:11, Ezek 35:11) and we may be right in seeing 'envy' being spoken against in the ten commandments where covetousness is forbidden, a desire to possess objects and people that lie outside the rightful control of the person desiring them.
The legislation surrounding the jealous husband (Num 5:11-31) can much more easily be understood if the emotion being experienced by the husband is seen as a desire to protect his rights over what's regarded as his own property. Although this legislation was open to abuse, it was, no doubt, an advance on what Israelite society was doing prior to the Law being given. And, instead of taking the matter into his own hand as may have been the case in times past, YHWH is called upon to be a witness of the sin being levelled against the wife (Num 5:16,18,21,25,30) and would clear the guiltless so that the husband no longer had a right to accuse or, further, divorce her.
Jealousy, therefore, is a strong characteristic of men and women, an integral part of everyday lives that can very easily get out of hand if not checked and controlled to reflect the One from whom it exists - for true jealousy is a characteristic of God Himself. Therefore, we read in Num 25:11 (see also I Kings 19:10,14) that YHWH justifies Phinehas because he
'...has turned back My wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in My jealousy'
That is, Phinehas demonstrated a divine jealousy for God's people that protected them from the outpouring of the wrath of God, making atonement for the people (Num 25:13).
God's jealousy, then, is as it was defined by TWOTOT. Namely that He is being zealous for His own property, indignant that His own possession is being enjoyed by or providing benefit to someone other than Himself.
So, the writer observes (Deut 32:16 see also I Kings 14:22, Psalm 78:58) that the Israelites
'...stirred Him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominable practices they provoked Him to anger'
because service and obedience, only rightfully given to Him, were being bestowed upon a third party. Nahoza is correct when he describes God's jealousy as denoting
'...the attribute which demands exclusive devotion and is intolerant of rivals'
and Nahbak that
'...when a relationship between God and His people was entered into, it was to be exclusive of all other parties on both sides'
and Nahsmi that
'God would allow no rivals in the covenant between Him and Israel. He bound Israel exclusively to His service and He swore to protect her against all enemies'
God Himself says (Deut 32:21) that
'They have stirred Me to jealousy with what is no god; they have provoked Me with their idols. So I will stir them to jealousy with those who are no people; I will provoke them with a foolish nation'
where He decides to benefit a nation with whom He hasn't covenanted in order for Israel to discover that their special possession is being enjoyed by and is benefiting a nation that has no covenantal right to do so.
It seems relevant here to note that this isn't solely an OT proposition as the Church would like to maintain. A movement that's followed a new outpouring of God's presence would be in the same position if they swapped the liberty and freedom of life in the Spirit for the traditionalism of legal observance. As has often been the case, God has moved on and raised up new believers, provoking the old movement to jealousy but providing them with the opportunity in their outrage to repent.
Normally, however, an old traditionalism condemns the new and pronounces itself as being the sole keepers of the 'flame', rather than contemplate and confess that they might have been bypassed. Incredibly, that's exactly what the first century Jews did when Messiah came.
Returning to Nahum, YHWH is stated as being jealous at the very outset so that it can be seen from what He's acting.
This opening phrase doesn't clarify to the listeners whether God is jealous for His people because they're providing service for another god or whether, as will be seen as the prophecy unfolds, God is jealous that a rapacious third party has injured His own possession and will act against them just as a jealous husband would do.
In both cases, we see that God has suffered injury and that He will now redress the balance in His own favour (see also Ezekiel 39:25, Joel 2:18, Zech 1:14, 8:2), something that it's hard not to see as arising from God's relationship towards His people as being husband.
b. Vengeance and Anger
The word for 'avenging' is used three times in this short opening and sits initially as a further pronouncement and explanation of what's about to follow. The word is used 35 times in the OT but it has two derived words that are used to convey the same general meaning (S5359/M1413a - 17 times and S5360/M1413b - 27 times).
The word group is translated variously in the AV and both 'avenge' and 'revenge' feature prominently (between the three main groups of English words, the three Hebrew words are rendered 38 times by 'vengeance', 26 times by 'avenge' and 7 times by 'revenge').
But what's the difference between 'avenge' and 'revenge' and is it important to make a distinction?
Chambers Dictionary seems to see little or no difference between 'avenge' and 'revenge', although the latter entry is more colourful and explanatory. To most present day people, therefore, it seems as if the words are used interchangeably with very little difference of meaning.
Nahoza, however, notes the difference as being that
'Revenge implies a strong desire to get one's own back for an injury received. There is however nothing of this in the character of God. He simply avenges, or punishes, the wicked for their idolatry and inhumanity'
so that, in his assessment, 'revenge' seems to imply a personal response to a personal injury whereas 'avenge' becomes almost an impersonal response to a general transgression. I found http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/avenge gave a good workable definition of the two terms. They write that
'The two words [revenge and avenge] were formerly interchangeable, but have been differentiated until they now convey widely diverse ideas. Avenge is now restricted to inflicting punishment as an act of retributive justice or as a vindication of propriety: to avenge a murder by bringing the criminal to trial. Revenge implies inflicting pain or harm to retaliate for real or fancied wrongs'
If this is the case (and I have no reason to doubt it - or accept it!) then the different translations in the Bible could be conveying a sense that may not be present in the word.
The only way to attempt an understanding of the Hebrew is to see how the word is employed and whether one or the other - or neither, or both - meanings are yielded in context. As with a lot of Biblical words, though, the use of the word gives us a very different understanding of the underlying meaning for they're rarely used of men and women as subject.
The Israelites were told specifically not to avenge themselves on their fellow Israelites (Lev 19:18) something that was also reiterated in the NT (Rom 12:19-21). For that reason, we find God being called upon to avenge (for example, Jer 15:15).
But there are occasions when God's people are called upon by God to avenge themselves (Num 31:2) but it's only God avenging through His people (Num 31:3). Joshua 10:13 is, presumably, meant to be taken the same way. So, too, Jehu was appointed king by YHWH to avenge the blood of the servants that Jezebel had slain (I Samuel 14:12) and the destruction of Babylon is spoken of as being YHWH's vengeance, but the people are called on to take vengeance and so ally themselves with God's action (Jer 50:15).
Generally, when the avenger is mankind, it's spoken of in either a negative context (Ps 8:2, 44:16, Jer 20:10, Lam 3:60, Ezek 25:12,15) or by people who aren't the best examples of righteousness in the Bible's pages (Judges 15:7, 16:28, I Sam 14:24, 18:25).
Under this grouping we should also put the proclamation in Esther where the Jews were allowed by royal decree to avenge themselves on their enemies (Esther 8:13) at the inauguration of Purim, a festival that's nowhere commanded by YHWH to be celebrated (indeed, it would be difficult to see how it could be accommodated under the New Covenant).
The other occurrences (and they are in the majority) nearly all deal with God's avenging, revenge or vengeance (as the three words appear to be used interchangeably for the same concept, the choice of word by the translator seems to be a matter of personal taste).
Possibly the most important Scripture for us to consider as we think about Nahum 1:2a (and 1:2b) is the passage Proverbs 6:32-35 (my italics) which is worth reproducing in full. It reads that
'He who commits adultery has no sense; he who does it destroys himself. Wounds and dishonour will he get, and his disgrace will not be wiped away. For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge. He will accept no compensation, nor be appeased though you multiply gifts'
It's the use of the Hebrew words that cause us to sit up and take notice. Not only do we see that 'jealousy' (S7068) is one of the word group employed in Nahum 1:2 but so, too, is 'revenge' (S5359) and 'furious' (Strongs Hebrew number 2534, M860a) that's translated 'wrathful' alongside 'avenging' (S5359) in Nah 1:2b.
This isn't meant to be a coincidence but a clear allusion to a marriage relationship in which the jealous husband, seeing that an adulterous usurper has caused harm to the relationship, goes out and avenges their action to restore the relationship, removing the offence so that restoration can be achieved.
We may be thinking too much along the lines of adultery here for the subsequent context doesn't convey this and we may, rather, see that the husband is taking action against an enemy who has sought to destroy the marriage through violence.
From the very outset, therefore, we're looking at YHWH alluding to Himself as being the avenger of the covenant - something that it's right that only He should do - in order that what has been bruised and broken might be restored.
Vengeance, revenge or avenging is more rightly, therefore, seen to be not a random act of violence against enemies but as a constructive act whereby what's threatening the continuation of a covenant is removed.
In conclusion, we could, perhaps, say that Divine Jealousy kindles Divine Anger that can only be satisfied by an act of Divine Vengeance - that is, when a detrimental circumstance or action exists that's marring God's or His people's enjoyment and continuation of the covenant between them, God will take steps to deal with the circumstance and restore the relationship that previously existed.
The use of this group of words in the opening two phrases of the prophecy reveal the basis of God's actions that are about to be declared to His people.
2. Nahum 1:2c
YHWH takes vengeance on His adversaries and rages against His enemies.
For background to the word translated 'vengeance' see on Nahum 1:2a-b where the same word is employed on two occasions and the same idea of a removal of a threat to an established covenant is meant to be taken as applying in the continuing discourse.
However, in Nahum 1:2c, we now find out the object of God's vengeance who've gone unmentioned in the opening two phrases, namely His 'adversaries' (Strongs Hebrew number 6862, M1973a, 1973b, 1974a, 1975a), a word that occurs 105 times in the OT and which isn't too remarkable here.
What we should note, however, is that God has already established that He will take vengeance with phraseology that we've recognised as being to do with the restoration of an injured party in a covenant or the threatened covenant itself.
His 'adversaries' must be understood in this context and not as a vague label placed upon any or everyone who lives on earth. A person who doesn't seek to injure or destroy a covenant made between God and His people will not be the object of the wrath of God poured out in vengeance.
The Ninevites fell into this criteria when they sought to overthrow the Israelites out of their land and to replace them with their own subjects (II Kings 17:24ff, Ezra 4:2). Even though YHWH had raised up the Assyrians to perform His bidding they went beyond the boundaries set by Him (Isaiah 10:5-27).
That YHWH will take vengeance on His adversaries is, in the context of what precedes it, fairly unremarkable.
The subsequent phrase is the more interesting. The word for 'enemies' (Strongs Hebrew number 341, M78) occurs 282 times and is, again, wholly unremarkable in its usage just as 'adversaries' proved to be.
However, we should note that the word for 'wrath', 'wrathful' or 'anger', supplied by many modern translations, is missing in the original. Translators often supply the word to give the sentence meaning. However, as Nahbak points out, there's the possibility that an additional word is not necessary because the verb can be interpreted as meaning
'...to rage, as it is in Akkadian...with God as One who rages against those who oppose Him'
This is the translation that will be employed here. I note that, in order to justify such a meaning placed on the text, Nahbak cites both Amos 1:11 and Jer 3:5 which, superficially, seem to lend weight to his argument and the meaning conveyed by the new translation. However, the first Scripture speaks of Edom who keeps his wrath for ever and the second are words put in to the mouth of the Israelites who are living opposed to God but who ask themselves
'...will [God] be angry for ever, will He keep [His anger] to the end?'
and neither of these seem to justify what the text must plainly mean. The word in Jer 3:5 speaks theologically that God's anger continues unabated but is expressed there in the negative - that it doesn't continue. It would be bad exposition to use this as proof.
The word translated 'rages' (Strongs Hebrew number 5201, M1356) occurs nine times in the OT and we get a good understanding of its intention by briefly considering its usage.
It's used three times in the Song of Songs to denote a keeper of a vineyard (SofS 1:6, 8:11,12) but, apart from these, the word's employed to mean a continuance, something that isn't envisaged as ending.
So, in Lev 19:18, it's translated in the command not to 'bear any grudge' (the word used) because it would continue bad feeling and be something that would cause the individual to fulfil the command to 'love your neighbour as yourself' (its other uses are in Psalm 103:9, SofS 1:6 at the very end of the verse and Jer 3:5,12).
But in each of these places it doesn't speak of something that continues forever but of something that must not or will not continue. It's therefore an unusual employment of the term in Nahum 1:2c.
However, we've previously noted that the word used three times and translated 'avenge' in Nahum 1:2 also occurs in Lev 19:18 and it there appears in the negative sense of forbidding the Israelites from taking vengeance - because that's something that falls to God as Keeper (the translation used in three of the verses in the Song of Solomon) of the Covenant.
Similarly, it's not up to the Israelites to bear a grudge against a brother, to continue acting incorrectly towards a fellow servant, because they must trust YHWH whose character it is to remember and avenge. If anything, the positive use of the phrase
'...[He] rages against His enemies'
underlines that the prophetic discourse begun is based upon God's character as Keeper and Sustainer of the covenant, the husband of the partnership who's righteously jealous when anything threatens to annul or damage that relationship.
While there is a continuance of a threat against the covenant, therefore, God continues to rage against the enemies who are producing that threat.
3. Nahum 1:3a-b
YHWH is slow to anger and of great might
YHWH will by no means clear the guilty.
Three more aspects of God's character are declared by Nahum in two different phrases as his opening basis of the prophecy that's shortly to follow.
Firstly, YHWH is slow to anger, a phrase that's made up of two Hebrew words that occur together thirteen times in the OT (Ex 34:6, Num 14:18, Neh 9:17, Ps 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Prov 14:29, 15:18, 16:32, Jer 15:15, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, Nahum 1:3) but the phrase isn't used exclusively as a characteristic of YHWH (Pr 14:29, 15:18, 16:32).
The two components of the phrase are, firstly, the word translated 'slow' (Strongs Hebrew number 750, M162b) and used a total of only fifteen times, thirteen of which are in the phrase 'slow to anger' (where the AV changes four of these to be represented as 'longsuffering'). The word more rightly means 'long' and, as we'll see below, is part of an ancient idiom.
One might expect that this word is used exclusively of God and only in the phrase 'slow of anger' but the two places where the phrase doesn't occur, it's used as a trait of man (Ecclesiastes 7:8, Ezekiel 17:3) along with the three occasions noted above.
The word translated 'anger' (Strongs Hebrew number 639, M133a) is used 276 times in the OT, 214 of these being translated as 'anger' or 'wrath'. Its original meaning is 'nose' and is used as such in the OT for the snout of a pig in Prov 11:22 ('nostrils' and 'nose' account for twenty-five of its translations in the AV).
Before we look at the phrase and its implications in Nahum 1:3, we should note that the two Hebrew words that make up the phrase also occur in Jer 15:15 (as previously stated) but the translation given is, in the AV, 'longsuffering' and, in the RSV, 'forbearance' although 'slow of anger' seems to me to work equally as well.
Also, in Prov 19:11, the phrase 'slow of anger' also appears in modern translations but the Hebrew word for 'slow' is different (Strongs Hebrew number 748, M162) although part of the same word group. I take it to mean the same as the English phrase used elsewhere.
TWOTOT comments on the phrase (under M162b) that when said of God it literally means that He is 'long of nose'. Although they're quite right in suggesting that such literalism had probably long gone from the use of the phrase, they note the two extremes are that
'When He is angry, His nose becomes red and burns...When He is compassionate, His nose becomes long, so long in fact that it would take forever to burn completely'
TWOTOT also comments elsewhere (under M133a) that
'By the act of breathing, emotions can be expressed. Perhaps it was observed that the nose dilates in anger...The thought is that God takes a long, deep breath as He holds His anger in abeyance...The anger is expressed in the appearance of the nostrils'
Perhaps each is not contradictory to the other but, at the very least, we need to make note that God is quite willing to have His character described in human terms and with phrases that, literally, are quite impossible for Him to experience.
The first occurrence of the phrase applied to God is in Ex 34:6-7 when Moses hears Him proclaim in passing
'YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation'
and represents one of the great revelations concerning the character and nature of God in the entire Bible (it's just a shame that no 'christian' denomination has ever, to my knowledge, thought to incorporate it in any of their statements of fundamental belief).
Variations of this declaration occur elsewhere in the OT (Num 14:18, Neh 9:17, Ps 86:15, 103:8 [where S5201 - discussed in the previous section - is used in the verse immediately following], 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2 [it becomes the characteristic of God that Jonah most feared would be proved true] and even here in Nahum 1:3).
Apart from Jer 15:15, the remaining four occurrences of the phrase are all applied positively to men in the Book of Proverbs (Pr 14:29, 15:18, 16:32, 19:11 - the English phrase is also used positively in the NT in James 1:9) and we may, perhaps, summarise them succinctly by saying that God's followers should be reflections of the One they seek to serve and obey.
But Nahum 1:3a-b seems to be a summation - or, a selective recounting - of the great revelation God took upon Himself to give to Moses. Nahum draws his listeners' attention to it by proclaiming
'YHWH is slow to anger and of great might
YHWH will by no means clear the guilty'
while the text of Ex 34:6-7 (my italics) read
'YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation'
Not only do we have in Nahum the two phrases that sandwich 'of great might' between them, but we find the double-mentioned tetragrammon, the self-existent name of God, a declaration that God continues as He always is with no shadow of change with time (and we should also notice, as Nahpal points out, just what Nahum leaves out of the passage - all the statements that would justify God giving Nineveh an opportunity to repent are omitted for the time of repentance and restoration has passed them by and there only remains the coming judgment. It's interesting to note that the present day Church is more likely to use only what Nahum has discarded and discard what he retained).
But why does the phrase 'of great might' occur between the two other phrases?
Simply to make a declaration that YHWH has the necessary force available to bring about the purpose of His will. God isn't all talk but is able to do as He pleases because no man may oppose Him.
We get the same sort of idea conveyed in Isaiah 11:2 where the Spirit of YHWH is said to rest upon the Branch (an OT title for the Messiah who was to come) as three pairs of traits, one being that of 'counsel and might'.
Counsel without the power to enforce decisions is simply talk without the balls. Power without counsel brings disorder and chaos. But counsel given power to enforce a righteous rule is a necessary requirement of sovereignty and the phrase in Nahum is employed to show that YHWH is able to both delay His anger and to punish the guilty, depending on what's required in the situation.
So, another question that needs to be asked is why are these two characteristics of God's self-revelation used here?
We've already partially answered this by answering the previous question - namely that they represent two aspects of God's action with an assurance that YHWH has the ability to do either or both.
But, also, we noted in our comments on Nahum 1:2 that
'Divine Jealousy kindles Divine Anger that can only be satisfied by an act of Divine Vengeance'
God is slow to anger because He allows men and women time to step back and to put right what has provoked Him to jealousy. In this case, Nineveh has been given time to put right it's threat that's detrimental to the covenant YHWH had made with Israel.
Yet, because His patience had gone unheeded, there now remained only Divine Vengeance, only an act of God who would 'by no means clear the guilty'.
The Unopposable Nature of God
The name of God, YHWH, has already been taken to be a part of the fivefold declaration of God's character in Nahum 1:2-3b but some commentators and translators assign the word to the opening of the current passage. However, it seems better to keep the translation as already made and to note that this small section has no name for God whatsoever - yet it's all about Him.
Nahoza comments on this passage that
'There is no reason to believe that such disturbances actually occurred in 612BC when Nineveh was destroyed'
going on to state that they must still relate to a future event in world history (that is, the events surrounding the Second Coming) when
'...events of this kind will visibly take place as described in all the prophets'
But this is to miss the point of Nahum 1:3c-6. Having established that God is the Avenger under the terms of the Mosaic and Abramic covenants, He must be shown to be coming to act. The imagery employed does just that (Nahoza's use of the word 'imaginary' rather than 'imagery' is, in my opinion, rather misguided and not in keeping with a more solid basis for Scriptural interpretation).
It isn't that YHWH is imagined to be on the move but that He is and the fact is being declared with appropriate imagery.
1. Nahum 1:3c - God's approach
We've just completed the declaration of reason, the basis of response, as to why YHWH is about to carry out the actions which will shortly be outlined in the prophecy. But God's in Heaven, ruling from His Throne over all Creation and, for Him to be actively involved instead of allowing His servants to act on His behalf, He must make His approach into the situation that requires attention.
This isn't to deny the foundational doctrine that God is everywhere present (Ps 139:7-12) but a way to show the listener that God will be actively participating in the work that's about to be announced.
As previously stated, the listener would still not have been aware why God was coming - that is, what the purpose of His work would be and whether it would be directed against His own people (as was often the case) or against, perhaps, their enemies.
But, by using such imagery here, Nahum's listeners would have no doubt that YHWH had put his jacket on and was half out the door (to put it crudely).
a. His way is in whirlwind and storm
It's a shame that there appears to be no single word that could adequately represent and convey the phrase 'His way' that appears at the opening of the sentence (Strongs Hebrew number, M453a - it's used 705 times in the OT) for the word, although being used figuratively, normally implies the road or journey along which a person is travelling.
GNB gets the closest of all by translating
'Where YHWH walks, storms arise'
but this sounds more a generic statement that storms follow God around (and where's the phrase that conveys the sense of the whirlwind?) rather than to help the reader realise that the storms and whirlwinds are forming because God's coming.
It's tempting to think that the original message was proclaimed at a time of meteorological phenomena that matched Nahum's statements as that's certainly the fitting backdrop.
The word translated 'whirlwind' (Strongs Hebrew number 5492, M1478b) occurs sixteen times in the OT and is used to describe a phenomena that accompanies the presence of God in Isaiah 29:6, 66:15 and Jer 4:13 but also as a symbol of Divine anger in Ps 83:15, Prov 10:25, Isaiah 66:15 and Jer 4:13, the latter two being paralleled with God's approach - that is, God comes in the whirlwind to show that He will destroy and overthrow.
The word for 'storm' (Strongs Hebrew number 8183, M2275b) occurs only twice, the other occasion being Job 9:17 where God's spoken of by Job as breaking him with a 'tempest'. One of the word group is used in Isaiah 28:2 to show how naturally/supernaturally violent His servant is.
b. The clouds are the dust of His feet
The next phrase demands imagery that sees the clouds as parallels to the way the dust of the road would kick up as Israelites journeyed from one place to another. They were seeing it all 'from underneath' the road, so to speak, God's feet above them, scuffing the dust into billows of clouds that added weight to the evidence that God was approaching.
Nahoza puts it well when he comments that
'A human warrior momentarily raises dust as he marches to battle. So God, as He strides through the heavens, approaches in whirlwind and tempest'
for God is lining up to fight - yet not against randomly chosen people but against those who threaten the continuing existence of the Covenant.
'Clouds' (Strongs Hebrew number 6051, M1655a) is used eighty-seven times. God is spoken of frequently as being in the cloud, especially during the time of the Exodus (for example, Ex 13:21,22, 14:19,20,24, 16:10, 19:9,16 but there are numerous others) and was a demonstration of the presence of God in the Tabernacle and Temple (Ex 40:35, Lev 16:2, I Kings 8:10-11, Ezek 10:4 - again, there are numerous other occurrences).
More importantly for Nahum 1:3c, the pillar of cloud is spoken of as evidence that YHWH was journeying before them (Deut 1:33, Neh 9:12) and He's spoken of as approaching earth in clouds (Jer 4:13, Ezek 1:4, 38:16).
The time when God acts on earth is often called 'the Day of YHWH' in the OT (as well as the New) which has caused believers to think that each and every mention of it must have to do with the one - and one only - event. However, the Day of YHWH takes place when He visits men to act and, as such, a visitation as described by Nahum is most definitely to be considered as being one such Day. But it's not to be thought of as necessarily a description of the full and final Day of YHWH still to come.
As such, the presence of clouds is mentioned in Joel 2:2 (the day of YHWH) and Zeph 1:15-16 (The great day of YHWH). Although the phrase in Nahum is primarily concerned with the movement of God from Heaven on to earth, there may have been an allusion that didn't go unnoticed to a day on which YHWH was about to act personally.
The word translated 'dust' (Strongs Hebrew number 80, M11a) is used only six times and, in the first five, there's nothing positive attached to the interpretation. In Ex 9:9 it's the dust that brings boils upon the Egyptians, in Deut 28:24 it's the dust that brings destruction in the curse upon Israel, Isaiah 5:24 sees the word as being what the blossoms turn in to, 29:5 talks about the strangers in the city's midst turning to dust and being blown away while Ezek 26:10 uses the word as imagery of the multitude of the enemy's horses who are set to come up against God's people.
Dust, therefore, wasn't the best word that could have been used to summon up positive thoughts but its use here is more likely to be neutral in application.
The bottom line of this opening verse is that God's on the move. Because the covenant is under threat (Nahum 1:2-3b), He's roused Himself to do something about it - not by sending the hosts of angels to act on His behalf but by dealing personally with the problem and to resolve it to His own satisfaction.
2. The Four Effects
After the simple statement of God's approach in Nahum 1:3c, the prophet moves on to provide four pairs of 'effects' - that is, pairs of thematic descriptions that demonstrate to His hearers that YHWH is on the move as Judge and Avenger of the covenant, using imagery that echoes other parts of the Scriptures and which would certainly have conveyed that meaning in the hearing of contemporary Israelites.
As such, little needs to be said about each pair of descriptors as they can be summarised as above with the generalisation. There are, however, one or two points that need to be made.
The one passage that should be read alongside this is II Samuel 22:1-16 where, following David's observation that his enemies had very nearly drained the life from him and consigned him to death, he calls upon YHWH to deliver him and notes (II Samuel 22:7) that
'From His temple [YHWH] heard my voice, and my cry came to His ears'
The imagery here is of a vassal king being hard pressed by adversaries that he finds are too strong for him, the vassal sending word to the one pledged to protect his kingdom to come and save him. YHWH's response is immediate and David continues with a description of God rousing Himself in Heaven and descending to earth to save His beleaguered servant in imagery that's partially supported by Nahum's prophecy.
We would do well to read these words and I reproduce them here fully (II Samuel 22:8-16):
'Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations of the heavens trembled and quaked, because He was angry. Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from Him. He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under His feet. He rode on a cherub, and flew; He was seen upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness around Him His canopy, thick clouds, a gathering of water. Out of the brightness before Him coals of fire flamed forth. YHWH thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice. And He sent out arrows, and scattered them; lightning, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, the foundations of the world were laid bare, at the rebuke of YHWH, at the blast of the breath of His nostrils'
While not a word for word - or point by point - account, the text is sufficient to show us that, when God chooses on act on earth, He can choose to do so personally, with an advance from Heaven to earth that's spoken of as the subjected Creation bowing down in submission at His journey, feeling the wrath and indignation of the One who's come to deal with the matter as King.
These four effects are spoken by Nahum as effective imagery to declare that YHWH is on the move from Heaven, to stand behind His following pronouncements personally to bring them about.
a. Nahum 1:4a - Water
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry
He dries up all the rivers
Drying up both seas and rivers is an action that's used of God in more than one context and for various reasons. For example, YHWH dried up the waters of the Red Sea so that His people might flee from the pursuing Egyptians (Ps 106:9, Isaiah 51:10) and the drying of the Jordan so that the people might enter the Promised Land (Ps 114:3, Joshua 3:13-15). As God created all those things we see around us, it follows that He must also retain control over it (Psalm 74:15, Isaiah 44:27) but, for the phrases under consideration, the drying up of the waters of earth is associated with the judgment of God (Isaiah 19:5-6, 42:15, 50:2, Jer 51:36, Ezekiel 30:12 - note the contexts of all these verses).
I note that Nahsmi writes that
'The language in this part of the psalm reflects the ancient struggle between the Creator God and the powers of chaos represented by the sea and rivers'
but this appears to misunderstand the reason for the passage as a whole. Nahum isn't commenting about God's struggle with chaotic powers (sic - God struggles with powers set against Him?!) but simply using the imagery of the men and women who've gone before him who both experienced God sovereign over Creation as both a reality and as a figure of speech when His wrath was being described as being poured out on earth.
b. Nahum 1:4b - Regions
Bashan and Carmel wither
The bloom of Lebanon fades
As God caused the earth to be fruitful and declared that it was 'good', so barrenness adorns Creation when God advances upon the earth to deal with a reason that's 'not good'.
The three locations - Bashan (Strongs Hebrew number 01316 - used 60 times), Carmel (Strongs Hebrew number 03760, M1042 - used 26 times) and Lebanon (Strongs Hebrew number 03844, M1074e - 71 times) - commonly occur in the OT and aren't meant to be taken as pointing backwards to a known event at the location which is alluded to in the text (for example, Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel - I Kings 18:19ff) but simply relate to the fruitfulness or natural glory of the areas.
Carmel (the word literally means 'garden land'), an elevated area directly east of modern day Haifa that extends some thirteen miles inland, was well known for its fruitfulness and fertility of its soil, so much so that, when speaking of the wilderness blossoming into fruitfulness, the area is used figuratively (along with Lebanon) to show the richness of its restoration (Isaiah 35:2). In SofS 7:5, the description of the woman includes mention of her head, spoken of as having the foliage of Carmel - meaning that her hair was dense and rich with healthy growth (hopefully, not that it was green).
Restoring Israel was also spoken of as a return to feeding on Carmel (Jer 50:19 - and in Bashan) but it's also used to signify the falling of judgment on the land when the heights of the area wither (Amos 1:2).
Bashan (literally meaning 'fruitful' and always referred to more specifically as 'The Bashan' in Scripture), an area east and north-east of the Sea of Galilee, was another agriculturally fruitful land that stood raised above the lowland areas to the west.
Like Carmel, restoration of Israel was spoken of as a return to feeding in Bashan (Micah 7:14) signifying abundance of YHWH's provision. Because the land was good for cattle, two and half tribes of Israel petitioned Moses to be granted it as an inheritance (Num 32:1-5,33) and the quality of the cattle became renowned in Israel (Ps 22:12, Ezekiel 39:18, Amos 4:1) as well as the oaks (Isaiah 2:12-13, Ezekiel 27:6, Zech 11:2).
Some of these Scriptures cited use the mention of their cows and oaks in the context of the severity of the judgment that was about to fall at various points in Israel's history.
Finally, Lebanon (literally meaning 'whiteness', named for the snow-capped peaks in this area), an area to the north of modern day Israel, should not be confused with the current nation called by the same name. In the Bible, Lebanon was an area given to the Israelites that was never conquered and occupied (Deut 1:7, Joshua 1:4, Judges 3:3). It was renowned for the greatness of its cedars (Judges 9:15, I Kings 4:33) and was much desired as a building material for the finest of projects (I Kings 5:6, Ezra 3:7).
The strength and glory of the cedar went on to be used figuratively (Psalm 92:12, Sof S 5:15, Ezekiel 31:3) so that God's destruction of the cedar was a demonstration of His supreme power over all Creation (Psalm 29:5) and is also used when speaking of His judgment falling upon a land and people (Isaiah 2:12-13, 10:34, Jer 22:6, Ezekiel 31:16, Zech 11:1).
The restoration of the cedars is also spoken of figuratively as a restoration of God's provision to a land and people (Isaiah 35:2, 60:13).
Bashan, Carmel and Lebanon are used together in Isaiah 33:9 but, this time, the imagery is of the natural consequences of the sin of mankind upon a nation. The prophet writes that
'The land mourns and languishes; Lebanon is confounded and withers away; Sharon is like a desert; and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves'
Even so, YHWH there decides to act to bring about a restoration from the chaos that has descended upon His people. As such, the descriptors are used of a God-forsaken land whereas Nahum uses them of a land through which God is passing in anger.
c. Nahum 1:5a - Topography
The mountains quake before Him
The hills melt
This doublet represents probably the most common way believers regard God's effects on Creation when He's angry and there are many parallel passages that can be referred to (II Sam 22:8, Psalm 46:6, Jer 4:24,26, Micah 1:4-5, Hab 3:8,10). However, these phenomena aren't limited exclusively to a demonstration of God's anger for they're used in part to denote the acknowledgement of the created towards its Creator (Judges 5:5, Psalm 68:8, 97:4-5, Isaiah 64:1-2).
