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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Nahum 1

Verses 1-15

GOD THE AVENGER

Nahum 1:1-15

Title (1:1)

Like other books in the prophetic canon of the Old Testament the Book of Nahum begins with a title, which is probably not part of the original composition. The title in this case consists of two parts: one describes the composition as an "oracle" (literally, "burden") concerning Nineveh, and the other indicates that the book is "the vision of Nahum of Elkosh." The title points specifically to the prophetic elements in the book, which are found chiefly in the first chapter and in Nahum 3:5-6. As has been indicated, little is known of Nahum or of Elkosh (see Introduction).

Verses 2-15

Two Aspects of God’s Character (1:2-33)

The body of the book begins with what has been identified as an alphabetic acrostic poem, the limits of which are difficult to determine because of uncertainties in the text. It is reasonably clear, however, that it extends at least into the tenth verse. As it stands, the poem begins with a sixfold declaration about God (Nahum 1:2-3) which is somewhat separate from the remainder of the chapter. In form the declaration is like declarations of God’s great mercy and faithfulness found in Exodus 34:6 (quoted in Numbers 14:18) and in Psalms 103:8; Psalms 145:8. The latter part of it borrows heavily from the language of these passages. It is, however, the aspect of God’s jealousy and his spirit of vengefulness against his enemies which is emphasized in Nahum’s words, rather than his mercy and patience. The latter qualities are only hinted at in the expression "slow to anger" found in verse 3. At the outset of the alphabetic psalm of praise the poet points up the two contrasting aspects of God’s character as these are expressed on the one hand toward those who have opposed God and on the other toward those to whom God has chosen to show his mercy and kindness.

Verses 3-5

God’s Way in Nature (1:3-5)

The poem continues with a description of God’s actions through the most destructive forces of nature known to man in ancient times. The clouds are occasioned by God’s walking along the mountaintops, just as the progress of a traveler in Palestine may be seen from a distance because of the puffs of dust that rise from his feet. The poet ascribes to the Lord the fierce heat which dries up rivers — and even seas — and which makes the flowers of Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon fade. All destructive forces are evidence of God in action, including those which affect the life of man.

The reference to God’s rebuking the seas (Nahum 1:4) does not connect naturally with the drying up of rivers and streams, except that both refer to waters. It appears that the rebuking of the sea refers obliquely to the crossing of the Red Sea in the Exodus, since the language of Psalms 106:9 uses the same word "rebuke" with specific reference to the Red Sea. But the principal emphasis of this section of the poem is on God’s activity through what modem men would call natural forces. He has the power to do destructive things in the world.

Verses 6-11

God’s Way Against His Enemies (1:6-11)

The next section of the poem deals mainly with God’s activity against his enemies. The poet asks how anyone can stand before the indignation of God. When his wrath is poured out like fire or breaks rocks, it threatens the "full end" or complete destruction of anything in its way, particularly those who have opposed God. Recent editors of the text of Nahum have suggested several improvements. In verses 8 through 11 the Revised Standard Version incorporates several conjectures which improve the meaning, and the over-all effect of the passage is quite clear: God directs his power against those who attempt to plot against him. "Not . . . twice" will trouble rise against God from the same source (vs. 9, see margin) or will God have to act against his enemies (the same verse as translated on the basis of the Greek translation).

Although his primary concern is with God’s vengeance against his adversaries, in verse 7 the poet declares that the Lord is a stronghold in the day of trouble, and that "he knows those who take refuge in him." The goodness of God is not developed in the Book of Nahum, but it is not ignored. The declaration of verse 7 is similar in form to those of verses 2 and 3, and like them may ultimately have arisen from some creedal declaration in the ancient ritual.

Verses 12-14

God’s Commands (1:12-14)

In brief statements full of difficulties for the interpreter (Nahum 1:12-14) the poet speaks prophetically, communicating God’s will both with regard to his enemies and with regard to those who have been afflicted by them. The difficulties of the passage arise in part from obscurities in the text (note the number of footnotes in the Revised Standard Version), and in part they arise from the alternation of address to the enemies of God and to his afflicted faithful.

In view of the plotting against the Lord, to which reference has been made (Nahum 1:11), it is God’s decree that those, presumably the ones guilty of oppressing God’s people, will be cut off no matter how strong they may be (Nahum 1:12). God’s command (Nahum 1:14) directs that the names of his enemies be no longer perpetuated, that is, that no descendants shall survive, and that they themselves shall die and be buried. Further, images, graven and molten, will be cut off from the sacred temples of the enemies of God. Thus God’s decree involves the destruction of all elements assumed to have lasting value by those who have opposed him.

In this interesting passage God attacks his enemies in regard to four of the aspects of life generally held to have the highest values: the possession of power, the continuation of life, the perpetuation of the family name through offspring, and the practice of religion. The false value-structure of those who set themselves against God — in Nahum’s time as evidenced by the Assyrians — is clearly shown to be weak and impotent, as he who is supreme repudiates those who refuse to give him first honors. Like the Second Psalm, this passage in Nahum deals with those who rebel against the authority of God and details their fate.

On the other hand, unlike the Second Psalm, the decrees of the Lord as stated in Nahum do not deal clearly with the way in which God’s will for the afflicted faithful will be accomplished. All that is said in Nahum is that afflictions will be ended, the yoke of the enemies will be removed, and their bonds will be burst asunder. Those who have taken refuge in God are thus assured of restoration to a more satisfactory life, but the manner of accomplishing this end is not indicated.

Verse 15

The Proclamation of Peace (1:15)

The final verse of chapter 1 (as numbered in the English versions) focuses on a herald of good news and the message which he will bring to Judah. In words like those of Isaiah 52:7 we are invited to look for the feet of the messenger of good news. The substance of the message is first epitomized in the word "peace," which to the Hebrew meant far more than the mere cessation of armed conflict. Peace referred to a person’s health, to the welfare of the community which made for both health and prosperity of its citizens, and to an order of life gratefully accepted from superior powers, either divine or royal. A term with such breadth and depth of meaning could express the ideal conditions for which millions of people in our time are longing.

The specific words of the herald point to the recognition of "peace" through feasts and vows, and call upon Judah to enjoy the accustomed rituals of ordered life under God’s blessing. Finally, the word of the herald assures that "the wicked" will never again come against Judah, since he has been completely cut off.

This verse (like vss. 12-13) addressed to the suffering people of Judah is in sharp contrast to its context, addressed to the enemies of God. Whatever its origin, it may be understood as an effort to bring to focus the good tidings inherent in the downfall of Nineveh. Couched as it seems to be in the language of ritual proclamation and with the reference to the keeping of feasts, it lends some credibility to the theory that Nahum was composed for use in the New Year’s Festival of the year 612-611 b.c. after the fall of Nineveh. In any case the verses announcing good news to Judah fall between the opening poem and the long poem taunting the people of Nineveh, and serve to relieve the intensity of feeling in the two major poems of the book.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Nahum 1". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/nahum-1.html.