Nahum - nāhum

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


Nahum, The Book of



1. The Name

2. Life and Home of Nahum

The Four Traditions

3. Date, as Related to Assyrian History

(1) The Revolt of Shamash-shumukin

(2) The Invasion of 625 BC

(3) The Final Attack

(4) Probable Date


1. Contents (Chs 1-3)

2. Style

3. Integrity


1. The Character of Yahweh

2. Nahum's Glee over the Ruin of Nineveh

3. Universality of Yahweh's Rule

4. The Messianic Outlook



I. Authorship and Date

1. Name

The name Nahum (נחוּם, naḥūm; Septuagint and New Testament Ναούμ, Naoúm; Josephus, Naoúmos) occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament; in the New Testament it is found in Luk_3:25. It is not uncommon in the Mishna, and it has been discovered in Phoenician inscriptions. It means “consolation,” or “consoler,” and is therefore, in a sense, symbolical of the message of the book, which is intended to comfort the oppressed and afflicted people of Judah.


2. Life and Home

Of the personal life of Nahum, practically nothing is known. In Nah_1:1 he is called “the Elkoshite,” that is, an inhabitant of Elkosh. Unfortunately, the location of this place is not known. One tradition, which cannot be traced beyond the 16th century AD, identifies the home of Nahum with a modern village Elkush, or Alkosh, not far from the left bank of the Tigris, two days' journey North of the site of ancient Nineveh. A second tradition, which is at least as old as the days of Jerome, the latter part of the 4th century, locates Elkosh in Galilee, at a place identified by many with the modern El-Kauze, near Ramieh. Others identify the home of the prophet with Capernaum, the name of which means “Village of Nahum.” A fourth tradition, which is first found in a collection of traditions entitled “Lives of the Prophets,” says “Nahum was from Elkosh, beyond Bet Gabre, of the tribe of Simeon.” A place in the South is more in harmony with the interest the prophet takes in the Southern Kingdom, so that the last-mentioned tradition seems to have much in its favor, but absolute certainty is not attainable.


3. Date

The Book of Nahum centers around the fall and destruction of Nineveh. Since the capture of the city is represented as still in the future, it seems evident that the prophecies were delivered some time before 607-606 BC, the year in which the city was destroyed. Thus the latest possible date of Nahum's activity is fixed. The earliest possible date also is indicated by internal evidence. In Nah_3:8 ff the prophet speaks of the capture and destruction of No-amon, the Egyptian Thebes, as an accomplished fact. The expedition of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria, against Egypt, which resulted in the fall of Thebes, occurred about 663 BC. Hence, the activity of Nahum must be placed somewhere between 663 and 607.

As to the exact period between the two dates there is disagreement among scholars. One thing is made quite clear by the prophecy itself, namely, that at the time the words were spoken or written, Nineveh was passing through some grave crisis. Now we know that during the second half of the 7th century BC Assyria was threatened three times: (1) the revolt of Shamash-shumukin of Babylon against his brother, the king of Assyria, 650-648 BC; (2) the invasion of Assyria and threatened attack upon Nineveh by some unknown foe, perhaps the Scythians, about 625 BC; (3) the final attack, which resulted in the fall and destruction of Nineveh in 607-606 BC.

The first crisis does not offer a suitable occasion for Nahum's prophecy, because at that time the city of Nineveh was not in any danger. Little is known concerning the second crisis, and it is not possible either to prove or to disprove that it gave rise to the book. On the other hand, the years immediately preceding the downfall of Nineveh offer a most suitable occasion. The struggle continued for about 2 years. The united forces of the Chaldaeans and Scythians met determined resistance; at last a breach was made in the northeast corner of the wall, the city was taken, pillaged and burned. Judah had suffered much from the proud Assyrian, and it is not difficult to understand how, with the doom of the cruel oppressor imminent, a prophet-patriot might burst into shouts of exultation and triumph over the distress of the cruel foe. “If,” says A. B. Davidson, “the distress of Nineveh referred to were the final one, the descriptions of the prophecy would acquire a reality and naturalness which they otherwise want, and the general characteristics of Hebrew prophecy would be more truly conserved.” There seems to be good reason, therefore, for assigning Nahum's activity to a date between 610 and 607 BC.


II. The Book

1. Contents

Nahum is the prophet of Nineveh's doom. Nah_1:1-15 (Nah_2:2) contains the decree of Nineveh's destruction. Yahweh is a God of vengeance and of mercy (Nah_1:2, Nah_1:3); though He may at times appear slack in punishing iniquity, He will surely punish the sinner. No one can stand before Him in the day of judgment (Nah_1:4-6). Yahweh, faithful to those who rely upon Him (Nah_1:7), will be terrible toward His enemies and toward the enemies of His people (Nah_1:8). Judah need not fear: the present enemy is doomed (Nah_1:9-14), which will mean the exaltation of Judah Nah_1:15; Nah_2:2. The army appointed to execute the decree is approaching, ready for battle Nah_2:1-4. All efforts to save the city are in vain; it falls (Nah_2:5, Nah_2:6), the queen and her attendants are captured (Nah_2:7), the inhabitants flee (Nah_2:8), the city is sacked and left a desolation (Nah_2:9-13). The destruction of the bloody city is imminent Nah_3:1-3; the fate is well deserved and no one will bemoan her (Nah_3:4-7); natural strength and resources will avail nothing (Nah_3:8-11); the soldiers turn cowards and the city will be utterly cut off (Nah_3:12-18); the whole earth will rejoice over the downfall of the cruel oppressor (Nah_3:19).


