updated 17Jan1999
Nahum
by Neil Short

Composition Date:

Nahum's message is a revelation of God's judgment that Nineveh will be crushed.

In very broad terms, the book must have been written between the fall of Thebes (3:8) to Assyria in the days of King Manasseh and the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC. Nahum compares the future fall of Nineveh with the past fall of Thebes; so the writing must postdate that event. Since his prophecies are of Nineveh's fall, the book predates that event.

Since Assyria posed no real threat and did not oppress Judah after the bloody war between Babylon and Nineveh -- about 648 BC, and since Nah 1:12-15 implies a real threat from the Assyrians, any date after 648 and certainly any time after 642 should be discarded as a potential date for Nahums oracle.

A careful look at 3:8 reveals that the prophet is comparing the overthrow of Thebes in 667 BC by the Assyrians to the eventual overthrow of Nineveh in 612 BC. Now we know that Egypt recaptured Thebes from the Assyrians in 654 (if you ask an Assyriologist). If Nahum wrote his book between 654 and 642, he would have most likely referred to that event rather than the Assyrian overthrow of Thebes in 667. Thus, the date range of 654 to 642 should also be discarded as possible dates for Nahum's prophecies.

Thus, Nahum was written between the two Thebes captures. In his commentary on Nahum, Walter Maier suggests the dates of 668 and 654 BC. See my notes on 3:8.

One problem with this date is that these prophecies would coincide with the reign of Manasseh, king of Judah. Since Manasseh was an evil king, we might expect the prophet to say something about moral reform. It is partly for this reason scholars most often place Nahum's prophecies within the reign of the good King Josiah1. We must remember however that Manasseh had his period of reform. He was taken to Babylon and held captive there. It was there that he repented and "humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors" (2 Chr 33:12). God restored Manasseh to his throne and Manasseh instituted reforms in the kingdom. The Bible is not explicit as to when in Manasseh's reign this mini-Babylonian Captivity took place. It might have been early or late or sometime in the middle.

Both Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal (kings of Assyria) catalog their own oppressions against their possessions and they both mention Manasseh, (ANET 291, 294) requiring the Judean king to bring building materials and tribute to Nineveh -- and always under distress of the king. During one of these pilgrimages Manasseh might have been held captive.

In any case, the judgments of Nahum's prophecies are not directed at the Hebrews but at the Assyrians.

 

Outline:

A. A poem concerning the greatness of God (1:2-15).

B. A poem detailing the overthrow of Nineveh (2:1-3:19).

Alternate Outline:

A. The Judge (1:1-7)

B. The Verdict (1:8-14)

C. The Execution (2-3) (Rogers 34)

 

Lessons:

God holds the people accountable for the righteousness of their nation.

God hates brutality.

 

Important concepts:

The lessons are national -- almost political.

The prophecies of Nineveh's fall are specific.

The prophecies are related to Nineveh's own cruelty.

 

Commentary:

Chapter 1

Nahum means "comfortable". This meaning is relevant in that the book provides comfort for sufferers in Judah. The book is written to Judeans (1:15) but condemns oppressive Assyria.

1:2 A jealous God and avenger Yahweh. How is Yahweh jealous? Is not jealousy a negative emotion?

He demands exclusive devotion. He is intolerant of rivalry. The righteous jealousy of Yahweh carries with it these ideas:

1. There is no god besides Him.

2. He pours out wrath upon those who oppose Him.

3. He will vindicate His people.

See Ex 20:5-6; 34:14; Deut 6:15; Josh 24:19: Ps 79:5; 2 Kgs 19:31; Joel 2:18; Zech 1:14; 8:2-3.

The whole verse carries the concept of Yahweh's jealousy. Since God is perfectly righteous, He must rebuke every violation (Deut 32:35-36; Heb 10:30; Rom 12:19).

 

1:3 Yahweh! Slow to anger. Great in power. Why highlight these characteristics of God?

God had, in the minds of the Judeans, been slow to execute vengeance against the Assyrians. Why has Yahweh not destroyed the Assyrians? He is slow to anger. He will crush the Assyrians. He has the power. His jealousy demands that He do so.

It is conceivable that the ancient Judeans had a concept of God as the patron deity of the Hebrews. They might have come to doubt His power against the Assyrian gods. Remember how Shennacherib's messengers melted the hearts of the Judeans.

