Bible Overview is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Bible study. Each month we feature a book of the Bible (in order) by Bible scholar and lecturer, Mary Jane Chaignot.
This month has three entries, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, whose writings are found among the Minor Prophets. It is generally assumed that these three were contemporaries and all shared in the belief that God was sovereign, just, and able to deliver the righteous. They each, however, had a different method of conveying that message. Nahum showed God’s sovereignty by prophesying against Nineveh. Habakkuk struggled with God’s answer that he would use the Chaldeans to chastise Judah. And Zephaniah declared his message to the world – that all needed a course adjustment. But after judgment, a remnant would arise and God would restore His people to a life of blessings. If you want to read some of the history previous to this selection, you can find the earlier books in our archives.
The Bible Time-Line is another quick reference for locating individuals or specific books. We encourage readers to share their Bible Study success stories on this site. Email us at email@example.com to be included on next month's site.
If taken out of its context, the book of Nahum is a tough read. It begins with “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The lord…maintains his wrath against his enemies… He rebukes the sea and dries it up,…The mountains quake before him,… The earth trembles at his presence…His wrath is poured out like fire…The rocks are shattered before him.” And that’s just for openers. The target of this venom is Nineveh, the same city God showed mercy to in the book of Jonah. So how can we hear these words – is this an inspired communication from God? And what brought about such a severe change in this message?
Most scholars attribute the change to the passing of a century or two. Dating is always challenging with the prophetic texts, but most scholars comfortably place Nahum’s writing towards the middle of the seventh century. Nahum seems to know about the destruction of Thebes (663 BCE), but has not witnessed the beginning of the decline of Assyria (626 BCE). Splitting the difference places his prophecies around 645 BCE.
Within its context, then, Nahum’s prophecies reflect a long and painful oppression of Israel by Assyria. It began as early as the ninth century when Shalmaneser III (858-824 BCE) levied a tribute on Jehu during one of his campaigns. By 810 Assyria had claimed the submission of Israel and dubbed it “Omri-land.” Things got worse after Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 BCE) invaded the land. He writes that he not only extracted a large tribute from “Omri-land,” but he also took their inhabitants to Assyria. When faced with the choice of submission or resistance to Assyria, the southern kingdom generally chose submission. That didn’t help the kings of the north, and when they finally turned to Egypt for help, Assyria invaded. The siege of Samaria was finalized by Sargon II in 722 BCE. This cataclysm was interpreted as just rewards for Israel’s many sins. It was seen as chastisements from the Lord for their idolatry and unfaithfulness to the covenant. The warnings from the prophets had gone unheeded, and the Day of the Lord had arrived. Having said that, however, Assyria continued and even advanced its brutal policies by being a ruthless ruler.
Nahum’s audience, then, was the remnant still suffering after generations of oppression. The Israelites had been convicted by their misdeeds; they accepted that. Their question now was whether God had totally abandoned them, or worse, was God able to deliver them from the hands of the heathen nations who had been God’s very instruments of judgment. And no nation was as cruel or as arrogant as Assyria had been. This became a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease. The one sent to judge was far worse than the nations judged. The people’s lament (much like Habakkuk’s to come) was “How long, O Lord…?”
Into this moment of despair and darkness came the voice of Nahum, saying God was not just their God but also a national God, whose power extended over all the nations. Written to the people of Judah who had watched Assyria run unchecked for over a century, and who had barely survived its terror and destructiveness, these words put across a powerful message. This book doesn’t address any of Judah’s failings, just Assyria’s. There are few books more nationalistic. There is no love expressed for any of Nineveh’s citizens, no concern for what’s ahead for them. The book is dripping with vengeance and mockery and even hatred. Several commentators have likened the situation to the scourge of Hitler and other despots. The oppressed have been known to express delight upon their potential demise.
Nahum had an unshakeable conviction that the ones sent to judge would themselves be judged. God could not allow evil to go unpunished regardless of whether it was a pagan nation or His own covenant people. No power on earth could stand against God. For this reason, Nahum had cause to celebrate. In the end, he knew that divine justice would triumph. In a deep sense, the book of Nahum speaks to faith when faith is faltering. The graphic and poetic imagery of Nineveh’s demise is a testament to God’s sovereignty and strength. The ruins of Nineveh will be good news for the people of God.
Apart from this book, nothing is known about the prophet called Nahum. The only other reference to this name occurs in the New Testament where someone else is clearly in mind. Some scholars think Nahum is a shortened version of Nehemiah. His name as it stands means “comforted,” or “consoled.” He is called an Elkoshite, but scholars do not agree on the location of Elkosh. Most favor an area in the south because by the time Nahum was writing, the northern kingdom had already fallen.
The book is generally divided into two sections. The first defines the anger of the Lord, 1:1-11. The second describes the fall of Nineveh, 2-3.