2. Style

Opinions concerning the religious significance of the Book of Nahum may differ, but from the stand-point of language and style all students assign to Nahum an exalted place among the prophet-poets of the ancient Hebrews; for all are impressed with the intense force and picturesqueness of his language and style. “Each prophet,” says Kirkpatrick, “has his special gift for his particular work. Nahum bears the palm for poetic power. His short book is a Pindaric ode of triumph over the oppressor's fall.” So also G. A. Smith: “His language is strong and brilliant; his rhythm rumbles and rolls, leaps and flashes, like the horsemen and chariots he describes.”


3. Integrity

Until recently no doubts were expressed concerning the integrity of the book, but within recent years scholars have, with growing unanimity, denied the originality of Nahum 1:2-2:2 (Nah_2:3 in Heb), with the exception of Nah_2:1, which is considered the beginning of Nahum's utterances. This change of opinion is closely bound up with the alleged discovery of distorted remnants of an old alphabetic poem in Nah_1:1-15 (Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, article “Nahum”; The Expositor, 1898, 207 ff; Zeitschrift fur alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 1901, 225 ff; Eiselen, Minor Prophets, 422 ff). Now, it is true that in Nah_1:2-7 traces of alphabetic arrangement may be found, but even here the artistic arrangement is not carried through consistently; in the rest of the chapter the evidence is slight.

The artificial character of acrostic poetry is generally supposed to point to a late date. Hence, those who believe that Nah_1:1-15 was originally an alphabetic poem consider it an exilic or post-exilic production, which was at a still later date prefixed to the genuine prophecies of Nahum. In support of this view it is pointed out further that the prophecy in Nah_1:1-15 is vague, while the utterances in Nah_2:1-13 and 3 are definite and to the point. Some derive support for a late date also from the language and style of the poem.

That difficulties exist in Nah_1:1-15, that in some respects it differs from Nah_2:1-13 and 3, even the students of the English text can see; and that the Hebrew text has suffered in transmission is very probable. On the other hand, the presence of an acrostic poem in Nah_1:1-15 is not beyond doubt. The apparent vagueness is removed, if Nah_1:1-15 is interpreted as a general introduction to the more specific denunciation in Nah_2:1-13 and 3. And a detailed examination shows that in this, as in other cases, the linguistic and stylistic data are indecisive. In view of these facts it may safely be asserted that no convincing argument has been presented against the genuineness of Nahum 1:2-2:2. “Therefore,” says G. A. Smith, “while it is possible that a later poem has been prefixed to the genuine prophecies of Nahum, and the first chapter supplies many provocations to belief in such a theory, this has not been proved, and the able essays of proof have much against them. The question is open.”


III. Teaching

1. The Character of Yahweh

The utterances of Nahum center around a single theme, the destruction of Nineveh. His purpose is to point out the hand of God in the impending fall of the city, and the significance of this catastrophe for the oppressed Hebrews. As a result they contain little direct religious teaching; and what there is of it is confined very largely to the opening verses of Heb_1:1-14. These verses emphasize the twofold manifestation of the Divine holiness, the Divine vengeance and the Divine mercy Nah_1:2-3. The manifestation of the one results in the destruction of the wicked Nah_1:2, the other in the salvation of the oppressed Nah_1:15; Nah_2:2. Faith in Yahweh will secure the Divine favor and protection Nah_1:7.


2. Nahum's Glee over the Ruin of Nineveh

The fierceness of Nahum, and his glee at the thought of Nineveh's ruin, may not be in accord with the injunction, “Love thine enemy”; but it should be borne in mind that it is not personal hatred that prompts the prophet; he is stirred by a righteous indignation over the outrages committed by Assyria. He considers the sin and overthrow of Nineveh, not merely in their bearing upon the fortunes of Judah, but in their relation to the moral government of the whole world; hence, his voice gives utterance to the outraged conscience of humanity.


3. Universality of Yahweh's Rule

While Nahum's message, in its direct teaching, appears to be less spiritual and ethical than that of his predecessors, it sets in a clear light Yahweh's sway over the whole universe, and emphasizes the duty of nations as well as of individuals to own His sway and obey His will. This attitude alone will assure permanent peace and prosperity; on the other hand, disobedience to His purpose and disregard of His rule will surely bring calamity and distress. The emphasis of these ethical principles gives to the message of Nahum a unique significance for the present day and generation. “Assyria in his hands,” says Kennedy, “becomes an object-lesson to the empires of the modern world, teaching, as an eternal principle of the Divine government of the world, the absolute necessity, for a nation's continued vitality, of that righteousness, personal, civic, and national, which alone exalteth a nation.”


4. The Messianic Outlook

In a broad sense, Nah_1:15 is of Messianic import. The downfall of Nineveh and Assyria prepares the way for the permanent redemption and exaltation of Zion: “the wicked one shall no more pass through thee.”



Comms. on the Minor Prophets by Ewald, Pusey, Keil, Orelli; G. A. Smith (Expositor's Bible); Driver (New Century); B. A. Davidson, commentary on “Nahum,” “Habakkuk,” “Zephaniah” (Cambridge Bible); A. F. Kirkpatrick, Doctrine of the Prophets; Eiselen, Prophecy and the Prophets; F. W. Farrar, Minor Prophets (“Men of the Bible” series); Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament; Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes), article “Nahum”; Encyclopaedia Biblica, article “Nahum.”

Taken from: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia by James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor