Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Study of the Prophets: Nahum (Cont.)
This week we will examine Chapter 1:1-6. We begin: 1“A prophecy regarding Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite:2 HaShem is a jealous and vengeful G-d; HaShem is vengeful and full of wrath; HaShem is vengeful to His adversaries and reserves hostility for His enemies.3 HaShem is slow to anger: but He has great power and He will not absolve [iniquity]. HaShem-His path is in a storm and in a tempest, and clouds are the dust of His feet.4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, and makes all the rivers parched. Bashan and Carmel become devastated, and the flower of Lebanon becomes devastated. 5Mountains quake because of Him and the hills melt; the earth smolders from before Him, the world and all who dwell in it. 6Who can stand before His fury, and who can rise against His burning wrath? His wrath is poured out like fire and rocks become shattered because of Him.
G-d was now preparing to avenge the excessive harm that the Assyrians had cause the people of Israel. The following prophecies are not only directed against the dynasty of Sennacherib who was Assyria’s monarch responsible for exiling the Ten Tribes, but for all of His enemies that include all who are rebellious against YHVH/Yahshua and His Torah
Malbim divides the book of Nahum into two sections. The first, which includes Chapters 1 and 2, called “The Prophecy of Nineveh,” describes the destruction of Nineveh prior to or occurring during the days of Nahum. The second section, Chapter 3, called “The Vision of Nahum,” foretells Nineveh’s future destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. Although Rabbinical sources record only Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign against Nineveh, its previous destruction is described extensively in secular historical records.
Verse 1: The word burden is used synonymously with prophecy that usually introduces a fateful and foreboding prophecy. The Targum Yonasan, paraphrases the prophecy of the cup of torment that will be given to Nineveh to drink. Most prophecies directed to the nations of the world are introduced by this term.
In the Hebrew translation of “the book of the vision,” the phrase indicates “seeing” in a spiritual sense, perceiving and comprehending that which is invisible to the naked eye (R. Hirsch, Genesis 15:1). The Book of Nahum is the only prophetic work that Scripture itself refers to as a book. Abarbanel suggests that unlike other prophets who confronted their audiences, Nahum did not travel to Nineveh to publicly proclaim his prophecy but wrote it in a book and sent the prophetic message to the people.
Verse 2: Although G-d is the All-Merciful One, He is vengeful for Israel’s sake. Although it was G-d’s will that Assyria exile Israel from its land (Isaiah 10:5), G-d held Assyria accountable for the unwarranted intensification of Israel’s punishment, causing excessive suffering (Zech. 1:15). Furthermore, Assyria did not attack Israel to fulfill G-d’s wishes. The attack was carried out to satisfy their own selfish intentions. But we must understand G-d used the Assyrians to accomplish His purpose. Just as He loves Israel (all true believers then and now, He punishes us and teaches us for our own good and for His ultimate glory) (Heb. 12:6).
Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 1:36) maintains that Scriptural references to wrath [anger, jealousy, vengeance] when applied to G-d are only in regard to idolatry. Indeed, idolatry is placing anything or anyone before G-d and His Torah. G-d’s enemies are idolaters. So as not to attribute any corporeal characteristics to G-d, these characteristics are not the result of any emotion or passion, for G-d is above all emotions and passions of humans. We simply use anthropomorphic designations and names of human emotions and passions as a way of describing how we perceive G-d’s actions on different occasions. In reality, G-d never changes; His ways are not our ways, and we are sorely limited in our ability to discuss G-d at all. Thankfully, He provided us a way through His Torah that is the inspired Word through those He used to write His Torah. Malbim suggests that vengeance is an anger that is actuated immediately. In contrast, wrath denotes anger that is kept in one’s heart until a future time. It is thus an inner resentment a wrath that boils inside (R. Hirsch, Gen. 49:7; Psalms 37:8). Although vengeance is a despicable character trait and is prohibited by the Torah (Lev. 19:18), this only applies when directed at a fellow believer: (Love your neighbor): …17‘You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 18You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the L-rd.” Here we see the definition of “neighbor.” Furthermore, we see in Romans 12:18-19: “If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for G-d’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the L-rd.” In Rabbinical Judaism, you will read that vengeance is permitted against enemies and oppressors (Abarbanel). This however, is not supported in G-d’s Torah. What is the correct response? Romans 12:20 reads: “On the contrary, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head.’” … It is extremely important to learn the differences between Rabbinical law, the Oral Torah, and Messianic Judaism and G-d’s Torah. “… and reserve hostility for His enemies.” Again, there are times when G-d chooses to avenge the deeds of His enemies immediately, and times when He chooses to wait until the Day of the L-rd and beyond.
Verse 3: This verse addresses a subject of which we often discuss. G-d patiently restrains His anger and delays punishment, thereby giving sinners a chance to repent and turn his heart toward G-d. But as we can see and have learned through our previous Torah studies, there will be a cut-off point where there will not be any more time and we will seal our fates by our decision to either accept and follow, or reject and rebel G-d’s Torah out of love of and for YHVH/Yahshua.
