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Nahum, The Book of

The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

    Nahum, The Book of

    The three chapters of this book constitute a powerful poem that interprets events surrounding the fall of Nineveh in 612 BCE in terms of the Lord's control of history on behalf of his people.

    Nahum means “comfort,” a name that stands in contrast with the violent vengeance portrayed in the book. He is identified as “the Elkoshite,” but the location of Elkosh is unknown. We have no other information about this prophet.

    This is the only prophetic work that is called a “book” in the text (1.1). It is also called an oracle or “burden,” a term for a prophecy spoken against a nation under judgment, and a “vision,” a description it shares with Isaiah and Obadiah; the latter term probably means a literary presentation of an inspired experience of being in the heavenly court of God, to observe how God deals with nations and people in history. The book contains some of the most powerful poetry in the Bible, a witness to its inspiration in another sense. The prophet‐poet who wrote the book looked beyond the facts of Nineveh's destruction to discern and portray God's intentions in it.

    The book may be outlined as follows:

    •  I. Yahweh, the avenging God of his people, will destroy Nineveh and bring peace to Judah.
    • A. An acrostic poem: the Lord takes vengeance (1.2–8)
    • B. The leaders of Nineveh are addressed (1.9–11)
    • C. Good news for Judah: no more invaders (1.12–15)
    • II. Nineveh's enemies are triumphant.
    • A. The last battle (2.1–12)
    • B. The Lord's curse on Nineveh (2.13–3.6)
    • C. A taunting song over the doomed city (3.7–19).

    Israel's relation to Assyria and its capital city Nineveh extended over more than a century, when the Assyrian empire was at the height of its power. Nineveh (Map 6:H3) was the most important city in Assyria. Its greatest period came during the last century of the empire (730–612 BCE), which coincides with Israel's contacts with it. Great buildings of that period have been excavated, constructed by the emperors Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal. One palace housed what was at that time the best library in the world. Fortifications included two sets of walls that protected palaces and temples. Ishtar, goddess of love and war, was the city's benefactor. The finest gate was dedicated to her and decorated with her image and symbols, and a magnificent temple housed her statue.

    Assyria inherited the crumbling Hittite and Mitanni empires in the upper Mesopotamian valley in the early second millennium. In the eighth century BCE her emperors, Tiglath‐pileser III, Sargon II, and Sennacherib, sent armies into Syria, then to Judah, and finally into Egypt. Some of the earliest of the Minor Prophets note these movements and interpret them as God's judgment on Israel and the nations (see Amos 3.9). Samaria fell to Assyrian forces in 722 BCE (2 Kings 17). Judah and her neighbors were vassals to Assyria during the following century; this authority was enforced by Assyrian arms several times (see 2 Kings 18). But Assyrian power began to weaken in the late seventh century, and Josiah apparently owed his relative freedom of action to this development.

    By 614 BCE three powers, *Media, Babylon, and Egypt, were prepared to fight for succession to Assyria's empire. Media seized the section east and north of the Euphrates Valley; Babylon seized the south and eventually pushed into Syria; Egypt seized her own territory and extended her control north into Palestine. Babylon laid siege to Nineveh and finally destroyed it in 612 BCE. A small Assyrian army escaped the city and fled toward Haran; it was finally destroyed in 609 BCE.

    Nahum's powerful poem portrays the last days of Nineveh. This is seen as good news for Israel, a hope that is short‐lived, since Egypt and Babylon turned out to be worse masters than Assyria. But the poem is correct in marking the event as a turning point in history.

    There is tension in the Minor Prophets in their views toward Nineveh: repentant and the object of God's care in Jonah, the instrument of God's judgment on Israel and Judah in Amos, and the symbol of ultimate evil opposed to God in Nahum. A similar tension exists in Isaiah's portrayal of Assyria as the rod of the Lord's anger against Israel in chap. 10 and God's judgment on Nineveh in 30.27–33 and 31.8–9.

    In Nahum a historic event is presented as symbolic of the struggle between God and ultimate evil. In a similar way, Isaiah 47 portrays the fall of Babylon to Persian forces. The book of Revelation speaks of Babylon (or Rome) in similar fashion in chaps. 12–13 and 17–18.

    John D. W. Watts

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