Do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, Yahweh will deliver us. Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered its land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of the countries have delivered their countries out of my hand, that Yahweh should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand? (2 Kgs 18:32-35)

The Assyrian kings regularly credited their triumphs to their gods. For example, King Sennacherib's annals include the following boast of victory attributed to the god Ashur:

...He (Hezekiah)... had become afraid and had called (for help) upon the kings of Egypt (and) the bowmen, the chariot(-corps) and the cavalry of the king of Ethiopia, an army beyond counting -- and they (actually) had come to their assistance. In the plain of Eltekeh, their battle lines were drawn up against me and they sharpened their weapons. Upon a trust(-inspiring) oracle (given) by Ashur, my lord, I fought with them and inflicted a defeat upon them. (ANET 287)

The Judeans might have seen as a weakness Yahweh's slowness in dealing with the Assyrians. It might seem Assyria's war-god Ashur is stronger than the Hebrew God Yahweh. Indeed not! says the prophet. Yahweh is slow to anger but great in power!

1:3b-5 These verses present a natural description of God's power. For comparison, see 1 Kgs 19:11-13; Amos 1:2; Micah 1:4.

1:6 His wrath is poured out like fire. The point is, God's wrath is destructive. See for comparison Amos 7:4; 1 Kgs 19:11f.

1:7 He protects those who take refuge in Him. Trust Yahweh. See Is 8:17; 40:31; Lam 3:22-33f.

1:8 ... rushing flood. The prepositional phrase "even in a rushing flood" goes with the rest of the verse. It is how Yahweh will make a full end of His adversaries. Evidence shows that a flood facilitated the fall of Nineveh (Maier 251-256).

As for being pursued into darkness, I see two possible concepts. Thinking of it one way, there is nowhere to hide from Yahweh's wrath -- not even in darkness.

As another view, darkness might imply obscurity. Yahweh will pursue the Assyrians until they no longer exist. This picture is supported by AV which renders: "...and darkness shall pursue his enemies."

1:9 Plot against the Lord? Verses 1:9 and 1:11 imply evil council from Nineveh. A reading of 2 Kgs 18:13-16 is sufficient example of this Assyrian strategy. We learn that an Assyrian strategy of keeping their possessions non-revolutionary is to destroy the faith the oppressed hold in their national gods. Though we have only the above example, we are confident the propaganda was regular.

1:10 Like thorns they are entangled. We have here a picture of a confused people being destroyed. The military loses all semblance of order and strategy and are crushed easily and quickly, like straw in a fire.

Anyone who has trimmed a spindly bush such as a rosebush or a hackberry understand this thorny simile. One tries to perform the task in the most orderly fashion, tossing the trimmed branches into a pile for later discard. After the chore, the final act should be the easiest. It is time to toss the pile of trimmings into the dumpster; but the pile of sticks is a twisted wad of clumsy stickers! To not get stuck, one would have to wear leather gloves up to the shoulders! Imagine commanding a military battalion of soldiers as easily managed.

1:12-13 I will break off his yoke from you. Is it obvious "you" refers to Judah? Yes, it is obvious. Grammatically, the nearest antecedent is the "you" in 1:11 which is God's enemy in 1:8, that is, Nineveh. Nearest antecedent is not a rule but a tool. Here, "says Yahweh," Judah will feel the Assyrian burden lifted.

Also obvious is that Judah was under oppression from the Assyrians. God is going to take away that burden. Note that God claims credit for the rod of the Assyrians. God does not "pass the buck." The Assyrians were an evil and idolatrous people. We see here that they were God's instrument of affliction. God could have claimed to be standing back and letting events take their own course; but no, God sent the Assyrians against His people.

God gave Himself the heat for punishing the Hebrews by the very appearance of the imperial Assyrians (Micah 1:15).

A similar claim could have been made for the locust disaster in the book of Joel. But God said,

I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. (Joel 2:25)

Why did not God tell Job (Job 38-41), "Hay, don't point your cannon at me! I did nothing. I just stepped back and let Satan do his thing?" The answer is that God was responsible and he took responsibility.

Blame is another important discussion. In the case of Judah during the Assyrian oppression, the blame for punishment must fall into the laps of the Judeans. They broke the covenant. That lesson is taught here; but more in the book of Micah. If I experience pain over the fragmentation of my family, but it is I who had the affair, who should I blame but myself?