One should not mistake G-d’s patience for weakness, for He has great power and has the ability to execute His vengeance immediately if He chose to do so. He delays His vengeance only because He is slow to anger out of love for His creation. Indeed, impatience denotes weakness contrasted with G-d’s enduring love and mercy and patience that denotes great strength. Recall that Moshe struck the rock out of weakness for whatever reason instead of restraining his emotions and following G-d’s explicit instructions to speak to the rock to obtain water for the complaining Israelites. It is important to realize that although G-d is slow to anger, He is sure to punish the guilty (Rashi; Radak). All we need do is study G-d’s Torah from cover to cover to realize this truth accomplished in the past, and yet to be administered in the future (see Revelation).
“His path is in a storm and in the tempest.” Rashi interprets this verse literally. The elements described here are G-ds’ emissaries for bringing retribution upon His enemies (Ex. 14:21; Job 4:9; Ezek. 27:26). Radak, however, interprets the verse figuratively. When G-d finally punishes His enemies, His retribution descends with the sudden swiftness of a whirlwind.
“and clouds are the dust of His feet.” The clouds represent the darkness that will enshroud the enemy as a result of the heavenly punishment that will befall him. The dust of His feet refers to the decrees that G-d will place upon the enemy. Therefore, Radak interprets: The decrees that G-d will place upon His enemies will bring them darkness. Ibn Ezra explains this as a continuation of the first part of the verse. G-d’s decrees will come from the heavens with a swiftness greater than the clouds. We have the advantage of corroborating this with the descriptions given in the book of Revelation in relation to the swiftness of YHVH’s judgment and the speed with which the angels meter out the events associated with the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls; all of which contain separate judgments.
Verse 4: G-d’s dominion over the waters: “He rebukes the sea and makes it dry.” This verse is to be understood literally and allegorically (Rashi; Radak). The imagery of the drying of the seas is a reference to the future destruction of Assyria and the other nations of the region at Nebuchadnezzar’s hand, whom G-d will allow to come to power in the days of King Jehoiakim (Isaiah 17:12), where the nations are described as mighty waters (Rashi). Alternatively, the prophecy is specifically referring to the downfall of the Assyrian monarchs (Radak). If G-d demands the mightiest of His creations, the seas, to change their nature and become dry land as He did at the Sea of reeds, it is not beyond Him to cause the downfall of empires, a process that does not violate natural law (Radak).
“… and makes all the rivers parched.” G-d can accomplish this in many ways. It follows that If He can calm the seas or dry them up, he can do the same to rivers that are lesser than the seas, just as He did when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry land (Joshua 3:16), or by holding back the rain (Radak). According to Abarbanel, G-d uses the two emissaries in the previous verse, wind and clouds to dry the seas and hold back their rain respectively. See Revelation 16:12 for comparison.
“Bashan and Carmel have become devastated…” Bashan and Carmel were fertile pasture lands, Bashan in the east, and Carmel in the west. When G-d withholds the rain and causes the rivers to become dry, there can be no vegetation in these areas. This refers allegorically to the destruction of the kings and common people of the nations (Radak). There is no caste system in this scenario!
“and the flower of Lebanon becomes devastated.” The trees of Lebanon will wither. The Lebanon was a forest located in the northern part of Israel (1 Kings 5:20). Keeping in mind the following is a Rabbinic teaching that cannot be substantiated in G-d’s Torah, according to the Talmud (Yoma 39b), Lebanon is a reference to Solomon’s Temple, and the flower is a reference to the golden fruit that miraculously grew within it. When Solomon built the Temple, he planted golden fruit trees that miraculously bore fruit of gold at specific times. When the wind blew, the fruit would fall from the tree and the Kohanim would sell them and support themselves with the money. When the conquering enemies entered the Temple, these trees dried up and the fruit withered (Rashi).
“Mountains quake because of Him…” Even the mighty mountains quake and crumble at G-d’s will (Radak). Metaphorically, this referees to kings and noblemen (Rashi). See also Rev. 16:17-21 for comparison.
“The earth smolders from before Him…” In Hebrew the word used for smolder means to “raise up” or “to burn” (II Samuel 5:21) (Radak). Therefore, this describes smoke rising from the ground after the land has been destroyed with fire (Rashi).
“the world and all who dwell in it.” This means everyplace that is inhabited (Metzudos).
Verse 6: “ Who can stand before His fury?” Nahum continues to described G-d’s anger against Nineveh.
“His wrath is poured out like fire.” His wrath has descended from heaven and has reached earth. The unusual metaphor “poured out like fire” is variously explained to describe solid objects heated to such a high temperature that they have been melted by the fire or the speedy descents of bolts of fiery lightning from heaven to earth, or volcanic eruptions in which lava and fire are blown out of the crater. We are able to gain more insight into this subject if we look at Revelation once again.
Rev. 8:6-8 reads: “Now the seven angels with the seven shofars prepared to sound them. The first one sounded his shofar; and there came hail and fire mingled with blood, and it was thrown down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his shofar, and what looked like an enormous blazing mountain was hurled into the sea. A third of the sea turned to blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.”
“and the rocks become shattered because of Him.” When G-d will focus His wrath, even the most powerful and mightiest of nations will be smashed and destroyed (Metzudos).
The similarities between the past as we read the Book of Nahum, and Revelation cannot be ignored. May we all pray for knowledge, wisdom from above to use it correctly, and the strength to live according to G-d’s Torah Perhaps our living testimony to our love of G-d and His Torah will ignite the human curiosity of unbelievers to the point of questioning their belief systems and why we are different.
May it be so. Next week we will begin at verse 7.
Shalu shalom Yerushalayim,
Rabbi Tamah Davis