Isagogical1 Introduction to the Prophecy of Nahum.

By Prof. S. Burnham,

Hamilton Theological Seminary, Hamilton, N. Y.

Taken from THE HEBREW STUDENT Volume 2 Issue 2 October 1882


1. Canonicity. The grounds on which the Book of Nahum must be assigned a place in the Canon of the Old Testament, are:

(1) The Claim made in the book itself.

In the title (i. 1), it is said that the book is a record of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. The word for vision is, in the Hebrew text, חָזוׁן, a word used generally, if not exclusively to denote a divine revelation. The book, therefore, claims for itself inspiration.

The use of the word מַשָּׂא in the same verse, is also a virtual claim to inspiration. For this word is a technical term used often by the prophets to introduce messages which they announced as the word of God.

Nor is there evidence to show that i. 1 is not an integral part of the prophecy, and so not the words of the prophet himself. Indeed, unless this verse be taken as the prophet’s own introduction to his book, the transition in i. 8, a, becomes meaningless, and the use and reference of the feminine pronoun found at that place, are unintelligible.

(2) The Character of the Contents of the book.

Although relating entirely to the downfall of the Assyrian power, and the destruction of its capital city Nineveh, and therefore, not treating directly either of the chosen people, or of its faith and its hopes, the book is, nevertheless, highly religious in its character and teachings. These teachings, moreover, touch some of the central truths of the Scriptures, and are in profound and happy accord with doctrines set forth in both the Old and the New Testaments.

The sublime and spiritual delineation of the character of God in i. 2-7, is the basis on which the prophet rests the threatenings and the promises of the book. All the rest of the prophecy is, so to speak, the application in a particular case of the general principles there laid down. So that, in depth and accuracy of spiritual insight, Nahum ranks with those who, in the Old Testament age, were most profoundly taught of God.

(3) Tradition, both Jewish and Christian.

A place in the Canon has never been denied to Nahum, either by Jewish writers or by Christian councils. Nor has any individual writer in the early church omitted the Book of Nahum from his list of the canonical writings.

Indirectly, therefore, the book may be said to have, as an evidence of its canonicity,

(4) Endorsement by Christ and the Apostles.

For it must have formed a part of the “prophets” which they recognized as of divine authority.

But there is no direct quotation from the book in the New Testament. Certainly, none that could be used as a proof of its canonicity. Some have thought there is a reference to i. 7 in 2nd Tim. ii. 19 ; to 15 in Rom. x. 15, and to iii. 4 in Rev. xviii. 3. But all these cases are doubtful, or are, at best, mere allusions such as would show nothing as. to the inspired, or the uninspired character of their source.

2. Author and Date of Composition.

Of the author himself, we have no other knowledge than that which is given in the short introduction to his book (i. 1), which sets before us his name and the place of his birth.

The time in which the prophecy was written, can, in like way, be- determined only from the allusions in the book itself, studied in the light of sacred and profane history.

If, then, we make i. 9-14 refer prophetically to the invasion by Sennacherib, the destruction of his army, and his own subsequent death, which seems, on the whole, the most satisfactory interpretation, the prophecy must be assigned to the latter half of the reign of Hezekiah, and to some time before the invasion by Sennacherib, i. e., to 712-700 B. C. The prophecy is thus assigned by Eusebius, Jerome, Marck, Kreenen, and Henderson.

But there is a great variety of views among critics as to the time of composition. The prophecy is assigned to some time after the invasion by Sennacherib, but still in the reign of Hezekiah, i, e., to 701-697 B, C., by Vitringa, Havernick, De Wette, Keil, Kuenen, and Bleek. It is assigned to the time of Manasseh, i. e., to about 660 B. C., by Grotius, Strauss, Kleinert, Jarchi, and Schrader. It is put in the time of Josiah,. i. e., about 636 B. C , by Hitzig and Ewald.

3. Place of Composition.

The place in which the book was written, is no more certain than the time of its composition. The only means we have for determining this matter, are the mention of the birthplace of the prophet in i. 1, and the character of the contents of the book itself.

Even from the name of the prophet’s native place, two views are deduced.

Some claim that the name Elkosh denoted a village in Assyria now called Alkush, and that, therefore, the book was written in Assyria. But Elkosh is first mentioned in a letter by a Monk of the 16th century, and seems to have no claims to antiquity. It is more probable, therefore, that the name passed from the book to the village, than from the village into the book.

Others think that Elkosh was a village in Galilee. This view rests upon the authority of Jerome, who says that Elkosh was in Galilee, and gives as the reason for this opinion, that there was in Galilee in his own day a village called Elcesi, which had been pointed out to him by his guide, and was well known to the Jews.

If, however, the prophet was born in Galilee, we must yet suppose that his prophecy, if written in Palestine at all, was written in Judea, and not in the northern kingdom. For, at the time of any of the dates to which the book is assigned by the critics cited in section 2, the kingdom of Israel had perished, and there could have been no reason for giving such a message as the book of Nalium to the motley population of the north. It is not even probable that a prophet of the true God would have been found dwelling among such a people.

The name of the prophet’s birthplace seems then, to point to the land of Judah, as the place in which the book was written. It remains to consider the evidence afforded by the contents of the book.

