Nahum :: Catholic News Agency

Date Written: 663-612 BC

Author: Nahum of Elkosh


Nahum was a prophet in Judah after the 722 BC fall of Israel, but before the 587 BC fall of Jerusalem.  His name means "comfort."  He preached during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah (640-609 BC).  Nahum is not metioned in other biblical books and the location his hometown, Elkosh, has not been identified but probably it was in Judah (1:1).


Assyria had conquered Israel and dragged its people into exile and assimilation.  Assyria had also crushed much of Judah and forced the nation to pay a heavy annual tribute. Nahum mentions the 663 BC fall of Thebes (3:8) and forecasts the eventual fall of Ninevah in 612 BC to the Babylonians and Medes, so his prophecies are placed in between those dates.  Nahum assails Assyria's position as oppressor of peoples, an expansive empire which brutally suppressed its vassal states.  Violent conquerings gave way to overtaxation which led to economic hardship for its conquered peoples.  It is no wonder that Nahum's hearers would "clap their hands" at the fall of Ninevah (see 3:19).


The book begins with an acrostic poem (1:2-11) about the nature of God as slow to anger (1:3) and yet an avenger (1:2).  (An acrostic poem is in alphabetical order according to the Hebrew alphabet.)  God despises evil and will not allow it to persist forever.  He will take vengence against those who do evil (1:6, 9).  The Lord knows those who trust in him (1:7), so he will break Judah's yoke (1:13), bring good news (1:15) and restore the splendor of Jacob (2:2).  Chapter 2 describes the chaos of the beginning of the battle for Ninevah.  Soldiers run to and fro (2:3-4), women wail aloud (2:6), and the city is plundered (2:9-10).  Chapter 3 continues the graphic depiction of the coming destruction of Ninevah.  Blood, chariots, swords, horses, spears and bodies fill the terrifying picture (3:1-3).  Ninevah's overthrow is likened to the shaming of a prostitute (3:4-7), the conquest of Thebes (3:8-11) and to the easy harvest of over-ripe figs (3:12).  Nahum multiplies metaphors in his effort to describe his vision of Ninevah's fall.  The destruction he foresees will be devastating.  The Assyrian empire, which oppressed so many people, will be oppressed itself.


The book's message is simple: God's justice will in the end prevail over human injustice.  The Lord brought retribution against Assyria for all of its crimes, but only after a long cruel reign.  Assuredly, the people who clap their hands at Ninevah's fall (3:19) felt the Lord was slow to anger (1:3).  They had suffered enough; the defeat of Assyria would truly be "good news" (1:15).


Christians believe in the Lord's vindication for his people, but we await his final act of making things right.  Though some injustices are "righted" in our history, the complete righting of all wrongs will not come until the end of time. 


By Mark Giszczak

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