Bible Book Number 34—Nahum
Place Written: Judah
Writing Completed: Before 632 B.C.E.
1. What is known of ancient Nineveh?
“THE pronouncement against Nineveh.” (Nah. 1:1) Nahum’s prophecy opens with these ominous words. But why did he make this declaration of doom? What is known of ancient Nineveh? Her history is summarized by Nahum in three words: “city of bloodshed.” (3:1) Two mounds located on the east bank of the Tigris River opposite the modern city of Mosul, in northern Iraq, mark the site of ancient Nineveh. It was heavily fortified by walls and moats and was the capital of the Assyrian Empire in the latter part of its history. However, the origin of the city goes back to the days of Nimrod, the “‘mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah.’ . . . He went forth into Assyria and set himself to building Nineveh.” (Gen. 10:9-11) Nineveh thus had a bad beginning. She became specially renowned during the reigns of Sargon, Sennacherib, Esar-haddon, and Ashurbanipal, in the closing period of the Assyrian Empire. By wars and conquests, she enriched herself with loot and became famed on account of the cruel, inhuman treatment that her rulers meted out to the multitude of captives.* Says C. W. Ceram, on page 266 of his book Gods, Graves and Scholars (1954): “Nineveh was impressed on the consciousness of mankind by little else than murder, plunder, suppression, and the violation of the weak; by war and all manner of physical violence; by the deeds of a sanguinary dynasty of rulers who held down the people by terror and who often were liquidated by rivals more ferocious than themselves.”
2. Of what kind was Nineveh’s religion?
2 What of Nineveh’s religion? She worshiped a great pantheon of gods, many of whom were imported from Babylon. Her rulers invoked these gods as they went out to destroy and exterminate, and her greedy priests egged her campaigns of conquest on, looking forward to rich repayment from the booty. In his book Ancient Cities (1886, page 25), W. B. Wright says: “They worshiped strength, and would say their prayers only to colossal idols of stone, lions and bulls whose ponderous limbs, eagle wings, and human heads were symbols of strength, courage, and victory. Fighting was the business of the nation, and the priests were incessant fomenters of war. They were supported largely from the spoils of conquest, of which a fixed percentage was invariably assigned them before others shared, for this race of plunderers was excessively religious.”
3. (a) In what way is the meaning of Nahum’s name appropriate? (b) To what period does Nahum’s prophecy belong?
3 Nahum’s prophecy, though short, is packed with interest. All that we know of the prophet himself is contained in the opening verse 1:1: “The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.” His name (Hebrew, Na·chumʹ) means “Comforter.” His message was certainly no comfort to Nineveh, but to God’s true people, it spelled sure and lasting relief from an implacable and mighty foe. It is of comfort, too, that Nahum makes no mention of the sins of his own people. Although the site of Elkosh is not definitely known, it seems probable that the prophecy was written in Judah. (Nah. 1:15) The fall of Nineveh, which occurred in 632 B.C.E., was still future when Nahum recorded his prophecy, and he compares this event to the fall of No-amon (Thebes, in Egypt) that took place shortly before this. (3:8) Hence, Nahum must have written his prophecy sometime during this period.
4. What qualities of writing are apparent in the book of Nahum?
4 The style of the book is distinctive. It contains no superfluous words. Its vigor and realism are in keeping with its being part of the inspired writings. Nahum excels in descriptive, emotional, and dramatic language, as well as in dignified expression, clearness of imagery, and graphically striking phraseology. (1:2-8, 12-14; 2:4, 12; 3:1-5, 13-15, 18, 19) Most of the first chapter appears to be in the style of an acrostic poem. (1:8, footnote) Nahum’s style is enriched by the singleness of his theme. He has utter abhorrence for Israel’s treacherous foe. He sees nothing but the doom of Nineveh.
5. What proves the authenticity of Nahum’s prophecy?
5 The authenticity of Nahum’s prophecy is proved by the accuracy of its fulfillment. In Nahum’s day, who else but a prophet of Jehovah would have dared to forecast that the proud capital of the Assyrian world power could be breached at the “gates of the rivers,” her palace be dissolved, and she herself become “emptiness and voidness, and a city laid waste”? (2:6-10) The events that followed showed that the prophecy was indeed inspired of God. The annals of the Babylonian king Nabopolassar describe the capture of Nineveh by the Medes and the Babylonians: “The city [they turned] into ruin-hills and hea[ps (of debris) . . . ].”* So complete was the ruin of Nineveh that even its site was forgotten for many centuries. Some critics came to ridicule the Bible on this point, saying that Nineveh could never have existed.
6. What has been uncovered at the site of ancient Nineveh that vindicates the accuracy of Nahum?
6 However, adding further to the evidence of Nahum’s authenticity, the site of Nineveh was discovered, and excavations were begun there in the 19th century. It was estimated that millions of tons of earth would have to be moved to excavate it completely. What has been unearthed in Nineveh? Much that supports the accuracy of Nahum’s prophecy! For example, her monuments and inscriptions testify to her cruelties, and there are the remains of colossal statues of winged bulls and lions. No wonder Nahum spoke of her as “the lair of lions”!—2:11.*
7. What supports the canonicity of the book of Nahum?
7 The canonicity of Nahum is shown by the book’s being accepted by the Jews as part of the inspired Scriptures. It is completely in harmony with the rest of the Bible. The prophecy is uttered in the name of Jehovah, to whose attributes and supremacy it bears eloquent testimony.