In that sense, reading in Nahum 1:5a that the mountains quake and the hills melt may simply be indicative of the presence of God descending to earth. Even with the surrounding context, we may be going too far to assert that judgment and anger are what are being portrayed by the prophet.
What we can say, however, is that the phraseology is certainly in keeping with God visiting the earth in anger but that, equally, Creation's figurative reaction in this manner is a declaration that the true Sovereign is taking the matter in to His own hands by coming in His full majesty.
d. Nahum 1:5b - Earth
The earth is laid waste before Him
The world and all that dwell therein
In the Church, we look for comforting words, smooth prophecies that build us up and words of encouragement that tell us what we want to hear. The prophets of the OT don't appear to have been like that (except when we ignore their 'hard words' and read out only the 'nice bits').
Nahum has certainly got his hearers to sit up and take notice of the prophecy, long before they know the subject matter and whether it's about them or their enemies (as previously noted, the title in Nahum 1:1 is not the prophetic word and would not have been declared before the message was).
Yet, even more of a shock would have been produced in the listeners by Zephaniah's opening words. While we would like to hear
'The Lord loves you and cares for you, He thinks only good about you...'
'The Lord exhorts you to take hold of more of Him and be blessed...'
the prophet (Zeph 1:2) opened with
'I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says YHWH'
something that would have got their full attention almost immediately (and I can't remember the last time I ever heard a prophecy in the Church begin in a similar manner - if ever one did, the mouthpiece would probably need to start looking round for another place to fellowship).
Nahum's opening words have a similar effect, although the listener has been 'eased in' to this outrageous statement with what's preceded it. And outrageous it is, if taken literally.
But this is figurative and denotes the approach of YHWH to earth from Heaven, with a fixed purpose to go to any extreme to bring about His will. Nothing is able to stand before Him, His power, His counsel, His judgment - statements that assert that what's about to be proclaimed is impossible to be annulled, except by God Himself.
In conclusion to these few verses, I note Nahbak's observation that
'As God created from chaos (Gen 1:2), so He can undo His Creation and return it to chaos'
Not only does God build but, in His anger, He destroys and provides a new foundation for a fresh construction. God's anger isn't ultimately a force that ends with finality but a work that provides the potential for a new start.
We don't see pools of water coming in regions of barrenness and desert in Nahum's opening words, neither are there blossoming plants bringing their fruit to maturity. We don't read of the foundations of the world being made more secure, neither are wastelands turned into areas of opportunity.
The imagery is solely one of destruction - of un-creating - where God's displeasure is being demonstrated by mention of figurative events that are used throughout the OT. As Nahoza writes
'Such phenomena are designed to strike terror into the hearts of the wicked and to fill the rest of mankind with reverence and awe at God's almighty power'
3. Nahum 1:6 - God's unopposable anger
Who can stand before His indignation?
Who can endure the heat of His anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire
The rocks are broken asunder by Him
Nahsmi sees this verse not as the conclusion to Nahum 1:3c-5b but as the opening statements of the passage that runs Nahum 1:6-8. This seems rather strained as there are two clear parallels that seem to continue the thought into this verse, namely the mention of the fire (as the reason for the hills melting but also as a tool of destruction. Notice also the RSV's translation of 'heat' in the second rhetorical question being posed) and the breaking of rocks (as part of the earth being laid waste and the mountains quaking).
In Nahum 1:2-3b, we saw how God's anger was being mentioned as an outworking of His jealousy to maintain the Covenant with His people. The imagery used of YHWH's advance from Heaven to earth to re-establish His rule in Nahum 1:3c-5b is the precursor to the conclusion that, if Creation is unable to withstand God's presence, which man or woman would be even remotely likely to do so (Nahum 1:6)?
And this verse is all about the irresistibility of God's anger.
The two opening rhetorical questions expect to be answered with 'No one' once the imagery of Nahum 1:3c-5b is accepted as being a series of true statements about YHWH, while the final two lines go on to underline the expected confession.
That God's anger underpins this verse can be seen by the words being employed:
'Indignation' (Strongs Hebrew number 2195, M568a) is used 22 times in the OT (TWOTOT comments that 'The basic idea is experiencing or expressing intense anger...The verb is used to indicate both the state of being indignant and the activity giving expression to that state').
'Heat' (Strongs Hebrew number 2740, M736a) used 41 times and used to define the translated word 'anger' often or as meaning 'anger' when standing alone. It nearly always refers to God's anger but not exclusively as TWOTOT maintains.
'Anger' (Strongs Hebrew number 639, M133a) used 276 times and already considered above in Nahum 1:3a in the phrase 'slow to anger'.
'Wrath' (Strongs Hebrew number 2534, M860a) used 124 times and usually conveying anger in some form or another. It more rightly speaks of an 'inner heat', the context giving it its meaning. It can even be used of the poison that causes fire to be felt within a person.
'Fire' (Strongs Hebrew number 784, M172) used 379 times, the concept being used to denote anger on numerous occasions but it has various meanings depending on context.
So ends a passage dealing with God's response to the enemies of the Covenant, summarised succinctly in the more modern phrase
'Resistance is Futile'
The lines have already been drawn
1. A puzzle solved
Nahum 1:7 is, so far, the most puzzling of all the verses in this prophecy.
The prophet declares that
'YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows those who take refuge in Him'
a statement that's so often repeated in one form or another in Scripture that we tend to accept it at face value and forget about the context in which these particular words sit.
My first response when I approached this verse was to take the words personally, addressed to me as an individual, as I'd expected those original hearers had done over two and a half thousand years ago.
But this is incorrect.
For, if God's judgment was about to fall in the overthrow of a city that was hundreds of miles away from home, why would YHWH need to reassure me that, when trouble came, I'd find Him a stronghold in which I could be safe?
Surely, there was no effective danger anyway?
I've made the point on numerous occasions already that, although we know the prophecy's about Nineveh, although YHWH knows it's about Nineveh and even that Nahum knows it's about a city 'over the hills and far away', the identification of the object of God's wrath has not yet been stated.
Therefore it would surely have been a natural reaction for the hearers to suppose at this point of the message that some great catastrophe was about to befall the Kingdom of Judah but that the faithful were to be protected by Him.
That's certainly how it reads.
But that wasn't the intention of the verses in context. Rather, it was a statement that explained why Nineveh had been chosen to be judged and why Judah hadn't been. It was because the nation was currently taking 'refuge in Him' (the Scripture says that God knows who takes refuge and isn't calling upon people to put their trust in Him) that the trouble that was coming on Assyria wouldn't come anywhere near them.
And that draws us back to the discussion we had at the beginning of these notes (under 'Date of Composition', part 3) when we discussed the likely time of delivery and composition to the Israelites.
This verse presupposes a faithful nation - or, at least, a faithful remnant who were the offering that made the remainder holy (see my notes on, for example, see here) for no nation has ever been or will ever be fully committed to God and His ways (sorry, but there's never going to be a nation that's one hundred per cent converted to Christ).
This verse can only find relevance in either the final years of Manasseh's reign or during Josiah's when 'faithful acts' were being performed by the monarchy to bring back the Israelites to a pure and sincere devotion to and service of YHWH.
It's because Israel are being faithful that God will make a full end of His enemies, namely Nineveh. Had they been standing alongside His enemies, God's actions would have caused them also to fall in the resultant judgment
As we've considered above, God acts because the Covenant is under threat - but if the Israelites were living as violators of that Covenant, judgment would have to begin with them to restore the relationship.
Such is always the problem when the Church calls on YHWH to fight against her enemies for, if we live in denial of the covenant (not if we fail to confess it frequently enough but if we fail to live it), we place ourselves outside God's protection.
Therefore, Peter observes (I Peter 4:17) that
'...the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God'
and, in Rev 18:4, John records insistently
'Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues'
in words almost directly borrowed from the OT (Jer 51:6,45,50).
YHWH is moving against Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian nation, because they threaten the continuance of the Covenant between Himself and His subjects - and YHWH will move against those who threaten the continuation of the New Covenant between Himself and His people when that Covenant is being lived out by the Church.
Until that time comes, God has nothing to avenge (see my notes on Nahum 1:2a-b).
Therefore, God's words in Nah 1:7-8 are not so much a call to faithfulness as an observation of fact. The Israelites aren't being called to take refuge but are being informed (as they will soon realise) that it's solely because they are taking refuge in Him that He will be their stronghold in the day of trouble that's shortly to come upon the enemies of the Covenant.
There's no encouragement to recommit to YHWH for the battle lines have already been drawn because of the recommitment that's taken place. To give these verses sense, therefore, we would do well to read them as
'YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows that Judah takes refuge in Him. But with an overflowing flood He will make a full end of Nineveh, and will pursue the Assyrians into darkness'
2. Other thoughts
Nahsmi notes that Cathcart takes the word translated 'good' to be an adverb and so restructures the opening line to read, presumably
'YHWH is better than a fortress in the day of trouble'
a meaning that is fittingly relevant (but, according to Nahpal, the structure insisted upon is not too commonly used elsewhere in the OT), for Nineveh will trust in the strength of her own fortifications that will prove futile, whereas the faithful will find that Divine protection is given them because they have turned to Him as their Defender.
The phrase 'His adversaries' used by the RSV is surprisingly inaccurate. While there's often good reason to attempt to convey the sense of a word to the reader, the Hebrew employed here (Strongs Hebrew number 4725, M1999h) actually means 'her place'.
Nehoza goes too far by stating that
'The feminine suffix looks back to verse 1 where Nineveh is mentioned'
for we've already noted that the verse was a title added to the outside of a scroll so that the contents could be quickly known. Only at the 'book stage' did the label become part of the manuscript itself. However, that the phrase must refer to Nineveh is certain - but, at this point in the prophecy, the listeners could equally well have thought of the application as pointing towards Jerusalem.
The mention of the 'overflowing flood' (Strongs Hebrew numbers 5674, M1556 and 7858, M2373a) has been used by commentators in prophetic hindsight (always a dangerous tool if used too liberally) to speak of the account by Diodorus Siculus mentioned above (under 'Date of Composition', part 1b) that the breaching of Nineveh's walls came at a time of great flooding in the region, but it needn't be pressed in to service to convey this to its original hearers.
After all, the flood is spoken of as being the instrument that achieves the full end of her place, whereas the account speaks of only a portion of the wall collapsing because of the climatic conditions, the attacking army then taking the initiative to press their attack until they conquered it fully.
The idea of the 'overflowing flood' is, rather, to be taken as meaning that what will come upon them will be unopposable and unavoidable. The word translated 'overflowing' may well convey more the meaning of something that 'passes' and so moves on, the judgment being limited in scope and being restricted, necessarily, to the city.
However, that YHWH will 'pursue His enemies into darkness' causes the reader to realise that some sort of continuation is envisaged.
Finally, YHWH notes that He will
'...pursue His enemies into darkness'
(we should note here that the Hebrew allows for both the translations '[YHWH] will pursue His enemies into darkness' and 'Darkness will pursue His enemies'. In light of the preceding verses where God's proclaimed as taking a personal hand in the vengeance, the former is preferred).
The word for 'darkness' (Strongs Hebrew number 2822, M769a) is used of the darkness that was present before YHWH began forming the earth (Gen 1:2), of the darkness in Egypt that could be 'felt' (Ex 10:21) and of the darkness that shrouded Sinai when God came to the mountain (Deut 4:11) as well as of natural darkness.
We would be going too far to read in to its use any idea of spiritual darkness or oppression as the verse seems to convey a very simple meaning that, even where His enemies are not visible, God will still hunt them out until He has fully overcome them.
Nahpal seems to take the verse as meaning that God will chase the Ninevites into darkness rather than that He will chase them wherever they choose to go. He writes that
'Just as the site of the city shall disappear, so its inhabitants will vanish into an oblivious, oppressive blackness...Their terror shall be intensified as they stumble forward into an impenetrable blackness'
He further emphasises that they were exiled into oblivion, so full and complete was the judgment that fell upon them. While this is possible (and, perhaps, may even be a parallel truth meant to be taken as retrievable from the text - some listeners to Nahum may have 'heard' one thing while others 'heard' something else), the primary meaning of the text is that 'there's no place to hide'.
The Structure of Nahum 1:9-2:2
Although I shan't be taking Nahum 1:9-2:2 as a single, indivisible passage and dealing with it accordingly, it's right that we should stop for a moment and notice its fairly complicated structure.
It's as if the prophet had both Judah and Nineveh in front of him, turning to first one, then the other, as he delivered snippets of information as each had relevance. For this contains quite some mixture of objects - Nineveh is spoken of as 'they' and then 'you' with frequent changes that go unintroduced, themes being stopped before they're fully developed and actions that will occur after the judgment on Nineveh has fallen being described before the actual judgment is outlined.
The hearers of the original message must surely have had to have had their wits about them to follow the twists and turns of the message as delivered to them. Up until this point in the narrative, Nahum has talked in fairly straightforward terms, the only reference to Nineveh being the 'her place' of Nahum 1:8 that, as we discussed above, could have referred to either a 'place' within Judah or elsewhere (as the superscription was not part of the original message and the object of God's vengeance had not yet been identified)
Very simply, the objects of the verses are as follows:
To Judah - Nahum 1:9-10
To Nineveh - Nahum 1:11
To Judah - Nahum 1:12-13
To Nineveh - Nahum 1:14
To Judah - Nahum 1:15
To Nineveh - Nahum 2:1
To Judah - Nahum 2:2
Although not being positively identified as Nineveh, it would have been fairly obvious once this section had been delivered that God was not pronouncing judgment upon the children of Judah for a failure to uphold their part of the covenant.
The language is sufficiently plain that the Judahite would've been certain that the enemies about whom God was speaking were external to the land (and, to put it rather crudely, that he could now enjoy the rest of the message without worrying about any word against his own interests).
1. To Judah
a. What do you reckon to God, then?
In the first passage that's addressed personally to his hearers - and after laying down a foundation that announces YHWH's unopposable vengeance about to fall - Nahum asks
'What do you think about YHWH?'
or, as I've paraphrased it more liberally in the subject header
'What do you reckon to God, then?'
Nahpal puts down a compelling argument for this translation that I don't intend to repeat or duplicate here - but the translation to be understood by the Hebrew words must necessarily be dependant upon who it's believed the words are being addressed to.
If Nineveh, then the RSV's
'What do you plot against YHWH?'
would be correct with Nahpal's explanation that the inference is
'Do you really think you can resist His power?'
If Israel, then the implication behind the words already used would be
'Will He rise up against your enemies?'
Nahum 1:2-8 has not seen the prophet direct his words personally at anyone. Although the phrase 'her place' has occurred in Nahum 1:8 which must necessarily refer to Nineveh in the context of the prophecy as a whole, there's been nothing that's spoken in the third person (that is, with use of the pronoun 'you'). This is the first place where it takes place.
Indeed, Nahum's listeners wouldn't yet have been able to have identified whether judgment and vengeance was being directed towards them or against a third party (Nahum 1:1 is a superscription and not part of the original message as previously discussed) so that the message so far is one that has nothing as its object - the prophet has been laying down truths about YHWH's character but has yet to 'point the finger' and apply it to someone or something.
Therefore, to ask his listeners whether they agree with the propositions so far is the most likely scenario - not to ask an unidentified people (who weren't present) whether they thought they would escape the judgment that was to fall upon them.
Indeed, when we accept that the listeners had not yet come to realise who the judgment is being pronounced against, this option that it refers to Nineveh is a non-starter for they could only have understood the prophet to have been speaking to them and asking them whether they thought YHWH was 'as stated' and whether they believed that He would rise up against His enemies and utterly destroy them.
And this is the bottom line, for Nahum is wanting to know whether the children of God will affirm the Truth about the One they serve before he goes on to apply it to the pronouncement of judgment on Nineveh. Therefore, the question is more like
'What do you think of it so far?'
(although Morecambe and Wise had no hand in this whatsoever) where the question is probably more rhetorical but demands a response such as
'We agree with the statements made. YHWH will act to remove the enemies of the Covenant'
The one question that pops into my own mind is whether Nahum waited for a response before continuing. A modern day preacher who's just laid down a foundational theology and who wants to go on to build upon it, must make sure that the people listening agree with the foundation laid and, if not, there needs to be a recap, a reemphasis, a reinstruction, more explanation of the matter - otherwise, the structure built will have no firm footing in the lives in which he's trying to build.
I'm of the opinion that Nahum really did pause at this point - although I have no evidence to suggest he did. But I can perceive the need for it - that he turned to individuals and asked them personally
'What do you think of this description of YHWH I've just laid out before you?'
'What do you think about this character of YHWH I've assumed?'
It would have been advantageous for the prophet to be sure that his hearers were of the same mind, that they agreed with the underlying theology before he went on.
b. Once is enough
So, having put my own personal Selah in here, I note that Nahum then continues to reinforce his own question, to underline the conclusion that the Judahites would have had to have agreed with, that
'[YHWH] will make a full end; He will not take vengeance twice on His foes. Like entangled thorns they are consumed, like dry stubble'
The 'full end' spoken of here (Strongs Hebrew number 3617, M982a) is used 22 times in the OT (it's also been used in Nahum 1:8 to convey the same meaning when referring to 'her place') and comes from a root that TWOTOT notes as meaning
'to bring a process to completion'
but the word has a range of meaning, some of which don't seem to be capable of having such a meaning placed on them. However, this appears to be the only possible meaning of the word here in Nahum (see II Chron 12:12, Neh 9:31, Jer 4:27, 5:10,18, 30:11, 46:28, Ezek 11:13, 20:17 for examples of the word with this meaning - the word seems to be a particular favourite of Jeremiah's when used with this meaning and is always employed alongside Strongs Hebrew number 6213, M1708/9 that's also used in Nahum 1:8 and 1:9).
The idea is not just that God's enemies will be completely destroyed but that a process has come to a completion, that God's anger has been fully satisfied and vengeance has been fully obtained.
That the same phrase is used in Nahum 1:8 to speak of 'her place' seems to demand such a meaning here as understood by the hearers. Nahum (paraphrased) pronounces
'God will make a full end of her place...What do you think? Is that right? Yes, it is, He will make a full end'
where, if we read that, we would conclude that the second statement is simply a reiteration of the first - that the prophet has wanted us to agree with the statements made so that we can 'own' YHWH's decision to bring to a completion the destruction decreed upon His enemies.
Nahum goes on to affirm that God has no need to take vengeance twice on His enemies (as the RSV) although a more literal translation would be that
'Affliction shall not have to rise a second time'
for there's no word for 'vengeance' here and, by its use, the reader thinks that Nahum 1:2 is being recalled. The meaning is little different whichever translation is used, however, the only other place in the OT where a single strike is said to be sufficient is I Samuel 26:8 where Abishai assures David that, should he allow him, the slumbering Saul would be killed with a single blow from his spear.
The idea is of effectiveness. It could be said that, if we believe God's fighting against His enemies and yet doesn't make a full and complete end, then it may not be God at all (although there are reasons why God leaves remnants and survivors - with regard to Nineveh, however, this wasn't going to happen).
But the word for 'affliction' (Strongs Hebrew number 6869, M 1973c and 1974b), as TWOTOT comments
'...indicates intense inner turmoil...It describes the anguish of a people besieged by an enemy'
and we aren't to think of a time of mild panic coming upon a people but of consuming bewilderment and unceasing panic at the fate that seems to have become unavoidable. It's interesting to note that we have, in the West, often sanitised God's wrath so that those who are to be removed never suffer any real pain - such a concept isn't Biblical and the use of the word here is a clear indication that, while God may be merciful that such 'affliction' will only occur once, it will necessarily occur.
This is a difficult verse on which to be sure of the correct translation. Nahbak comments that
'Difficulties in the text and syntax make this verse one of the most difficult to interpret in the Old Testament'
(but Nahum 1:11 that follows is probably more problematical because we know the correct translation). The RSV omits an entire phrase (the line about the drunks) as they feel that the words are a scribe's accidental repetition of words that weren't meant to be part of the flow of the original prophecy (called a dittographical error). However, as commentators point out, there doesn't appear to be a good reason to ignore them.
That still leaves a problem with rendering the English in some meaningful form as the Hebrew text causes translations that run something like
'Like entangled thorns and like legless drunkards; they are consumed like dry stubble'
That is, just like the first two phenomena, they are consumed like the third. This doesn't seem to make much sense (and I note that Nahsmi's translation of the text is abandoned for a different interpretation in his exegetical discussion - he seems to be having difficulty with it, too).
It seems to me best to take the verb 'consumed' as referring to all three phrases (although I'm not sure that this is possible with the text as it stands - translations sometimes assign the verb to the first two phrases only and sometimes only to the third) so that we get something along the lines of
'Like entangled thorns, like legless drunkards and like dry stubble, they are consumed'
It then remains for us only to note in what way each of the three descriptors speak of the consuming work of YHWH.
'Entangled thorns' - the word translated 'thorns' (Strongs Hebrew number 5518, M1489 and 1490) means 'pots' when a pluralised feminine and this accounts for 29 of its 34 uses in the OT. The four places where 'thorns' is the correct rendering are in Ecclesiastes 7:6 (where the form of the word also appears a second time translated as the word 'pot'), Isaiah 34:13, Hosea 2:6 and here in Nahum 1:10.
Although the two words used don't appear again together in the OT, the key to understanding the phrase seems to be in Hosea 2:6 where we read that YHWH
'...will hedge up [Israel's] way with thorns; and I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths'
where the wall being referred to must necessarily be an obstacle that cannot be negotiated just as the thorns are 'entangled' in Nahum 1:10. The only way to remove such an obstruction is to burn it with fire until it's razed to ashes. It's like this that the enemies will be consumed. Any obstruction or resistance they show will be removed.
Nahpal sees this entanglement as being used
'...figuratively [of] the hard-headed, hard-hearted resistance characteristic of the Assyrian to the authority of the one true living God'
but it's hard to see how that trait is like their destruction - it would certainly be a reason for their destruction but it couldn't be used as an allusion of it's intrinsic essence.
'Legless drunkards' - is usually rendered as 'sodden drunkards' by commentators but 'legless' gives the meaning in the sense of impotency. No matter that trouble will come upon the drunkard, he's incapable of reacting sufficiently well to deliver himself from calamity.
Therefore, like people who've had excessive alcohol, God will overcome His adversaries for they will be incapable of delivering themselves because of their stupor.
The first two descriptors, then, speak of both a protective wall that will be removed and a response of self-protection that's non-existent.
'Dry stubble' - is actually fully dry stubble for there are three words in the original that represent the two word English phrase (Nahbak sees the word 'fully' as being descriptive of the destruction so that all three allusions end with the statement that His enemies will be fully consumed. The Hebrew word occurs at the very end of the verse so it may be employed to give a final description of the judgment being described - it will be fully achieved). As such, we're looking at something that won't need much of an encouragement to catch alight and burn to dust.
Although the word translated 'stubble' (Strongs Hebrew number 7179, M2091a) can be used of stubble that's blown away by God in judgment (for example, Jer 13:24), its more common figurative use is of being burnt up by fire (Ex 15:7, Job 13:"5, Isaiah 5:24, 33:11, 47:14, Obadiah 1:18, Malachi 4:1).
The inference could be either to the speed of the destruction that fire brings or to the completeness of the work because of the dryness of the stubble. And it's like this that YHWH will judge His enemies.
In three metaphorical statements, then, Nahum has described the destruction that will soon fall.
2. To Nineveh
Not only is the interpretation of this verse difficult, but the correct translation needs determining before we can proceed.
The RSV translates it in the form of a question as
'Did one not come out from you, who plotted evil against YHWH and counselled villainy?'
but there doesn't appear to be a good reason why it should be in the form of a question. It seems better to read the verse as a statement such as
'From you, one came forth, one plotting evil against YHWH, one counselling wickedness'
The 'you' is a feminine singular (as Nahpal - Nahsmi states it as being masculine and therefore referring to Nineveh's leaders) and must surely be referring to both the 'her place' of Nahum 1:8 and the overall subject of the prophecy - that is, the city of Nineveh. Nahbak states that the 'you' must refer to Assyria and, while this is possible, it would be the more unlikely as 'Assyria' is mentioned only once elsewhere in Nahum (3:18) and, even then, not on its own as a label for the kingdom but in the phrase 'king of Assyria'.
Nahsmi, on the other hand, sees the 'you' to be referring
'...to Nineveh and to her patron goddess'
but, again, this seems unnecessary. The gods of the city are mentioned in Nahum 1:14 but there they aren't spoken of as 'you' but 'your gods', being a part of the city and not an object that stands together in the inclusive pronoun being used here. Indeed, nowhere is it obvious that 'you' must refer to the gods of Nineveh (Nahsmi will go on to state that the term 'Belial' discussed below '...suggests that the human enemy, whoever he was, represented the Assyrian goddess' but the title wasn't, at this point, used to represent any demonic or supernatural power).
The other 'problem' phrase is the one translated 'one counselling wickedness' for it could be rendered 'a counsellor of Belial'. The word translated Belial (Strongs Hebrew number 1100, M246g) is used twenty-seven times in the OT, sixteen of which are translated as the proper noun. It's made from two other Hebrew words and would be literally rendered 'without worth', 'worthless' or 'worthlessness' but, when used in the OT, is rendered with words such as 'wicked', 'ungodly' and 'evil' by the AV.
It's clear that translators have thought of the word as a name of either some person or false god because of the way it's been transliterated and left in the text alongside other words, being rendered 'Children of Belial' (Deut 13:13, Judges 20:13, I Samuel 10:27, I Kings 21:13, II Chron 13:7), 'Sons of Belial' (Judges 19:22, I Samuel 2:12, 25:17, I Kings 21:10), 'Daughter of Belial' (I Samuel 1:16) and 'Man of Belial' (I Samuel 25:25, 30:22, II Samuel 16:7, 20:1, I Kings 21:13).
Firstly, we need to ask whether we have any evidence that would indicate that 'Belial' was the name of a false god known to the Israelites in the OT? To that, the answer is emphatically 'no'. It did start to be used as a title of satan, however, in the later Jewish apocalyptic literature and, in II Cor 6:15, Paul uses the transliterated word in this manner.
But, in the OT, it appears to have been a word that was used as the 'source' or 'patriarchal head' of a fictitious family from whom certain people were claimed to be descended, used in a derogatory manner (a society that prided itself on keeping the line of patriarchs going seem to have found their own relevant way of putting people down). We might call someone an 'idiot', a 'pillock' or a 'wazzock' (or something a whole lot worse) but, to the Israelites, they were a 'son of Belial'.
The phrase had a lot of contexts and could be used to speak of the unbelieving, wicked, evildoer or faithless but, generally, it could have whatever meaning you wanted it to have and the easiest representation of the single word would be 'worthless' (a worthless son) or 'worthlessness' (a son of worthlessness). When applied to Nabal, it more rightly means 'stupid idiot' rather than 'wicked person' which is why we should be careful in our interpretation when it occurs.
However, NID comments that the word
'...generally refers to a person who has become so wicked and corrupt that he/she is a detriment to society'
It should also be noted that the word will reappear in Nahum 1:15 when it's said that Belial will no more pass through the land. The RSV translates it as 'the wicked' and some such translation is justified there. We could equally well use that translation here in Nahum 1:11 (perhaps we should) but the word doesn't always have to imply sin - just stupidity - and we already have a description in this verse that the person is plotting 'evil' against YHWH.
Therefore, as we come to Nahum 1:11, it seems best to attempt to represent the word with a translation - rather than a transliteration - that faithfully represents a Jewish idiom (unless, of course, your circle of readers know what the term 'Belial' means. There's a first time for almost everything).
We, therefore, must arrive at a translation that runs
'From [Nineveh], one came forth, one plotting evil against YHWH, a worthless counsellor'
But we haven't really sorted out the meaning of the verse, yet, for it's important to try and understand who this 'one' is who came out of Nineveh, plotting evil against YHWH but whose counsel was stupid and, by inference, wicked.
Nahoza sees the phrase 'worthless counsellor' (or 'counsellor of Belial') to be more a shadow of the antichrist to come (his commentary has been wandering off to seek out a future fulfilment of Nahum in the previous few verses). Any person who plots evil against YHWH rather than to simply amble through life offending Him in a unorganised and almost arbitrary way could be said to be moving under the inspiration of the spirit of antichrist. But that doesn't really help us understand the verse in context.
The only real contender for 'worthless counsellor of the month' is Sennacherib who came against the land in 701BC. Perhaps this betrays my cynical nature but, in my opinion, the identification seems too obvious. Leaving that aside, Nahum is speaking of an incident that took place just over fifty years ago (at the least - see the dates proposed for Nahum's prophecy in the Introduction, part 1c).
If we were to refuse to accept Sennacherib, however, the only option would be Ashurbanipal who was currently reigning as king of Assyria and that has no historical or Biblical evidence to support it. We don't know if Ashurbanipal ever 'came out' and plotted evil against YHWH.
The verse, therefore, must necessarily refer to Sennacherib who, as we noted in the introduction, re-established Nineveh on a grand scale so that he would probably have been the first king who could've been considered as having 'come forth' out of that city to wage war against Judah (although the text doesn't say as much).
Certainly, we have good Biblical evidence (Isaiah 36:4-10,13-20) to show us that Sennacherib had plotted against YHWH and, by his attack on the kingdom when it was demonstrating faithfulness towards the covenant under Hezekiah, he was threatening the continued existence of the Covenant.
We should note especially that Sennacherib's representative claimed that YHWH Himself had sent the king to destroy the land (yeah, right - Isaiah 36:10) and that the gods of the nations he'd already conquered were similar to YHWH who, therefore, was quite impotent to help them (dream on - Isaiah 36:18-20).
Therefore, the evidence seems to fit Sennacherib - except that it was the Rabshakeh (literally, the 'cup bearer', a man of high rank in the court of Assyria) who stood outside Jerusalem's walls and not the king himself.
Sennacherib came out originally against Tyre and Sidon when tribute refused to be paid and these weren't Israelite controlled ports. He seems to have only directed his attention to gain more land when those cities were defeated and subdued. It could be said, therefore, that he hadn't come out against YHWH originally.
This is probably mere semantics and shouldn't be accepted. However, I'm inclined to think that the speech of the Rabshakeh is sufficiently self-penned (although, as would be expected, the authority of the king is attributed to it by the Rabshakeh - Isaiah 36:4,13) to identify the 'worthless counsellor' as being identified with him and not the king of Assyria.
The final question to be asked is why this verse hangs so seemingly loosely in the text - it doesn't appear to follow what's preceded it and neither is the idea developed later. But this is only an appearance.
Nahum 1:9-10 has affirmed that destruction will come.
Nahum 1:12-13 will continue this proclamation but will also go on to consider Judah's restoration.
Nahum 1:11 stands here because it recounts the previous time that the Assyrians came against the land and were pretty much sent back to their land with their tails between their legs, having been unable to overcome Jerusalem.
That was a defensive action, it has to be said - but it's used as evidence that the offensive action is assured, that YHWH is fully able to achieve what He plans to do. Nahum is grounding their affirmation of his question (Nahum 1:9a) in historical fact that they might be more certain that this is simply a repeat performance.
