The book of Micah is sandwiched between two books concerning Nineveh (Jonah and our present concern: Nahum). Nahum has a double title: “An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh” (Nahum 1:1). The book is a Hebrew literary masterpiece in many ways that are impossible to replicate in English translations. But the message is clear in any language: Nineveh will be destroyed. Jonah would have loved to hear that!
Nahum likely prophesied about a century later than Jonah. Thus while YHWH had relented on the judgment of Nineveh for a time, He would not relent forever.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and the book of Nahum was written at a time when the northern kingdom was under Assyrian control and the southern kingdom of Judah was in an alliance with Assyria.
But Nahum wrote based on the knowledge of God’s character as we know it from passages like Exodus 34.
And again, YHWH would not let the sins of Assyria continue forever.
Indeed, the opening lines of Nahum say, “YHWH is a jealous and avenging God; YHWH is avenging and wrathful; YHWH takes vengeance on His adversaries and keeps wrath for His enemies. YHWH is slow to anger and great in power, and YHWH will by no means clear the guilty” (Nahum 1:2-3a). Here again we see that grace-formula, “slow to anger” is from Exodus 34:6, but the passage also quotes the other side of this “who will by no means clear the guilty” is a line from Exodus 34:7. Nevertheless, this opening passage is a victory hymn. And God’s jealousy is fitting for the covenant relationship that He has with His people — like a marriage relationship.
The book begins as an alphabetic acrostic, but the alphabetic pattern falls apart pretty quickly. This is a feature you would not hear but you would see it written. It also is a feature that is communicating something of the message of the book. Alphabetic acrostics convey order, but a broken one emphasizes chaos. The book of Nahum is noted for its excellent Hebrew poetry. O. Palmer Robertson shows how the parallelisms follow alternating or chiastic patterns. And it is self-identified as a book. The significance of this is that it was designed to be read. This is not spoken prophecies that get written down and collected but it originated as a written book.
And what Nahum does is both give us salvation oracles concerning Judah and doom oracles concerning Nineveh. Yet Nineveh is not mentioned by name in the opening chapter (except for the book’s introductory title) and Judah is only mentioned at the end of that first chapter. Thus the effect for the first-time reader is one of suspense wondering who will be the recipients of salvation and who will get judgment.
The victory hymn that opens the book is not historically specific – it could stand alone as a psalm. The poetry certainly qualifies it as a psalm. It continues describing YHWH coming down in judgment, “His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. The mountains quake before Him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before Him, the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the heat of His anger?”
The rhetorical questions of Nahum 1:6 have an obvious answer – “no one.” The poetic prophet says, “His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by Him.”
Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon are mountainous regions in three different directions from the perspective of the northern nation of Israel. Bashan is to the west, Carmel is to the east, and Lebanon to the north. This suggests, as has been proposed for other reasons, that the prophet was one of the faithful from the former northern nation of Israel.
We come to the theme of the whole book with the end of the victory hymn: “YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows those who take refuge in Him. But with an overwhelming flood He will make a complete end of her place, and will pursue His enemies into darkness.” “Her place” is not historically specific here, but given the context it refers to Nineveh.
In the eighth verse “in/with an overflowing torrent” serves double-duty:
“He cares for those who seek refuge in him in an overflowing torrent. [With an overflowing torrent] he makes an end to those who rise up against him” (Longman’s translation).
Thus the word translated “in/with an overflowing torrent” is a janus — it goes with what came before it but it also goes with what comes after it. Notice the different ideas that it gets across to us. In the first part the idea is that God cares for those who seek refuge in Him during an overflowing torrent (an overwhelming crisis in life). In the second part the idea is that God makes an end to those who rise up against him using an overflowing torrent.
And “to those who rise up against him” is a true janus parallelism according to Longman.
