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by John Dummelow
1. The Man. All that we can learn concerning the prophet must be gathered from the brief superscription and from the contents of this small book; the traditions relating to his dwelling-place are late, uncertain, and contradictory. The name Nahum (probably = ’Comforter,’ same root as in Nahum 3:7 occurs only twice in the Bible, here and in Luke 3:25; ’Elkoshite’ means belonging to Elkosh (cp. Micah 1:1), but the identification of the place is quite uncertain. The suggestion that Nahum was an Israelite, dwelling near Nineveh, a descendant of one of the families that had been carried off to that region by the Assyrians, is interesting but unreliable. The same may be said of the attempts to find a home for the prophet in Galilee. Although the writer is wholly concerned with the fate of Nineveh and the idea of Jehovah as an avenger upon the outside oppressor, it is still probable from the subject of the book and the sympathies of the prophet that he was a resident of Judæa.
2. The Date. The superscription gives us no help, and the date must be inferred from the contents of Nahum 1, 2. Here we have two fixed points, the destruction of No-Amon (Thebes) about 664 b.c.. by Assurbanipal, king of Assyria (Nahum 3:8), and the fall of Nineveh about 606 b.c. The capture of No-Amon lies behind the prophet, how far we cannot tell, while the destruction of Nineveh, or some great disaster to that city, was immediately in front of him. It is likely that the fall of the Egyptian fortress would long be remembered by the Jews, as many of them looked to that nation for help against Assyria. In that case, Assyria was the conqueror: and the prophet saw in the disaster to Egypt the hand of the same living God, the God of Judah and the world, who was now about to mete out to the proud conqueror a similar fate. Hence it seems probable that these strong, stirring words were uttered not long before the final struggle which transferred the supremacy from Nineveh to Babylon.
3. Historical Situation. This was an important period in the small kingdom of Judah. It was the period before the destruction of Jerusalem; the Babylonian empire which became supreme for a while after the fall of Nineveh was destined to crush the kingdom of Judah and carry the people into captivity, but this lies beyond the ken of our prophet. It is probable that in his day Josiah, the good king, had attempted a religious reformation, and that Jeremiah was calling the people to a deeper life and a more spiritual service. But there is no echo of this in the book; its patriotic passion, its cry for vengeance, is all concentrated on the one hateful oppressor.
4. The Book. Though the book is small it has been subjected to keen investigation, and the text has given rise to much critical discussion. The attempts at detailed analysis cannot be considered here. Many scholars regard Nahum 1:2-15; Nahum 2:2 as an eschatological psalm from later Judaism, describing Jehovah’s judgment upon oppressors, and giving promise of salvation to Judah. Those who take this view have worked over this chapter and discovered in it an alphabetic poem, but as a matter of fact, in the present state of the text, this alphabetic arrangement can only be discovered at the beginning. However, there is one thing clear, the chapter is of similar spirit to the rest of the book; it gives a graphic poetic description of the coming of Jehovah to judgment, while the other part pictures in forcible language, a particular instance of such judgment, in the case of Nineveh. In Nahum 2, 3 there is a vivid description of the siege and a passionate denunciation of the bloodstained city.
5. The Spiritual Significance of Nahum. This short prophecy may be looked upon as one permanent expression of the cry of humanity for justice. It is not mere Hebrew patriotism that expresses itself here, though that gives form and colour to the message; this sharp cry might have come from any of the small nations of Palestine and Syria that had been trampled underfoot by the ruthless armies of Assyria. It is the cry of outraged human nature in the face of brutal oppression; it is a cry that God will not allow violence to rule unchecked, that He will not look calmly on when the earth is drenched with innocent blood. If the answer to the pathetic cry of the saints ’Lord, how long?’ could be ’for ever,’ then faith would be driven to, despair, both piety and patriotism would wither at the roots. The preacher today may need to warn the people against a spurious patriotism, a patriotism which counts only material success and selfish glory, but behind all this preaching there must lie the great belief which Nahum grasped with such intensity, that God does arise and come to judgment, that He does vindicate the struggling few who love truth and righteousness; that with all our lofty Christian sentiment we must sometimes stand face to face with the sterner majesty of the law, and prepare to meet the God who comes in the terror of judgment.
the Second Week of Advent