3. To Judah
Having laid out the basis for God's vengeance (Nahum 1:2-8) and having allowed his hearers to affirm their faith in these statements (Nahum 1:9a), Nahum's gone on to declare the finality and inevitability of His action (Nahum 1:9b-10) and given them the historical assurance that 'as it was, so shall it be' (Nahum 1:11). The prophet now turns back to address his listeners directly as representative of the Judahite nation and for the first time in the prophecy uses the name of God as the authority for his message.
What's preceded it has all been Nahum's preamble. It's as if YHWH has been standing in the shadows, behind the prophet's shoulder, waiting for the introduction to be made and the implication to sink in so He can step to centre stage and deliver His own personal message to His covenanted people.
In as clear a message as has been made up to this point concerning the object of God's coming vengeance, YHWH speaks of 'they' who will be cut off but of 'you' who will no longer be afflicted. There could no longer be any doubt that the message of judgment is being directed at Judah's enemies.
The formula 'Thus says YHWH' is used on its one and only occasion here but elsewhere it's recorded that God speaks (Nahum 1:14, 2:13, 3:5-?19) and little should be made of it.
The description of Nineveh as being 'strong and many' is somewhat of a problem. Nahoza translates it 'they have allies and are numerous', of which the former interpretation doesn't seem to be possible from the word. Nahbak and Nahsmi both follow after the RSV's sense of the words.
The word used here (Strongs Hebrew number 8003, M2401d) is translated by the AV as 'quiet' in the sense of being 'at peace' or 'at prosperous ease' (it's part of the word group that includes the Hebrew blessing 'shalom') but the underlying meaning certainly seems to be something more akin to 'completeness' as Nahpal translates.
The sense, then, is that Nineveh has 'all resources available' or 'lacks nothing' - yet, in such a statement it can also be seen that, without YHWH, a people lack everything. In spite of all their perfection, they will still be cut off (Strongs Hebrew number 1494, M336), a word used fifteen times in the OT and more rightly used of sheep shearing or shearers of sheep (Gen 31:19, 38:12,13, Deut 15:19, I Samuel 25:2,4,7,11, II Samuel 13:23,24, Isaiah 53:7) or even shaving one's face or hair (Job 1:20, Jer 7:29, Micah 1:16). One of the word group (Strongs Hebrew number 1488, M336a) is also used to speak of mown grass (Ps 72:6, Amos 7:1).
This is the only place where a nation is said to be 'sheared' or 'shaved' but it's spoken of in the context of Nineveh as having everything and of being many. We shouldn't think, therefore, that the city is to be 'cut off' but that it will be 'sheared' of its great possessions and resources, that the 'many' who make up its numbers will be 'shaved' from it.
This verse doesn't speak about the city being removed but that its limitless resources will be removed from it.
The last phrase has the RSV translate that the city will 'pass away' which makes perfect sense but which doesn't correctly represent the text, the words being better understood as saying 'He shall pass through' (Strongs Hebrew number 5674, M1556), not 'pass over' as Nahpal maintains.
Although the word can be translated 'pass over' elsewhere, the allusion is to the Passover where a different word was used to denote God 'passing over' His people (Strongs Hebrew number 6452) and thereby saving them, the one used in Nahum being translated 'pass through' in Exodus to speak of God's judgment as it fell upon their enemies. In Ex 12:23, the account reads
'For YHWH will pass through (5674) to slay the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, YHWH will pass over (6452) the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to slay you'
When we come to Nahum 1:12, it's interesting to note that YHWH is speaking about 'He' passing through. This still could be a personal reference but, more likely, the idea is of the destroyer mentioned above who was to pass through the city because YHWH would not be passing over.
With the Passover in mind, then, it's hardly surprising that YHWH announces
'Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more'
the inference being that the Ninevites had been those that YHWH had used to afflict His people (see my notes in the Introduction, part 4a for a potted history of Assyria's involvement in Israel and Judah) whether by a direct assault, the continuing threat of invasion or in the payment of tribute that taxed the land, its use being for the benefit of a different nation that cared little for the welfare of a people hundreds of miles away.
However, we must note that this statement doesn't identify the one that afflicts as being Nineveh/Assyria until the following verse.
The word translated by 'afflict' (Strongs Hebrew number 6031, M1651 and M1652) is the one used of the affliction of the Israelites under the bondage and servitude of the Egyptians prior to the Exodus (Gen 15:13, Ex 1:11,12) but it's also used in a great variety of applications and contexts so that it can't be said to be a label used exclusively - it could be used simply to say that Judah had been humbled before God.
However, following on from the allusion to the work of YHWH in the Passover, it's unlikely that the meaning would have been unrealised.
This 'affliction' - declared to be from YHWH Himself (please note that affliction is not necessarily satanic in origin and should never be labelled as such until it has been clearly determined whether we are pulling for or against the will of God) - is not the result of His capricious nature but of the failure of the Judahites to walk in and live out the Covenant (Ps 119:67).
As I said at the very beginning of this commentary, God becomes jealous and will avenge in anger when the Covenant is being threatened - and it makes no difference whether that threat comes internally or externally (that is, from the people who are bound to Him or from the people who are seeking to threaten those who are bound to it).
God protects His people in covenant however that might need to be achieved and for whatever reason. With the oppressor's removal, so will the affliction.
His statement that God will afflict His people 'no more' must be understood in the context of the nation to whom it had come - a restored, obedient people who had set themselves to serve YHWH and to walk in obedience to the Covenant. In that state, no affliction would come - but, when the nation turned once again against YHWH and the Covenant, affliction inevitably came but, this time, in the form of the Babylonians.
YHWH now goes further to show the interrelationship between the two camps, combining the 'they' (of Nahum 1:12a) and 'you' (of Nahum 1:12b) into Nahum 1:13 that sees 'they' as being those who afflict the 'you' who are afflicted. Unless there was a local problem with rebelling tribes or towns, it could only have been taken as referring to Nineveh/Assyria as the afflicting ones who were about to be made to cease by YHWH.
Even though YHWH declares that He's caused affliction to come upon them (Nahum 1:12) yet He still notes that Nineveh has been his tool (Nahum 1:13). We see clearly in this verse that, when God passes through the city, He will remove the bonds of slavery that were placed on them by the Assyrians.
As Nahbak writes
'[The Assyrians'] burdensome tyranny...will be removed and Assyria will be gone'
Perhaps especially, the tribute that would have had to have been collected annually to be sent to Nineveh would have ceased immediately with the overthrow of the city. Assyrian officials would have found that, when news came to Judah of the city's collapse, they would've had to have fled for their lives.
Something fairly sudden would have to be envisaged and the imagery being employed seems to demand such an event as having occurred.
The 'And now' that opens the verse also declares the imminence of fulfilment (if the date of completion is accepted in the Introduction then the prophecy was fully and finally fulfilled in around fifteen years, but the beginning of the reduction of Assyrian control would have been felt within five).
Nahsmi is careful to note that the 'you' and 'your' of Nahum 1:12b-13 are feminine singular and, therefore,
'...probably refer to Jerusalem'
If this is the case then Nineveh is taken to be representative of the Assyrians in the same way as Jerusalem is of the Judahites. Or, the judgment of Nineveh must mean the judgment of Assyria if mercy given to Jerusalem is thought of as resting on the entire Judahite nation.
We've added explanations at various points in our discussion of these two verses so it seems best that, in conclusion, I present a translation/understanding of the text itself with the following rendering
'Thus says YHWH:
Though Nineveh are complete and many,
They will be shorn of their resources and the Destroyer shall pass through.
Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more.
And now I will break His yoke from off you and will burst your bonds asunder'
4. To Nineveh
Once more, words are addressed to Nineveh, prefixed by Nahum's own in which, for the second time, He announces the message as a direct quote from YHWH.
The word translated 'perpetuated' by the RSV (Strongs Hebrew number 2232, M582) is a farming term meaning 'to sow' (Gen 26:12) or 'to scatter [seed]' or even 'to yield' (Gen 1:11). It can even mean 'to become pregnant' (Lev 12:2). It's used a total of fifty-six times and is often used figuratively in various applications and circumstances, most commonly from the Psalms onwards.
The only possibility of a similar usage to that in Nahum is in Isaiah 10:24 where, speaking of the princes and rulers of earth, God observes that
'Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown (2232), scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble'
but the thought here is of individual leaders being plucked up from their kingdoms and nations, being cast aside to become nothing. In Nahum, we're thinking of a city whose name isn't to be sown any longer amongst the nations and peoples of the world.
The RSV's translation doesn't convey this idea, though - to have the name perpetuated means to have it remembered or to have it remain recorded and recounted down through time, something that, indeed, has happened. Nineveh has not long since been forgotten but is well remembered amongst historians, archaeologists and, even, in the minds of believers whose Scriptures, according to the RSV, should have long since ceased to perpetuate the name.
But the word means 'a sowing' and it's significant that the word is employed to speak of a woman becoming pregnant for this is the intention of the word here in Nahum.
It has to be remembered that the name of something or someone is a short label that represents everything that that person represents - therefore (as I've said elsewhere), tacking the phrase 'in the name of Jesus' (John 14:13-14) to the end of our own prayers isn't a magical formulae to enable us to get them answered. If we do such a thing, it means that what we're asking in prayer is in line with the will, purpose and person of the One whose name we're using.
So, too, if Nineveh's name is to no longer be sown, it means that its ways and character will no longer be passed on in to the lives of those of the world. It's not the memory of the city and of the Assyrian nation that will cease to be remembered but the promotion of their way of life that will cease.
Therefore, when Hosea prays against Ephraim (Hosea 9:14) he asks that YHWH give them
'...a miscarrying womb and dry breasts'
saying that their evil might not continue to be conceived in the earth, that God might put an end to the multiplying of their sin. The same is true here of Nineveh - although Nahum isn't petitioning God to do it, YHWH says that this will be one of the outworkings of His act of vengeance.
I note Nahpal (and Nahsmi) that the opening 'you' of this verse is rightly masculine in form (although Nahoza calls it as a feminine with the subsequent pronouns being masculine - my wife seems to have been bamboozled by the text, too, and couldn't determine the gender. Perhaps the experts toss a coin?) and, therefore, that it should be taken as a commandment uttered against the king of Assyria rather than the city (which would require the feminine).
What's been said above about Nineveh, therefore, should be applied more rightly to its king (although whether we're to think of the king at the time the prophecy was first delivered or at the time of the destruction of Nineveh isn't made clear) but, because the king represents those under him, there's no reason why it shouldn't be applied to the inhabitants of the city itself (I note that the commentators who insist that the verse applies to the king of Assyria very quickly start talking about the application being to both Nineveh and the Assyrian kingdom! It may be right to think that so did the original listeners of Nahum's message).
Nahsmi interprets the verse, then, to mean that
'...his descendants will be no more'
but the real burden of the verse is that their type of behaviour and life will no longer take root in society.
YHWH then moves on to pronounce judgment upon the king of Assyria's/Nineveh's gods - it was only a matter of time before we'd expect God to deal with the gods in whom Assyria placed their trust and looked to for continued prosperity and military success.
It's interesting to note, however, that when the Assyrian Rabshakeh stood outside Jerusalem's city walls he tried to reason with the inhabitants that YHWH would not be able to deliver them in the same manner as the gods of the other cities had not been able to deliver them from the hand of the king of Assyria (Isaiah 36:4-10,13-20). It should be noted that nowhere does the representative claim that the Assyrian gods gave them victory over the conquered cities but that the power of the king himself had been sufficient to overcome them.
It appears, then, from the Scriptural evidence, that the king used his gods more as a justification for his actions than as a source of his victories. They may well have been more gods of convenience that gods of destiny.
The word translated 'cut off' by the RSV (Strongs Hebrew number 3772, M1048) is a common enough word bearing this meaning (it's also the word employed to speak of the making of a covenant where the idea was always that such an agreement was 'cut' because of the animal sacrifice involved - see my notes here) but TWOTOT notes that
'...there is the metaphorical meaning to root out, eliminate, remove, excommunicate or destroy by a violent act of man or nature'
and it's tempting to see something of the violence described here as being what was intended in Nahum. Certainly, we aren't thinking that the images would simply be removed from their house (or houses), rather that they would cease to exist.
The two types of images mentioned here encompass the catalogue of idols that would normally be found in ancient temples. They're the 'graven image' (Strongs Hebrew number 6459, M1788a) which comes from a root meaning 'to hew' and is used in I Kings 5:18 for the hewing of timber and, in Ex 34:1, for the cutting of the two stones of the ten commandments. We might interpret the word to mean 'wood and stone images' that were worked by craftsmen in to discernible images.
The other is the 'molten image' (Strongs Hebrew number 4541, M1375c) which comes from a root meaning 'poured out' or 'cast' where the primary idea is an image made from some sort of metal, not just cast but also fashioned after the initial work has been done.
If this pronouncement was meant to be taken solely as applicable to the king of Assyria (as commentators maintain), then we're unable to determine the extent to which the words were fulfilled for at least two temples have been identified, one excavated, by Archaeologists and numerous finds recovered (Nahoza only mentions the temples of Ishtar and Nabu that he claims were recorded as having experienced 'complete destruction' - but one wonders how the temples were identified if they were completely destroyed).
The god Ishtar was incorporated into the worship of the conquering Babylonians as well, no doubt, as other gods that were common to the two peoples and areas, but the weight of the prophecy seems to be that with violence, the images of the gods in which the king of Assyria - and, therefore, also Nineveh - trusted would be destroyed but not necessarily forgotten or never again revered as gods.
The final phrase that has YHWH digging the king of Assyria's grave is fairly straightforward except for the final word that the RSV translates 'vile' (Strongs Hebrew number 7043, M2028) where the idea behind its use is of smallness in a great variety of applications and contexts. While the RSV's translation is perfectly possible, it may have been better to render the word 'of little worth' (Nahpal translates it 'of no significance' which is possibly too interpretative to stand).
That the king of Assyria thought of himself as great in splendour and power is contrasted with the image YHWH has of him. And, while the king would have chosen pomp, ceremony and a beautiful site and tomb for his death, YHWH has decided that a grave will be chosen that's more in keeping with the image He has.
Nahsmi notes that
'...in contrast to his self-estimate, [he] is actually of little consequence [and] God will provide a grave suitable for his true importance'
A pile of rubble just about says it all (it says more about him than American Express ever can).
Finally, Nahpal is right in drawing the reader's attention to the problematical position that these words would have put Nahum in. Vassal kingdoms have representatives of the controlling kingdom established in office in some form or another to bring word to the king and to warn of the first signs of rebellion or mutiny.
By pronouncing the death sentence on the king of Assyria (more than the words against Nineveh, perhaps), Nahum wasn't thinking about self-preservation but about being faithful to the message that had been entrusted him.
5. To Judah
NB - Nahum 1:15 is verse 2:1 in the Hebrew canon so anyone following a commentary on the Hebrew numbering system should note. I will be retaining the references as they appear in the English versions.
And so we come to that passage (repeated in some form elsewhere in the OT) where believers shout 'It's about proclaiming the Gospel in Christ!' and I tend to cringe and hurry away to find a stone to crawl under. Sure, it's about the proclamation of the good news (where the word 'Gospel' means 'good news') but it's about the announcing of a destruction that brings salvation and not salvation at no cost. As Nahpal observes in a lengthy aside that follows the explanation of this verse
'...the salvation of God's people is announced regularly in association with the destruction of God's enemies'
The military runner or messenger was an important instrument to convey news of the battle to those 'behind the lines'. So, when David stayed within the protection of the fortification, he looked towards the road and expected a messenger to bring him news of how the army fared against the forces of his son, Absalom (II Sam 18:24ff). So, Motyer observes
'How beautiful they would reckon the sight of a lone runner - not a straggle of fugitives betokening defeat, but one messenger with a spring in his step!'
Identical would be the circumstance when the Assyrian armies came into Israel and Judah, Jerusalem waiting for news of their success or failure. What they wanted to see was a lone runner (the Hebrew in both Nahum and Isaiah is singular where the RSV translates 'feet', but it's right that the two 'feet' of 'him' - that is, the one messenger - is mentioned, for a translation stating 'the foot of him' could have summoned up all manner of possibilities about hopping and wheelchair use), approaching the walls and announcing that their armies had put to flight the invading forces of Assyria.
The use to which Nahum puts this imagery is a little different, however, for here we have no immediate concern to the land and its inhabitants - there's no battle raging on their doorstep - but a messenger has come (or, perhaps better, a series of messengers have been carrying the news from Assyria - there will probably have been a message structure in place to cascade the rule and law of the king that's now put to alternative use), following on the heels of others who've proclaimed the surrounding of the city, the siege and the breaching of the walls, even.
Now the messenger comes announcing the final overthrow and destruction of the oppressor. Nahum sees his approach as if vengeance has already fallen and hears the message of 'peace' being proclaimed, announcing that there no longer exists a threat to their service of YHWH and that the worthless (or 'Belial') shall no more enter the land to attack because they've been annihilated.
A similar pronouncement is made by Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7-10) but, for that prophet, the messenger comes as a result of the full and final overthrow of all God's and His people's enemies.
The prophet begins by cataloguing the nation's affliction (Isaiah 52:4), in the words of Motyer
'...from the A of Egypt to the Z of Assyria - the whole history of oppression as [Isaiah] had known it'
before announcing the message of salvation as if a messenger was approaching the citadel of God's people and relaying the event (Isaiah 52:7-10). But the scope of Isaiah's vision goes way beyond that of Nahum for he sees YHWH baring
'..His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God'
Therefore, Paul rightly uses it of the messengers of the Gospel, sent in to the world to declare the message of salvation (Rom 10:15) for the work in Christ has been completed - and yet we must still be aware that the full and final fulfilment is yet to come when God defeats all His and His people's enemies through Christ upon His return.
Just as the runner pronounced salvation and deliverance for the city to whom they came, so now the offer of redemption is declared to the people to whom the messengers of the Gospel are sent, for everything that was able to stand in the way of men and women knowing and experiencing YHWH has been removed by the work of Jesus Christ through the cross, burial, resurrection and ascension.
But this isn't what Nahum is relating (although the words can be considered to be an allusion to it) and we shouldn't feel any obligation to press the words into such a service. Nahsmi, however, insists that
'Yahweh is about to return'
even though Nahum says no such thing - that line comes from Isaiah 52:8 which shouldn't be allowed to bleed over in to our interpretation here.
The prophet is so sure of the fulfilment of the prophetic word that he can, even now, anticipate the messenger bringing the news of Nineveh's overthrow, announcing that the oppressing enemy has, herself, been afflicted and destroyed in order that the kingdom of Judah may live in peace.
Nahoza comments that Nahum quotes Isaiah 52:7 and, if this is the case, he only uses part of the text (from 'on the mountain' to 'peace') for he ignores the opening phrase translated 'How beautiful are' and adds his own 'Behold!' or 'Look!'.
For Isaiah, the time would come when such a deliverance was to be made a reality but, by using the word 'Behold!', Nahum suggests that the deliverance about which he speaks is almost 'at the gates' (quite literally - when the runner is being spoken of). We could even imagine Nahum lifting up his eyes at this point and raising a finger to a mountain top visible from where he was standing - the certainty of his words would have been tangible.
However, the phrase that Nahoza says is 'quoted' could well have been part of a common saying in Judah around that time and it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the Judahite would use such a phrase in conversation to assure his listener that he believed what he said was certain. We would be going too far, then, to state with any conviction that Nahum's use of the phrase is borrowed from Isaiah. Nahpal comments that
'...it is difficult to imagine the two prophets independently arriving at the same mode of expression'
but not, of course, if they had the same common source.
The messenger brings the 'good news' of Nineveh's overthrow and effectively proclaims 'peace' to the city of Jerusalem and kingdom of Judah for oppression has ceased. Peace should be understood as outworked not just as a freedom from oppression but in the service of their God, by being at liberty to keep their feasts and fulfil their vows (two acts of devotion that are probably used as representative of the whole). Nahsmi (as well as Nahoza) observes (my italics) that
'Judah is free to celebrate her feasts and to pay vows she made during her suffering'
but there are no indications that would cause us to interpret it this way. We could, perhaps, suggest that the vows being spoken of have to do with the deliverance of the nation from the Assyrians (such as the formula 'If you overthrow the Assyrians, then I vow to...') which would be more in keeping with the certainty of expectation that the prophecy will come to pass - but this is again mere conjecture. Similarly, Nahoza speaks of
'Messianic peace [that] is at last a blessed reality'
but, like Nahsmi who maintained that Nahum was saying that YHWH was about to return, this is an error of transporting information from Isaiah 52:7-10 and expecting that both passages refer to one and the same event.
The final two lines proclaim that never again shall the wicked come against Judah. Firstly, we should notice Nahoza's comments when he writes that
'The fall of Nineveh did little to alleviate Israel's plight. It simply replaced one tyrant by another, who proved to be even more cruel and despotic than his predecessor!'
but this fails to take note that the freedom from oppression could have been maintained had the Judahite nation have kept faithful to YHWH following their deliverance. That this didn't happen doesn't undermine the faithfulness of God's pronouncement.
But, more than this, the word translated 'wicked' is the word 'Belial' (Strongs Hebrew number 1100, M246g) that we discussed above (under Nahum 1:11) and, although a general term meaning 'worthless', it was there applied to the king of Assyria.
Never again, therefore, shall Belial come against Judah (Nahum 1:15), even though a counsellor of Belial did come in times past (Nahum 1:11), because the source has been 'cut off' (the same word used to denote the cutting off of the idolatrous images of the king of Assyria in Nahum 1:14 where we noted that the word implied a destruction by violence).
Far from implying total freedom from any oppressor whatsoever, the verse more specifically states that the Assyrian king and, by implication, the kingdom of which he was the head, would never again come against the land once the vengeance of God had fallen on Nineveh.
A note on Nahum 2:1-2
So out of place does Nahum 2:2 appear in the narrative running Nahum 2:1-10 that Nahsmi consigns it to run on from Nahum 1:15, announcing that
'An appendix in 2:2 should be considered a part of [that] oracle'
But the nature of Nahum 1:9-2:2 is its continual flitting between the object of delivery and 2:2 is hardly out of the ordinary. Neither is there any evidence to assume that this 'appendix' has somehow ended up in the wrong place and should be restored elsewhere. Using the insistent 'should be' needs to have some justification attached to it before it can be accepted.
However, let's consider the possibility that Nahum 2:1 and 2:3-9 should be considered as a single unit. What we must ask is whether Nahum 2:1 is of the same type of content and purpose as the longer passage.
The problem for the proposed unity is that it isn't. Nahum 2:1 is a call to Nineveh to prepare for battle now that an enemy army has come against it or, perhaps better, is approaching the walls or is anticipated over the horizon. Nahum 2:3-9 is about the battle itself and devastation and plundering that takes place as a result of its overthrow.
Although Nahum 2:1 is certainly the precursor or 'overture' for the longer passage, it doesn't seamlessly join the battle narrative and, for this reason alone, it shouldn't be thought of as having become separated or of needing to be joined together with Nahum 2:3-9.
The RSV sees Nahum 2:2 as a parenthetical statement that doesn't seem to fit in with the overall flow of verses in which it sits but the verse adds justification to what's about to follow and allows the reader to note that God's restoration will go beyond that of Judah and will extend to the historical kingdoms of the United Monarchy and Israel.
As such, it's a fittingly relevant verse and is perfectly placed in the overall flow of the pronouncements against the city.
6. To Nineveh
The opening statement simply paves the way for the taunt that follows. However, the opening statement is a taunt in itself and shouldn't be overlooked for Nahum speaks of the invading army as being 'the scatterer' (Strongs Hebrew number 6327, M1745, M1746 and M1800) where the RSV has, for some inexplicable reason, translated it with the word 'shatterer' (the AV uses the phrase 'he that dashes in pieces' with equal abandon for the underlying meaning of the word).
The first occurrence of the sixty-seven uses of the word in the OT is in Gen 10:18 where we're told that the Canaanites 'spread abroad' over the face of the earth (in a similar context, it would seem, as the occasion in Gen 11:4,8,9 where the same word is employed).
Thereafter, the word seems to hold this meaning of 'scatter' through most of its uses - although some verses, a better translation of 'separated' may be in order.
For example, Simeon and Levi are said to be tribes that will be 'separated' in Israel (Gen 49:7) where a 'scattering' may be the more accurate considering how Levi became the priesthood and was quite literally scattered in the midst of all the other tribes. The people of Israel are said to be scattered across the land of Egypt in search for a diminishing supply of stubble with which to make bricks (Ex 5:12) and the prayer of Moses was that God's enemies would be 'scattered' as Israel travelled through the wilderness (Num 10:35) so that they would be unable to strike them as a single, organised army.
These examples are all early uses of the word but even amongst later writers, the intent of the word is plain with a couple of possible exceptions. Where the RSV probably gets the idea of shattering is in Jer 23:29 (also Hab 3:6) where YHWH speaks of His word being like a hammer that shatters a rock in pieces (the last phrase also being a translation of the word which occurs twice in this verse).
The rule seems to be that, when speaking of people, the idea is that of scattering but, when of inanimate objects, the idea is of shattering (although one might also point out that a divisible group are scattered and an indivisible lump is shattered in order that it might be scattered).
As Nahum 2:1 plainly speaks of an oppressor coming upon a city of men and women, then the correct term must surely be 'scatterer'.
And with good reason.
It was the Assyrians who'd scattered the northern Kingdom of Israel in its own midst following the complete overthrow of that kingdom in 722BC (II Kings 17:24ff) but this had occurred both earlier under king Tiglath-Pileser III during the reign of Menahem, king of Israel (I Chron 5:6, 26) and king Pekah of Israel (II Kings 15:29) and later under Esarhaddon (Ezra 4:2).
Presumably, this practice was the standard procedure that was imposed upon conquered nations that probably prevented them from maintaining some degree of national unity that could have led to a rebellion against the ruling kingdom, but it also caused those brought into the centre of the kingdom to be assimilated into their lifestyle and, presumably, within a couple of generations, loyal subjects of the throne.
But, as the Ninevites had scattered other nations, so they would be scattered because the Scatterer had come up against them (not just because God scatters His enemies to divide their strength against His people - Ps 68:1), a personification of the act of dispersal. The taunt begins, therefore, by declaring national disunity - and the same foreign policy that the Ninevites had employed to far away lands (notably Israel), would be employed against them until, presumably, the 'Assyrian' would be so assimilated into the conquering nation that they would lose their identity of ever having belonged to that people and kingdom.
Now follow four specific commands:
'Man the ramparts. Watch the road. Gird your loins. Collect all your strength'
Nahoza cleverly observes (my italics) that
'The prophet hears in vision the very cries which will echo through the stricken city, the commands of their military officers'
While I must agree that each of these wouldn't have been out of place as encouragements from the lips of the defending military leaders, it misses the point of the taunt. Nahum is urging the Ninevites to prepare for the war and not to be taken by surprise.
That might sound strange - after all, wouldn't you want your enemy to be unprepared and unwarned until the danger was at the very gates, threatening to devour them? A surprise attack would surely be more likely to succeed than if the city had time to prepare.
But that's the reason for the warning - Nahum wants them to prepare against God's army, he wants them to have no justified explanation as to why they were unable to repel them. In other words, he wants them to know that God is fighting against them regardless of their own military prowess. Nahum is taunting them to be at their best which, he knows, won't be sufficient. As Nahbak writes
'No amount of preparation...will enable her to withstand the onslaught, since it is God who is her opponent'
It's a strong and confident general who'll give the initiative to his enemy, knowing that his own forces are infinitely superior and unable to be defeated. Nahum sees not the army coming against Nineveh but YHWH who marches at their front and in their midst (II Kings 6:16).
So, Nahum warns them to prepare for battle in four different ways (notice, then, that these aren't comments made during the battle but ahead of it). Nahpal notes that
'The four rapid-fire imperatives...challenge the Ninevites to be alert and throw all their strength into their defence'
These four challenges (as Nahpal) or taunts (as me) are, in order:
Man the ramparts - where the word translated 'man' (Strongs Hebrew number 05341, M1407) means more rightly to 'watch over' or 'protect'. The encouragement seems to be not to 'man' the fortifications (that is, to post soldiers on the defence walls) but to look after them, to make sure they're in good repair for the coming siege. Nahpal (along with Nahoza and Nahsmi) translates the phrase as 'Guard the fortress' but, surely, the fortress is built that it might guard them - the translation appears to be rather meaningless!
Watch the road - where any surprise attack will be averted and they will have time to close the gates to prevent the army from gaining an easy access into their midst.
Gird your loins - where the word translated 'gird' (Strongs Hebrew number 2388, M636) more rightly means 'make strong'. The phrase 'gird your loins' means to gather together all loose attire so that action is more easily performed, something that would be essential to the soldier as they went in to battle - but, in the OT, the words employed for 'gird' when this phrase is used are either Strongs Hebrew number 2296 or 247. The idea here, then, is that the soldier and ordinary Ninevite should take time to invest in their own stature, to be at their physical peak to stand against the attacking army.
Collect all your strength - or, to use alliteration (and to translate fairly literally), 'Strengthen your strength strongly' which is taken to be referring to the strength of the fighting force of the city rather than to individual stature and power.
Be at your best, Nahum says, my God's on His way.
7. To Judah
The word translated 'majesty' by the RSV (Strongs Hebrew number 1347, M299e) is used forty-nine times and is a difficult word to understand the meaning of if there's no context given for it can be used as a positive attribute of God (Ex 15:7, Job 37:4, Isaiah 2:10,19,21, 24:14, Amos 8:7, Micah 5:4) but also as a negative attribute of man (Job 35:12, Ps 59:12, Prov 8:13, 16:18, Isaiah 13:11, 16:6, Jer 48:29, Ezek 16:49, 16:56, Hosea 5:5, 7:10, Amos 6:8).
Even when man's 'majesty' is overthrown, it isn't always obvious whether we're to take the 'majesty' as being intrinsically negative or just a statement of fact (Lev 26:19, Isaiah 13:19, 14:11, 23:9, Jer 13:9, Ezek 7:24, Ezek 24:21, 30:6, 30:18, 32:12, 33:28, Zeph 2:10, Zech 9:6, 10:11, 11:3) because it's spoken of as being something that will be restored to men (Isaiah 60:15, Nahum 2:2).
Other uses that can't be categorised as above are in Job 38:11, 40:10, Isaiah 4:2, Jer 12:5, 49:19, 50:44 and Ezek 7:20.
The word is possibly best translated by 'excellence' when used in a positive sense and 'pride' when negative. Indeed, the excellence of man (or, perhaps better, the perceived excellence of man) can be the reason for his pride, taking pleasure in the object or standing, instead of looking to the one who grants it.
Nahbak takes the word as meaning 'splendour' which is also an accurate description of the word in its positive sense. 'Glory' is used by Nahsmi but the word regularly used with this meaning has an underlying concept of 'weight' attached to it and the two words become confused if translated the same. Nahpal opts for 'eminence' which is also possible.
The word 'majesty' used by the RSV is a difficult one to accept mainly because of the way its 'flavoured' here in the UK with our idea of royalty and the external paraphernalia that's looked to as the 'majesty' or 'splendour' of the crown.
This might not be too far from the negative aspects of the word, where men and women parade in their finest regalia, showing off their possessions and fine clothing for all the world to see for it approaches 'pride'. God makes no show in these ways (ceremonial religion, please note) but simply displays His intrinsic character which is, in reality, majestic or glorious.
