8.1 The Date (of the prophet’s ministry and work)
Nahum’s prophecy must be dated according to internal clues in his book since he does not confine his ministry to the reign of any monarch. Two references allow us to date Nahum’s work between 664 and 612 B.C. Dillard and Longman provide the standard date calculation.
The prophecy places itself in the seventh century B.C. This date is established by the mention of the destruction of Thebes, which occurred in 664 B.C. (3:8), and the major focus of the prophecy: the destruction of Nineveh, which took place in 612. If the prophetic nature of the book is taken seriously, then Nahum must be dated at least a couple of years before the destruction of the city. It is difficult to be more precise.
Some scholars argue for a date closer to 664 B.C. because the description of Thebes is so vivid. Others suggest that the prophecy should be concurrently dated with Zephaniah around 630 B.C., since Zephaniah (who places his own ministry during the reign of Josiah) also prophesied the destruction of Nineveh. However, Nahum’s vivid imagery can be explained in light of his powerful poetry, and it is possible that Nahum prophesied Nineveh’s destruction earlier than Zephaniah. In the final analysis, there is simply not enough evidence to warrant a more specific date range than the aforementioned period of 664-612 B.C.
8.2 Background History (historical setting of the prophet)
The historical milieu in which Nahum lived must be understood in the context of the reigns of preceding monarchs of Judah. Manassah, the son of the good King Hezekiah, ruled 55 years from 697-642 B.C. Manassah, being a wicked ruler, was the longest tenured king in the history of both Israel and Judah, and thus exerted a tremendous influence for evil on the people. Second Kings 21:9 records that Manassah seduced the people to “do more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel.” Toward the end of his life he repented and sought to bring religious reform to the land. Amon (642-640 B.C.), the next king and the son of Manassah, chose the path of his father’s earlier wickedness. His reign was cut short by assassination at the hands of his conspiring servants. Amon’s young son Josiah (640-609 B.C.) became the next king at age 8 and benefited from royal advisors who feared God. His life and rule were marked by righteousness, and because his reign coincided with the weakening of the once-mighty Assyrian Empire, these years in Judah were characterized by peace and prosperity amidst Josiah’s reforms. In 622 B.C. a book of the Mosaic Law was discovered in the temple, which led Josiah to initiate extensive religious reforms in the land. These years were known for the removal of the high places, religious prostitution, child sacrifice, and other syncretistic cult practices to make way for proscribed Yahwistic worship.
Nineveh, the intended metropolitan audience of the prophet Nahum, was the capital city of the waning and crumbling Near Eastern empire of Assyria. During Nahum’s ministry the balance of political and military power was shifting from the Assyrians to the Babylonians. From 652 until the fall of Assyria in 612 B.C., the Babylonians were off-and-on at war with Assyria. In 612, the Medes (Babylon’s ally) destroyed Nineveh by looting the city and its temples. The Medes, unable or uninterested in possessing the city, abandoned the city ruins for Babylon’s taking.
8.3 Work and Person (character and ministry of the prophet)
Nahum was an Elkoshite, which probably means he was from a place named Elkosh. Although the location of Elkosh remains uncertain, four possible locations of this site have been proposed in the history of interpretation:
(1) Eastern medieval tradition located Elkosh in the vicinity of Nineveh (at a site called Al-Kush) and argued that Nahum was the descendant of an exiled northern Israelite family. (2) Others…place Elkosh in Galilee at a site called El-Kauzeh. (3) A second site in the northern kingdom has also been proposed. This is Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. A possible etymology of Capernaum is “Nahum’s city.” (4) A still further proposed location is in Judah…in the area around Begebar, the modern Beit Jibrin.
Wood deduces that Nahum “must have been knowledgeable of the world around him and particularly the Assyrian Empire and its capital of the day, Nineveh.” He knew of the history of the Assyrian Empire and its threatening relation to Israel (culminating in exile by Assyria) and Judah. Although his book is an oracle against Assyria, he most likely also prophesied to his own people in Judah. Nahum knew of King Manassah’s period of captivity in Assyria and
doubtless used this fact as a word of warning to people generally. Knowing also of the destruction of Thebes in Egypt (3:8-10), he may have warned against any dependence on Egypt, in the vein of Isaiah a century earlier. Being thus aware of the world at large, he certainly had contact with the king of his own country, Josiah, and no doubt along with Zephaniah and Jeremiah had much to do with encouraging the king in making his reform.
8.4 The Book (abbreviated outline and brief summary)
I. Title (1:1)
II. Praise to the Divine Warrior (1:2-8)
III. Judgment for Nineveh and Salvation for God’s People (1:9-2:2)
A. Nineveh’s Judgment (1:9-11)
B. Judah’s Salvation (1:12-13)
C. Nineveh’s Judgment (1:14)
D. Judah’s Salvation (1:15)
E. Nineveh’s Judgment (2:1)
F. Judah’s and Israel’s Salvation (2:2)
IV. A Vivid Vision of Nineveh’s End (2:3-10)
V. Mockery of Doomed Nineveh (2:11-3:19)
A. Taunt Against Nineveh, the Lion (2:11-13)
B. Woe Over Nineveh, a City Destroyed (3:1-7)
C. Taunt Against Nineveh, a City Like Thebes (3:8-17)
D. Applause Over Nineveh, a Fatally Wounded City (3:18-19)
Judgment and salvation are recurring themes in the prophets, and no less so in the message of Nahum. Although at first glance the prophets may appear schizophrenic in pairing judgment and salvation beside each other, Robertson explains why they must be intimately conjoined.
These two elements, the destruction of God’s enemies and the salvation of God’s people, must be combined if the kingdom of God is to be actually realized on earth. God’s righteousness must be established, and his enemies must be overthrown. Apart from the defeat of God’s enemies, no genuinely good news can be announced to God’s people.
Jonah and Nahum were called to prophesy to the same people (Nineveh) a century apart, but Nahum’s message was one of certain doom in light of Nineveh’s failure to continue in repentance. Whereas Jonah witnessed to his chagrin Ninevite repentance from the least to the greatest, Nahum’s prophesy reveals God as one whose patience must never be construed as weakness or indifference. The bell hath tolled for Nineveh, and judgment would soon come for its myriad of sins: (1) unrestrained hunger for power and domination (2:12; 3:1, 4); (2) dishonest trade practices and crass materialism (2:12; 3:16); and (3) merciless martial practices.
Nahum invited the people of God to join in mocking their hated enemy as the Lord brought together judgment and salvation. “Judgment, however, is not the Lord’s final word. His acts of retribution are also acts of redemptive judgment that stand in the service of his love for his people and his covenant with them (1:15; 2:2). He destroys the forces of chaos with the purpose of recreating a new world of freedom, peace (1:13) and lasting comfort. He knows and cares for those who trust in him (1:7).
94. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 404.
95. I have relied heavily on Wood, Prophets of Israel, pp. 316-18 for the background history in this paragraph.
96. Similarly, I have relied on information in Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 405, for the historical background in this paragraph.
97. Ibid., p. 404.
98. Wood, Prophets of Israel, p. 319.
100. “Nahum,” in Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, p. 1480.
101. Robertson, Christ of the Prophets, p. 259.
102. “Nahum,” in Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, p. 1481.