By the way, Isaiah teaches that God's judgment to punish Jerusalem by Assyria is as well a judgment AGAINST Assyria (10:5-19). The segment of history is a clever maneuver on God's part to punish two nations at once. All the near eastern nations in that period suffered God's judgment.

Nevertheless, God took credit for Assyria's oppression even before it occurred. See the entire book of Micah.

God's use of Assyria teaches a lesson of misplaced confidence. It seems to be human nature to assume that when life is easy God is pleased with us. The Assyrians assumed favor with their gods due to their repeated victories in battle. The Israelites in Amos's day believe God smiled on them by granting economic prosperity (5:18-24); but Amos taught that God would punish Israel for taking God's generosity and using it against the poor (2:6-8). Assuming God's favor by looking at ones own prosperity and/or strength is erroneous. Assyria was very strong in Isaiah's day. It was all part of God's judgment against Assyria and Israel2.

1:14 Your name shall be perpetuated no longer. This passage supports the view of 1:8 as a description of obliteration.

Who is "you"? Nineveh. Is this conclusion obvious. Yes, it is obvious.

...[F]rom the house of your gods.... God's punishment of the Assyrians begins with their gods. The point is Nineveh's trust in their war god Ashur will vaporize.

...[Y]ou are worthless. Who is "you"? Is it obviously Nineveh? I don't think so. It is either Nineveh or the carved and cast images. In each case, "you are worthless" is correct.

1:15 Feet.... We are invited to "Look!" What is pictured by "feet"? I see a messenger in a run, eager to deliver the good news.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." (Is 52:7)

Celebrate your festivals. This invitation implies that Judah's festivals were not being celebrated. The emphasis seems to be that Judah did not celebrate her festivals because they could not while under Assyria's domination. This interpretation is supported by inclusion in the invitation to "fulfill your vows" (see below), and the mention of past invasions. Judah can celebrate her festivals and keep her vows because Assyria is about to fall.

The call to "celebrate your festivals" is tied to the invitation to "fulfill your vows." Oh, Yahweh, if you will only lift our oppression, we will celebrate our festivals! Celebrating festivals might have been part of the bargain the Judeans made with God. The call to celebrate the festivals might therefor be understood as a criticism of Judah for not all along celebrating her festivals3. This suggestion reasonably fits with the time of the Judean King Manasseh.

Fulfill your vows. Vows figure prominently in a person's relationship with God. We are taught to not make vows easily. God expects us to keep our vows (Num 30:2; Deut 23:21)! There are reasons we might make a vow to God. Jonah, in the belly of the fish made vows (Jon 2:9). We sometimes make vows to God when we are in distress. Manasseh's entreaty to God almost certainly included vows (2 Chr 33:12-13). Implicit in his humility is repentance which is by definition a vow to God. If the apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh is anything close to Manasseh's actual prayer that was once recorded (2 Chr 33:18) in the Annals of the Kings of Israel, Manasseh's prayer included repentance.

But you have appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner. (Pr Man 8)

Baptism is a vow!

And baptism... now saves you -- not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as a pledge to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of god with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (1 Pet 3:21-22)

It is not a normal cleansing. It is a pledge to clean up something other than the body. Indeed!

All of God's vows have been part of a mutual covenant between Himself and Man. It has always been part of an agreement. Both sides of the covenant have always been conditional (Gen 2:16-17; Deut 11:13-17, 22-26; Jer 18:5-11; Zech 1:3; 1 Jno 1:7). Man's side of the Christian covenant is very small and God's side is grand!

When God vowed, "Never again shall the wicked invade you," it was conditional.

Chapter 2:

2:1 Shatterer. We make an obvious note. God is of course the ultimate shatterer. The agent of God's shattering is not mentioned. We know the primary agents to be Medea and Babylonia (Hicks and Brueggemann).

Let us take a brief walk on the higher critical side. If Nahum wrote close to 612 BC, he would be expected to name the agent(s) of God's shattering; for by then, the agents of Ninevah's eventual fall would be reasonably certain.

2:2 Suffice it to say this verse is difficult to translate. Some translations give a reading that presents the LORD as having cut off Jacob's majesty. Others give the idea of a restoration. One message is evident. Israel is in sad condition because of the ravages of Assyria.