But 'excellence' is chosen for the verse here because the word's able to describe both physical and moral perfection without having to define either. The word should be represented by others when it appears in different contexts, 'pride' being one that would be a strong contender for a great many of them.
The 'Excellence of Jacob' is mentioned on five occasions (Ps 47:4, Jer 13:9, Amos 6:8, 8:7, Nahum 2:2) and there's an array of meaning. In Ps 47:4, it's said of YHWH that He loves the excellence of Jacob and yet, in Amos 6:8, that He hates it. He announces that He will spoil it in Jer 13:9 and also uses it as the formula of an oath by which He swears in Amos 8:7. Here in Nahum 2:2, we read that He will restore it alongside that of Israel (the 'excellence of Israel' is used only here in the OT).
Restoring the pride of Jacob is not something that we would have expected to see at this point - especially when it stands alongside the mention of Israel. It would have been more likely to expect to hear YHWH being attributed with restoring Judah (the southern kingdom) and Israel (the exiled northern kingdom) rather than for Jacob to be mentioned at all, unless on its own as indicative of both kingdoms.
So unexpected is the inclusion of Jacob that Nahbak simply changes the word to 'Judah' without any explanation why or any seeming justification. Nahsmi accepts the translation that gives 'Jacob' but then explains the verse by writing (my italics) that
'God is going to return Judah to her previous greatness'
But we already know that Judah will be restored from previous verses (Nahum 1:12-13,15) and by the statements that God will move as Avenger of the threatened covenant that implies a restoration to the relationship between Judah and Himself (Nahum 1:2-3b).
Here, though, those words and concepts are put to one side as YHWH addresses both the situation of the United Monarchy (Jacob) and of the divided kingdom that became the northern tribes (Israel). God hasn't forgotten that His people had a past and He'll take steps to restore the excellence of Israel's kingdom to them.
Nahpal sees the mention of Jacob and Israel as being
'...the contrast...between the time of Israel's glory under the united monarchy and the time of the nation's humiliation as it passed through God's judgments, leaving Judah alone intact'
but there doesn't appear to be any reason to expect the verse to mention their fall from God's favour through national sin - Nahum only mentions the restoration of their excellence. Even though we might point out that there was no excellence during the time of the northern kingdom's independence because of successive kings that refused to serve YHWH, yet there were arguably two of the greatest prophets alive at that time who strove with the nation to return to God, channels of miraculous signs and wonders that demonstrated the greatness of YHWH.
The idea, then, is that the singular excellence of God's people will be restored - it isn't a declaration of a regathering of the tribes into the land but of a rekindling of their former excellence, neither that the lands over which they formerly ruled will be given back in to their hands.
This is a hard concept to quantify so it's best to be left as it stands - what God perceived as being the excellence of those kingdoms He now declares will be restored to His people's life.
The reason that the excellence of Jacob and Israel will be restored is because
'...plunderers have stripped them and ruined their branches'
a strange reason to give - we would, perhaps, expect to read something like
'God will restore because He has forgiven their sin and has turned to them for healing'
but, instead, we seem to get the reasoning that
'God will restore their excellence because it has been removed'
Some might say that that's a good enough reason and, if we consider that God is taking action because He is the Avenger of the Covenant (as we saw when we considered Nahum 1:2-3b), He seems to be acting because something is lacking that should be present.
It's the same sort of logic behind God's statement in Deut 7:7-8 where God says that He loves Israel because He loves them. God will give them back their excellence because they don't have it.
The first phrase of this part of the verse is more literally rendered
'for those that empty have emptied them'
or (as NID's interpretation of the meaning of the words)
'the wasters have wasted them'
for the concept is present in both words (mainly because it's the same word used twice! - Strongs Hebrew number 1238, M273). If it seems too simplistic that one of the above translations be employed, then something like
'for plunderers have emptied them'
would suffice. The point is that their treasure has been removed so that they stand before YHWH as empty vessels. Again, though, the idea is not necessarily meant to be taken as material possessions, especially when this stands as the reason for God's imminent act of restoring the nations' excellence.
This is further suggested when we read the final words that the plunderer has
'ruined their branches'
The word translated 'ruined' (Strongs Hebrew number 07843, M2370) is used 147 times and generally means 'to destroy' or 'to corrupt'. It's difficult to choose between the two as the destruction of a branch would cause no fruit to be produced, whereas the corruption of a branch would cause fruit to be produced that wouldn't be useful for food.
We could say that the Israelites' service of YHWH had been corrupted or polluted by the intermingling of foreign gods and practices - especially as the people placed in the land after the northern kingdom's exile had tried to syncretise their own religion and the pre-existing worship of YHWH (II Kings 17:27-34,41). But we could also point to the habit of successive kings who confused service of God with the introduction of pagan and idolatrous practices, starting with Jeroboam (I Kings 12:26-33).
Therefore, the emptying seems to point towards something spiritual rather than material - as with the term 'excellence' used twice at the opening of the verse.
Finally, the word translated 'branches' (Strongs Hebrew number 2156, M559b) is used only five times in the OT. In Num 13:23 and Ezek 15:2 the context makes the word to be referring to a vine branch. However, Isaiah 17:10 and Ezekiel 8:17 give the reader no reason to think that the vine is being referred to.
You could probably toss a coin as to the intention here in Nahum as previous use makes the possibilities fifty-fifty (and many will want to opt for the vine branch because of the NT significance in John Chapter 15). However, it's only used of a vine branch when it's further defined as one and, therefore, it's best to take the word to mean simply 'branch' without tying it down to have to refer to the vine (as the RSV).
In summary, God is affirming that the united and northern kingdoms will find their excellence returned to them, where we're looking at a purity of worship and service of YHWH that had certainly been lacking in the northern kingdom's experience from its very inception but we could also be looking at moral uprightness.
No other inferences seem to be able to be made from this verse (for example, whether there would be a regathering of the scattered exiles) and we're left with some ambiguity when seeking to try and apply it or to determine what Nahum's hearers understood the statement to mean.
The battle narrative
Nahum 2:1 has been a wonderful precursor to this battle scene - Nineveh,
strengthened to the hilt at the encouragement of and with the urgency of Nahum's
voice, sits proudly awaiting the advance of YHWH's army in battle array.
It would be tempting to say that the Ninevites will meet a military force
that's wholly superior to her own - but we must note that Nineveh would have
been unable to stand against whosoever YHWH would have sent against her because
this is the time for vengeance, to repay her for her violence against the
It might as well have been a young lad with five smooth stones taken from the
brook who was marching up to the wall (I Sam 17:40) for, clothed with God's
strength, the battle was never going to be lost by the invader whatever
the force that was to come against her.
And the resulting carnage will be a repayment in kind for how she had dealt
with the nations and kingdoms to whom her warriors had travelled. As she has
scattered the defeated nations within her own kingdom, assimilating them into
her own culture, so also she will be scattered, losing her national
Many passages in the OT suffer from having commentators press them to yield
text that need not be written. This is one of those such places where little
possibly needs to be said except to make a few minor points, for the text is
simply a description of the fulfilment of God's pronouncements against the
But I probably don't have the discipline to heed my own words of warning at
Nahbak comments that
'The vividness of this battle description has led some to propose a
post-612BC date for at least this portion of the prophecy...'
something that happens with a lot of other passages that appear to mirror too
accurately the known facts of history. The problem with such a position here,
though, is that we don't have a source describing the battle and the fall of the
city that could be considered accurate and independent (as I pointed out
in the Introduction, part 1b). It's difficult, therefore, to imagine from where
Nahum got this 'accurate' description when there are no contemporary historical
sources that we can point to.
But the bottom line is almost certainly unbelief. Time and again, prophetic
passages have late dates assigned to them because men and women find it
impossible that YHWH might know what will happen prior to the events actually
We could equally accept most vivid fictional accounts in contemporary
literature as being depictions of real events that must have taken place in
the past for them to be so inspiring and thought-provoking. But this is
seldom the case for fictional writers do their homework when it comes to trying
to accurately depict fictitious events in their novels.
Instead of stating with certainty that Nahum 2:3-10 must have been composed
after the events that had taken place, people should be equally quick to
assert that the account was based on Nahum's experience of a contemporary siege
or that he spoke to eyewitnesses who had experienced them.
In other words, attributing a post-612BC isn't necessary even if the text
being considered can't be accepted as having come to Nahum by Divine
inspiration. This doesn't take place, however, because assigning a later
date is a much better tool by which to refuse to accept the validity and
authority of other Scriptures that we find equally unappealing.
To the majority of believers, I would suggest, the inspiration of this
passage isn't in doubt and the acceptance that God can relate events prior to
them happening comes with the territory of an active belief in YHWH Himself or
an active belief in an active YHWH.
Nahsmi comments (my italics) that
'Here is a battle account in poetry...This version was designed to be
Well, it would certainly brighten up a Sunday morning service if we chanted
some lines about blood and gore, decapitation, plundering and desolation.
Perhaps that's what we've been missing as a Church?
Although Nahsmi is bearing witness to the structure and relating it to the
reader that it may lend itself to being sung, it may be going too far to think
that it was ever done so. It may have simply remained as poetry.
No, wait! Let me go get the guitar and write a set of tunes round
1. The advancing army
Nahum describes the appearance of the advancing army in phrases meant to
spark awe and fear in his readers. We've probably been spoilt by scenes of
displays involving multitudes of dancers or participants in colours that we see
recorded for us on television and through film - but this type of scene was
unusual in the ancient world and was meant to produce natural fear in those
people against whom the armies came.
Even in the Church today, anything unusual or unexpected - anything that has
not been experienced - is often shunned because of a natural fear that it's not
right or, perhaps, that it's even 'not from God'. The problem is that our
natural senses and reasoning can be impaired when we find ourselves with
something new presented to us, something that's so radically different that we
can't conceive of how it can be right - natural fear kicks in at this point,
just as it did when a vast array of soldiers and fighters marched towards the
But these weren't men and women who'd come in varying states of dress - some
in jeans and teeshirts, some in Hawaiian shirts, some in evening dress. These
came in 'batches' or groups of colours, colours that had never before been seen
on such a vast level.
Nahum 2:3 speaks of the redness of the warriors. Understanding what it means
when it describes the shields as being red is difficult. That Nineveh had many
suburbs and was a sprawling metropolis even outside the city walls is well
known, so minor skirmishes with small groups of Assyrian defenders is entirely
possible (or the murdering of any civilian that got in their way would have had
the effect of evoking the response of flight), making the red to be that of
blood. Nahpal sees one possibility that the shields gave the appearance of being
'...by the reflection of the sun on a copper shield'
which is possible, so long as this gave the appearance of a unity of colour,
for this is what appears to be described here. Equally possible is that the
shields had been decorated with red or, even, that some sort of dye had been
applied to give them that appearance. The word used here (Strongs Hebrew number
119, M26b) is used ten times in the OT an is translated as 'dyed red' five times
(Ex 25:5, 26:14, 35:7, 36:19,34) and once inferred (Ex 35:23) when the rams
skins are spoken of in the construction of the Tabernacle. The three remaining
occurrences more rightly simply mean 'red' or 'reddish' (Prov 23:31, Isaiah
1:18, Lam 4:7).
In my own opinion, the likelihood is the latter and the possibility that
reflective light gave them this appearance is the least likely. It would have
been a good ploy to have the warriors as a single red object to increase the
effect on those being attacked to see a single wall of red before them -
therefore the shields could have been given the appearance of being red to match
the clothing of the warriors that's said to be scarlet (the root word meaning,
literally 'worm' as the dye was obtained from various larvae or worms and
applied to clothing), a colour that was much brighter and more vivid than the
'red' used in the previous phrase.
Isaiah 1:18 has both words side by side in the final phrases of the verse
where the intensity of the red of YHWH's people's sins is emphasised by calling
them more literally 'dull red like bright red' where the RSV translates 'red
like crimson'. Perhaps better, though, the red here spoken of was the normal
word used of all the shades of the colour so a further description was necessary
to define how deep the colour and, therefore, their sin, was.
To witness one mass of red, almost flowing through the outlying streets as
they approached the walls would have seemed like the flowing of blood
approaching the city as they filtered ever closer down the roads and pathways
that led to Nineveh's fortifications (an 'arterial advance', to put it
The statement by Jonah (Jonah 3:3) that Nineveh was
'...three days' journey in
gives weight to this image, for a city that takes three days to traverse must
necessarily have numerous buildings situated outside the central
I note that Nahoza observes that
'Xenophon describes Cyrus' army as "resplendent in purple"'
but, as Cyrus wasn't the king responsible for the defeat of Nineveh, I'm not
sure of the point being made. Besides, Xenophon wasn't an eyewitness (his dates
are given as 430-354BC) and 'purple' was more rightly a royal colour because of
the extreme cost of extracting the dye and of making the cloth necessary.
The phrase following that speaks of the chariots has been variously
translated and, therefore, interpretation has been varied. The simplest route to
take when it comes to a text is to take it as it stands if it seems right
(sometimes, though, a Jewish idiom is involved that means it's best to take it
if it seems wrong!).
The phrase translated by the RSV as 'flash like flame' is, as Nahpal writes,
more literally 'in fire of metal' or, as he prefers to render it, 'flashing with
metal' - and that seems to give the right sense for the context and is confirmed
by the further descriptions of the chariots at the end of the following
Nahpal therefore interprets the phrase as referring to
'...decorative or protective metal plating as it flashed in the sunlight'
which is fine, except we must note that the more metal a chariot had, the
less mobile it would have become because of the sheer weight that needed to be
pulled by the horses. Metal panelling would, it is to be expected, have been
kept to a minimum but the effect would have been stunning.
However, both the RSV's and Nahpal's translation make perfect sense and
neither should be rejected if the words are understood.
The RSV continues by translating 'when mustered in array' referring to the
chariots, whereas the straightforward translation is 'on the day of his
preparation' (although Nahsmi translates 'on the day of its array' referring to
the hosts of chariots or the army itself).
It seems to me that the person who's preparing should be taken as the
Scatterer of Nahum 2:1 - that is, the commanders and king of the advancing army
- for the drawing close of the army is simply the preparation for the battle
that will soon commence rather than the battle itself.
However, as its YHWH who's sent the army against Nineveh, there must also be
a reference to His hand in the events as they unfold, that God is preparing for
His Day against the city and its inhabitants. This should only be taken as a
secondary meaning, however, or else we miss the Scatterer as being the one who
prepares under the empowerment of the One who's sent him.
Finally, the RSV translates 'the chargers prance' where the AV gives 'the fir
trees shall be terribly shaken', the latter being possibly the most literal
translation possible. This interrupts the passage concerning the chariots (as
this continues in to the next verse) but it appears to be Nahum's intention.
It seems best to accept the interpretative translation 'the [pine] spears are
shaken' (although 'the fir trees are shaken' [by the soldiers] paints a more
enigmatic picture) where Nahpal speaks about these as
'...cypress spears, whose length, strength and suppleness made them almost
impossible to repulse'
But a closed city would have 'repulsed' them pretty well! The idea, however,
is of the effect that such an action would have had on the minds of those
in the city - this isn't the advance of the Charlton Supporters Club come to
cheer their side on at an away match (although they can be pretty fearsome in
their own right), these are an aggressive enemy set on the damage and
annihilation of those within the city. They aren't just one sea of red - they're
individuals as witnessed by the multitudes of spears being shaken aloft.
Nahum now goes back to his description and treatment of the chariots as we
begin Nahum 2:4 and we're again thinking about something being witnessed
external to the city and prior to the defences being breached.
The RSV opens by noting that the chariots rage (not the same word used
that we noted in Nahum 1:2c but Strongs Hebrew number 1984, M499, M500), the
underlying Hebrew word being used 165 times and with widely different
translations. The translation 'praise' occurs 117 times but this is clearly not
the meaning here. NID observes that the word
'...is used to describe one who behaves like a mad person or pretends to be
citing the madness that David feigned (I Sam 21:13) and the madness said to
come upon those that drink from YHWH's cup of wrath (Jer 25:16) or from that of
Babylon (51:7). The parallel verse for our understanding of the passage in Nahum
is in Jer 46:9 where we read Egypt's assembled armies being told
'Advance, O horses, and rage, O chariots!'
Clearly, the word is one that was associated with the normal movement of the
chariot but one that implied that the movement was forceful and, perhaps,
unpredictable. 'Rage' is, perhaps, the wrong word to be used here (Nahsmi
translates the word by 'race wildly' which seems to give the sense) and it may
be best to understand the meaning as similar to the description that follows
'...they rush to and fro through the squares'
This is more than the drawing up of the lines for battle but appears to be
relating that the chariots were engaged in running down all who got in their way
in the outlying suburbs of the city wherever there were 'open spaces' (a better
translation of the Hebrew word underlying the RSV's 'squares'). The thunder of
the horses' hooves and the rattle of the wheels would surely have been heard
from Nineveh's battlements, along with the screams and cries of those who were
caught in the path of the 'raging'.
Nahum returns to his observation about the chariots and the light that
reflects from them by noting that they have the appearance of lamps, something
that summons up the idea of them being like balls of fire passing through the
outlying areas when viewed from the battlements. They also (literally) 'run like
lightning' (Nahoza has 'dart about' but that implies some sort of erratic
movement that the Hebrew word doesn't appear to describe) which, in today's
speech means that they run fast.
This is quite correct but, having just noted that they appear like lamps and,
previously, that they rush to and fro in the open areas, we might suppose that
their appearance may well cause the observer to think they were 'streaks
of lightning', flashing through the city's suburbs.
Yet this would only be possible from somewhere above the streets where
an overview could be obtained. This picture of the army, therefore, must be
thought of as being seen from the battlements of the city once the gates had
been shut and the city was under siege.
The mention of this lightning, therefore, must be taken to be an allusion to
YHWH's sword, unsheathed for judgment against the adversary. This description is
used of His sword or spear in Deut 32:41, Ezek 21:15, 21:28 and Hab 3:11 and, on
its own, to speak of Him fighting as a warrior in II Sam 22:15, Ps 18:14, 114:6
and Zech 9:14.
Just as 'the day of his preparation' noted above (in Nahum 2:3) had a direct
allusion to it being God's day when He prepares to make war against Nineveh
through His chosen vessel of the advancing army, so, too, the idea that the
chariots are moving about the areas like lightning must surely be alluding to
God's weapon of judgment that now rests in their midst as they rush about.
This idea of the spear of lightning will be repeated in Nahum 3:3 where we
would also be advised to accept that there is an allusion to God's weapon being
yielded by the overcoming forces in the streets of Nineveh following the
breaching of the city's defences.
Nahpal concludes his exposition in a way that describes the way the reader
must also feel after considering these two verses. He writes
'So all the enemies of God may be considered as enclosed to await the
judgment of the great day. No escape from the sword of the vengeance of the
covenant is possible'
2. The defending Ninevites
Even though Nahum 2:3-4 has been about the advancing armies, it's shown them
from the vantage point of the defenders watching from the fortifications of the
city. Nahum 2:5 divides commentators as to who's being mentioned.
The RSV's translation of the opening phrase that
'The officers are summoned'
doesn't appear to represent the Hebrew at this point but I can't think why it
was even offered as the translation when (as Nahpal)
'He remembers his noble ones'
is infinitely closer. But this doesn't help us in an identification of who
the 'he' is. Are we meant to be thinking of those outside or within the
Nahbak comments that the 'he'
'...appears best to have as its antecedent the 'scatterer' of [Nahum
but, although I bow to his superior knowledge of Hebrew construction, I can't
help but think that the proof is somewhat strained seeing as a great amount of
information has been given the reader since that verse closed.
Nahoza, Nahpal and Nahsmi all understand the verse to be referring to the
defenders while, just to give us more options than we probably need, Nahoza
notes that Maier saw the 'he' to be referring to YHWH Himself.
It seems best to try and understand who's being referred to by the content of
the verse itself. The first three phrases could equally well be applied to both
defenders and attackers (it appears at first glance) but the 'mantelet' (as the
RSV) seems to be set up by the people being described.
So, what was a mantelet?
The literal meaning of the word (Strongs Hebrew number 5526, M1475, M1492,
M2259, M2260) can mean a fence, a hedge or a cover (its most usual meaning) but
it was probably a more technical term for a specific piece of military
Nahbak (who causes the entire verse to be about the attackers) interprets it
'...a portable cover to protect the besiegers from objects hurled at them
from the walls under attack'
Nahsmi (who also interprets the verse consistently as being about the
defenders) doesn't appear to think that the word's a technical term and so
interprets the phrase to mean that
'...the king of Nineveh frantically tries to shore up his defences'
Both Nahoza and Nahpal who consider the subject to be the defenders then go
on to decide that the mantelet is indeed an assailant's weapon, Nahpal
'...they discover that they are too late to repel those erecting the siege
equipment. Already the (siege) covering is in place and the incessant
pounding of the walls of the city begins'
while Nahoza agrees but explains better that the word, quoting an unspecified
source, is a description of
'...a structure shielding stormers of a city, or a battering ram [or
The problem is that the word can mean a fence or hedge (defensive) as well as
a covering (offensive) and we seem to have arrived at nothing conclusive.
However, the description earlier in the verse that the noble ones 'stumble' as
they go is the most significant. This word (Strongs Hebrew number 3782, M1050)
is fairly distinctive, TWOTOT defining its meaning as
'stumble, totter, stagger (usually from weakness or weariness, or in flight
for example (a very limited sample) Lev 26:37, II Chr 25:8, 28:15, Neh 4:10,
Ps 9:3, 27:2, 107:12, Pr 24:17 and Is 5:27. I couldn't find a single occurrence
in all 65 uses of the word where the idea of stumbling was associated with
eagerness to achieve something (which would have to be the interpretation if the
label was attributed to the attackers). It can be used in a figurative sense of
'falling in sin' (for example, Hosea 14:1) but never with excitement.
The word's also used in Nahum 3:3 where the same sort of meaning is required
and it's difficult to believe that a totally new meaning was attributed to it in
Therefore, we seem forced to understand the verse to be saying that the king
of Nineveh remembers his 'noble ones' (it could refer to his elite fighting men
or his tried and trusted generals) but even they stumble with weariness
and fatigue as they gather themselves together and head for the wall to defend
Such a rabble is certain evidence that they don't have the will or the power
to adequately defend the city (Nahsmi understands this to be a result of
drunkenness but this isn't necessary), that their resources have been taken from
them, the implication being that YHWH has attacked the enemy 'from within'.
They've become physically impotent to be able to muster themselves into an
adequate force to repel the invader.
The final phrase still remains a puzzle, however, and, because no definitive
reference is supplied by any commentator I can find to show that the word was
used for something specific in military terms in Hebrew, we could equally well
understand the phrase to mean that the defenders tried to strengthen the walls
by hedging them about with reinforcements (even that the phrase means that the
defenders went to the wall 'to man their stations', as Nahsmi) or that the
attackers had set up a protective covering as they sought to breach the defences
(which seems the more likely).
If I might propose a really whacky interpretation here, it could even mean
that the military leadership has now been set in place over the ordinary
soldiers (where 'covering' is used in the sense of being in authority over
another and providing some sort of protection) with all the worry that would
inspire when the state of the generals has just been witnessed.
3. The moment the defences are breached
Unless there's a reason why this is an ancient idiom that means something
wholly different, a straightforward translation seems to be in order. It should
therefore be read that
'The gates of the river are opened, the palace (or temple) melts'
(where the final word has been previously used of the hills in Nahum 1:5 when
YHWH approaches them and the same meaning seems to be intended here). However,
understanding what the entire verse means is another matter entirely.
Firstly, we don't know who opens the gates of the river and it would have
been convenient if Nahum had added a descriptive phrase 'by xxxx'. We're left to
ponder whether we're to think of the attackers, the defenders or, in some way,
Nahoza writes that
'...the water was retained by a magnificent double dam with two massive river
walls at some distance from the city. When the sluice gates were opened, the
water threatened to pour over the city'
The defences of Nineveh included water obstacles that blocked off approaches
to their defences but, in order not to be overwhelmed by floods, some measures
needed to be taken. Even more so when the local river Husur (or Khosar) ran
through the city so that protection would have needed to have been taken not
only in case of a flood but to prevent invaders 'sailing in' (or donning trunks
However, with Nahoza's explanation comes the question as to why the invaders
waited between two and three months (see above in the introduction where the
Babylonian recounting of the siege is quoted) before discovering that doing this
would undermine the city's walls!
It could follow, however, that only following unprecedented rainfall and a
rise in river levels that such a plan was hit upon. Although serious doubt has
already been cast upon Diodorus Siculus' account in his 'Library of History', he
does observe (27:1) that
'...after there had been heavy and continuous rains, it came to pass that the
Euphrates [sic - it was the Tigris], running very full, both inundated a portion
of the city and broke down the walls for a distance of twenty stades'
and it could well be possible that underlying knowledge that Nineveh had been
breached by flood had been taken by him when describing the fall. The
description here, though, is of the Tigris flooding which lay to the west of the
city and isn't dealing with the river that flowed through the city itself.
A plan I've seen of the city indicates that the Tigris may have flowed close
to the western wall of the city, providing a natural defensive moat at that time
and, if so, this certainly could have been the reason for the wall collapse (why
the river gates would be opened, though, is unimaginable unless the defenders
were trying to divert the water in to the city to prevent it from dissolving or
sweeping away the walls).
The western edge of the city also contained the location of the palace which,
because of its mention in the following verse, becomes more significant.
What Diodorus Siculus could be taken to mean, therefore, is that the city
wall collapsed in the area of the palace complex due to the unexpected flooding
of the Tigris and that access was gained by the open river gates of the Husur
(the ones that allowed the river out of the city), done so as to try to
avert the disaster.
If this was the case, a small band of soldiers were probably responsible for
gaining access to the city rather than the full compliment pouring in and that,
at some point, the city gates were able to be opened to allow the infantry and
chariots in to the city itself - even with a collapsed wall, chariots and
infantry would have found it difficult to enter the city due to the rough
terrain over which they would have had to pass.
The problem here is that we can't be definitive. The Babylonian account gives
us no details while Diodorus Siculus' account contains so many errors that we
can't be certain which parts are trustworthy - and Nahum gives us one snippet of
information that could mean many different things.
Leaving our discussion at this point without drawing a definitive conclusion
is all we can do.
The final phrase that the palace (rather than the temple) melts has a few
interpretations. Nahoza commenting on the palace being swept away by the flood
states that this was
'...unlikely in view of the elevated position of the palaces...'
but we aren't thinking of the waters overwhelming the top of the structures
but of the foundations being undermined that caused those buildings above them
to crumble. As we've seen above, this is quite plausible in view of the
suggestions proposed and we shouldn't discard this as the probable meaning.
However, perhaps better - if we're to take this as a natural observation - is
to understand the word 'melts' as it's used in, for example, Is 14:31 (RSV -
'melt in fear') and Ezek 21:15 (RSV - the hearts 'melt') where the idea is of
inner strength 'melting away' or, as Nahoza writes
'...the palace officials are in a state of paralysis through anxiety and
alarm. Consequently, resistance to the invader collapses or melts away'
However, there seems to be an allusion here to YHWH's presence marching upon
the city for the word 'melts' is used previously in Nahum 1:5 where, upon His
approach, the hills melt. Likewise, then so must the palace when He appears in
the midst of His invading army.
This could be taken to be both literal (if flood waters undermined or
dissolved the citadel on which stood the palace) and figurative (which, in
another sense, would be seen as being quite literal).
In conclusion, although we don't know how Nineveh's defences were finally
breached, that Nahum should speak of the river gates being opened is unusual and
not something that we would have expected. Perhaps the prophet would have been
safer simply to say
'The army overcomes their defences and the palace fall in fear'
but say it he does and, from what we have that's come down to us, it appears
that Nahum was describing an event that was literally associated with the
destruction of Nineveh.
4. The city has fallen
So unusual is the opening word of the Hebrew text considered that the AV
(along with some commentators) translate it (my italics)
'And Huzzab shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up...'
where the idea is that the word corresponds to the name either of one of the
gods of the Assyrians (that has, so far, gone unconfirmed) or the name of the
queen or queen mother of the reigning king (that has, again, gone
The RSV prefers not to use the proper name and interprets it to read (my
'Its mistress is stripped, she is carried off...'
which only narrows it down to being a reference to a human rather than deity.
The reason for such an identification probably lies in the fact that preceding
this verse, the royal palace is mentioned and, following, the handmaids of
'someone' are referred to. It seems more logical to suppose that a person with
royal connections is mentioned at the start of Nahum 2:7.
But, as Nahoza comments, it's better to reject this when there's an
'...until such time as they dig up a clay tablet with Huzzah written
The word that appears (Strongs Hebrew number 5324, M1398) seems to be one
that means 'to establish' or 'to determine' and is best understood to be
'It is established'
either as the start of the sentence that would run
'It is established that she [Nineveh] is exiled and carried off'
or as a stand alone statement that the breaching of the walls has taken place
and that two subsequent events are about to take place, as in
'It is established. She [Nineveh] is exiled and carried off'
The problem with the latter is that, at this point in the narrative, the work
hasn't yet been completed so the former is preferred.
The verse must point to YHWH as being the subject, the One who's established
that these events are to take place. The exile and despatch of Nineveh's
inhabitants is nothing less than the policy of the kings of Assyria when they
conquered nations in their military campaigns, to which records in the
Scriptures testify. In the discussion on Nahum 2:1, I recorded that
'It was the Assyrians who'd scattered the northern Kingdom of Israel in its
own midst following the complete overthrow of that kingdom in 722BC (II Kings
17:24ff) but this had occurred both earlier under king Tiglath-Pileser III during the reign of Menahem, king of Israel
(I Chron 5:6, 26) and king Pekah of Israel (II Kings 15:29)
and later under Esarhaddon (Ezra 4:2)'
However, although this decree is laid down at this point, the outworking
won't be mentioned until the following verse when we witness the reason for
Nineveh's abandonment and the dispersal of its people into the surrounding
Instead of dealing with it straight away, Nahum turns his attention to speak
of Nineveh's 'maidservants'. The word (Strongs Hebrew number 519, M112) has a
wide variety of meaning, from the straight forward 'slave girl' acquired from
foreign nations (Lev 25:44) to the 'slave girl' bought as a descendant of a
Hebrew who had to be treated differently under the law (Deut 15:12-18 - the word
is used in v.17).
But, further, in I Sam 1:16 Hannah refers to herself as Eli's 'servant' when
she's approached by him in the Tabernacle and accused of being drunk and, in a
similar fashion, in I Kings 3:20, the prostitute calls herself king Solomon's
servant as a mark of respect and subservience. Hannah also refers to herself as
the servant or 'slave girl' of YHWH in I Sam 1:11 where obedience and service
towards Him underpin its use.
Because the idea of slavery is anathema to a great many people, translations
tend to adopt gentler words that mask the meaning. Therefore, the RSV translates
the word as 'maidens' (the AV uses 'maids') at this point which radically
obscures the true meaning and makes us imagine young girls in paid employment
such as our more modern ladies-in-waiting.
The BBE uses 'servant-girls' which is much preferable as the idea of
obedience and service is still attributed to such a word in most people's minds.
'Slave girls' would be the best term all round but readers may not read the
phrase intelligently and understand that there are shades of meaning that only
occur in certain usages and not others.
But who are these slave girls meant to represent?
If reference to a specific person or deity is accepted as being the subject
of the opening of the verse, these slaves will belong to that entity. However,
as we've stated, the only 'person' mentioned in the verse up to this point has
been Nineveh who's described as being 'exiled and carried off'.
