Background

The dating of the ministry and book of Nahum is confidently placed between the fall of Thebes in Egypt (mentioned as a past event in Nahum 3:8) and the actual fall of Nineveh (which is here prophesied). The bookend dates are 663 BC and 612 BC. Manasseh and Josiah were kings in Judah during that period of time (with forgettable Amon in between). Most historians favor the time of Josiah, but without hard evidence. The fact that Thebes regained independence at early as 650 BC may argue for an earlier date, during the time of Manasseh.1The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.

See also the Chronology of the Old Testament Kings, the Chronology of the Prophets, and the Chronology of Latter Prophets and Intertestamental Period.

Authorship

“Nahum” means “comfort, consolation” or perhaps “compassionate.” We really know nothing else about the man, and even his hometown, Elkosh, is geographically uncertain. Some place it in Galilee, some even identify it with Capernaum (“village of Nahum”), while others place it in Assyria not too far from Nineveh. And some, with perhaps more plausibility, place it in southern Judah, toward Gaza.

Purpose for Writing

The subject matter or thrust of the book is easy to see and is perhaps separated into two distinct but closely related subjects: the majesty and attributes of God (who is going to take action) and the downfall or total destruction of Nineveh and the Assyrians (the action that God is bringing about). About 700 BC Sennacherib had made Nineveh the last and greatest capitol of Assyria. The empire and city reached its height (in glory and brutality) under cruel Ashurbanipal (667-627 BC), but by the end of his reign it was slipping fast. As Nahum made clear, their days were numbered. In 612 BC, a coalition of Babylonians, Medes and Scythians put a permanent end to Nineveh, as foretold by Nahum.

Content

The perceived heartlessness of Nahum (and Israel in general) over the downfall of Assyria bothers some readers. We do well to remember other oracles of judgment in Scripture. God’s holiness and justice are not idle attributes, any more than his love, mercy, and compassion are. Also, recall that the Assyrians surpass the Philistines and Babylonians as archenemies because of their reputation for brutality. Walton (p. 512) puts it well: “The barbaric military policies and practices of the Assyrians terrorized the ancient Near East for more than two centuries. The Assyrians used a well-developed propaganda to convince nations around them that they were invincible…Enemies and prisoners were publicly subjected to torture that included flaying, burning alive, amputation of various body parts – including parts of the face – and various other atrocities.”

The literary style is highly poetic with the liberal use of similes, metaphors, vivid word pictures, and rhetorical questions. Similarities with the vocabulary and style of Isaiah is in sharp focus with the comparison of Nahum 1:15 with Isaiah 52:7. The use of short, staccato phrases intensifies the judgment oracle content of the prophecy. The use of the so-called qinah metrical pattern (4 + 3) is similar to other dirges and provides the sense of a eulogy over the fallen city.

Christ Connection

Nahum’s bleak prophecy for the Assyrians is a reminder of the seriousness of sin for us all. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), and so we hear with frightened hearts Nahum’s description of God’s just wrath upon sin (e.g., Nah 1:3,6). Yet Nahum also reminds us of God’s goodness and love for his people (Nah 1:7,15), which causes him to graciously send Jesus, the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).

Notable Passages

  • Nahum 1:3,6
  • Nahum 1:7
  • Nahum 1:15

Outline

For simple outline purposes, these two parallel ones may serve to show progression of thought:

  1. Nineveh’s Judge (Nahum 1)
  2. Nineveh’s Judgment (Nahum 2)
  3. Nineveh’s Destruction (Nahum 3)

or

  1. The Proclamation of God’s Zeal, Power, and Majesty (Nahum 1)
  2. The Prophecy of Nineveh’s Destruction (Nahum 2)
  3. The Cause and Certainty of Nineveh’s Destruction (Nahum 3)

References   [ + ]

1. The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.