Israel and Jacob here represent God's people. There was never supposed to be a divided kingdom. In her days of division, the prophets usually used Israel and Jacob to identify the northern faction (e.g., Am 2:6; 7:5) but sometimes refers to the southern group (e.g., Joel 2:27; Mic 3:9) when context demands it, and sometimes refers to both groups as the prophets sometimes ignore the division or emphasize the human side of the Godly covenant (e.g., Mic 5:3). After the fall of Samaria the prophets almost without exception used Israel and Jacob to refer to the remnant, that is, Judah.

To be specific, this use of Israel and Jacob represents the human side of the man-God covenant. Nahum means either that God has destroyed the earthly commonwealth of Davidic Israel or that God is about to restore that commonwealth.

2:3-4 We see in this passage a menacing picture of God's soldiers. They are colored red, an aggressive color. Their maneuvering is impossibly rapid. They are frightening.

We reasonably compare these soldiers to those depicted in 2 Kgs 6:17. The king of Syria aimed to eliminate Israel's secret weapon: Elisha. The Syrian army surrounded Elisha's camp. Elisha's attendant saw and lost his nerve. God opened the eyes of the servant and the servant saw God's army. "The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." How did God's army deal with the Syrians? The Syrian soldiers were struck blind. Israel fed the soldiers and sent them back to Syria.

When there is a struggle of righteousness ensuing in this world, there is another battle waging just out of our sight. The reality of this battle is the reason Paul encourages us to "take up the whole armor of God." We must take it up so we may engage in the struggle, the struggle "not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12-13).

2:5 They stumble forward. We have a view of soldiers who are so eager to obey orders that they stumble forward when they are called. How can any earthly army defeat a band of such loyal soldiers? They cannot.

We know who actually overthrew Nineveh -- primarily Media and Babylonia. Those armies probably did not fit this description; but Media and Babylonia were the physical side of the conflict. Nineveh was outmatched because God's soldiers stumble forward at roll call.

Incidentally, 3:3 which depicts an invasion so rapid the soldiers stumble forward supports this understanding of Nahum's use of stumbling forward.

2:6 Archeological evidence reveals flooding that facilitated fall of Nineveh (Maier 253).

2:7 The women will become slaves.

2:8 Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. Maier has:

And [thus] Nineveh is like a pool of water from [the] days of lamentation; And they are in flight. (263)

As for the mention of lamentation, Maier admits to be correcting the Masoretic Text (266) to something that makes contextual sense. The text so difficult most translators prefer to skip it rather than guess a meaning. Maier's translation is supported by the previous verse describing slave women beating their breasts in lamentation.

Gill accepts the AV and cites Rev 17:5 for support of his view that a pool represents a large population (160). This citation is probably an accident on Gill's part or is a misprint in my copy of the book. Many commentators cite Rev 17:15 as support in the interpretation Gill holds.

Maier's interpretation is that the pool is literal and points to the flood that facilitated Nineveh's fall (264).

A student of mine suggested the pool might represent security4. The pool may picture an above-ground cistern which suddenly bursts and the water flows out onto the ground and becomes useless. This position is valuable and credible. Nahum is about to speak of Nineveh as a lions' den. The lion has gone out and plundered the world and returned with spoil, enough for a long security. Assyria had planned a cozy existence (filled the den with prey -- filled the cistern with water); but Assyria is about to fall and all that power will turn into spoil and slavery.

There is no harm in planning for the future. There is however harm in forsaking Yahweh of hosts! And there is no security in security.

2:9 Plunder. This call implies a real war -- a short war with a big pay off.

2:10 Loins Quake. Faces grow pale. What would your loins do if your defenses so quickly fell and the enemy advanced toward you with such rapidity they stumbled forward (3:3)?

2:11-13 The presentation of lions is that they plunder and bring back to the den their kills. Assyria had plundered the world and built with it a decadent economy in Nineveh.

Lions were important in the Ancient Near East. The Asian Lion was to be feared! In lean times, they regularly preyed on humans. Everyone should at least once hear in person a lion roar. Lions in captivity do not often roar; so hearing it in a zoo is unlikely. Hearing it on TV doesn't count.

A fellow's blood will run cold when he hears a lions roar. Passages like these take on new meaning once a person has had his countanance shaken by a lion's roar.

Does a lion roar in the forest, when it has no prey? (Amos 3:4)

Yahweh roars from Zion...; the pastures of the shepherds wither, and the top of Carmel dries up. (Amos 1:2)

Lions were the terror of the wilderness! Biblical and secular poets used the image of a lion to represent terror.

Assyria was a nation of predators. They were powerful in their treatment of the world, Assyria's hunting ground.

2:13 Messengers. Messengers were important in 2 Kgs 18:17 ff. They were sent by the Assyrian king. Their mission was to melt the hearts of the Judeans. It was all part of the propaganda war. An opponent with lost nerve is the opponent I want!

Assyria was an empire. Empires succeed on the basis of communication. In ancient times, communication was long term and arduous. Messengers played a key role in the fabric of an empire. They carried messages. In any war, the first order of business is to shut down the lines of communication. Therefor, messenger was a dangerous occupation.

We know Assyria disappeared four years after Nineveh fell. She did not regroup. The empire received a death blow. "The voice of your messengers shall be heard no more." A fallen empire has no use for messengers and a falling empire does. In each case, there are no more messengers.

Chapter 3

3:1 Deceitful. Nineveh's deceitfulness was suggested in the previous verse with the mention of the messengers. Even more to the point, Nahum is introducing a theme of the city's debauchery. He is about to compare Nineveh to a prostitute.

3:1 Plunder. Of course! The lion had filled its den with strangled prey. Ninevehs fall was a big payoff for the invaders. See 2:9.

3:2-3 Crack of whip! Be afraid, Nineveh!

Bodies without end -- they stumble over the bodies! The picture is quite gruesome. Even modern war has record of such events. In the Tet Offensive, the Vietnamese used for cover heaps of fallen Vietnamese soldiers. To advance the front line, they climbed piles of bodies.

In Nahum's picture, the invaders advance over piles of Assyrian corpses. The rapid progress has invading soldiers stumbling forward.

Think of a hot knife through butter.

3:4 Prostitute. Beside the fact that she was immoral, Nineveh practiced spiritual prostitution. She had other gods beside Yahweh. We might dismiss this interpretation of the prostitute except that Nahum begins his book by describing Yahweh as jealous and avenging. Jealousy means, "You shall have no other gods besides me" (Ex 20:3). God's jealousy for His sovereignty is the primary reason given for Nineveh's doom. Just because they were not God's chosen people does not excuse their disloyalty.

She was a prostitute also in her diplomacy with the nations. She forced them to buy peace from her. When the nations paid tribute, Assyria sometimes raided them anyway.

Sorcery may point to the numerous superstitious beliefs of the Assyrians. It may point to the classical view that witches were prostitutes.

3:5 Yahweh of hosts. It is one thing to have the world against you. It is quite another to be on the wrong side of Yahweh of hosts. Nahum's use of this term emphasizes Yahwehs authority over many hosts of spiritual soldiers.

3:6-7 All who see you will shrink. In a nutshell, "You are worthless" (1:14). There are probably several allusions here. Nations looking with disgust on Nineveh demonstrates her pitiful condition and the stellar height from which she fell. There is no sympathy. All the world hated Assyria.

After a battle, the captives were often made the main attraction of a parade. The captured king, mighty soldiers and, if a city fell, captured women and children were escorted naked down the street. Citizens of the city threw filth at the captives. At the end of the parade, death often awaited the king and his soldiers. Slavery awaited the women and children.

Often, incense was burned at the head of the parade. It may have added a festive atmosphere to the event; but it was not a delightful smell to the captives on display.

We have before said that Assyria was doomed to the same punishments they dealt to the nations (see comments on 1:12-13). This parade is no exception. We are confident that a regular feature of Assyrian captivity was to be paraded naked and humiliated in the streets of Nineveh. Esarhaddon (680-669 BC) bragged in his annals:

I caught [King Sanduarri] like a bird in his mountains and (likewise) cut off his head. (Then) I hung the heads of Sanduarri and of Abdimilkutte around the neck of their nobles/chief-officials to demonstrated to the population the power of Ashur, my lord, and paraded (thus) through the wide main street of Nineveh with singers (playing on) sammu-harps. (ANET 290-291)

The punishment Assyria dished is returning as their own punishment.

I suggest we connect Nahum to 2 Cor 2:14-17. The New Testament passage also depicts a victory parade featuring the war captives. Preachers of righteousness are an aroma in a victory parade. To those who are being saved, the smell is of victory. To those who face death at the end of the parade -- to the losers, the smell is death. If we speak the truth, we will be loved and hated.

And we gain another evident lesson. People die (perish) even under the Christian system. Christ leads this parade, and there are "those who are perishing" in the procession. The perishing are those who reject the preaching. It is not demons. Think about it.

3:8-9 Are you better than Thebes? This question is a type we often see in the Prophets. It is unanswered; but there is an expected answer. The expected answer to this question is: You are NOT better than Thebes. If we read carefully, the fact that Ethiopia, Egypt, Put and Libya were the allies will clarify that Nahum cites the fall of Thebes to the Assyrians. Doesn't that conflict show Assyria to be better than Thebes? Militarily in that instance, it does; however, the point is not that Thebes had a military advantage but that it was strategically superior. The Nile protected Thebes from one side which made an attack from the river side of the city near impossible. The city fell.

Nineveh was similarly located by the Tigris River. Any strategic advantage to that location should be doubted when one considers the fall of Thebes.

This argument by the prophet is the best tool for dating the book of Nahum. Thebes was recaptured from the Assyrians twelve to thirteen years after the Assyrians captured it. If Nahum had written after the recapture of Thebes, his comparison would have been better made of the second event. Therefore, the date of Nahum's writing falls between the two captures. Maier argues these dates as 668-667 BC and 654 BC, respectively (34-35). Harris gives 663 as the date of Thebes' fall (689). I think we are close. I accept a date sometime in the later part of Manasseh's reign. I'll not quote the scholars who argue for a later date. I think I cannot respectfully comment.

3:11 You will be drunken. We see a glimpse into the brief existence of Assyria after the sack of Nineveh. The language describes fugitives. The drunkenness is, therefor, a sorrowful inebriation. The fugitives will get drunk out of depression. The passage is not a description of the mayhem that ensues as the city falls and the citizens are caught off guard in mid-merriment or are so disoriented their defense is as if the soldiers are drunk.

Those days will be worse than a citizen of Nineveh could possibly imagine.

3:12-13 Ripe figs. The point is Nineveh is easy and rich picking. The defenses are weak. They are easily devoured. There is also the harvest aspect of shaking a fig tree. It is how you harvest figs. It is easiest right after the first batch ripen. Just shake the tree and down they come.

The illustration of the women troops is probably another assertion of easy defeat. The soldiers are cowards. The context suggests this interpretation. NRSV has (and I believe correctly), "Look at your troops: they are women in your midst."

Let us understand that the emphasis is on the weak defenses. The rich picking is secondary. Looting is nevertheless a factor.

Maier suggests this description jabs Nineveh for depravity that likely accompanied their decadent society. Many of the men might have been effeminate. Citing his research, Maier proposes King Ashurbanipal to have been a crossdresser (335).

James Bowman wrote a very relevant article featuring a discussion of heroism as it relates to the movie Saving Private Ryan and other war movies. Bowman suggested real heroes fight for high ideals. Ideals worth dying for. He wrote:

[I]n the unlikely event that the subject of the "one decent thing" [WWII combat troops] hoped to accomplish in the war had ever come up, they would have been more likely than Mr. Spielberg thinks to have mentioned stopping Hitler and the Nazis from dominating the world and less likely to have chosen their own rather quixotic mission to save Private Ryan.

Real soldiers fight for what real soldiers have always fought for: to earn the respect of their enemies and the admiration and trust of their friends -- that which used to be called the "honor" of a soldier.

[H]eroism -- and in particular the kind of heroism that small boys habitually confer upon their fathers -- is not dependent upon being, in the sappy words attributed to Private Ryan, "a good man." First, you must be a man. And at a level much more elemental than that of even the most basic morality, boys first learn too become men by standing up to and earning the respect of the world in both war and peace. If the Anglo-Saxon world hegemons have forgotten this, all their high-tech weaponry will not long continue their imperium.

An unfortunate side affect of decadence is that personal values are easily and quickly adjusted in the interest of others that are more comfortable. One day, we wake up and discover we have nothing worth dying for.

Look at your troops: they are women in your midst.