Therefore, the slave girls must be thought of as being Nineveh's but not
necessarily in the ordinary sense of the word. It means, more fully, the
slave girls of the city and any and all who give service and obedience to the
city - that is, all who have put their trust in the place for their livelihood,
security and prosperity.
It seems best, therefore, not to take the reference solely to the
natural slave girls of the city but, figuratively, to all those who depended
upon the city for something.
They're here represented as
'...lamenting, moaning like doves, and beating their breasts'
The phrase 'lamenting, moaning like doves' is comprised of just three words
in Hebrew and is probably best rendered
'moaning - with the voice of - doves'
where the word 'lamenting' gives the impression more of an expression that's
coherent and understandable. The word more probably refers to the moaning sound
when words fail in times of heightened anguish and stress. This moaning is
described as being like the 'voice of doves (or pigeons)'.
Not only was the dove used by Noah to see if the waters had receded from off
the earth (Gen 8:8-12 - and so became a present day symbol tied up with the
'form' of the Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus - Mtw 3:16) or as one of the
offerings in the Tabernacle (Lev 1:14, 5:7,11, 12:6 and so on), but parts of the
dove were used to denote different actions and emotions in the OT.
So, the wings of the dove are used figuratively for flight (Ps 55:60), the
eyes of a dove are something physically attractive in a human (SofS 1:15, 4:1,
5:12 - although my wife would smack me one if I said that of her), the dove
itself is used as a term of endearment of a loved one (SofS 2:14, 5:2, 6:9) and
of mourning (Isaiah 38:14, 59:11, Ezek 7:16).
This latter use is what's implied in Nahum 2:7 because of the natural sound
made. They seem to have been regarded as the epitome of the sound of mourning
and anguish. I leave the reader to decide for themselves the sound made by the
'slave girls' of Nineveh.
The phrase 'beating their breasts' needs some explanation.
The word for 'beating' (Strongs Hebrew number 8608, M2536) is, perhaps, more
rightly applied to the playing of the timbrel according to TWOTOT but the only
other place where it's used (Ps 68:25) seems to need the translation not
'the young girls were playing timbrels' but 'the young girls were beating'
(people opposed to percussion being used in church, please note). If the word
has to imply the playing of the timbrel, then Nahum is actually saying that the
slave girls were 'playing timbrels on (or 'with') their breasts' (which would
cause an even worse understanding and, to be honest, I'd find it hard to
imagine). By using the word 'tabering' in the AV, this is actually what the
translation means (I wonder what time signature they'd be playing in?).
Having cleared that up, the more peculiar word used here is the one for
'breasts' (Strongs Hebrew number 03824, M1071a), not the usual word used to
denote them (which is Strongs Hebrew number 7699, M2332a and used, it would
seem, as much as they were able in the Song of Songs - one third of all its OT
uses occur here) and, of its 252 uses in the OT, 231 times the AV translates it
as 'heart'. Although it's quite true that to 'hit one's heart' would be
generally the same physical action of 'beating one's breast', the word has a
deeper meaning. TWOTOT describes it as
'...the totality of man's inner or immaterial nature...it is the most
frequently used term for man's immaterial personality functions as well as the
most inclusive term for them since, in the Bible, virtually every immaterial
function of man is attributed to the "heart"'
Though we may well accept that a physical action is being implied, the idea
of the phrase here is that of inner turmoil, that they're 'beating themselves
up' (as we'd say today) because Nineveh has fallen to the advancing army. The
reason? Because they're 'slaves of the system' that's coming to an end.
They aren't in anguish because their natural master or mistress is dead but
because their inner person relied on the city for their security and prosperity.
So, too, when Babylon falls in the Book of Revelation, the lament that goes up
from the traders and kings is based on their dependency upon the 'city' that has
now been overthrown (Rev 18:9-19).
It seems fairly certain, therefore, that 'slave girls' is to be understood
not in a literal sense but figuratively of anyone who had their 'root'
firmly embedded in the prosperity and security of Nineveh.
5. The fleeing Ninevites
Amazingly, this is the first time that Nineveh is mentioned in the prophecy.
During the early verses of the document (we noted that Nahum 1:1 was a literary
superscription and not part of the original prophecy) we saw that no specific
subject was mentioned and, perhaps, none was necessary as general statements
concerning YHWH's reason to take vengeance were being declared by the
It wasn't until towards the end of Chapter 1 that indications were given that
seemed to indicate that Nineveh and/or the Assyrians had to be the reason for
the pronouncements (when viewed in the context of its contemporary world). But
it isn't until this verse that Nineveh is specifically mentioned (although
Nahsmi totally ignores the name of the city in his translation of the text for a
reason only known to him).
The RSV (as well as the NIV) ignores an entire word (Strongs Hebrew number
3117, M852) at the beginning of this verse after the word for Nineveh probably
because it's thought to be a dittographic error, but its presence makes good
sense and would cause the verse to run something like
'From ancient days Nineveh was like a pool of water, but now they run
The word - from which we get the English 'pool' (Strongs Hebrew number 1295,
M285c) - occurs 17 times in the OT and is more rightly thought of as a man-made
affair rather than something that occurs naturally. II Kings 18:17, 20:20, Neh
2:14, 3:15,16, Ecclesiastes 2:6, Isaiah 7:3, 22:9,11 and 36:2 all seem to either
state that the bodies of water were man made, that we know from other historical
documents that they were man made (for example, Shiloah or, more recognisably,
Siloam) or that, by the place they're located, need to have been.
The other occurrences, therefore, probably have this same underlying meaning
or artificiality, even though a naturally occurring water source would have been
necessary for pools to have been engineered.
The meaning conveyed is that, even from its inception, Nineveh was designed
or organised to collect together all sorts of people into one area that formed
the city's metropolis. She stood as unnatural as any city does (even down to the
present day), a place to which men and women will gravitate.
It's still much harder to make a living in general in rural areas where there
are less buyers than in the cities where merchants can offer their wares to
thousands of passers by.
In the NT, we read of the waters seen by John (Rev 17:15) as being
'...peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues'
for, although ruled over by a single power, they were comprised of
individuals from many different peoples of the earth.
This 'pool of water', then, is nothing more than a poetic way of describing
the inhabitants of the city as one unit, joined together and held within
Nineveh's walls - as if a hollowed out area had been prepared to retain a large
body of water. The city had been cosmopolitan in its make up from its very first
founding as a city.
Nahbak sees the waters to refer only to Nineveh's troops but the phrase 'from
ancient days' prevents us from taking this narrow interpretation and it seems
necessary to take it to refer to the united inhabitants who stayed together
under the protection of the city for their own security and prosperity.
Considering Nahum 2:10 where we read of people still present within the
city's walls, we might find justification for taking the reference here as meant
to be the military but not everyone would have been able to get out before the
plundering and looting began - indeed, the inhabitants would've had to have
fought their way against the flood of infantry who were pouring in to the
Taking the fortified walls of the city to be the artificially constructed
walls of the pool being described here causes us to realise that, once they'd
been breached, the waters must logically flow out until they're dissipated far
And this is the intent of the poetic statement - when the retaining
structures are cracked, what's contained within is lost. Nahoza comments
'Nineveh had just been pools of water in ancient times and this, it is
implied, is what she is about to become'
and, while the time before the city's establishing to the time that began
after the city's overthrow, this would be correct, the verse isn't talking about
the area being returned to water but of the water dispersing away from the city.
It cannot be referring to natural water at all.
Even though there's the once repeated command to 'Stop!' (where the idea
behind the word is to remain or to stand in one's place) to the inhabitants or
'waters', the words aren't heeded and they flow away from the midst of the city.
As Nahum writes
'None turns back'
whether to see the army routing the last of the resistance within or to stop
to recover the most valued possessions or monetary stores to take with them. The
panic is full and final and any who can save their lives do so, forsaking the
city that had been - up until that moment - the source of their livelihood.
It's interesting to note here the play upon the idea of water as being both
natural and figurative of the people within for, from the statement that there
is an inundation of natural water into the city (Nahum 2:6), we move on to the
realisation that the figurative water is flowing out from it in all directions
with no thought of what's been left behind (Nahum 2:8).
Nahpal comments that
'Those who had made a career of gleefully pursuing others suddenly discover
the terrors of being hunted down themselves'
but there's no thought of that in this verse. Rather, there's a simple flight
of fear being described that descends upon the inhabitants so that they prevent
themselves from being destroyed in the city's levelling. Their deaths would be
more inadvertent than specific, getting caught up in the destruction being
dished out so, although death now becomes a distinct possibility, they aren't so
much being hunted as being 'in the wrong place at the wrong time'.
However, true is his further statement that
'Those who had made themselves wealthy by terrifying others now find
themselves impoverished and in terror'
6. The plundering of the city
With the inhabitants (the waters of Nahum 2:8) fleeing for their lives, there
no longer remains any resistance against the invaders and they turn their
attention to plundering the broken city.
In the ensuing panic that the breaching of the walls would have caused and in
their haste to acquire as much wealth as possible, there must have been
innumerable valuable items that went left behind, whether under collapsed walls,
trodden in the dirt or simply as hoards that had been buried for an owner who
never returned to retrieve.
Over the centuries, I'm sure that many of these treasures will have been
acquired from the earth by subsequent inhabitants of the area, but my guess is
that there must still be significant quantities of valuable items that lie
beneath the topsoil.
For Nineveh was a rich and prosperous city.
Abundant treasures would have been brought in to it (although the majority of
'large' collections of treasures would have been retrieved for the benefit of
the throne) from the stripping of nations that had been conquered to the paying
of tribute to Assyria from subjugated nations. Vast wealth would have been
required to rebuild and beautify the city and this is unlikely to have come from
anywhere other than the despoiled riches of the conquered nations and kingdoms
Nineveh had these treasures but also grew rich through the trade and commerce
- not everyone was the direct benefactor of 'unworked for' resources.
But these riches were useless in protecting the city for, as Nahsmi points
'Nineveh is helpless in spite of her great treasure'
for no amount of wealth can save her - indeed, it's probably because
of her wealth that the attacking army has come to overthrow the city and to
plunder it. The same attitude of the rich man in Luke 12:13-21 was prevalent in
the city - she grew ever richer and bigger, taking her ease in the middle of the
nations of the world but, when it came to it, when God required an accounting
for the actions performed, the wealth was left behind to be enjoyed by
There's no end, says Nahum, to the treasure or of the 'abundance of desirable
objects' (the RSV translates 'wealth of every precious thing') - not just the
gold and silver is taken by the army but all those items that are found in the
houses that are desirable to have (there seems to be nothing excluded in the
phrase). This isn't just a stripping of the wealth of a city but the removal of
everything that's desirable from the place. As such, the area would have been
ransacked by the army in their search for objects to secrete about themselves to
The large collections of gold and silver would more likely have been taken by
faithful servants of the invading king once the palace and temples had been
overcome and subdued.
The words here (especially the two commands to plunder) are spoken by Nahum
of behalf of God as a direct command to the armies to take the wealth of Nineveh
which was, in effect, the wealth of the world, harvested from everywhere their
armies had gone over centuries. The generals and commanders of the army would
have had little control over their regular soldiers once the city had
effectively fallen and any small pockets of resistance would have been quickly
There only remained for the city to be stripped of its wealth before it was
7. The sacking of the city
We noted in Nahum 2:8 that the people mentioned here will be the ones who've
not been able to exit the city - which may have been the majority when the flood
of soldiers entering the city is considered as being the tide against which they
would have had to have swum (analogies with the salmon are applicable).
Nahum begins by a three word statement that's a construction of similar
sounding words that provide an almost poetic - but certainly rhythmic - way of
remembering them. Nahbak makes the observation that one syllable is added in
succession to raise the intensity of the desolation that's being described.
Nahoza transliterates them as
'buqah, umebhuqah, umebhulaqah'
which, if spoken out (don't try this unless you're the only one in the room),
give the sense of a sound effect or chant. Indeed, it's not unreasonable to
think of them as having been taken up when news of Nineveh's fall was brought to
Judah by messenger.
It seems that Nahum has chosen his words carefully, not just because they
have a rhythm to them but because all three are used a total of four times in
the entire OT - only the third of the words is used elsewhere in Isaiah 24:1
where the prophet states (my italics) that
'YHWH will lay waste the earth and make it desolate'
The first two words (Strongs Hebrew numbers 950, M220a and 4003, M220b) are
so closely related that TWOTOT gives them the same translation - something
that's not impossible. Besides, a repeated statement has its own way of
emphasising the point (even though, in Hebrew, the sounds would have been
different). NID notes of both these words that
'The meaning...is obscure'
before going on to note that
'The traditional meaning for bqq [the root from which the first word is
derived] is empty or pour out, derivative of the natural sound of a liquid
pouring. All this may indicate the verbs are used as an alliterated metaphor to
describe the desolation of a land and deportation of its inhabitants as
This fits in well with the idea of Nineveh being a pool whose waters are
flowing away from within the boundaries of its fortifications (Nahum 2:8), the
two words being employed onomatopoeically giving the sense without the actual
meaning being necessary (as these first two words occur nowhere else in the OT,
it's entirely possible that they were constructed for the message itself and
were not in common use).
The third word (Strongs Hebrew number 01110, M252) is given the meaning
'waste' or 'lay waste' by TWOTOT. NID interprets it to mean 'devastate' but
comments that the word
'...is used together with bqq, lay waste, [in Nahum 2:10] to produce powerful
assonance and alliteration that underline the theme of Yahweh's judgment and
When we come to try and give the three words the meaning they're conveying,
we're caught between wanting to preserve some of the rhythm in the original and
of giving an accurate representation of the sense. Nahoza (in a flash of sheer
brilliance) seems to have managed to have combined the two options in his
'Void, devoid and destroyed'
although possibly the more faithful to the meaning is something like
'Waste, empty and desolate'
But neither go close to the original sound that conveys the idea of water
draining away and of there being left behind an empty vessel, devoid of anything
The final part of the verse lists four parts of the body and gives each an
attribute, describing the state of the inhabitants of Nineveh who are left
behind as the plundering and looting takes place. Nahum writes
where the first three phrases are represented by two words in the original
and the fourth contains three.
The RSV's 'hearts faint' is an unusual translation seeing as the same turn of
phrase is used fairly frequently elsewhere in the OT (in conjunction with
Strongs Hebrew numbers 3820 or 3824) and they normally translate it more
literally as 'hearts melt' (Deut 1:28, 20:8, Joshua 2:11, 5:1, 7:5, II Sam
17:10, Ps 22:14, Isaiah 13:7, 19:1, Ezek 21:7). Why they should opt for 'hearts
faint' here is puzzling but the meaning is fairly certain (if obscured by the
change of word).
To have one's heart 'melt' is to lose courage and boldness in the face of a
difficult or life-threatening situation (as becomes apparent when the verses
listed above are referred to). The inhabitants of the city, therefore, have lost
any active resistance they had and have virtually given in to their fate at the
hands of the conquerors.
'Knees tremble' is difficult. In the OT, there's a condition described as
'feeble knees' or 'weak knees' but the adjective where this English phrase
occurs is different in almost every place (Job 4:4, Isaiah 35:3, Ezek 7:17,
21:7). It's not surprising, therefore, that there's another different word
employed here in Nahum (Strongs Hebrew number 6375, M1747b) and the meaning may
well be taken as the same - that is, through fear or age, there's no natural
strength left to support the body's weight.
However, the word employed here seems to convey more 'stumbling' or
'trembling' rather than a lack of strength. It's not that the person has become
incapable of supporting their weight due to impotency but that the circumstances
in which they find themselves have caused them to fear or despair, resulting in
a physical reaction of being 'weak at the knees'. It seems that the motion of
trembling should be inferred from the word's use.
'Loins writhe' again seems to denote fear. The word translated 'writhe' is
used only four times in the OT (Strongs Hebrew number 2479, M623f) where the AV
is consistent in translating it with 'pain' (Isaiah 21:3, Ezek 30:4,9). However,
the context seems to denote some sort of inner turmoil and TWOTOT notes that it
'Writhing either in anguish...or in terror...'
The word for 'loins' was used in Nahum 2:1 in its natural sense as the seat
of a man's strength and power and we saw there how the prophet was taunting the
Ninevites to reinforce their strength to prepare for the day of the attack.
We needn't look for too deep a meaning in this phrase for it seems to be
simply describing that feeling of anxiety in the lower part of the abdomen that
sometimes causes a person to evacuate the bowels involuntarily.
'Faces pale' is puzzling. The same three Hebrew words are used in Joel 2:6
where the phrase is as puzzling there as it is here. In both places, the RSV
translates 'all faces grow pale' and this may be the correct rendering which
would imply a draining of the blood that would be indicative of fear.
However, if taken literally, the translation may be better given as
'all faces grow reddened [or, 'darkened']'
because the last word (Strongs Hebrew number 6289, M1727b) may come from a
word group that implies a glowing or darkening in colour. As the word seems
obscure, it's best to opt with the translation 'faces pale' or 'faces grow
If we do that, we can see that all four reactions of the remaining
inhabitants are based in fear - fear that the invader has gained access into the
city and that their situation is hopeless, being at the mercy of a rampaging -
and probably blood-thirsty - army, intent on pillaging and plundering whatever
they can lay their hands on.
Wondering where the lions are
The unity of this passage is shown by the recurring theme of lions in all
three verses. Even though one might have thought that YHWH's work had come to a
close with the conclusion of Nahum 2:10, the prophecy returns to the time before
the overthrow of the city in Nahum 2:13 as an explanation of the observation of
This may seem a strange way to go about a matter but this is quite a common
characteristic of the prophetic messages and we should never think that these
were ever meant to be taken as chronological accounts of God's intentions.
Because these literary works flit about all over the place, it's led some
commentators to propose various events that are nothing less than one and the
same. Here in Nahum, this is fairly easily discernible (we know that we're only
looking at the single event) but, in places such as the Book of Revelation, it
becomes perplexing (to put it mildly).
This short passage is predominantly about the removal of Nineveh's/Assyria's
fighting force and the removal of the secure home base from which they marched
to war against the nations.
1. Lion upon lion
Nahum uses different words for the lion at various points in these three
verses and, before we go any further, we need to make sure that we understand
the difference between each of the words employed.
I've used the translation of the RSV below (with the one italicised addition
of a word that's omitted from the text - for a reason that I'm unable to
determine - and a change of the personal pronoun necessary for the addition) in
order for the reader to be able to see the differing words that are used for
various different stages or genders of the lion's life.
We'll define these words below but we need to note where they occur to be
able to transpose the sense back in to the text. The 'S' number refers to that
assigned to it in Strongs Exhaustive Concordance numbering system of the
'Where is the lions' (S738) den (S4583), the cave of the young lions (S3715), where the lion (S738) and
lioness (S3833) brought [their] prey, where his cubs (S738 and S1482) were,
with none to disturb?
'The lion (S738) tore enough for his whelps (S1484) and strangled prey for
his lionesses (S3833); he filled his caves with prey and his dens (S4585) with
'Behold, I am against you, says YHWH of hosts, and I will burn your chariots
in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions (S3715); I will cut off
your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no more be
So, onto a definition of each of the words.
I note first that Cansdale states that references to lions occur somewhere
around 135 times in the Bible (I don't intend categorising them and underpinning
his work as there doesn't appear to be much profit in it for this short study)
but that only twenty-five of these are to be taken as 'wholly literal'.
It appears, then, that the Israelite encountered the lion less frequently
than they were to employ it in imagery to signify something other than realism.
This may seem strange to us but we probably use the phrase 'as blind as a bat'
more often than we could actually relate instances when we'd seen the creature
in flight (in real life, that is, and not on the telly).
It's what the bat stands for that takes precedence over the real thing
(although, I should note, the bat has very good eyesight). The lion,
then, became more of a symbol than a life experience and was written about as
The first word to deal with is Strongs Hebrew number 738, M158a that's used
eighty times in the OT and is translated as 'lion' on seventy-nine occasions.
TWOTOT comments concerning both forms of this word (masculine and feminine)
'There is no demonstrable difference between the two'
so that the word seems to be a generic one that would need further definition
for it to refer to a specific sex or age.
After this, we get words that define certain aspects of the lion. Strongs
Hebrew number 3715, M1025a, M1025d is used thirty-two times in the OT and is
translated as 'lion' or 'young lion' thirty times and once each as 'villages'
(Neh 6:2) and 'young' (Judges 14:5 - where the word is used to define S738).
TWOTOT defines the word as meaning 'young lion' but then notes
'That the word specifies the age of the lion is doubtful'
In nearly all the places that it's used, the age of the lion doesn't seem to
need to be inherent within the word itself. However, Ezek 19:2-3,5 seems to
demand this interpretation for, in verse 3 we read (the translation is
'And [the lioness] brought up one of her whelps; he became a young
lion, and he learned to catch prey; he devoured men'
and, again, in verse 5
'When [the lioness] saw that she was baffled, that her hope was lost, she
took another of her whelps and made him a young lion'
Therefore, although the word may seem to be used of a lion in general (NID
defines it as giving the meaning both of the generic 'lion' and the more
specific 'young lion'), when the context demands, it can be a specific title for
a lion of less than full maturity but fully capable of acquiring food by killing
(Cansdale defines it as an animal up to the 'sub-adult stage' - whether he means
that it's capable of killing, however, is not clear. Nahoza defines the word as
a 'young lion old enough to go in search of prey').
This seems to be necessary, otherwise the regular word for lion would have
been used as there would have been no confusion between that word and the one
for 'whelps' and 'lioness' (but it's difficult to think that the translation
could run that one of the whelps became a lion - especially when it was already
a lion in the first place).
As this word is employed in the midst of other words in Nahum 2:11-13 that
relate to the lion, the phrase 'young lion' should be employed and the meaning
maintained. It also seems demanded by the context of Nahum 2:11 where the lion
and lioness return with food to feed their cubs but the 'young lions' dwell in
their midst and so must remain either younger or subordinate animals.
Cansdale notes that the other words employed to represent the lion
'...appear to be poetical names, perhaps also with specialist meanings'
One of these is Strongs Hebrew number 3833, M1070b, M1070c, used fourteen
times in a variety of different titles for the lion in the AV (for example, the
great lion, the old lion, the stout lion, the lioness) but is ignored as
occurring in Nahum 2:11 by the RSV and included in Nahum 2:12.
It's difficult to see any real difference in meaning between this and the
generic term above - the AV seems to have been fairly bewildered itself because
of the variety of definitions it gave it where it occurred. NID notes that it
can mean either 'lion' or 'lioness' but doesn't opt for any further specific
descriptor while Nahpal comments that the word could be used of the Asiatic
lion, a different species - but why that would be mentioned here isn't
However, Nahum 2:11 mentions this lion alongside the more generic name and
comments that they would both bring their prey back to the den. The only case
that can be made for a variant translation, it seems to me, is to use
Finally, two words are used that are part of the same word group. These are
Strongs Hebrew number 1482, M331b that's used seven times in the OT, six of
which are translated by 'whelp' in the AV and once by 'young ones' when speaking
of the sea monster in Lam 4:3. The other is Strongs Hebrew number 1484, M331a,
used only twice in the OT, the AV translating it both times as 'whelp'.
Both these words have always been taken to be a reference to a very young
lion that's still dependent upon its parents for food. It's obvious from Ezekiel
19:2-3,5 previously cited that the word must refer to the lion cub. It is,
perhaps, best rendered this way (NID gives it only this meaning) as the term
'whelp' is no longer widely understood.
We should also note that S1482 is further defined in Nahum 2:11 by the use of
the generic word for 'lion' as noted at the start of this section.
I note only in passing that both Strongs Hebrew number 4583, M1581a (used
nineteen times in the OT and translated a variety of ways) and Strongs Hebrew
number 4585, M1581b (used nine times in the OT and also translated a variety of
ways) are used to express the idea of a dwelling place and, therefore, the word
'den' used when in conjunction with the lion is entirely appropriate.
In this context, however, it will be referring to Nineveh as the dwelling
place of the lions described.
In summary, with many words their meaning can be inferred from the context in
which they sit. If a language has twelve different words that could all be
employed with both a generic meaning and a more specific, technical one, we
would expect that we'd probably be unable to be certain of the technical meaning
when employed on their own. However, when used close together with other words
that could be used the same way, we would be more likely to anticipate that the
author has used them to hold their more exclusive and specific meaning.
For this reason, we should, in my opinion, use the more likely specialised
meanings of these words in Nahum 2:11-13. It also appears that the context
2. The lions of Nineveh
These verses sit here in logical in time order - the battle narrative has
taken place (Nah 2:3-10) and there now comes either a lament if spoken after the
day of Nineveh's destruction or, as it should be taken, a taunt against the city
because it's announced prior to the events having unfolded.
The use of a taunt, please note, is not the way polite society would
behave - at least it wasn't the way I was brought up.
At this point, I'd encourage you to read Nahum 2:11-12 as if you were a
Ninevite, standing on some hilltop overlooking the once glorious city, weeping
inconsolably at the destruction that's come upon her. When you do this, the
words appear to be a classic lament.
Now, read the same two verses as if Nineveh had been your oppressor for over
a hundred years, yet it still stood proud and untouchable. Read it as if you
knew the fate of the city in your heart but no evidence of proof in your eye.
Now you should be able to see the difference that a few years makes.
A taunt is only a lament displaced out of its correct time.
We've already seen Nineveh being referred to as a pool of water whose
retaining walls have been breached so the waters run away (Nahum 2:8-9). Here
we're given the analogy of the city as being the dwelling place of the lion that
contained a pride where they rested at peace and in no fear of predator or
To be too specific in our identification of individuals would cause problems
but we're probably not going too far to see the adult lion being a reference to
the king, the young lions as being all those under him who were of fighting age
and the cubs as those of the city who aspired to walk in their elders'
But this isn't so much about the fate of the individuals but about the
removal of their dwelling place where they felt secure. There's also a reference
to the pasture lands of the young lions (Strongs 4829, M2185b) where the RSV
obscures the word by proposing an emendation to 'cave', but based on no
manuscript evidence. While the 'cave' would be more in keeping with the opening
theme of the lions' den, the hunting grounds are mentioned in the subsequent
verse and there's no reason to suppose that the word is a copyist's error.
I note that Nahpal points to the belief that the kings of Assyria 'often'
spoke of themselves in lion imagery or regarded themselves as having these
attributes. While I'm unable to check this assertion out, there's no reason why
it shouldn't be accepted - it would certainly underscore the relevancy of these
Here, the idea is that the place of security where the lion and his family
felt secure is no more, a comment on the destruction of Nineveh previously
described (Nahum 2:3-10). From this secure and fortified base, the 'lions' went
forth to kill for the benefit of those within the city, to bring back treasures
for the continued prosperity and welfare of those who were part of the
Notice that the natural lion doesn't fill 'his caves with prey and his dens
with torn flesh' or else the place would quite soon become uninhabitable - but
the allusion is to the way the Assyrians had stripped the riches from those
conquered nations and provided a glut of treasure that was assimilated into the
The lament is in mockery, of course. Nahum isn't concerned that the city no
longer exists - or, better, that it will no longer exist - he simply observes
with complete assurance that the fearlessness of the lion will soon end, not
only because they'll no longer be able to conquer and subdue other nations and
peoples but because the base from which they sprung will be removed.
The last phrase of Nahum 2:11 that the RSV translates 'with none to disturb'
is better translated 'with none to make them afraid' for it represents a
repetition that occurs in two specific places that are of note.
The first is Lev 26:6-8 where, speaking of the blessing of the covenant upon
the Israelites in return for their obedience, YHWH declares (my italics)
'And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall
make you afraid...And you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall
before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you
shall chase ten thousand; and your enemies shall fall before you by the
Notice here that peace and security in the land is declared, followed closely
by the potency of their armies as they go out to battle for obedience to the
covenant. This is exactly the order of the comments in Nahum and may be thought
of as a provision on the nation for them to be able to do YHWH's bidding (Isaiah
10:5-6) even though, through arrogance, that was to be brought to an end.
If Israel disobeyed the statutes given them then a reversal of their fortunes
was to come upon them (Lev 26:25), an execution of 'vengeance for the
Restoration of security and peace was assured the Israelites by successive
prophets if they returned fully to YHWH but Micah's declaration is particularly
interesting. Not only does it contain the same phrase 'none shall make them
afraid' (that I've italicised) but it brings a very different blessing
when war's considered. The prophet writes (Micah 4:3-4)
'He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong
nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their
spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his
vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the
mouth of YHWH of hosts has spoken'
Although the Old Covenant provided for 'peace' and 'success in war', the
prophets spoke to the Israelites that a time would come when they would have
'peace' and 'no war', a change to the covenant agreed upon at Sinai and a clear
indication that there was to come an age where there would be a radical
difference in the way YHWH would deal with men and women.
Although that age is still to come, the believer stands in the midst
of the two ages where the provision for that which is to come has been made but
not yet fully enforced as it will be upon Jesus' return.
Nevertheless, Nineveh's 'blessing' of security and success in war was about
to be removed by YHWH and, ultimately, given to another who would rise up as the
new ruler over nations.
3. I am against you
YHWH also takes up a discourse here with the same opening words as He'll use
in Nahum 3:5. Although we think of the prophets as being the mouthpieces of God
(and so they were), we can see in this short book just how little He had
to say at times and how much 'padding' the prophet added - although this, too,
was inspired by the message given and the Holy Spirit working through them.
We now go back to the pre-conquest of Nineveh (see the intro to this
section). Although incredibly illogical to our Western minds, this is by no
means uncommon and should always be expected when reading prophetic
As the antithesis of Romans 8:31 could be stated
'If God is against us, who then could be for us?'
Nineveh had conquered nations given in to their hands but had yet to stand
against the One who'd commissioned them to do His bidding in the earth (Isaiah
10:5-6). When their support had become their opponent, they were found to be
lacking in any trait that could redeem them from the falling judgment and the
vengeance of the covenant.
However, these three verses have been predominantly about the removal of the
Assyrian fighting machine. In Nahum 2:11, the prophet has lamented the removal
of the secure base from which their conquests had begun but here, in Nahum 2:13,
the idea is of the active removal of their fighting force by YHWH Himself.
The reference to burning their chariots in smoke isn't directly paralleled in
the preceding two verses and isn't expected here. It would probably be correct
to suppose that the Ninevites and Assyrians took pride in this part of their war
machine and that, by declaring its utter removal, it would be understood that
their ability to wage war and conquer was about to be removed.
One has to ask oneself what use the chariot could have been put to by the
Ninevites once their city had been surrounded and the gates were secured, for
the chariot is more naturally the weapon of the open field (in Nahum 2:4, we
noted that the better translation of the RSV's 'in the streets' was 'in the open
In the confines of the city, the chariot became of limited potential so that
we shouldn't be thinking of a battle in which Nineveh's chariots come off the
worse but of the summary destruction of their fighting machine by the invading
army once they've gained access to the city. The idea that they're burnt in
smoke also implies this interpretation - that their 'storage place' is found and
put to fire to remove any chance of their future use.
Only the 'young lions' are announced as about to be slaughtered, but a
kingdom without fighters is a kingdom that's ready to fall when an army comes
against her. We might have presumed that the lion itself would have been
condemned to death (along with the cubs) but the intent of this verse is to show
how the Assyrian fighting machine will be decapitated.
Its soldiers, seemingly sent into blind panic when the breach is made in the
city's defences (Nahum 2:7-8,10), are slaughtered full scale until none remain.
It doesn't need to be imagined that every soldier is killed (Nahpal sees the
reference to be to the 'princes of the militant hosts' but this appears to be
too narrow an identification) but, rather, that enough will be despatched that
Assyria as a fighting force will cease to exist.
So, too, the nations will be removed from out of their grip. The statement
that their prey will be 'cut off' from the earth sounds like YHWH will wipe
those places out in the same judgment that will descend upon Nineveh but the
idea is that, because the city no longer has the capacity to fight, their
conquests will cease.
The final statement that
'your messengers shall no more be heard'
is the most problematical for the interpreter but it seems necessary to
understand it in the context of warfare. Nahsmi identifies the messengers with
'tax collectors' and, while this may be possible, it doesn't seem to sit well
with the idea of conquest. Certainly, they could be mentioned as the
intermediaries between the king and vassal state and be representative of
oppression but they don't appear to have had any military context in which they
The exact meaning of the word (Strongs Hebrew number 4397, M1068a) isn't
restricted to one particular meaning and means simply someone who carries
a message to a third party on behalf of the sender (it's translated by the word
'angel' 111 times in the AV out of 214 uses).
Preferred is the role of the messenger who would be sent on ahead of the
advancing armies to offer terms of peace in a similar fashion to the Rabshakeh,
sent to Jerusalem before Sennacherib was due to appear at the gates with his
army (Isaiah 36:1-22). Nahbak describes them as 'military messengers' and this
description is as all-encompassing as is possible.
It's worth noting here that the messengers aren't spoken of as being killed
but that their voice shall no more be heard. With the removal of the
fighting machine, there's no message possible, no demands to be dead lined and
no advance of the army to be announced.
The messengers of peace will find their voice in pronouncing Nineveh's
overthrow (Nahum 1:15) but the messengers of war will no longer be heard (Nahum
2:13). It may be this repeat of the idea of the messenger that caused the Hebrew
division of the text to begin Chapter 2 with Nahum 1:15 so that the first and
last words would seem to hold together what's pronounced within.
The sins of Nineveh
I've divided this passage into four main sections although it's perhaps
better split after verses 1 and 4 into just the three. Nahpal notes the common
subject matter of verses 1 and 4 and joins them together as a single section,
dealing with verses 2 and 3 afterwards - but verse 4 rightly sits as a
continuation and explanation of what's preceded it and to pull it from its
context hardly seems the right thing to do.
Verses 5-7 return to God as the speaker after what appears to be Nahum's
speech in verses 1-4 and needs to be dealt with separately. Even so, the words
become dependent on verses 1-4.
1. Nahum 3:1
a. City of Bloods
Nahum opens this section with an interjection, a word that's designed to
express an emotion in the person using it and not necessarily carrying with it a
specific meaning that's translatable. This is the main problem with attempting a
translation of the word - and more so when that word expresses a specific
emotion as it does in most modern translations.
The word (Strongs Hebrew number 1945, M485) is used fifty-one times in the AV
and is translated there thirty-six times by 'Woe'. This would persuade many of
us that the word must signify some sort of grief or inner turmoil but it sits at
the beginning of Isaiah 55:1 where the call is to those who are lacking to
receive what's being offered. Certainly, no sorrow is being conveyed here and,
if anything, there's meant to be an excitement in the voice and an exhortation
that there's a free handout being dispersed amongst any who want to avail
themselves of it.
In that case, 'Woe' is hardly appropriate.
Neither could that be said of its usage in Ruth 4:1, Isaiah 10:5, Jer 47:6,
Zech 2:6-7 and possibly many other places where some emotion far more relevant
to the context of the following words would expect to be expressed.
The word, therefore, seems to have been a sound that, with the right
inflection, could mean just about anything you wanted it to mean. As we have
only the written account of the proclamation here, the context is all important
rather than the voice of the prophet himself.
The Hebrew at this point simply says
'Ho! City of bloods!'
and then describes the characteristic traits of Nineveh followed by another
destruction narrative - there's no connecting words between these two phrases as
in the RSV that translates the line (my italics)
'Woe to the bloody city'
We could understand the interjection to retain the normal burden of sorrow
that's conveyed in the majority of translations elsewhere and use the word
'Woe!' but this makes it sound as if a curse is being laid on the city. That may
also be going too far and the 'Woe!' may only be a way to express a regret that
such action has become necessary because of the traits of the people.
In fact, it's very difficult to be sure what Nahum intended and it's safer to
understand the exclamation as introducing a passage that was felt to be
particularly important to his hearers.
However, Nahpal must be close to the burden of the word when he writes
'...it gives expression to an agony, a pain at an offence being witnessed. It
hurts to watch people being slowly crushed by a system calculated to squeeze the
last breath from the defenceless'
As previously shown, the next phrase is more literally rendered 'city of
bloods' than the 'bloody city' of the RSV and is constructed from two words that
are wholly unremarkable, occurring on 1550 occasions in the AV text of the
But the combination of the two words occurs in only one other prophet three
times. In Ezekiel 22:2, 24:6 and 24:9, the prophet employs it to speak of
Jerusalem - in the last two of these, another Hebrew word is used as an
interjection at the start and is translated 'Woe!' (but it's not the same word
as that employed by Nahum).
Ezekiel chapter 22 is quite striking in its parallels with Nahum and would be
good reading at this point before going any further. Leaving aside the direct
comments concerning the Mosaic covenant (which the Ninevites weren't obliged to
observe), we read extensive comments concerning the blood that was shed within
Imagery is used of the inhabitants as lions tearing the prey (Ezek 22:25 Pp
Nahum 2:11-12) and YHWH states that he will make the city a mockery and a
reproach (Ezek 22:4-5 Pp Nahum 3:6-7).
Indeed, when we continue on further into Nahum 3:1, we're prone to think of
the 'lies' as being in all manner of differing contexts but Ezek 22:12 speaks of
blood being shed by acts of bribery (that is, to pervert the truth) and, if
relevant, we need to understand this phrase in a more specific context.
But the other two explanations are also hinted at in this chapter (for
example, Ezek 22:13).
The real worth of reading this passage in Ezekiel is to realise that the city
on which God had chosen to place His name and to reflect His character and glory
had fallen to such a level of behaviour even though they had a special
relationship with Him and knew His will for them through the Law. The
condemnation of Jerusalem, therefore, must be all the more damning - indeed,
whenever a people have the Word of God in their midst and yet fail to perform
the truth, they stand in a worse situation with regards judgment than does a
nation who know nothing of Him.
Over the years, I've heard a great many speakers level condemnation at
England and the UK for its betrayal of christian principles and standards that
it's trodden underfoot - but far less often I've heard the same speakers upbraid
the Church for their failure to live according to the revelation of God
While we may say of Britain that they're just a bunch of unbelievers in
general terms (although many have tried to label us to be a 'christian nation'
as if we're bearers of some sort of Divine revelation that we're trying to
establish in the earth), to look at the Church and see the very same traits and
problems in our midst that occur 'out in the streets' is nothing short of
Whether Jerusalem or Nineveh, the Church or the nation, each must give an
account of themselves before YHWH but neither the Church not Jerusalem are
immune from God's sword of judgment falling upon it.
The phrase 'city of bloods' is normally taken as declaring that Nineveh had
shed much blood in its midst. When we look at the testimony of Ezekiel
chapter 22, we see that the same label is applied to Jerusalem for actions and
behaviour that had taken place in its midst. They'd taken whatever steps
necessary to kill and remove those people who represented a threat to them or
who were hated.
A city seems to be 'bloody', therefore, not when it goes to war but when it
sheds blood in its own streets and houses.
b. Limitless prey
We'll need to try to understand what each of the three terms mean to
understand what it was that was such a problem in Nineveh but, first, it seems
necessary to try to define whether these traits were meant to be taken as
referring to the internal dealings of the city or their foreign policy.
We saw in the previous section that Nineveh was called the 'city of bloods'
probably because the excessive shedding of blood and the disregard for
human life was present within the city walls. It seems that this underlying
assumption must be carried over into the three characteristics that are now
It may be too narrow an interpretation when we look back at how the Assyrians
dealt with the nations to whom they went, but the context of the verse seems to
demand it as being of primary importance. Commentators differ on the correct
interpretation to put on what's being levelled at Nineveh so we need to spend
time to get our definitions correct.
Firstly, the city is declared as being 'full of lies'. The word employed here
(Strongs Hebrew number 3585, M975a) isn't the easiest to define, TWOTOT
commenting on the word group that it
'...has an unusually large range of meanings'
going on to observe that
'...the Hebrew usage seems to stress the relational aspect of the word,
emphasizing the undependable nature of a person or thing in a given
and that it can be used to denote
'...dealing falsely with someone to that person's detriment. In such cases it
is associated with treachery or robbery'
In short, it seems to mean making a show or statement that's false in order
to put oneself at an advantage (the word's use in Hosea 10:13 certainly implies
this). Therefore, the word 'lie' or 'lies' is perfectly adequate but it means
more than saying something's one way when it's known not to be (although Ps
59:12 is used of something that's spoken).
The trait seems to be discernible in the foreign policy of the Assyrians in
the incident between king Ahab and Tiglath-Pileser III (II Kings 16:5-9, II
Chron 28:16, 28:20-21) for, having accepted tribute to deliver the king, he
instead weakened him.
However, the trait's better understood in the context of those matters that
were being conducted within the city of Nineveh for it's to this that the
Scripture refers. We should understand from this word's use, therefore, that
large amounts of false dealing were being transacted where lies were being
declared to gain an advantage over others.
That the city was 'full of lies' seems to mean that it was the norm. If you
didn't lie, you didn't eat. The best liar was the best fed and the one with the
highest social standing. Honesty and integrity were, logically, things to be
exploited by the dishonest rather than traits to be aspired to.
Nahpal comments well that
'Every time each citizen opens his mouth, beneath his most convincing,
straightforward statement is a twist, a hidden intent, a conscious ambiguity. In
order to flatter, to cover up, to detract from actual intent, the citizen of
Assyria dissimulates, equivocates, veils the true purpose of his heart by the
cautious form of the words he utters'
In such a society, justice becomes perverted as those ruling can get the
decision in law not just by bribery but on bearing false witness or paying
others to do it for them.
The next word used is 'booty' (RSV) of which the city is again said to be
'full'. The word is only used twice in the OT (Strongs Hebrew number 6563,
M1828a) being translated as 'crossway' on the other occasion. It's when the two
uses seem to give widely divergent meanings that I immediately think that trying
to define a meaning is going to take hours or be impossible!
However, the underlying meaning is the 'parting of ways' as it comes from a
root meaning to 'tear apart' or 'tear away'. Nahoza, Nahbak and Nahsmi all give
the translation as 'plunder' (the removal of treasure from a conquered foe)
while Nahpal prefers 'profiteering' (the making of profit by what's considered
to be unethical means during times of short supply, especially).
The problem is that both seem reasonable but, going back to the premise with
which this section was begun, we need to understand how this would apply to the
city and not to the dealings of the city with the nations it had
While we could easily say that Nineveh was full of booty or plunder as
it had been brought back there after successive conquests, there's been no
'parting of the ways' in the midst of the city and the explanation that she's a
'city of bloods' would appear to be necessarily external.
Better, therefore, is 'profiteering' because it puts the attention on ungodly
practices within the city itself. However, it may be best to see the
inference to be as vague as 'parting a man from his possessions' and allow
context to dictate how this would have applied in everyday life.
Certainly, profiteering would be one aspect of it but extortion and fraud
would have to be included. I've used the word 'exploitation' in the title
because it seems to me that a person or circumstance must necessarily be
exploited for a person's advantage in order for such a concept to take
Whatever could be used, was used - it was full of deals and
agreements that parted a man and his family from their necessary means of
survival in order that the rich could grow richer, the poor having to adopt the
same sort of dealings just to survive.
With weak law enforcement, these situations would have occurred with
The final phrase is, initially, unusual. Instead of the RSV's
'no end to the plunder'
we could translate it literally
'the prey doesn't depart'
a reference back to where the same Hebrew word for 'prey' has been used twice
in Nahum 2:12-13. There, the idea was of the nations being the prey of the great
lions of Nineveh, who went out to kill and to bring back food to their dwelling
It would be too easy to think that such a reference is simply being made a
second time but, as we noted, this has to do with the internal actions of the
people of Nineveh. Nahpal comes close to the meaning when he renders the
'Victimizing will never be eliminated'
but it would be better, in his types of words, to translate it (my
'There's no end to the victims'
It's not that the act of victimizing won't end but that the resource
of victims within the city itself is limitless and therefore
victimisation will continue until the time when YHWH overcomes the city and
Or, to put it another way, there were no end of people (the prey) who could
be lied to and exploited (interrelating all three concepts). The resource was
limitless and the Ninevites took pleasure in their dealings with one another
that they might get the upper hand.
All three traits must be thought of as being taken to the point where blood
was shed in a full and final outworking as they come out of the opening
statement that Nineveh is a 'city of bloods' - the plural form of this title is
probably meant to show the multiplication of acts that were prevalent within the
city and is probably best left as a literal translation rather than softened in
most modern translations (even though it's still very forceful as it
Nahpal makes a necessary point when he comments
'It is not merely that the city has slipped occasionally into these abuses.
Instead, the poisonous vapours diffusing from every heart pollute the total
atmosphere of the community'
It would have been easy for me to quote at length the writings of the
commentators as they describe the sorts of atrocities of which Nineveh was
guilty in their midst. It would've been a bit more difficult for me to source
the original translations and to present them to the reader here but not
But, in my opinion, we don't need to know details or to dwell upon
those matters that are objectionable and not needing to see the light.
The reader can research such catalogues of violence if they so choose but
knowing the details really doesn't draw us closer to YHWH.
2. Nahum 3:2-3
These two verses are in three sections that deal with the chariots, the
cavalry and the dead.
The first matter to be decided, though, is whether the description presented
is meant to be speaking of the Ninevite army as it conquered and subdued the
nations or whether the attacking army that was to overthrow the city is being
Nahsmi opts for the former, commenting that
'The reason for the woe or judgment [of verse 1] is her deceit and cruelty as
seen in her military prowess (vv 2-3)'
On two accounts, though, this is incorrect.
Firstly, the opening verse deals with the internal actions of the
Ninevites and their dealings with their fellow men and women. We saw above that
this is the most natural and obvious way to take the words as the city itself is
spoken of as being 'full' of lies and exploitation.
But, secondly, the opening of Nahum 3:4 is meant to begin with a link to that
which immediately precedes it so the reader is in no doubt that the evil of
Nahum 3:4 has caused the actions of Nahum 3:2-3.
Even Nahsmi notes this by adding a footnote to his translation that the
'Because' supplied at the opening of Nahum 3:4 is because the Hebrew 'has a
causal force' (that is, the first statement is given as the cause or
reason for the second one being made).
As I've said previously, it's difficult to believe that a prophetic utterance
can flit between past and future with such alarming frequency but this is the
nature of such proclamations. We are, once again, returning to another aspect of
the overthrow of Nineveh.
a. Chariots and Cavalry
We discussed above about the breaching of the city's walls and the unlikely
scenario that would have seen the cavalry and infantry gaining access in to the
city through the breach because of the difficult terrain over which they would
have needed to have passed.
However, once access had been gained, subjugation of the city is not the
priority but the opening of the gates to allow the reinforcements to arrive or,
in this case, the deployment of the chariots and cavalry.
This appears to be the sense of the verse for the progression in the four
phrases go from a distant awareness that something's happening to the witnessing
of the chariot itself.
As the gates were opened, there would be heard 'the crack of whip' followed
by the 'rumble of wheel' as the chariots gained momentum through the streets of
the city where few attackers had yet penetrated. As they approached, the sound
of the 'galloping horse' would be heard, a higher frequency sound that would
have been perceived echoing off the walls of the houses and buildings. Finally,
the 'bounding chariot' comes in to view.
It's superbly put together by the prophet to give the listener the sense of
an impending doom advancing upon an impotent population - a bit like hearing
Godzilla's feet shaking the ground, only to be met by its body as it swings the
corner into the street where you're standing (please note, this is the world's
first Bible commentary that mentions Godzilla, A real ground breaker).
The witnessing of the advance of the chariots from the city walls (Nahum
2:3-4) is given in much different terminology and the sounds mentioned here
wouldn't have been heard from high up on the battlements.
This, then, is the sound of the chariots running amok in the streets of
Nineveh after the defensive gates of the city have been opened by the infantry
who have charged through the breach in the walls (something that we've accepted
as being the first event that happened from the historical evidence that's come
down to us).
The following statement gives no such feeling of an approach. It states
simply some observations about the cavalry. It records that there are
'Horsemen charging [with] flashing sword and glittering spear'
I've already noted in a previous section that the use of the Ninevite chariot
would have been limited (if they hadn't been destroyed at an earlier time in the
battle as Nahum 2:13 may require) because they would have indiscriminately
killed the defenders alongside the attackers - especially when the former would
still have been the majority in the city.
It wasn't such a problem for the attackers, however, if they arrived and
rampaged through the city at an early point in the battle for the majority of
victims would have been Assyrians who were trying to flee in blind panic.
A charioteer may have been able to identify the red of their own army (Nahum
2:3) but at the speeds they would have been travelling at and the poor
manoeuvrability of their chariots would have combined to kill both friend and
The horsemen, also, would have been fairly indiscriminate in who they killed
- and many may have been mown down by 'friendly' chariots as they met them
charging at crossroads.
There may, however, have been a tactical ploy to drive the inhabitants with
the use of the cavalry into squares and hold them there while the chariots did
b. The dead
There are three different words for the dead that are piling up in Nineveh's
streets, prefixed by the descriptors of 'hosts', 'heaps' and 'without end' all
used to show the large scale massacre that's taking place.
I remember reading an account of the aftermath of one of the big battles in
the American Civil War as the writer was looking out over the battlefield. We
tend to think that, once a soldier is hit by a bullet, they go down like a
stone, totally dead, lifeless and limp.
But this isn't always the case.
The writer described the ground as one moving mass of colour, all dying but
few dead, writhing in their agony before their final breath. Such a scene was
probably common in the streets of Nineveh for, once severely wounded, the
soldier would have moved on to deal with the next defender - there simply wasn't
time to despatch each and every person they met.
The RSV's 'slain' (Strongs Hebrew number 2491, M660a) is not quite correct
for the word more rightly means 'fatally wounded'. TWOTOT comments that
'It included the act of wounding and the resultant groans'
(it's amazing what you can retrieve from a single word, eh?). This is
substantiated by the use of the word in a few places in the OT where the idea
that the 'currently dead' are being referred to is impossible, especially where
they 'groan' from their wounds (see, for example, Judges 9:40, I Samuel 17:52,
Job 24:12, Psalm 69:26, Prov 7:26, Jer 51:52, Lam 2:12, Ezek 26:16, 28:23,
The word certainly means 'dead' (in the majority of its ninety-four
uses) but, as we observed above, where groups of words are used that can
hold the identical meaning, it's normally best to accept their slightly more
precise and specialised one as they were probably used side by side with this
There are multitudes, says Nahum, of fatally wounded in Nineveh's streets -
not the dead, but the 'still living', who've been rendered unable to resist the
army's advance and will die with time.
The second word used is translated 'corpses' by the RSV (Strongs Hebrew
number 6297, M1732a) and is a regular word employed for a dead body. Although
it's tempting to think of all these corpses as freshly slain, the word can be
employed of those that have already been decaying and producing foul smells (as
in Isaiah 34:3).
In the blinding heat of the Middle East, it wouldn't take long for the
rotting smell of death to take a hold all over the city but the idea does
seem here to be of the freshly slain if we align it with the charging of cavalry
and chariot. However, we should accept that the city quickly sank into the
appearance of an open graveyard with all the odours that they would have
Nahpal comments that the word
'...describes someone who has collapsed from exhaustion'
mainly because the root from which it comes means 'grow faint' (the root is
used twice in the OT in I Sam 30:10,21 where it means 'faint to the point of
incapacity'). Having had a look through the uses of the word in the OT, there
never appears to be any context in which this idea of exhaustion is present and
it seems best to understand that the word came out of its root simply because
extreme tiredness can give the appearance of death.
The final word used is translated 'dead bodies' by the RSV (Strongs Hebrew
number 1472, M326d) but the word doesn't have to mean that there's anything
'dead' about a body and it's used of very much alive ones (for example, Gen
47:18, Neh 9:37, Ezek 1:11, 1:23, Dan 10:6). The word simply means 'body' and
the context alone defines whether alive or dead is intended.
The context in Nahum 3:3 makes us accept that a dead body is being referred
The word appears in a word group that means 'the back', therefore Nahpal
writes that the word is
'...perhaps viewing a body lying face down'
This makes sense and should certainly not be rejected as the possible meaning
here - however, in verses such as Ezek 1:11, 1:23 and Dan 10:6, it's difficult
to imagine that the body being referred to has the back in view.
By using these three words, the prophet underlines the extent of the massacre
within the city, reinforcing it with the concluding
'...they stumble [or fall] over the bodies [S1472]'
Even before the city is totally subdued, the quantity of dead lying in the
streets makes access increasingly difficult - soldiers are having to clamber
over piles of them as they go about the subjugating of any last resistance
(although there probably is none and they've set about stripping the city
of 'everything desirable') and the few inhabitants that remain are hindered in
their flight, being unable to run.
The imagery of massacre couldn't have been much simpler put without bordering
on the macabre.
3. Nahum 3:4
I noted at the beginning of the comments on Nahum 3:2-3 that this verse sits
as the reason for the judgment of an invading army that's described in those two
verses and gave reasons there as to why this is.
However, reading the opening of this verse, we often gloss over the meaning
because the words are so familiar to us. The 'harlotries of the harlot' - strong
words indeed - to level against Nineveh. And isn't Babylon called the harlot in
the Book of Revelation?
We end up realising that to be labelled a harlot by YHWH (although these are
more rightly Nahum's words) must be a pretty serious business.
But, when it comes down to it, who can actually say what it means? What is a
harlotry when it's at home and why is it so offensive to God? And, if a city is
labelled a 'harlot' what does that actually mean that it's doing?
For, although we know the phrases, we know the judgment, we know text - we
aren't very often capable of putting into words what the descriptions mean in
But the rest of the text is equally perplexing - she's graceful and of deadly
charms, she betrays nations with her harlotries (here we go again) and people
with her charms. What exactly does this mean? Or are we to take them all as
vague, indefinable matters that we can populate with whatever trait we think was
obnoxious to God (making sure always that it's not something we're doing) and
then move on to a different Scripture?
For these verses are not specific and certainly not obvious. We must
take the time, therefore, to be certain we understand what it was that Nineveh
was doing and that we, as a Body of Christ, as a city or group of people,
aren't doing the very same things that YHWH condemns.
a. Her titles
The word translated as 'harlotries' by the RSV (Strongs Hebrew number 2183,
M563a) occurs 12 times in the OT and is defined by TWOTOT as having the
The root from which it comes (Strongs Hebrew number 2181, M563) also occurs
in this verse and is translated 'harlot', appearing ninety-three times in the
OT. TWOTOT defines the word as meaning
'to commit illicit [sexual] intercourse'
but this causes a few problems as the word 'harlot' (and the word
'harlotries' that comes directly from it) normally summons a concept in the
reader's mind of a prostitute where money changes hands for a sexual
In the OT, it's certain that, on numerous occasions, the idea is that the
word is meant to represent a prostitute but, on a great many others (probably
the majority), the definition supplied by TWOTOT is infinitely superior and
encapsulates all that the verse appears to be trying to convey.
For example, Lev 21:14 is a command concerning the marriage of the high
priest. The qualifications for an acceptable wife are defined in the negative
where it reads (my italics)
'A widow, or one divorced, or a woman who has been defiled, or a
harlot, these he shall not marry...'
'...he shall take to wife a virgin of his own people'
In this case, the 'harlot' or 'prostitute' is too narrow a definition to
stand if, by it, we think only of a prostitute. In this context, the
'one who is sexually promiscuous'
is by far the more accurate and relevant. The word 'whore' would possibly be
the best single word that could be used but, to avoid any confusion, a phrase is
perhaps the best option.
It would appear, then, that this Hebrew word group should only be
translated by words such as 'prostitution' when the context demands it.
Generally, the word has no more specific meaning than 'promiscuity' or
'excessive sexual experience'.
The repetition of the words in this opening phrase underline the offensive
nature of the act. It would have been sufficient for the prophet to have said
that Nineveh was a harlot or that she committed promiscuous acts. Perhaps, to
emphasise the point, he may have talked about the 'harlotries of the harlot'
Instead, he uses three concepts by speaking of the 'countless' harlotries of
the harlot (where Nahpal translates 'repeated acts' that seems to underscore the
frequency of the actions rather than the amount of times the actions were
This is no passing mention of an unacceptable trait but, as Nahpal writes
'The prophet becomes bluntly abusive in his language...By coarse, insulting
language the Holy Spirit through the prophet tears away these pretences and lays
bare the moral degradation of the inner recesses of the heart'
Nahpal also adds a line of translation after this phrase and italicises it
which is probably a bit too interpretative (it makes it sound like
she's the beguiling mistress of a brothel!) while Nahsmi adds
'fair and gracious'
There are two words in the OT that are represented by the AV's single
'wellfavoured' that the RSV renders 'graceful' (the RSV becomes rather
problematical in its translation at various points during this verse). The two
words occur together in a number of verses but the best to refer to is Proverbs
22:1 where the AV renders the words as 'loving favour' while the RSV opts for
the single 'favour'.
The AV seems to give the force of the combination of words but they seems to
need rendering as an adjective preceding 'harlot' to show how attractive she is
to those around her.
Nineveh isn't being slept with because men like to get their leg over
(although this may be an altruism according to some) but because men find
something attractive in her that makes them want to go down that path.
This opening line of the verse, therefore, could better be rendered
'[This happens because of] the repeated acts of promiscuity of this well
thought of promiscuous woman...'
where Nahum 3:2-3 are being explained by Nahum 3:4, hence the 'because of' at
This is the first definition of Nineveh. The second occurs in the following
phrase that the AV translates as
'the mistress of witchcrafts'
and which the RSV renders as
The word 'mistress' (Strongs Hebrew number 1172, M262b) is probably too
misleading to be left to stand as the word more rightly means a female owner -
the masculine form is Ba'al, the name of a false God in the OT, but the feminine
form as used in Nahum 3:4 is never used of a goddess.
The word translated 'witchcrafts' (Strongs Hebrew number 3785, M1051a) is as
accurate as it can be and also conveys the plural form which is part of the
original. Because it is in the plural, the word 'sorceries' sounds more
natural as we tend not to use 'witchcraft' in this way in the present day.
There seems no reason to think that this phrase should be taken as indicating
anything other than literal witchcraft and sorcery. Nahpal comments that
'Recent archaeology [the text was copyrighted 1990] has uncovered literally
thousands of tablets from Nineveh attesting to their intense concentration on
sorcery. Use of the magical arts functioned as a veritable way of life'
The second definition of Nineveh, then, can be fairly simply given as
'possessor of sorceries'
b. Her works
Having given Nineveh her title, Nahum moves on to describe her actions, The
RSV translates the second half of the verse by noting that she
'...betrays nations with her harlotries, and peoples with her charms'
where the original words translated by 'harlotries' and 'charms' are the same
as appear in the first half of the verse - my translations of 'acts of
promiscuity' and 'sorceries' above. The prophet is using the definition placed
on the city and now outworks it.
The word 'betrays' is the all important one here and we'll deal with it in a
moment - but the verb controls both subsequent phrases so that Nineveh is said
to 'betray' both 'nations' and 'peoples' with her 'promiscuous acts' and
We shouldn't think that the first of each two words go only together -
the construction is simply a way to use different words in phrases that apply to
all. The one word that we need to comment on is the word translated 'peoples'
(Strongs Hebrew number 4940, M2442b). This word can indeed have a restricted use
to mean a small 'family' but it more rightly means larger groups of people who
regard themselves as descended and interrelated from an individual or tribe.
The RSV's 'peoples' is, perhaps, too unspecific but the AV's 'families' seems
too limiting! It's best to use a word that can mean anything from a small group
of people held together by blood ties up to a much larger group that see
themselves as belonging to a particular group. For this reason 'families' is the
only word that can convey this meaning.
The force of the verse is that sorceries and promiscuous acts lead astray
small groups right up to the largest groups imaginable - there are no exceptions
or humans who remain unaffected by the 'betrayal' of Nineveh.
But what is this 'betrayal'?
The word (Strongs Hebrew number 4376, M1194) is the regular one employed
elsewhere to signify selling and is used eighty times, being translated as
'sell' on seventy-five occasions. It's not the word we'd expect if 'harlot' was
to be taken as implying prostitution, for she isn't so much one who sells others
as she who sells herself.
However, 'sell' is correct and not 'betray' - even though one might imagine
the ultimate 'sell' is to betray the confidence of the purchaser. This may be so
but Nineveh is only portrayed here as selling both nations and families by her
sorceries and promiscuity.
The implications of this statement seem to indicate that the world became
involved in her sin because, finding something attractive and worth possessing,
they sought favour from the nation, they wanted to be like her in her ways. She,
therefore, led the people of earth astray by selling them into sin even to the
point of betraying them into thinking that what they were achieving was somehow
It's the same today when we see a 'rich and famous' person or organisation
and want a 'piece of the action'. Successful empires are built on specific
attitudes and policies and they become intolerant of anyone or thing that's
within their organisation but that doesn't 'toe the party line'. There's no room
for any individualism when the progress of the 'company' is threatened.
In order for any nation or large group of people to find 'favour' from the
Assyrian empire, they would have had to have necessarily become representatives
of their way of life, of their culture - with the same attitudes and
They would have had to have got in bed with Nineveh to join with her but, in
so doing, would have become everything odious to YHWH that the original nation
Just as the Church is to act as leaven, influencing society (Mtw 13:33), so
Assyria worked its life and ways into the world by its great influence.
Yet, much more than this - for Assyria began to take possession of the
nations through conquest (even by acts of betrayal where promised support led to
effective control), assimilating defeated people into her empire and producing
'children of Nineveh' from the nations round about her. Slowly but surely, the
image of Assyria was becoming the image of man on the earth.
Time for YHWH to act...
This may not seem to be too specific an explanation of the verse but it's
about as far as we can go with what's set before us.
Finally, a rendering of Nahum 3:4 based on the above discussion would be
'[Nahum 3:2-3 will occur because of] the repeated acts of promiscuity of this
well thought of promiscuous woman, this possessor of sorceries - she who sells
nations with acts of promiscuity, and families with her sorceries'
4. Nahum 3:5-7
YHWH takes up His discourse once more in the identical words of Nahum 2:13
(see under 'Wondering where the lions are', part 3 'I am against you' for a
brief discussion). In conclusion to that passage, I noted that this opening
statement is the antithesis of Romans 8:31 and could be stated as
'If God is against us, who then could be for us?'
In both places, YHWH announces Himself as 'of Hosts', a clear military term
in this context. Although YHWH is sufficient to put to flight all men, He
pronounces Himself as being at the head of a mighty army and gives the
indication that He will be fighting in strength and from an unfathomable
depth of resource.
This is quite typical of His declarations and, while His relative weakness
could dispel the strongest of forces arrayed against Him, He often displays His
singleness of purpose in declaring His actions in terms that are more over the
top and extravagant than necessary.