A janus parallelism is a feature where a single word with two different meanings is a janus between the two parts. The one meaning goes with the part before it and the second meaning goes with the part that follows. Such a feature is impossible to replicate in an English translation. The ESV follows the first meaning, “her place” but the other meaning would be “the rebel(s).” The LXX follows the second meaning, so that “the rebels” is parallel to “his enemies” in verse 9. Thus Longman’s translation, “those who rise up against him.”
Following the victory hymn of Nahum 1:1-8, the rest of the chapter develops its theme. Dillard-Longman’s introduction identifies the the judgment oracles against Nineveh as Nahum 1:9-11, 14; 2:1 and the salvation oracles to Judah as Nahum 1:12, 13, 15; 2:2.
Nahum 2:3-10 is the next section of the book. It is a vision where Nahum sees the final destruction of Nineveh.
The vision of Nineveh’s fall is quite vivid: “The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet. The chariots come with flashing metal on the day he musters them; the cypress spears are brandished. The chariots race madly through the streets; they rush to and fro through the squares; they gleam like torches; they dart like lightning” (Nahum 2:3-4).
After the rest of the vision are two taunts separated by a woe oracle. These two taunts have the same structure. The first taunt is Nahum 2:11-13, the woe oracle is Nahum 3:1-3, and the second taunt is Nahum 3:4-7. Both of these taunts contain the line, “Behold, I am against you, declares YHWH of hosts, and I will” (Nahum 2:13 and 3:5). The rest of the book continues the taunts. Dillard-Longman labels them as a “historical taunt comparing Thebes and Nineveh” (Nahum 3:8-10), “further insults against Nineveh” (Nahum 3:11-15c), “locust taunt” (3:15d-17), and the book ends with a dirge (Nahum 3:18-19).
The very first taunt ridicules Nineveh/Assyria as a lion. “Where is the lion’s den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb. The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh” but then ends saying, “the sword shall devour your young lions, I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard” (Nahum 2:11-13). There are two parts of the judgment that have nothing to do with lions beginning and ending the conclusion of the taunt.
The woe oracle says, “Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder—no end to the prey! The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies!” (Nahum 3:1-3). This oracle also, at least verses 2 and 3, has the feel of a vision.
The second taunt describes Nineveh as a sorceress-prostitute. “And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms” (Nahum 3:4). The judgment mentioned in this taunt is also fitting for the imagery. YHWH “will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. And all who look at you will shrink from you and say, Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her? Where shall I seek comforters for you?”
It is worth noting here that Nahum in Hebrew related to this verb “to comfort.” His name means, “comforter.” “Where shall I seek comforters for you?” (Nahum 3:7) is a rhetorical question – there are none to be found. But Nahum is a comforter for Judah with his message of good news to Judah. Recalling similar language in Isaiah, Nahum earlier in the book had said, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace!” (Nahum 1:15a, cf. Isa 52:7).
The next taunt is the historical one recalling the fall of Thebes. This is one of the reasons we are confident about the proposed dating of the book. “Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her wall?” (Nahum 3:8). She relied on Cush and Egypt, and Put and the Libyans were her helpers (Nahum 3:9). But she went into exile (Nahum 3:10). The comparison then means that Nineveh will experience a similar end.
The insults that follow, as Longman’s commentary cites others who have shown this, originally were language for treaty curses. Calling the Assyrian troops women, for example, fits a curse from one of these ancient treaties.
The locust taunt (Nahum 3:15d-17), as Longman translates it, begins, “Multiply yourself like the young locust; multiply like the locust!” But then the image shifts to the courtiers like locusts and the officials like clouds or swarms of locusts. In other words, even if you multiply like locusts you will not survive. You will remember from Joel 2 an unstoppable army being pictured as a locust swarm. But here Assyria can multiply like locusts but then use her wings to fly away.
And the short book ends, “Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them. There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?” (Nahum 3:18-19). This has been described as a sarcastic lament. Only this book and Jonah end with a rhetorical question. This encourages us to further compare the two.