Introducing the Book of Nahum

The Hebrew word nahum means comfort (compare nahum in 1:1 and 3:7c). Nothing is known about the time or place of the prophet Nahum. The book of Nahum was apparently written sometime after the sacking of Thebes in 663 bce (3:8) and before the fall of Nineveh in 612 bce. The content of the book is reflected in the twofold heading—“An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh” (1:1, and see compare prophetic headings). While Nahum’s preaching is about Nineveh it appears to be for readers of the community of faith.

The General Structure of the Book of Nahum[1]

Where can anyone be found to comfort Nineveh?[2]

I           The Good News of Yahweh’s Vengeance upon Nineveh (1:2-2:2)

A         A theologically adapted song of judgment (1:2-8)

An alphabetic acrostic begins in verse 2a (aleph), is interrupted by verses 2b-3a, and continues through the middle of the alphabet (with a few bumps) in verses 3b-8 (beth to lamed [note that verse 9 begins with mem]). Thus, it seems a partial alphabetic acrostic poem was modified by the insertion of 1:2b-3a, which alludes to two Torah contexts.

A jealous and avenging God is Yahweh,
the Yahweh is avenging and wrathful;
Yahweh takes vengeance on his adversaries
and rages against his enemies.
Yahweh is slow to anger but great in power,
and Yahweh will by no means clear the guilty
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
and the clouds are the dust of his feet (Nah 1:2-3).

When I whet my flashing sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment; I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and will repay those who hate me (Deut 32:41; cf. 7:10).

Yahweh passed before him, and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exod 34:6-7).

The modification of the acrostic poem by the insertion of 1:2b-3a is a key to understanding the message of the book of Nahum to the biblical readership. The “day of trouble” for the wicked is a day of hope for those who find refuge in Yahweh, who is good (1:7). Thus, the coming justice has two sides.

An allusion to Exodus 34:6-7slow to anger—makes an important connection between the book of Jonah, in which Nineveh repented and evaded judgment (Jon 4:1-2). Moreover, notice the important reoccurring allusion to Exod 34:6-7 in Joel 2:11-14; Jonah 4:1-2; Micah 7:18-19; Nahum 1:3 which binds a large segment of the book of the Twelve together (cf. Num 14:18; Pss 86:15; 103:8-12; 111:4; 116:5; 145:8).

B         The two sides of justice: Nineveh’s doom is Judah’s gospel (1:9-2:2)

Nineveh and Judah both are spoken of in this section. The historical judgment on Nineveh was simultaneously the good news of peace and salvation to Judah. Thus, Nineveh and Judah serve as symbols of meaning of the coming of God’s justice to all readers through the ages. The “two effects of divine intervention . . . [are] part of one event.”[3]

II         The Fall of Nineveh (2:3-3:19)

3:3-4 The extent and basis for the judgment against Nineveh is explained in 3:3-4; in short, God will repay them according to their sin. “Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, piles of dead, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies! Because of the countless debaucheries of the prostitute, gracefully alluring, mistress of sorcery , who enslaves nations through her debaucheries, and peoples through her sorcery” (3:3-4). Note the relationship between Nah 3 and Isa 23, namely, Nah 3:4//Isa 23:17; Nah 3:8//Isa 23:3.

[1] The structure and observations are based on my own reading, and Kevin J. Carthcart, “Nahum, Book of,” ABD, 4: 998-1000; Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 440-46.
[2] See 3:7.
[3] Childs, 444.

Also see introduction to the prophets, and see bibliography on the prophets.

Copyright 2011