Therefore, Israel sing of God (Ex 15:12 - my italics) that He
'...didst stretch out Thy right hand, the earth swallowed [the
and David declares (Ps 20:6 - my italics) that YHWH
'...will help His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with
mighty victories by His right hand'
where the 'right hand' is always considered to be the side of strength as
opposed to the left.
God moving against His enemies using his little finger would be quite
sufficient, but He shows His singleness of purpose and application of His full
resources in language that men and women understand. He doesn't just overcome
His people's enemies - and His own - with a minimum of energy, but is
extravagant in the way He gets involved.
a. It's a real shame
In a society where large sums of money are paid for pictures of a person's
nakedness, this verse may meet with a 'So what?' in many corners of society (but
probably not many corners of polite society). Nakedness and nudity have
become such a part of our everyday 'modern' lives that the announcement of such
an action would be met with scoffing.
I don't intend going in to an exposition of nakedness and nudity in the OT
and provide comments as to where and when nudity may be or may not be
appropriate - and how God views our modern society in its dealings with such
matters - but we do need to understand the idea of what exposing a person's
nakedness actually means.
In the Garden of Eden when there was no sin, it's recorded of Adam and Eve
(Gen 2:25) that
'...[they] were both naked and were not ashamed'
Only when disobedience to God came on mankind through their first sin (Gen
3:1-6) did Adam and Eve have their eyes opened to their state, that is (Gen
'...they knew that they were naked...'
hastily getting some leaves together in order to provide themselves a
covering. Whether symbolic or real, genital nakedness (although we must be true
to the text and note that nowhere are we told which parts of a man or woman's
anatomy was considered to need covering) became evidence of the shame of having
sinned against YHWH.
It's normally assumed (by myself also) that God's glory covered Adam and Eve
and that they walked in His presence, not afraid of God in any way because there
was nothing in their lives that was offensive to the One who'd created them.
However, when that first act of sin took place, their glory departed and they
perceived themselves as they had now become - separated from God and standing
condemned before Him.
Man's covering of his body from then onwards, therefore, became an evidence
(if he would but stop and think about it) that there was something desperately
wrong between himself and his Creator - and that, if there was to be a remedy to
the problem, a covering would have to be provided that would take away the shame
of their sin and restore them back in to a right relationship.
Therefore, Paul in his letter to the Roman church quotes Psalm 32:1 and
reminds his readers (Rom 4:7) the blessing pronounced by David upon the man
'...whose sins are covered'
a clear pronouncement of the Fall of man in Eden and a reminder of the
sacrificial system that provided a covering of blood upon the Israelites that
they might stand in YHWH's presence (I note here, however, that the same Hebrew
word is not used of this blood covering, even though it is
employed to speak of the need for the covering of the priests' nakedness in Ex
The same word translated 'skirts' by the RSV (Strongs Hebrew number 7757 -
the word more rightly means the lower part of a robe or the outer hem of such a
garment. It isn't the same item that we would, today, call a 'skirt'. Nahpal
interprets the word to mean 'gypsy skirts' but this is, firstly, wrong and,
secondly, rather demeaning to gypsies as if they're being singled out as a kind
of 'morally lower' human) is used in Jer 13:22-26 in a similar manner to that in
Nahum 3:5 where YHWH announces that
'...it is for the greatness of your iniquity that your skirts are lifted
and that He will
'...lift up your skirts over your face, and your shame will be seen'
In effect, the greatness of a person's sin causes YHWH to expose the shame or
to 'expose the sin' for all to see. Transgression will only remain hidden for a
while but will soon come to light in a society where God is on the move, calling
men and women to give an account of themselves.
With Nineveh, God is about to act to reveal the sin of the city and,
subsequently, of the nation. He will remove the concealment they've employed to
mask their evil and will make it plain for all to see.
But how will God do this? Through the complete overthrow of the city.
This might sound like a strange way to go about it, but those who've trusted
in Nineveh will see the futility of their ways, will realise that their pride in
and reliance upon the city has been vain and will come to realise that the way
of life that was personified by the city has been condemned and shown to be less
No one will try to rebuild her and her former lovers (Nahum 3:7) will shy
away from her in her hour of destruction.
This is the same punishment described as falling on God's people in Ezek
16:36-41, specifically Jerusalem (Ezek 16:2). Because of the great sin that the
city took part in (Ezek 16:36 - Jerusalem is said to have uncovered her own
nakedness and shame), she would have her nakedness exposed by YHWH (Ezek 16:37)
and this would have the result of the sacking and overthrow of the city (Ezek
There's nothing quite like disaster for making men and women stop and think
about themselves and their way of life.
Finally, I note Nahpal's comments that Nineveh's skirts will be lifted up
'...before her own face so that she cannot hide from the disgrace of
which comes out of his translation
'I will uncover your skirts before your face'
He seems to be saying that Nineveh will look on their own nakedness, but the
correct interpretation seems to me to be to follow the RSV's translation that
the skirt will be lifted over the face so that (excuse my crudeness) the
'nations' and 'kingdoms' will be drawn to the shame being exposed before them
with nothing to distract them (it's more natural to look at a person's face than
their genitals - at least, it is in polite society and the circles in which I
move, although some people I've known in the past...).
b. Mudslinging is of God
YHWH has already spoken of two actions He'll take towards Nineveh in the
previous verse, although these are interrelated and should be considered as two
parts of the one action - he will uncover the nakedness and shame of the city
and allow the people of the world to gaze upon them.
Here, He moves on to outline three further actions that will be inflicted
Firstly, He will 'throw filth' at her. The word translated 'filth' (Strongs
Hebrew number 8251, M2459) is a very strong word in Hebrew and means more than
simply 'mud' or 'dust'. Therefore, the AV (as well as the RSV) translates it
with 'abomination' and 'detestable things' along with others.
To show something of the strength of feeling conveyed, consider its use in I
Kings 11:5 where Milcom, the god of the Ammonites is actually called the
'abomination' of the Ammonites, the word 'god' not employed where we'd expect it
to be. Certainly, the writer knew very little about being politically correct
when it came to sizing up the object of another people's service. But such a
term is used similarly in I Kings 11:7 and II Kings 23:13 and also used of the
acts themselves that were unacceptable to service of YHWH (Deut 29:17, II Kings
23:24, II Chron 15:8).
It's no wonder that the prophets took the word up themselves and used it to
portray the most debased forms of worship imaginable without the need to
describe them in any detail (for example, Is 66:3, Jer 4:1, 7:30, Ezek 5:11,
Hosea 9:10). The word is also used in conjunction with another to speak of
Daniel's 'abomination of desolation' (Dan 9:27, 11:31, 12:11).
In the context of Nahum 3:6, however, we shouldn't imagine that YHWH is
saying that He will place upon the Ninevites practices that were abominable
(simply because they were already practicing such deeds!) but that He was about
to place on them abominations that would be accepted as such by those who would
look upon her.
Men and women may get involved in the grossest of practices but, when they
finally perceive that such actions are degrading, disgusting and self-abasing,
they normally have the natural aversion to continue practicing them - though,
not always. Therefore, the disassociation with Nineveh would be complete
because of the attributable characteristics of the city that would be
perceived by those, primarily, who'd taken so much delight in her.
But we're not looking at a few spots of mud, thrown up from a passing chariot
- we're talking something so appalling that no one would want to go near her any
more (something akin to seeing a man or woman covered head to foot in dog
Secondly, YHWH says that He will
'...treat [the city] with contempt'
a phrase that's represented by only the single word in the original text.
This word (Strongs Hebrew number 5034, M1286) appears twenty-five times in the
OT and has fifteen different translations employed to convey the meaning.
TWOTOT comments that it
'...represents a state or condition of leaves when they are dried but still
attached to the tree...The image of withered leaves about to fall given by this
verb or other dried up vegetation often serves as a figure of judgment'
Very simply, then, YHWH is saying
'I will wither you'
where the idea is of a root being destroyed that the foliage above the ground
can no longer draw sustenance from below. The sources of Nineveh's strength and
prosperity would be laid waste and the flowering beauty would wither and
NID points out, however, that the form of the word used here in Nahum (as it
is in Deut 32:15, Jer 14:21 and Micah 7:6) makes the sense to be
'...dishonour, hold in contempt and scoff'
In the last two of the bracketed Scriptures, the idea of removing the source
of a person's well-being may still be present but it's impossible to know
whether this is meant to be thought of as present in its use in Nahum 3:6.
However, treating Nineveh with contempt has already occurred in Nahum 1:14
where we noted that the city is described as being of little consequence, even
though it was great in its own eyes. To destroy her as fully as she was, shows
that her self-estimation of her importance was based upon a serious delusion.
Life continued without her when she was no more.
God rightly treats with contempt those who assign an importance to themselves
that overbears their real significance.
Thirdly, God declares that He will make the city
(somewhat of an archaic word and certainly not in common modern day usage).
The word (Strongs Hebrew number 7210, M2095f) is used six times (Gen 16:13
[twice], I Samuel 16:12, Job 7:8, 33:21) but doesn't appear to have ever been
used in a negative sense, meaning simply 'looked at' or 'looked on'.
The translation 'gazingstock' is far too strong a word to be employed here
and Nahbak's comments are also a bit too strong for he speaks of the description
'...matching the use of stocks and pillory in the more recent past'
Although to some extent this is correct, Nineveh hasn't become a place
for the outpouring of punishment but a place that was itself
The idea is that Nineveh will be looked upon - either directly by
those people who lived round about her or figuratively when news came to
them of its destruction.
No explanation is given as to how she will be regarded, but the other
words in this passage indicate that she won't be mourned (Nahum 3:7) but will
stimulate men and women to think upon her shame (Nahum 3:5). She will,
therefore, serve as a warning to others when she's 'looked upon'.
Anyone who's passed by the ruins in the last two and a half thousand years
has been confronted by the annihilation of a once great city reduced to a pile
of rubble and, certainly contemporary with the destruction, the recounting of
what she was and how she fell would have been repeatedly told.
Nahpal fleshes out the bones of the statement when he observes that
'...just as Nineveh has abused its captives, exposing them to public
ridicule, so He shall make Nineveh a spectacle of shame that the nations will
never forget...International shame and disgrace shall replace pomp and
c. Mourners, apply here
YHWH begins by repeating the idea of the city becoming a 'gazingstock' by
using a word that's part of the same word group (Strongs Hebrew number 7200,
M2095) translated by 'all who look on you'. It's as good a reason as any why
'gazingstock' is such a poor translation for, although the same concept might be
discerned by the reader, the phraseology is so different that it's easily
The following words seem more applicable to Nineveh's contemporaries than to
imply that the 'looking upon' her would be subsequent upon all future
generations so this must be the primary meaning intended (although I've noted
that the large pile of debris would continue to have spoken to those who had
lived in or passed the area for almost three thousand years).
It's because YHWH has caused Nineveh to be 'looked upon' that people will
'shrink from her' when they witness the carnage. This phrase is the single word
(Strongs Hebrew number 5074, M1300) and implies motion. It would better be
translated as 'move away from her' or 'depart from her' but the word can
be used figuratively as when it's said that sleep departed from Jacob (Gen
Instead of running forward to embrace the city and its ways, men and women
will be revolted by it and step back. This hardly seems a literal possibility
since the state of the city would be a heap of rubble, smouldering into ruin.
Who would want to enter the city?
It seems better to take the witness of the eye to be a compulsion in the
heart not to follow after the lifestyle of the city, seeing as the end result
had been destruction. This is the sense of the phrase 'Wasted is Nineveh' (the
second and last time where the name of the city is included in the prophetic
message - Nahum 1:1 is a superscription and not part of the message itself), the
backing away coming about because of her destruction.
Two rhetorical questions end the verse, each demanding a negative response in
the minds of the listeners. YHWH asks firstly
'Who will bemoan her?'
The word 'bemoan' (Strongs Hebrew number 5110, M1319) is one that implies a
moving backwards and forwards and was therefore used to denote 'compassion'
because, as TWOTOT notes (quoting Keil and Delitzsch), compassion was
'...the nodding of one's head "as a sign of pity that sympathises with one
and recognises the magnitude of the evil"'
No one will shake their head and feel sorry, have compassion or express pity
for the fate of Nineveh. This is quite an amazing statement for surely those
who'd found prosperity through her would feel sorry for her demise, even if on a
purely selfish level?
But the abomination she's become (Nahum 3:6) will be sufficient to turn the
hearts of all against her. From being glorious, she quickly becomes an object of
shame (Nahum 3:5).
Secondly, the question is asked
'Whence shall I seek comforters for her?'
where the word for 'comforters' in the RSV (Strongs Hebrew number 5162,
M1344) has it's root, according to TWOTOT, in the idea of deep breathing - as in
when one hears a particularly bad piece of news and one sighs with a feeling of
The word's used to denote repentance in the OT but also compassion - and this
seems to be the sense of it here. There might be professional mourners employed
at Nineveh's demise (figuratively speaking) but there's no one who's genuinely
compassionate about her fate.
Again, one would have thought that, in death, there would have been mourning
- but no one will care, no one will take the time to feel sorry for the city
that's been overthrown fully and finally.
Nahum's name means 'compassion' - compassion for God's people that their
oppressor will be completely laid to waste and their yoke will be removed from
off their shoulders. And yet, the only compassion mentioned in the prophecy is
the antithesis here where none exists towards the destroyed city of Nineveh.
As believers we should also be warned that mourning and grieving over some
acts of destruction on this earth are out of place. The God who brings into
being is also the One who causes those very same things to cease to be.
Discernment is needed in all matters, but destruction is not invariably 'of
Nahum's final words
The words of YHWH - as contained in this scroll - ended with the close of the
previous verse. Nahum now adds his own comments and pronouncements concerning
Nineveh, eventually drawing the prophecy to a close without further direct
This might sound fairly radical to some - perhaps even heretical to others.
After all, isn't one of the foundational doctrines of the Church that the Bible
is the Word of God, breathed by Him into existence and, therefore,
But God's greatness is shown in that, even when His servants write the
records of His dealings with man (and, perhaps, some of the people who wrote the
Scriptures were not committed followers of YHWH as we always suppose from no
evidence), when His prophets speak to His people as if on their own
understanding of a matter, it's still endorsed by Him, brought in to being as if
He'd directly spoken.
The Church has long since laboured under the misapprehension that a person
who says 'Thus says the Lord' is speaking more accurately than another who says
'This is the way it is' and who doesn't use the prophetic phrase to justify the
Of the forty-seven verses contained in the Book of Nahum, one is an added
superscription taken from the outside of the scroll when the record was
committed to flat parchment, thirty-nine are the work of the prophet himself and
only seven are the direct speech of YHWH.
That is, around fifteen per cent!
Or, to put it another way (a way with which I don't agree), eighty-five per
cent of Nahum is padding and could be disregarded. But this is our present day
problem in the Church for we fail to hear the voice of YHWH through fellow
believers who speak - until we hear the 'magical' formula 'Thus says YHWH' and
then we sit up and take notice.
The Book of Nahum is a case in point that God says more by His servants' own
understanding of a matter than He does by commanding His prophets to speak on
The final twelve verses of this scroll present somewhat of a problem of
division for the commentator and I note that in the four volumes I have beside
me, only two agree where the lines should be drawn.
The main problems - for me, at least - are verses 11 and 14 which seem to sit
well as both conclusions to what precedes them and introductions to what follow.
Perhaps they should even be considered as standing alone and dealt with
Verse 18, too, could well sit alongside verse 17 and leave verse 19 as a
concluding verse that should stand alone. Such decisions need to be made for
they influence how subsequent verses are meant to expand on or define ones that
precede (or follow) them.
My inability to be certain about the intended divisions, therefore, has
caused me to use the following section splits and to deal with them
1. Nahum 3:8-10
We've already discussed the dating evidence that this passage provides in the
Introduction to the book (see under 'Introduction to the
Book', part 1, section a) and that material won't be repeated here except where
The passage sits almost as a response to an objection raised by the Ninevites
that they are untouchable.
'Look!' you could almost hear them say, 'Our armies are strong, the chariots
a force that no army has yet overcome, our walls fortified strongly and our
supplies sufficient to outlast any length of siege. There's no army in the world
tough enough or clever enough to take us...'
to which the response of the verse opens
'Are you better than Thebes...?'
for this city appears to have been the highest regarded amongst all the
cities that the Assyrians went in their conquests. However, the rhetorical
question is surely directed at Nahum's listeners and not at the Ninevites. This
and the three verses appear to have been offered to those who may have doubted
that Nineveh could be overcome due to what they considered as her
Thebes lay some four hundred miles up river of Cairo, straddling the
watercourse of the Nile. On the east bank, the main town centred around two
large temples to the god Amun situated at Luxor and Karnak (The RSV's
translation 'Thebes' in Nahum 3:8 is better 'No-Amon' meaning 'City of Amun')
and the necropolis with the funerary temples on the west bank that included the
Valley of the Kings with extensive funerary treasures contained within.
Thebes' rise came during the five hundred years before the eleventh century
BC when great buildings and monuments were erected, Amun becoming the greatest
of the Egyptian gods while the temples began to store away vast treasures of
The city appears to have been one of the most extensive and richest in Egypt,
possibly even in the then-known world and, like Nineveh, would've had to have
extensive suburbs to support the main centres of religious service. The Temple
complex seems to have occupied almost one quarter of the fortified city and
Nahpal declares the circumference of the city to have been twenty-seven miles
(although, where he gets this measurement from, is unknown), making the width of
the city to be about eight and a half miles if a circle (which, obviously, it
wouldn't have been).
Homer comments in the Iliad (the reference given by Nahpal is 9.381)
concerning Thebes' reputation by noting that it was, in his time (around 800BC,
a century and a half prior to its destruction under the Assyrians)
'...the richest city in the whole world, for it has a hundred gates through
each of which two hundred men may drive at once with their chariots and
Thebes began a steady decline in the first millennium BC but still retained
its importance as a religious and cultic centre as political power moved north,
firstly to Memphis, until it was sacked by the Assyrians in 663BC by king
From that date onwards, Thebes gradually sank into insignificance.
It's difficult to find any indication of the defences of the city in the
seventh century BC when Assyria attacked and conquered the city, removing its
vast treasures (the precious objects may have been so numerous that not
all the treasure was able to be carried away) and returning them to Nineveh and
Assyria - although present day maps of the location of the ancient settlement
show that the city and associated suburbs, temples and monuments were
Nahum's mention (Nahum 3:8) of Thebes that she
'...sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her
is normally taken to imply that the city was significantly defended by the
use of irrigated channels and moats. Certainly, the main fortified city had the
Nile as its western flank as far as I can determine (which, funnily enough, is
exactly the same sort of position as Nineveh which had the Tigris on its west)
but historical records appear lacking and the only plans I've been able to
obtain show no moat or water defences.
However, it's reasonable to accept the account in Nahum as referring to water
defences that made the inhabitants regard themselves as unassailable and
unconquerable. Nahpal (along with others) notes that the Nile in flood at this
point in its course was over two miles wide and that the channels and canals
would be filled to give the city a secure natural defence.
The only problem with such a statement is that we can't be sure that this was
the state of the river when the Assyrians attacked and, more, what did Thebes
rely on for defences if the Nile wasn't in flood when an enemy army
There must have therefore been some use of the river as a defence all the
Nahum's description that her rampart was 'a sea' is initially surprising as
Thebes lay some one hundred miles inland. The word translated 'sea' by the RSV
(Strongs Hebrew number 3220, M871a) is used 396 times in the OT and is generally
rendered by this word - and normally means a large body of water such as the Red
Sea or Mediterranean.
However, the word can also be used of a major river and, in Jer 51:35-6, is
used to refer to the Euphrates where it's said of Babylon by YHWH that
'...I will dry up her sea (S3220), and make her springs dry'
Again, in Isaiah 18:1-2, speaking of the
'...land of whirring wings which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia'
it's noted that they send
'...ambassadors by the Nile (S3220)...'
There's no reason, therefore, to take the translation of 'sea' to be anything
other than a reference to the Nile that flowed through the suburbs of Thebes.
Therefore, she seemed impregnable and appears to have been regarded as so.
But her fortifications and defences aren't the only reason that Thebes is
held up to Assyria as the example par excellence of an unassailable
The allies she has should have been sufficient to deliver her. Nahum mentions
that both Ethiopia (or, better, Cush, located in the Nile Valley south of the
city of Thebes) and Egypt were her strength or, perhaps better, her 'full
strength', Egypt being further described as being a strength 'without limit' or
Thebes was never thought to be standing alone against any or all who'd come
against her but was able to draw on national armies to aid her if attacked.
'Put and the Libyans' are also mentioned here as translated by the RSV
(although both words used can be translated as 'Libyans' where they occur - and
they both have more than one identifying label used in the AV).
The area known as 'Put' has long since defied categorical definition but, as
it's associated here with Libya that lay immediately to the west of Egypt, it
seems best to attribute the reference in Nahum to be to an area in or around the
known boundaries of the Libyan nation (some commentators see 'Put' as being
'Libya' and the other word as a reference to 'Lubim' - both areas were still
west of Egypt, however, and the identification makes little difference to the
point Nahum's making).
Both of these nations are said to be a 'help' or, better, a 'support'. The
Hebrew word (Strongs Hebrew number 5833, M1598b) is used in both Isaiah 31:1 and
Jer 37:7 (and possibly in other places as well) to denote military help offered
by an external army and this seems to be the sense of it here in Nahum.
The point of their mention, however, is to note that Thebes had four specific
nations who she could call upon in the defence of the city and the protection of
her vast treasuries. Indeed, Thebes may have been a major area of religious
pilgrimage to which each of these nations and lands came so that some sort of
nominal allegiance existed.
But it must also be considered that the Assyrians' march through Egypt, south
to Thebes, would have been thwart with danger from these allies - they were
strangers in strange lands and would daily have been aware that an army might
line up against them to block their path south (and their flight north after
But the main purpose of Nahum 3:8-9 is to show, firstly, that Thebes'
individual defences were strong (Nahum 3:8) and, secondly, that she possessed
allies that were both strong and numerous and yet she was still overcome
by the Assyrian army when they marched on her (Nahum 3:10).
We needn't go in to the detail of the destruction as described by Nahum as
the text is fairly straightforward (although I note that the opening phrase used
by Nahum is very close to 'captivity was led captive' but carries with it the
same sense, showing us that the phrase used in Ps 68:18 and, therefore, its
quote in Eph 4:8 is a military term signifying the result of a defeat by one's
enemy), but we can be sure that the same affliction that was visited upon Thebes
by the Assyrians/Ninevites would be visited upon Nineveh herself in the coming
Nahoza states that Ashurbanipal
'...razed Thebes to the ground with terrifying thoroughness'
and that his conquest
'...was calculated to deter any further uprising'
I am, however, at a loss to find a contemporary reference that mentions
either this 'uprising' (and, if Egypt was in rebellion, why didn't the military
forces of that nation take up arms and come to destroy the Assyrians as they
marched south or when, weakened and tired, they returned north after the
conquest?) or the seeming levelling of the city into a pile of rubble (a slow
decline declared by most historical sources implies a continued existence and
not a complete annihilation of the city).
Indeed, there appears to be a distinct lack of a contemporary record that can
be referred to, apart from the Assyrian record quoted in my introductory
Thebes didn't go in to captivity in the same manner as Nineveh eventually did
as we've noted above - for the city retained its importance as a religious
centre for many centuries. However, it seems certain that the Assyrian conquest
continued to enforce a repatriation policy of subjugated people and that human
destruction and carnage was left in their wake.
This appears to be the force behind the latter half of Nahum 3:10 where we
'...her honoured men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in
where the latter phrase seems to imply an incarceration pending deportation
that followed the former where the exiles were selected by lot.
If Thebes was so impregnable, says Nahum, how can Nineveh consider herself to
be so untouchable when she has neither the strength of fortification nor the
numerous allies that will come to her aid?
The logic behind Nahum's pronouncement, therefore, is that if the large was
overcome by the smaller, it would be impossible not to suppose that the smaller
would not itself be susceptible to overthrow and destruction.
Therefore, the answer to the opening rhetorical question
'Are you better than Thebes?'
is a resounding 'no' and, if 'no', the inevitability of Nineveh's fall is
2. Nahum 3:11-13
Nahum 3:11 naturally sits as a concluding verse to the three that precede it
- but it introduces a different thought or, perhaps better, reinforces one
already made. Nahum 3:8-10 also stands alone as a unit that conveys a specific
teaching that shouldn't be undermined by 'tacking on' a short note about Nahum
3:11 in the notes.
Therefore, Nahum 3:11 has been assigned to the start of a new passage but we
must note that this opening verse seems to point back to the Assyrian conquest
of Thebes by stating (my italics) that
'You also will be drunken...'
that relies for its context on what precedes it (the word isn't an English
gloss and appears in the Hebrew text. It recurs at the start of the third and
final phrase in Nahum 3:11).
The inhabitants of Thebes would be 'drunken, dazed and seek a refuge', so
also would the Ninevites when the day of their overthrow was to come.
Just as the fall of Thebes demonstrates that Nineveh will not have the resources
to stand against the oppressor (as we saw, if the strong is overthrown, what
chance has the weaker?), so, too, what they received as a city at the hands of
Assyria must be the same type of experience that Nineveh will receive at the
hands of their conqueror.
a. The three inevitabilities
There are three declarations here of what will come upon them.
Firstly, Nahum states that they will be 'drunken' (Strongs Hebrew number
7937, M2388), a word used only nineteen times in the OT and used to convey
alcoholic intoxication or abundant drink but usually it's employed
metaphorically of stupor (that is, an unresponsive state to dangers that are
surrounding someone - Isaiah 29:9, 51:21, Jer 51:39, 51:57) or of having been
forced to drink another's anger (Deut 32:42, Isaiah 49:26, 63:6, Jer 25:27,
48:26, 51:7, Lam 4:21) both of God and man.
There's no defining context in Nahum 3:11 and both metaphorical uses fit
well. Both senses, however, indicate a helplessness in the face of an
overwhelming danger and the idea in Nahum's use is that, like the inhabitants of
Thebes who were unable and incapable of opposing the destruction of their city,
so also Nineveh will find it impossible to resist the will of YHWH in this
Second, Nahum states, in the translation of the RSV, the Ninevites will be
dazed (Strongs Hebrew number 5956, 1629) used twenty-eight times with the
underlying meaning of something hidden. At first glance, the RSV's translation
looks very odd (more odd is the NEB's translation of 'flaunting your sex' that
Nahsmi notes). TWOTOT states that
'The meaning of the verb...is quite obvious'
which makes one wonder why it didn't have a universal interpretation in the
various English translations. The best way to understand the text at this point
is to see the Ninevites trying to hide themselves away from the conquerors.
Whereas the nation had once been fearless, warriors who overcame all who
stood in their way, they would be stupefied at their situation and try to find
somewhere to hide until the terror that was to come upon them would pass by.
In that day, however, there would be no place to run. Nahpal puts it well
when he writes
'Like a bully in retreat, this brute of a nation shall cower and cringe as it
searches for some hole for hiding'
and goes on to point out that Nineveh was the final overthrow of the kingdom
(although the nation was reformed under some of its generals until the battle or
Carchemish in 605BC) that had seen its cities defeated one by one for at least
the past four years prior to it falling to the same advancing armies (616BC
appears to be the date when the Assyrians first suffered a defeat in open battle
at the hands of the Babylonians and, from that date onwards, their advance went
Thirdly - and in connection with the previous statement - Nahum observes
that, like Thebes, they will 'seek a refuge', a phrase comprised of two words
(Strongs Hebrew number 1245, M276 and Strongs Hebrew number 4581, M1578a).
The idea of a 'refuge' is different to that of somewhere to 'hide' for the
word conveys a place of strength that offers some sort of protection against
forces that are arrayed against it, whereas the latter means more that there's a
concealment that renders 'invisible' the one within.
As Nineveh was a refuge, it makes the use of the word all the more
surprising for it's shown by Nahum to be insufficient for the coming conquests.
Nahpal notes that the words, if taken literally, could mean that the fleeing
remnants of rule that continued to reign over a shattered Assyrian kingdom until
605BC found a fortified refuge from which to resist the steady advance of their
conquerors across all their old kingdom until their final overthrow.
However, my reading of Nahum 3:11 makes me understand the words to be
concerning the overthrow of the city of Nineveh and not the
re-establishment of some sort of Assyrian rule. That is, the people
sought for a fortified place to run to but found none, they looked for a hiding
place but there was nowhere to hide and they were unable to resist because they
were numb and impotent in their situation because of the wrath of YHWH that was
being poured out upon them.
In summary, we could reduce the verse to three words that are indicative of
Nahum 3:12 moves on to an observation of the state of the capital city. It's
tempting to see in the mention of 'fortresses' a reference to Assyria's other
cities that fell to the enemy advance as they conquered their way towards the
However, there's no need to take the verse this way and there isn't
any context that would indicate that this was what Nahum meant. We know from the
historical records that this did take place but we must never fall in to
the danger of interpreting prophecy retrospectively (that is, in the
light of subsequent known history) so that we fit the prophecy into a
straightjacket of conformity, but need to stick to a prospective
understanding (that is, trying to comprehend what it was that the original
hearers understood by the words delivered to them - see my notes on 'Prophecy'.
In an analogy that doesn't bear every detail being strictly pressed into an
identification and application, Nahum announces that all Nineveh's
fortifications are like fig trees - but only those at the time of the year when
they're laden with the fist-ripe figs (which would be May or June in
The Hebrew at this point actually reads that the fig trees bear
first-fruits (Strongs Hebrew number 1061, M244e), the word being employed
eighteen times in the OT. The word is translated 'firstripe' on four of these
occasions by the AV (including this one in Nahum), the context being dependent
upon the fruit being mentioned. Therefore, in Num 13:20, the word 'grape' is
used alongside and, in Micah 7:1, the subject matter is dealing with the grape
so that the word occurring on its own must mean the 'firstripe' grape.
In Hosea 9:10, like Nahum 3:12, the context is the fig tree.
The translation 'first-ripe figs' is too interpretative to be strictly
accurate (although some may feel that I'm being too pedantic by this
observation) and should be rendered to say that all Nineveh's fortresses were
'...fig trees with first-fruits'
If the fortresses are shaken, says Nahum, the first fruits fall into the
mouth of those who are looking for food from them. Nahpal (as well as Nahoza) go
somewhat overboard on a literal interpretation of the figs and states
'The slightest jar sends the plump fruit plummeting into the mouth of a
A reality check is needed here - figs may be caught as they plummet from the
upper branches or may be picked up off the ground where they fell but that they
miraculously fall into people's mouths? I must admit that it's one of the
daftest statements I've read - and shows the problem of making the Scripture
literal to the point of absurdity.
There's no reason to attempt an identification of the first fruits as a
real item contained within or on the fortifications for they seem to
represent both the treasures and desirable objects that were within the confines
of the city and which were plundered by the invading army - and the bricks and
stones of the structures that were torn down and 'consumed' in the conquerors
fires that would have been kindled in the destruction of the city.
But this, says Nahum, is the precarious nature of their defences - they may
be looked to to protect the inhabitants within, but their protection is so
tenuous that they serve no real purpose in forbidding entry into the city when
YHWH comes against them at the head of His own army.