It is urged in favor of the view that the prophecy was written in Assyria:

(a) That it contains some Assyrian words. But no more, it may be replied, than the previous relations of Palestine to Assyria would have made possible to a Judean writer, and even would have been likely to cause him to use.

(b) That the vivid description of Nineveh contained in Chap. ii. could only have come from one writing in the immediate vicinity of that city. But it may be answered that the delineation is no more specific and vivid than any well informed Palestinian writer of that day could have given of a city so famous.

(c) That the evident purpose of the prophet was to foretell the doom of Nineveh ; and that, therefore, the prophecy, being for that city, was written in its neighborhood. But it would seem that the main purpose of the prophet was rather to comfort the people of God by declaring the doom of their proud and mighty foe, than to give any warning, or to announce any judgment, to the foe himself.

On the other hand, it may be said in favor of Judea as the place of the composition of the book:

(a) That the beautiful imagery in Chap. i. 4-5, especially that which makes use of Carmel, Bashan, and Lebanon, is such as would be naturally employed by a resident of Judea, but would not be so likely to appear in a book written in Assyria.

(b) That some of the expressions used by the prophet, seem to be borrowed from Isaiah, and that this indicates an intimacy to some extent between him and Isaiah, who, according to the two most probable dates assigned to the book of Nahum, must have been his contemporary.

(c) That the reference to the coming invasion by Sennacherib, is made entirely from the point of view of one living in Judea.

(d) That the purpose of the prophet is to assure and comfort the people of Judea, which he could have little hope of doing, if he were writing in distant Assyria.

4. The Purpose of the Prophet in the book.

If we take the first date assigned to the book in section 2, as the true date for it, and suppose that the prophecy was written in Judea, then the contents of the book make it clear that the aim of the prophet was to prepare the nation for the coming invasion by Sennacherib, by creating in their minds a confidence that this invasion would come to naught, that the invader himself would miserably perish, and that finally the great and proud city that should send him forth, would be utterly destroyed.

It would be quite natural that such a purpose should produce the book, for a like purpose gave birth to some of the utterances of the prophet’s great contemporary, Isaiah.

The prophecy, when taken in connection with the book of Jonah, will be found to teach great and valuable spiritual lessons, though it must be granted that it is more than doubtful if the presentation of these truths formed any part of the prophet’s own purpose.

In the book of Jonah, we learn that God is no respecter of persons, but that in every nation, he that works righteousness, is accepted of Him. We see here penitent Ninevah receiving the salvation which, by the grace of God, sincere repentance always brings to a human soul.

In Nahum, on the other hand, we see the same nation despising the goodness of God, and, in deceit and cruelty, in persistent wickedness, receiving the persistent sinner’s doom. We find also, in this book, that the same God, because he is ever the same, forgave before, and will now destroy; and we learn in Nahum not less than in the Apocalypse, to dread the wrath of the Lamb.

5. The Analysis of the book.

Judah need not fear; for crafty and cruel Nineveh, because of her enmity to Jehovah, shall surely perish.

I. Jehovah, a jealous God, inflicts vengeance upon his enemies, but is a fortress for his people in every trouble, i. 1-7:

1. The Theme is Nineveh: 1.

2. Jehovah will inflict vengeance upon all his enemies: 2.

3. Yet he is long-suffering: 3, a in part.

4. But he has all the right necessary to make him able to inflict vengeance according to his will: 3, a-6.

5. For his own people, however, he is a refuge in very time of trouble: 7.

II. This God will deliver Judah from the yoke of Assyria, and destroy that nation, and its capital city Nineveh: i. 8-ii. 1.

1. Since God is what he is, Ninevah must perish: 8.

2. Her invading army under Sennacherib, her king, shall be destroyed: 9-12, a.

3. By this overthrow of Sennacherib, Judah shall be set free from the yoke of Assyria: 12, b-13.

4. Though Sennacherib himself is suffered to return to his own land, even he shall not escape the vengeance of God: 14.

5. The overthrow of Sennacherib, shall be followed by peace and joy in Judah: ii. 1.

III. The Means, Manner and Cause of this destruction of Nineveh: ii. 2-iii. 7.

1. The Means: The invasion by the Medes and Babylonians: ii. 2-6.

(a) The approach and attack by the invading army: 2-5.

(b) Nineveh’s preparations for defense: 6.

2. The Manner: ii. 7-14.

(a) [With water, (possibly): 7.]

(b) With pillage and devastation: 8-13.

(c) With tire and sword: 14.

3. The Cause: The cruelty and craft of Nineveh: iii. 1-7.

IV. As Thebes could not be delivered out of God’s hand, so nothing shall save Nineveh from his vengeance: iii. 8-9.

1. If greater Thebes could not escape when her time came, how can Nineveh hope to defy God’s vengeance? 9-13.

2. All effort shall be in vain; no might shall save her; the doomed city shall perish: 14-19.


1) Isagogical - That department of theological study which treats of the books forming the canon of Scripture, individually and collectively, their authorship, the date and place of their composition, their contents, style, inspiration, and any particular questions connected with them. Also called Biblical introduction.