3:14 Take hold of the brick mold! This scene presents the hasty manufacture of bricks. They are made of mud. The Ninevites are challenged to rapidly erect protective walls.

The greater effort they expend toward resistance, the greater God is glorified.

3:15-16 Multiply like the grasshopper! There is no safety in numbers. There is no strength. To use a coin, when the going gets tough, the tough get going -- as in, they split.

We do not need to know the correct translations for the difficult Hebrew words translated as merchants, guards, captains, scribes... to get the point. Your valuable talent will abandon. Whatever these trades were, they were probably loyal to Assyria only as far as Assyria afforded protection and comfort in lifestyle. These people may very well have been talent on hire from other nations. It could just as well apply to hired mercenary warriors. They would strengthen the Assyrian 'gone soft' military (3:13). Unfortunately for anybody who hires mercenaries, they are troops for hire. It is a job -- and when they chose between job and life, life wins. It's time to go looking for another job.

Locusts. I believe the best interpretation is, since Assyria had been like a devastating locust plague to the world, the empire will now fall victim to a similar locust plague5. The section might be paraphrased:

Fire and sword will devour you like a swarm of locust devours; for you have become a swarm of locust that devours; but you will scatter when the fire and sword arrive.

3:18-19 There is no assuaging your hurt. Therefor, Assyria will hurt. Thus, Assyria will linger a little while after the fall of Nineveh. Nineveh's sack was a deathblow to the Empire. She disappeared shortly thereafter.

The king has lost his advisors (shepherds). He cannot regroup. The structure of his governorship fell.

Even this punishment is a repercussion of the method by which Assyria destroyed nations. Samaria's wound (inflicted by Assyria) also was grievous (Micah 1:9).

Nineveh fell in 612 BC. The empire collapsed in 608.

The world will rejoice.

All the world had suffered under the yoke of Assyria. Now the empire will suffer the same affliction it dished to the world (Is 10:5-15).

Notes:

  1. It is fair to note that Josiah's reforms were very controversial in the days of his reign. The historian who wrote the book of Kings was in favor of Josiah's reforms - including the removing of the high places which were places of non-sanctioned - but usually sincere - worship of Yahweh (2 Kings 23: 8-9). When one notes that the majority of yahwist priests ministered on the high places in and near the towns of Judea and Israel, one would correctly decipher that the Josianic Historian's position was one side of a heated debate. In other words, in some circles Josiah's reforms were downright ungodly and blasphemous. Recall that King Solomon received his famous vision in which God granted him "a wise and discerning mind" while he was worshipping Yahweh on the high place at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:3-14). (back)
  2. The lesson of the error in assuming God's favor by your prosperity and strength was suggested by Denise Bales, a student when I taught the book of Nahum to a class at the Country Club church of Christ. I am grateful to the members of that church for involving me in the education program. I profited from a class of truly fine Bible students. (back)
  3. The possibility that Nahums invitation to celebrate the festivals was a criticism of Judah was suggested by Karen Jones who was one of my students at Country Club church of Christ. See note #2. (back)
  4. The picture of the peace and security of a pool of water is the suggestion of Brian DeLong, a student when I taught from Nahum in the education program at the Country Club church of Christ. (back)
  5. The valuable interpretation of "It will devour you like the locust" is the suggestion of Chris Mulliniks, one of my students when I taught Nahum at the Country Club church. Another view is that the Assyrians will be consumed even as fire consumes locusts (Maier 343). I do not believe this view to be better; for a torch will burn locusts by the thousands but it will not noticeably dent the swarm. No, Assyria will be consumed even as locusts consume. Nineveh's own swarm will dissipate. (back)

Bibliography:

Bowman, James. "Be a Man." The American Spectator. October 1998. pp. 75 - 75.

Gill, Clinton. Minor Prophets. Joplin: College Press, 1971.

Harris, R., Laird. "Nahum." The New International Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. J.D. Douglas, and Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.

Hicks, R. Lansing and Walter Brueggemann. "Nahum." The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger, and Roland E. Murphy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. 1200.

Maier, Walter A. Nahum. St. Louis: Concordia, 1959.

Prichard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET). Princeton: Princeton, 1969.

Rogers, Richard. The Minor Prophets: A Sunset School of Preaching Extension Study Guide. Lubbock: Sunset, 1979.


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