As Nahum 3:12 dealt with the city fortifications, so now Nahum 3:13 opens
with a treatment of the city's human resistance. In a statement that tramples
political correctness under foot and seems to set out to upset the feminist
movement, Nahum states that
'...[Nineveh's] troops are women in [their] midst'
The word translated 'troops' (Strongs Hebrew number 5971, M1640a, M1640e)
appears 1862 times in the AV and is translated by the word 'people' on 1836
occasions. There's no reason to think of the word here as being indicative of
the military men within the city of Nineveh (although the word, on occasions,
can be used to denote a military force as in Num 20:20. This meaning needn't be
pressed upon its use in Nahum, however). Besides, if we do that, it lessens the
force of the statement that the entire city are 'a bunch of women'
(which, I note, is still an offensive statement even today amongst men -
although, if it's directed at women, it probably isn't so offensive).
The same labelling is directed towards the inhabitants of Babylon. In Jer
50:37, the sword is called upon
'...all the foreign troops [foreign people] in her midst, that they may
and, in Jer 51:30, probably the better reference, we read
'The warriors of Babylon have ceased fighting...their strength has failed,
they have become women...'
Not only in ancient times but also in our present society, women are
generally less physically strong than men (I'm speaking from sound reason and
evidence, here, and not from any feminist viewpoint) so an army that turns into
women would be one that was less able to oppose a fighting force of male
soldiers who would descend upon them.
But the entire city, says Nahum, has turned into a people who are only able
to exhibit ineffectual resistance to whatever is about to come upon them.
Finally, the prophet observes two last 'facts' that go beyond the confines of
the city. Firstly, he states (my italics) that
'The gates of your land [or 'your country'] are wide open to your
The italicised words are significant for he doesn't state that the city's
fortified gateways will be open to allow easy access to the troops (which,
as far as we know from historical sources, they weren't) but, rather, that the
invading armies will feel no threat of entering the land in which Nineveh sits
When the fear of a people are upon another, they're unlikely to violate the
territory in case reprisals fall upon them - the gates, figuratively speaking,
are closed, they don't feel at liberty to enter into the land. However, the
advancing forces would feel no such fear and would be assured in their own minds
of only token resistance as they set out marching to conquer the land and its
The 'bars' of the second phrase are assumed to be the horizontal
reinforcements that were used to strengthen gates when they were securely shut
up to prevent access. The problem is that we can't be absolutely sure how the
bars were deployed.
The same word is used in Ex 26:26-29 to speak of the bars of wood that were
to be made for the frames in the Tabernacle. It's clear from Ex 36:33 that they
were horizontal as they were (my italics)
'...to pass through from end to end halfway up the frames'
We also read of a triplet of details in the reconstruction of the gates of
Jerusalem (Neh 3:3,6,13-15) that speaks of 'gates, locks and bars' with also
'beams' being mentioned in the first three of these six verses.
TWOTOT points out that the word group from which 'beams' comes can be used to
signify an item that was 'above' the living area of a house and seems to have
supported the roof itself (Gen 19:8) and it seems right to accept the 'beam' of
the gate to be in a similar position to the lintel of a door, so eliminating the
'bar' from being this particular element.
The word for 'lock' (Strongs Hebrew number 4514, M1383c) is used six times in
the OT, five times in the Nehemiah verses and one other time in SofS 5:5 where
it speaks of a 'lock' or 'bolt' placed on the door of a house. However, the bolt
for a house is more usually a different word (Strongs Hebrew number 5274, M1383)
used six times with this meaning (Judges 3:23-24, II Sam 13:17-18, SofS 4:12
It's difficult to know how the 'bolt' or 'lock' differed from the 'bar' in
gate construction (these English words convey their own meaning but the original
Hebrew isn't as obvious) but, seeing as the bars being burnt must have
represented a significant weakening of a gateway, it seems best to take it as
referring to strengthening wooden bars that were placed horizontally across the
gates of the city, from post to post.
We may apply the description of the burning bars to the 'gates of your land'
and see a much wider meaning here than simply it being a statement of the
indefensibility of the city - the point is that the entire land in which Nineveh
sits as the capital has become open, ready to be overthrown and subdued by a
3. Nahum 3:14-17
Because of the weakness highlighted in Nahum 3:12-13, Nahum urges the
Ninevites to pay attention to strengthening their defences. In the comments on
Nahum 2:1, we saw another line of command, encouraging the Ninevites to prepare
for the day of battle that they might be at their strongest to repel their
We noted there that it seemed to be a strange scenario - tell your enemy to
strengthen their defences so that, when you march against them, they'll have
little weakness. But the reason for such a pronouncement is that
'Nahum wants them to prepare against God's army, he wants them
to have no justified explanation as to why they were unable to repel them. In
other words, he wants them to know that God is fighting against them regardless
of their own military prowess. Nahum is taunting them to be at their best which,
he knows, won't be sufficient'
There are three main commands in Nahum 3:14.
Firstly, the Ninevites are urged to
'Draw water for the siege'
an initially strange command seeing as the city had a major river flowing
through its midst. But, although the city probably used the river to remove its
effluent, it would have needed a better supply of fresh water from springs and
wells to drink.
Nahpal cites a record that states that Sennacherib completed the construction
of a series of aqueducts and channels that not only brought water in to the city
but also provided much needed irrigation for the fields nearby. Before this
time, the people relied on showers of rain to supply their water needs.
But such a construction would always be in danger if an army was to advance
upon the city. Therefore, the command to the Ninevites is probably to store
water for herself in whatever means possible, in preparation for the impending
siege - whether in pottery vessels or the much larger water cisterns that would
have been constructed in solid bedrock (the geology of Nineveh may have made
this impossible but I don't have any way of determining this).
Secondly, they're told to
'Strengthen your forts'
or, better, 'fortifications' - the word 'forts' makes it sound as if
individual garrisons are being described. The instruction relates to the entire
complex of fortifications that protected Nineveh but, primarily, would be a
reference to the massive walls erected to protect those within.
Even though they may have considered them sufficient for the job intended,
Nahum tells them to start strengthening them to provide a more adequate
If we're right in our understanding of how the walls were breached (see on
Nahum 2:6) then the strength of the walls was irrelevant due to the undermining
of their foundations by the flooding of the Tigris.
Thirdly, Nahum continues by detailing his second command, telling the
'Go into the clay, tread the mortar, take hold of the brick mould'
The word translated 'go' (Strongs Hebrew number 935, M212) more correctly
implies an entry in to something that Nahpal describes as suggesting
'...total absorption in a project or circumstance...Immerse yourself in this
particular project. Get up to your elbows in mud'
This isn't meant as an invitation to them to visit their local do-it-yourself
brick supplier with some spare time they might have, but to invest their full
resources in the completion of a task that requires supreme urgency.
Besides, they wouldn't be able to buy enough bricks - they need to make their
own by trampling down the clay themselves (the RSV translates the word as
'mortar' but the different word employed to the previous one translated 'clay'
is probably not meant to be taken as referring to a different material but is a
way to repeat the thought yet not to be repetitive with the use of the same
Exertion is necessary to complete the task - this isn't a time for taking
their ease with the armies due to arrive at their gates to begin the siege.
The 'brick mould' (Strongs Hebrew number 4404, M1074i) is difficult to
understand fully but it occurs three times in the OT (II Sam 12:31, Jer 43:9).
NID comments that it
'...refers to some kind of brick or loam pavement into whose clay/cement
stones could be placed...'
but this doesn't help us to understand it in Nahum! It certainly appears to
refer to something used in the production of bricks in II Sam 12:31 and either
'brick mould' or 'brick kiln' wouldn't be out of place.
But the preceding command is to 'take hold of' the item, something that's
more reasonable to attribute to a smaller mould rather than the larger kiln.
The point being made is that the Ninevites must employ themselves to produce
bricks 'from beginning to end', from going into the clay beds to forming them
into usable items with which they can strengthen the fortifications of the
Do all that you can, says Nahum (Nahum 3:14), but it's all futile (Nahum
Nahum 3:15 opens with a word meaning 'There', 'In that location' and refers
us back to the strengthening of the walls urged upon the Ninevites by the
prophet. Not at the weakest point will the walls be breached, will the fires be
set that will consume the clay, will the sword be unleashed to massacre those in
the city - but at the strongest.
The most impregnable defence will be the least trustworthy.
When God is against a purpose or people, there really is no point in
bothering to try and defend yourself against Him. As the people of Nineveh
discovered many years earlier, the only defence is to render oneself
indefensible by admitting one's failings and throwing oneself on to Him for His
mercy (Jonah chapter 3).
Man has never learnt throughout the centuries that the appearance of strength
is just that - only an appearance. While men may be held at bay, when God
purposes an action, nothing will stand against it.
Concluding the act of destruction, Nahum writes
'[The sword and the fire] will devour you like the locust'
which poses problems. All four commentators believe that the sense is that
which would be given by adding the word 'devours' at the end of the verse. So
'The totality of destruction is compared to that by the grasshopper...which
sweeps away all in its path'
while Nahpal probably goes a bit too far when he comments (my italics)
'Fire shall devour, the sword cut down and the locust consume the entirety
of the city'
which makes it read as if, literally, the locust will eat the city. Or is he
saying that the locust is now being used as a symbol of the approaching
But, by adding an explanative phrase 'is devoured' at the end, the meaning is
radically changed. Instead of thinking of how the locust devours, the sentence
would speak about how the verse is devoured or destroyed.
There are problems with both interpretations. To see the locust as devouring
doesn't sit well with Nahum 3:15b which encourages the Ninevites themselves to
multiply like locusts. Indeed, there seems to be no sense to the lines for they
neither fit in with the preceding statements nor with what follows.
On the other hand, to see the locust as being devoured is difficult because
the naturally occurring insect is seldom destroyed by the sword and fire in
large numbers (in the immediate link, the idea would be that of the sword).
In order to give the last part of Nahum 3:15 some relevancy, therefore, the
latter must be adopted otherwise the statement seems to stand totally
independent of everything round it. So Nahum again encourages the Ninevites to
strengthen themselves for the day of battle by urging them to
'Multiply yourselves like the locust, multiply like the grasshopper'
Nahpal notes that the command is in both the masculine and feminine and so
probably relates to the totality of the inhabitants of the city.
In this case, however, the prophet has already declared that an increase in
their numbers will only have the effect of increasing those who will be slain.
Just as locusts go uncounted when they die, so will the Ninevites because of the
carnage that will fall upon the city.
There's a confusion in the words used in these two verses to represent the
insects. In a country that was frequently ravaged by the locust, more than one
word seems to have developed - but whether they refer to different stages of the
locust (were there naturalists in ancient Israel who made the locust their
study?) or to different types of the insect is now impossible to determine, just
as it is in the Book of Joel (the words used are S3218/M870a, S697/M2103a and
Whether Nahum had intended any differentiation by his use of the word is also
difficult to be sure about. Alternative words for the same creature may have
been employed simply to avoid a repetition of the same sound.
Nahum has just encouraged the Ninevites to increase their numbers in
preparation for the coming siege, that they might be stronger through numerical
advantage. Now the prophet turns a moment in reflection and notes that the city
'...increased [their] merchants more than the stars of the heavens'
Not much use, Nahum's saying, you've increased the wrong type of person. A
merchant is hardly going to be useful unless you can go to war with a yard of
linen and a bag full of sheep's wool (most of the armies I've read about tend
not to employ these items).
Continuing with the analogy of the locust representing the population, the
observation is that the merchants, so much a part of prosperous Nineveh, will
simply spread their wings and flee - presumably as soon as the first threat of
an invasion is suspected.
Merchants are after making money, not after fighting their corner to
protect a city when there are plenty more in the world where they can carry out
The RSV seems to have mistranslated the last part of the verse by rendering
'The locust spreads its wings and flies away'
The phrase 'spreads its wings' seems to be borrowed from Nahum 3:17 but the
word (Strongs Hebrew number 6584, M1845) usually means the stripping off of
one's clothes (for example, Gen 37:23) and such a sense of 'removal' should be
employed here of the locust.
The locust isn't being described as spreading its wings and flying away but
of stripping the foliage from a flourishing plant and then moving on to seek a
new food source (Nahsmi sees the stripping to be that of the removal of an old
skin which, although certainly in keeping with the meaning of the word, would
mean that the merchants leave everything behind them in their flight, their
wares being of little use to the Ninevites who needed people with swords in
The analogy is meant to be applied directly to the merchants for, although
they considered them to have brought prosperity to the city, they would simply
turn tail and run, taking their riches with them and leaving the stripped city
to stand on its own and fight for itself. They had already been mildly rapacious
in their trade, thought only of their own welfare and would be of no use in the
As such, the numbers in the city were misleading for those committed to stand
with her were fewer than was apparent from the hustle and bustle in the market
Therefore, Nahum encourages them to increase their numbers - not as they have
done in times past but with those who are able to stand alongside them and
Nahum has just noted that the merchants will take to flight, moving on, not
to be found again where they once fed. This is applied similarly to the princes
and scribes, again as evidence of the city's destruction but, more, that those
who are an integral part of the city seem to lose commitment to the place when
The word translated 'prince' (Strongs Hebrew number 4502, M1340d) is used
only once in the OT, TWOTOT noting that its precise meaning is uncertain. It
comes from a word group that includes the 'Nazirite' and usually means someone
who has been separated from something in order to be consecrated to perform a
specific function or task.
Nahsmi renders it 'pair of guards' (Nahbak, simply 'guards') but, in a
footnote, comments that 'your secret agents' is possible (I have no idea
We may not be going too far to see the word to be relating to those in the
religious service of the city, who were employed in the worship of the deities
in whom the Ninevites trusted. Certainly 'princes' seems to be the wrong type of
word and no allusion to royalty appears possible.
The 'scribes' of the RSV is also an interesting word (Strongs Hebrew number
2951, M820), occurring just twice in the OT, the other occasion being Jer 51:27
where someone is appointed to have oversight to arrange the attack against the
city of Babylon.
Nahsmi notes, because of its other use, that the word means 'military
recruiting officers'. Nahbak, however, comments that it comes from
'...the Akkadian word for "scribe" as a class of official at times involved
in military conscription duties'
and this would certainly fit in well with its use in Jer 51:27
The problem with these two words is that they seem to need to be connected in
purpose. Either they refer to the 'religious professionals' and 'scribes'
(Nineveh had one of the largest libraries within its walls and was the
archaeological dream of many when it was excavated) or else to two types of
military personnel who were employed slightly under the official army, perhaps
even more like civil leaders who were meant to lead the non-regular army and to
be able to identify those who could be pressed into regular service should the
The point of the passage, however, is to show that, when trouble comes, they
flee. The word translated 'fly away' by the RSV (Strongs Hebrew number 5074,
M1300) is used twenty-eight times in the AV and employed on four occasions of
armies and people who flee trouble (Ps 68:12, Is 21:15, 22:3, 33:3). Although
used of the locust here, its use alludes to a flight away from both war and
Nahbak speaks of them disappearing
'...at the slightest excuse'
but the point is that, surely, the approach of an invading army isn't
'slight' but 'life threatening'.
The analogy needs not to be pressed too hard for the grasshoppers or locusts
are numbed by the cold morning air and must wait for warmth to return before
they're able to fly away - although a natural phenomenon, Nahum uses the idea of
their flight only to emphasise his point.
Although immovable from their place, when trouble comes, they take flight,
never to be seen again. It's difficult to understand this verse to be referring
to their destruction and that they will no longer be found once the city has
been sacked, as the words more naturally intimate a self-interest that turns
into self-preservation without a moment's hesitation in a time of unprecedented
4. Nahum 3:18-19
Although it seems obvious that Nahum 3:18 is addressed to the king of
Assyria/Nineveh, the type of message being conveyed in Nahum 3:19 gives the
reader the impression that the city is being addressed as a conclusion to the
entire prophecy. However, this isn't the case as the pronouns remain both
masculine and singular throughout so that both verses must necessarily be
thought of as addressed to the king.
Had the city been the object of the pronouncement they would have been
feminine. In our interpretation of the message, therefore, this must be taken in
Having understood the person addressed, we next need to ask ourselves what
time period is being talked about.
That is, is this a comment on the ineffectuality of the shepherds and nobles
at the time of the prophetic message so that, as a people, the Ninevites are
each looking after their own little kingdom and aren't concerned with their
corporate welfare (as in the previous verses)?
Or are we meant to understand the words to be a comment on the condition of
the remnants of the Assyrian nation and inhabitants of Nineveh after the
invasion and conquest?
Certainly, Nahum 3:19 can be taken this way but commentators look to Nahum
3:18 as being a comment on the individualism of the Assyrian empire that
threatened the unity and that was, as a consequence, one of the reasons for the
We must first consider the last sentence of the verse. It reads
'Your people [O, king of Nineveh] are scattered on the mountains with none to
which, when such phraseology is used elsewhere in the Bible can be taken to
mean various things. For example, in I Kings 22:17 (Pp II Chron 18:16), Micaiah
the prophet announces that he
'...saw all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no
shepherd; and YHWH said, "These
have no master; let each return to his home in peace"'
which, although possible to be taken literally, means more that the people
had no unified purpose because the king of Israel was to be slain in the coming
battle. However, the idea is that a death will take place (that of the king of
Israel) that will disunite the nation. If we were to apply this directly, we'd
have to conclude that Nahum 3:18 referred to the time once the city had been
Alternately, in Ezek 34:5-6, the same imagery is used but, this time, the
idea seems to be not necessarily a geographic scattering (even though that seems
implied) but simply of a disunity - this time, however, the shepherds are still
in existence but because of their self-interest, they've left Israel to
spiritually wander, the shepherds giving no clear direction to the people.
The question, then, is whether the shepherds and nobles (I noted in Nahum 2:5
where the word translated 'nobles' occurs that it could refer to the elite
fighting men or to the tried and trusted generals) in Nahum 3:18 are meant to be
thought of as dead following the conquest, or inept prior to it taking place (I
note that the majority of places in the Scriptures seem to infer a scattering of
people when the subject is mentioned - Esther 3:8, Ps 44:11, 60:1, Jer 30:11,
31:10, Ezek 6:8, 11:16-17, 20:34,41, 24:12, 36:19, Joel 3:2, Zech 7:14, John
16:32, Acts 8:1,4, 11:19, James 1:1, I Peter 1:1 - but the idea of a spiritual
scattering is also mentioned - Mtw 9:36, 26:31, Mark 14:27, John 11:52).
So, we then have to decide whether the 'sleep' (Strongs Hebrew number 5123,
M1325) and 'slumber' (Strongs Hebrew number 7931, M2387) of the opening two
phrases should be taken as a lethargy to fulfil the responsibilities of their
position or, as used elsewhere, thought to be poetic phraseology representing
The first word occurs just the six times in the OT and is never used to
figuratively refer to death (Ps 76:5, 121:3-4, Isaiah 5:27, 56:10) but is
used to refer to lethargy and the failure to care for someone or something (the
last reference cited is possibly the best of them all for showing this).
The latter means more especially 'to dwell' in a wide variety of contexts and
comes from a root meaning 'to lie down'. It's used to refer to the dead in
Isaiah 26:19 but is used 129 times in the OT and this is the only occasion I was
able to find where it did so. It also means 'to rest' in Ps 55:6.
Because of the use of the word, it's difficult to accept that Nahum 3:18 can
refer to anything else but a present reality within Nineveh and that the
king of Assyria was being told (although these words would have been addressed
to Jerusalem and not to Nineveh) that the selfishness and self-interest
exemplified previously in Nahum 3:16-17 stretched right the way up to those who
had been given care over the flock of Assyria.
Nahbak thinks this problem is such that
'They will provide no help in the coming invasion'
but the point is that they are providing no help now against that day
when the invasion will come.
The present reality was that the people were already scattered,
figuratively speaking, and no longer a single entity, a unified force who would
stand up to be counted as one. When a strong force was to come against the city
(and, indeed, the entire kingdom), fall it would because their society had
already descended into a mindset that saw only what opportunities could be
gained for oneself.
The merchants (Nahum 3:16) would leave, the civil leadership (Nahum 3:17 -
it's difficult to precisely define this category of people as has been
previously noted) would fly away - and yet those charged with holding society
together (Nahum 3:18) were oblivious to the cracks that were already visible in
And this observation of the state of the Assyrian kingdom from a prophet who
we never know even knew that society first hand.
Nahsmi comments that the leaders are being spoken of as having been
'deactivated' but I'm not altogether sure what that means. It sounds like
they're one time Special Forces that have now become 'sleepers' awaiting a new
'activation' or 'mission'.
Finally, however, Nahum 3:19 turns to the time after the conquest when
Nineveh lies in ruins and the enemy has triumphed over her. The words are still
addressed to the king of Nineveh but, this time, posthumously but prophetically!
Or, being spoken of before Nineveh lies in ruins but, when the time comes, being
spoken of as a present experience.
The king has had his kingdom torn away from him, his wound is 'grievous' and
the cut can't be healed. This isn't a small defeat that can be bounced back from
but a fatal severing of king and people that will never be cemented back
together - this is more a case of Humpty-Dumpty than something we could slap a
The RSV is correct to translate the opening line (my italics)
'There is no assuaging your hurt...'
for the word (Strongs Hebrew number 03545, M957b) occurs only the once and is
associated with another that means 'to darken' or 'to restrain' (in the sense of
something becoming diminished). Nahum notes, then, that the king's hurt cannot
be calmed or made less severe.
The word translated 'grievous' (Strongs Hebrew number 2470, M655) more
rightly means 'sick'. Nahpal renders the word with 'fatal' which is too strong a
word - better is Nahsmi's 'incurable' which gives the first two phrases the
meaning that the hurt can't be alleviated and the wound from which the hurt has
come can't be cured.
The prophet is trying to convey the permanent nature of the overthrow and its
repercussive effects through time. This isn't a small setback but a final
settling of an account that will be felt for ages to come.
But there's also poetic license here for, once the city is overthrown, the
king of Assyria will be no more. How could Nahum say that he'll still suffer the
permanent affliction brought on him?
Although addressed to the king, the words must necessarily also have
application to the people themselves, the king sitting as the representative of
them all. The damage is announced to the authority of the city but the effects
will be felt by one and all under him.
Nahpal sees the wound mentioned here as being directed at the king reigning
at the time of the prophecy's delivery. While this is quite possible (but what
'hurt' would the king actually be feeling at that time? That the wound was
present is certain but the king would probably have been oblivious to it), it
seems more likely that, although the state of Nineveh is being declared to the
present king - and the rejoicing over the present king's future death
will take on the events described - it's a foreshadowing of what will take place
on that future date when the final king of Nineveh and Assyria will fall.
The people who listened to Nahum speak these words may well have understood
the prophet to mean that the overthrow would take place in the present king's
The present state of the city (Nahum 3:18) is the wound that's incurable
(Nahum 3:19a) but the wound will show itself further when Nineveh is besieged by
an invading army and the inhabitants' disunity becomes evident.
It's said of all those who'll hear of the king's/city's destruction that they
'...clap their hands over you'
I noted in my notes on 'Praise and Worship' that the idea and use of the clap is so far
removed from what takes place in the present day Church as to be almost
There are two possibilities as to the exact meaning in Nahum. Firstly,
there's the expression of sheer
delight as in Ps 47:1 (Cp v.2-4. See also Ps 98:8, Is 55:12) because of the
victory that has outworked, a demonstration of joy over a victory which has now
The clapping of one's hands is
also used as an expression of delight but more as an act of ridicule over a
defeated enemy (Job 27:23, Lam 2:15, Ezek 25:6) and this appears to be its prime
Both joy and derision seem to go hand in hand though, where no enemy is
defeated, the clapping of the hands would only be expressive of joy. But, where
both are intrinsic parts of the one victory, clapping can be seen to express
both joy with the result and derision over those who were opposed to
one's own or God's will.
Nahbak misses the point when he notes that
'Rejoicing is not in this context gleeful gloating at the misfortune of
others...an attitude which is unacceptable for the people of God. Rather, it is
pleasure at the vindication of God and His promises'
for the verse is not announcing what God's people will do but what will
happen when the news comes to 'all who hear news'. It's a safe bet that there
would have been 'gleeful gloating' among the nations.
The reason for such joy and derision over the king's/kingdom's downfall is
that all people have experienced their 'unceasing evil', a fairly accurate
rendering of the words.
The prophet isn't saying that the Ninevites made a few wrong decisions and
that, by them, they brought problems and suffering to people - but that their
actions were continually a cause for concern and tribulation for the
people who were under their influence.
Even the nations that they ruled over would rejoice because they reigned
despotically, building their own welfare at the expense of all others. When the
yoke of their servitude was to be finally thrown off, not one person who had
been subjugated by them would find the time to shed a tear for them - rather,
they'd clap their hands in joy that their yoke had been removed from off their
I note that Nahum is refreshingly free from any Messianic content.
The message is simply that Nineveh and, therefore, Assyria is coming to an
end because they've violated the Mosaic covenant that YHWH has made with His
people (Nahum 1:2-3b), that they've been eager to sin (Nahum 3:1,4), even that
they've abused the commission given to them by YHWH Himself (Isaiah 10:12).
Nowhere do we read of God's appointed King coming to set up an earthly base
from which He'll go out and enforce the rule of Heaven on earth.
Instead, we read that kingdoms will cease at God's instigation, that trouble
will come upon peoples but that that will not be a sign of the end (Mtw
24:6). It seems that the Church has been far too eager to shout 'Rapture!' (an
unbiblical word, as well) as soon as the going gets tough or there've been signs
that society is starting to crumble apart.
Kingdoms will rise, be established, decline and, eventually, be overthrown by
the next kingdom to rise, to be established and to decline. Sowing the return of
Jesus into every event is ludicrous and misleading. The overthrow of western
civilisation will not inevitably herald the Second Coming but it does
show God still at work within the nations of the world, reigning over them (Ps
I also note that the idea of destruction and overthrow have become a big part
of people's thoughts (or, perhaps better, it's been discovered by me that they
were, all along, a big part of their thoughts). I had no idea when I published
Glubb's 'Fate of Empires' on the web site that the page would become so popular,
political commentators and concerned bloggers linking to it like it's
fashionable to do so.
In the last two months, the web statistics of access to the web space I
maintain has shown that about 9% of all visitors have come to access this page
(some web pages have higher percentages, by the way) but that the web page I
produced to show the trigger from Scripture that needs to be read alongside
Glubb's work has been accessed by only
0.4% of visitors (I linked to my notes from the introduction to Glubb's
I have to conclude that mostly unbelievers are accessing the web page,
concerned at the evidence that Glubb provided to show that kingdoms are not
forever and that their fall can be quite easily determined by assessing the
state of the kingdom.
Glubb's work is an interesting read - for believers and unbelievers alike -
but what should be more important for the believer is that God's hand can be
seen behind the phenomenon. More, that He's given a clear indication in the
Scriptures as to why He overthrows nations and kingdoms.
What Glubb identified was simply a series of human events that culminated in
YHWH judging and removing. Men go the way they choose to go and disaster will
come upon them, no amount of legislating will ever change the heart.
The only way to stop the destruction of society is not by political reform
(as many of the bloggers and commentators maintain) but by a spiritual rebirth.
If the latter doesn't happen, disaster will always be an inevitability that will
soon descend upon each and every world power.
That the work of Nahum is a forgery (that is, written after the events
of 612BC when Nineveh fell but having the appearance of having been written
prior to those events) seems to me to be more bizarre than if it's 'what it says
on the tin'.
Nahum (or the person who decided to commit themselves to papyrus in that
name) would have thought to himself
'I want to establish the faith of my fellow Judahites so, if I distribute a
prophecy and say that it was given to me twenty years ago, everyone will believe
me because they want to believe it'
I find it hard to accept, firstly, that it wouldn't have been seen for what
it is - after all, the faithful would surely have objected that it had
never been even so much as hinted at before the last week. But, secondly, Judah
was apostate between 612BC, the date of the destruction of Nineveh, and 586BC,
when Jerusalem finally fell, exiles were taken into Babylon and the land was
Was Nahum, then, trying to say
'Look, guys, if Nineveh was overthrown by YHWH then won't He do the same to
The problem is that that's not the message of Nahum - we don't get a three
chapter summing up of his past actions in human history and an exhortation that
He'll do so again.
Not only are the prophecies concerning the judgment on Nineveh spoken of as
being in the future to the delivery but the basis of the judgment is on God's
faithfulness to the covenant that's been violated by the Assyrians (Nahum 1:2-3b
- see the commentary on those verses).
Someone faithful to YHWH, living between 612 and 586BC, would have known well
that Judah couldn't have pleaded their cause before YHWH on the grounds of
their faithfulness and of the threat that Babylon posed. They would have
been forced into agreeing with Jeremiah that the land and the city were doomed
to fall in to the hands of the Babylonians.
If there was any conclusion to be drawn from Nahum's three chapters - if it
had been written post-612BC - it was that God would deal with Babylon in
the same way as He'd dealt with Nineveh if they returned to Him
But, as we've already seen, not even the sniff of a mention of the
Babylonians is found in Nahum and neither even the remotest possibility that the
past is being appealed to for a return to God.
Starting to push the composition into the early years of the exile cause the
overthrow of Thebes to be almost a century in the past and we know from
Xenophon's comments as he passed by that way that even the memory of what the
mound was seems to have dissolved with time.
Diodorus Siculus' account of the siege, on the other hand, has major
inaccuracies in the text and we see how an account written after the events can
be so inaccurate as to be questionable on points that we cannot ascertain.
The further we push the date of Nahum's composition into the exile or, worse,
into a composition of the post-exilic period, the more we must expect there to
be inaccuracies and statements that are demonstrable, more so because written
accounts of the siege weren't available and subsequent writers felt at liberty
to fill in the gaps (one giant gap, actually).
But none exist.
We are forced, therefore, into accepting the work as it appears to be
presented to us - a prophetic word spoken before the events were to take place
and foretold by Nahum under the inspiration and leading of YHWH Himself.
References and Sources
I have also cited some other works in the text (especially web sources) when I had only an intention of quoting from them once. All Scripture quotes are from the RSV unless otherwise stated.
AEHL - The Archaeological Encyclopaedia of the Holy Land (Revised Edition), Edited by Avraham Negev, Thomas Nelson Publishers
BBE - Bible in Basic English, 1965, part of version 2.00.02 of the OnLine Bible's compendium of translations.
Cansdale - 'Animals of Bible Lands' by G S Cansdale, Paternoster Press
Chambers Dictionary - 'Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary' 1972 Edition, W&R Chambers Limited
M followed by a number - See TWOTOT below
Motyer - 'The Prophecy of Isaiah' by Alec Motyer, IVP
Nahbak - Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, David W Baker, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Inter-Varsity Press
Nahoza - Nahum's Vision Concerning Nineveh, Charles Ozanne, The Open Bible Trust
Nahpal - The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, O Palmer Robertson, New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Compnay
Nahsmi - Micah-Malachi, Ralph L Smith, Word Biblical Commentary, Word Books
NID - New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, General Editor Willem A VanGemeren, Paternoster Press
NIDBA - New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, E M Blaiklock and R K Harrison (editors), the Zondervan Corporation
Strabo - 'Strabo's Geography' literally translated by Hamilton and Falconer in 3 volumes, George Bell and Sons, published 1903 (volumes 1 and 2) and 1906 (volume 3)
Strongs Hebrew/Greek number xxxx - Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, James Strong. Sometimes a number is simply prefixed by the letter 'S' but it should be obvious when Strong's is being referred to.
TWOTOT - Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (2 volumes), R Laird Harris (Editor), The Moody Press. An M number represents the number assigned to the word by the work.
Zondervan - The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopaedia of the Bible, The Zondervan Corporation, First Edition.