By Barnard C. Taylor
Parallel reading: 2 Chronicles 32, 33; Isaiah 10:5-27-
1. Date and Occasion
There is nothing in the title of Nahum to indicate the time of the prophecy, but the contents of the book help to fix the date within narrow limits. The reference (3:8) to No-Amon of Egypt (Thebes), which was overthrown by the Assyrians 664 B. C, would indicate that the fall of that city had already taken place, perhaps recently. Nahum prophesied then after that date. He foretells the fall of Nineveh, which occurred 606 B. C., and thus his prophecy was before that date. Since he was a prophet, and not a historian, we need not suppose that what he describes was already beginning when he wrote. He was in Judah, not at Nineveh, and was not an eye-witness to the invasion of Nineveh which he portrays.
His prediction of Nineveh’s fall did not require an actual oppression of Judah by Assyria at the time of his prophecy. Assyria had been an enemy long enough, and her cruel oppression had been burdensome enough, to give a sufficient occasion for the threat of her destruction that Nahum makes.
The conjecture that the first chapter of this book was not written by Nahum, but belongs to the post-exilic period, lacks certainty at least. Its thought is as appropriate to the time of Nahum as to any later time. Confidence in the hope of the overthrow of the enemies of Judah did not originate late. The book may be studied, so far as its teaching is concerned, as a unit.
Two centuries before the time of Nahum Assyria was a mighty power in the east, and subdued in repeated campaigns the countries lying to the west of her own territory, including Israel in the days of Ahab and Jehu. Then the power of Assyria declined, but rose again (745) under the reign of Tiglath-pileser III. This king overthrew Damascus, and made Judah tributary. (732 B. C.) This was the first time that there had been a direct contact between Assyria and Judah, and except for a part of the reign of Hezekiah, who sought independence of this foreign power, Judah remained subject to Assyria till the dominance of the latter ceased with the death of her great king Ashur-banipal. (625 B. C.)
During this time of Assyria’s sway, and while she was yet strong, Nahum tells of her fall.
2. The Theme
All of this prophecy is about the fall of Nineveh. Nahum has no message of condemnation for Judah, nor message of promise, except in the assurance of the destruction of Judah’s enemy, which furnishes ground for the one direct word of comfort, ch. 1:13, 15.
The prophecy has in its beginning a summary of the teaching that belonged to the destruction that God would bring upon Nineveh. The first chapter asserts the might of Jehovah against those who rise up against him, declaring that he will cut them off forever. In form the threat is terrific.
The description of the destruction of Nineveh is exceedingly vivid. The language of this prophecy is recognized as surpassing in sublimity and fire, in intensity of force and picturesqueness. The reader will gain much in ability to realize the meaning of the prophet’s words by adopting the present tense instead of the future throughout most of chs. 2 and 3.
The prediction of the fall of the Assyrians by Nahum does not stand alone. Isaiah had declared that they should be destroyed after God had used them to punish his people. (Isa. 10:5-27.) Hosea and Amos foretold the captivity of Israel by Assyria, and predicted the return of God’s people from exile, which would imply the fall of the Assyrian power.
The reason for this destruction is given by Nahum. It was not that Nineveh had been the seat of idolatry, nor a cruel power destroying the nations merely. Nineveh was condemned because of her hostility to Jehovah. She had imagined evil against Jehovah, 1:11. This is the usual ground of condemnation of the heathen found in the prophets.
3. The Course of Thought
Chapter 1 is a psalm setting forth the general thought that Jehovah punishes his enemies, and is a stronghold for those who put their trust in him. He is so almighty that none should hope to withstand him. They who think evil against him shall be like thorns and stubble in the fire. The enemy had put a yoke upon God’s people, but it should be broken, and Judah shall resume her service to Jehovah in peace.
Ch. 2 gives the description of the siege of Nineveh and the reason for it, ver. 1, 2; the tumult inside of the city, ver. 3-5; the fall of the city, ver. 6, 7; the flight of her many inhabitants, ver. 8; the looting of the city, ver. 9, 10; Nineveh, though she had torn her prey like a lion, should perish, ver. 11-13.
In ch. 3, after pronouncing woe upon the city because it was full of bloody plunder, ver. 1, the prophet returns to a most graphic description of the conflict, ver. 2, 3. Then the shame and degradation of Nineveh is threatened because of her idolatrous power, ver. 4-6.
She will have none to help her, and will be as defenseless, and as surely destroyed, as the city of No was in Egypt, ver. 7-10. The fortresses of Nineveh will not protect, those hiding in them will be shaken out as easily as figs from a tree; her men will be weak, the enemy will enter, ver. 11-13. She may prepare for the siege, ver. 14, but they will be destroyed, ver. 15. Those in Nineveh may be as many as swarms of locusts, they will be devoured as leaves are devoured by locusts, ver. 15-17.
The leaders of Assyria lie scattered, sleeping in death; the calamity upon the city is beyond remedy, and all that hear of her fall will clap their hands for joy, because they have all suffered from her, ver. 18, 19.