CONTENTS OF NAHUM
8. What doom is pronounced for Nineveh, but what good news for Judah?
8 Pronouncement of Jehovah against Nineveh (1:1-15). “Jehovah is a God exacting exclusive devotion and taking vengeance.” With these words the prophet sets the scene for “the pronouncement against Nineveh.” (1:1, 2) Though Jehovah is slow to anger, see him now as he expresses vengeance by wind and storm. Mountains rock, hills melt, and the earth heaves. Who can stand before the heat of his anger? Nonetheless, Jehovah is a stronghold for those who seek refuge in him. But Nineveh is doomed. She will be exterminated by a flood, and “distress will not rise up a second time.” (1:9) Jehovah will blot out her name and her gods. He will bury her. In refreshing contrast, there is good news for Judah! What is it? A publisher of peace calls on them to celebrate their festivals and pay their vows, for the enemy, the “good-for-nothing person,” is doomed. “In his entirety he will certainly be cut off.”—1:15.
9. What prophetic view do we get of the defeat of Nineveh?
9 Foreview of Nineveh’s destruction (2:1–3:19). Nahum issues a taunting challenge to Nineveh to reinforce herself against an oncoming scatterer. Jehovah will regather his own, ‘the pride of Jacob and of Israel.’ See the shield and the crimson garb of his men of vital energy and the fiery iron fittings of his “war chariot in the day of his getting ready”! War chariots “keep driving madly” in the streets, running like lightnings. (2:2-4) Now we get a prophetic view of the battle. The Ninevites stumble and hasten to defend the wall but to no avail. The river gates open, the palace dissolves, and the slave girls moan and beat upon their hearts. The fleeing men are commanded to stand still, but no one turns back. The city is plundered and laid waste. Hearts melt. Where now is this lair of lions? The lion has filled his cave with prey for his whelps, but Jehovah declares: “Look! I am against you.” (2:13) Yes, Jehovah will burn up Nineveh’s war machine, send a sword to devour her young lions, and cut off her prey from the earth.
10. As what is Nineveh exposed, and how is her end further described?
10 “Woe to the city of bloodshed . . . full of deception and of robbery.” Hear the lash of the whip and the rattling of the wheel. See the dashing horse, the leaping chariot, the mounted horseman, the flame of the sword, and the lightning of the spear—and then, the heavy mass of carcasses. “There is no end to the dead bodies.” (3:1, 3) And why? It is because she has ensnared nations with her prostitutions and families with her sorceries. A second time Jehovah declares: “Look! I am against you.” (3:5) Nineveh will be exposed as an adulteress and will be despoiled, her fate being no better than that of No-amon (Thebes), whom Assyria took into captivity. Her fortresses are like ripe figs, “which, if they get wiggled, will certainly fall into the mouth of an eater.” (3:12) Her warriors are like women. Nothing can save Nineveh from fire and sword. Her guardsmen will flee like a locust swarm on a sunny day, and her people will be scattered. The king of Assyria will know that there is no relief, nor is there healing for this catastrophe. All those hearing the report will clap their hands, for all have suffered from the badness of Assyria.
11. What fundamental Bible principles are illustrated in Nahum?
11 The prophecy of Nahum illustrates some fundamental Bible principles. The opening words of the vision repeat God’s reason for giving the second of the Ten Commandments: “Jehovah is a God exacting exclusive devotion.” Immediately thereafter he makes known the certainty of his “taking vengeance against his adversaries.” Assyria’s cruel pride and pagan gods could not save her from the execution of Jehovah’s judgment. We can be confident that in due course Jehovah will likewise mete out justice to all the wicked. “Jehovah is slow to anger and great in power, and by no means will Jehovah hold back from punishing.” Thus Jehovah’s justice and supremacy are exalted against the background of his extermination of mighty Assyria. Nineveh did become “emptiness and voidness, and a city laid waste!”—1:2, 3; 2:10.
12. What restoration does Nahum announce, and how may his prophecy be linked with the Kingdom hope?
12 In contrast to Nineveh’s being ‘entirely cut off,’ Nahum announces restoration for ‘the pride of Jacob and of Israel.’ Jehovah also sends happy tidings to his people: “Look! Upon the mountains the feet of one bringing good news, one publishing peace.” These tidings of peace have a connection with God’s Kingdom. How do we know this? It is apparent because of Isaiah’s use of the same expression, but to which he adds the words: “The one bringing good news of something better, the one publishing salvation, the one saying to Zion: ‘Your God has become king!’” (Nah. 1:15; 2:2; Isa. 52:7) In turn, the apostle Paul at Romans 10:15 applies the expression to those whom Jehovah sends forth as Christian preachers of good news. These proclaim the “good news of the kingdom.” (Matt. 24:14) True to the meaning of his name, Nahum provides much comfort for all who seek the peace and salvation that come with God’s Kingdom. All of these will surely realize that ‘Jehovah is good, a stronghold in the day of distress for those seeking refuge in him.’—Nah. 1:7.
Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. B. Pritchard, 1974, page 305; brackets and parentheses theirs; Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, page 958.