Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Study of the Prophets: Nahum (Cont.)
This week we continue with Chapter 1 at verse 7: “HaShem is beneficent, a stronghold on the day f distress, and mindful of those to take refuge in Him.”
At the same time He exacts punishment from His enemies, G-d is merciful to those who revere Him. True believers need not worry that we will be harmed by “friendly fire.” The omnipotent G-d can separate the wheat from the tares as delicately and surely as a fine jewelry maker separates seed beads of different shapes, color, and quality. In the context of the past, although the Assyrian Empire would be destroyed, the people of Israel who live in exile in its land would be spared the word of Nebuchadnezzar (Radak). G-d is often referred to as a fortress or stronghold (Psalms 31:3; 37:39; Jeremiah 16:19). He is ever mindful of the needs of those who love Him and He is a stronghold for the believer. He knows the secrets of men’s heart and recognizes those who truly love Him versus those who give Him lip service. Radak references and compares this verse to Psalms 1:6 “For HaShem knows the way of the righteous; i.e., He supervises their lives and grants them continuous protective care (see also Ex. 2:25).
Now we turn to the destruction of Nineveh once again. Nahum previously declared in verse 5 that the land would be destroyed. Now he describes the manner of destruction (Rashi). Verse 8 reads “With a sweeping flood, He puts an end to its place, and He pursues His enemies with darkness.” Just as a flash flood overflows the banks and sweeps through the surrounding area destroying everything in its path, so too G-d’s wrath (Rashi)– in the person of Nebuchadnezzar – will rage over Nineveh until there is no longer a remnant (Radak; Mahari Kara). According to Abarbanel, Nineveh’s destruction would take place in one destructive sweep compared to Israel’s exile at the hands of the Assyrians, which took place in stages. This is a reminder that we must be spiritually prepared with oil in our lamps at all times lest we be caught unawares as in the parable of the ten virgins described in Matthew 25:
25 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ Here is a perfect example of the fact that there is a time when we are not to sacrifice our welfare or share our “supplies” for or with unbelievers in contrast to being kind to our enemies and unbelievers, thereby “heaping coals upon their head” (Romans 12:20).
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
There are several interpretations for the phrase “and He pursues His enemies with darkness.” I will provide several of them for your consideration:
Radak explains that darkness is figurative, referring to the general troubles with which G-d will pursue the Ninevites.
Ibn Ezra posits that the Ninevites will be pursued into a dark place so that they will not be aware of the destruction that is about to happen.
Targum Yonasan interprets that the dark place is Gehinnom, where they will be punished even after death.
Verse 9: “What can you devise against HaShem? He is making and end [of you]; misfortune will not arise twice.”
Nahum is addressing the Ninevites, i.e., “What plan do you propose to escape G-d’s destruction?” Another example of this phrase is found in II Kings 18:35 that reads: “Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the L-rd should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?
The initial destruction of Nineveh will be so complete that it will be unnecessary for G-d to punish them a second time (Rashi; Radak).
Verse 10: “While they are still like tangled thorns and while they are drunk in their swilling, they will be consumed like fully grown dried straw.”
The thorns metaphorically represent the strength and unity of the Assyrian people (Rashi; Metzudos). Nahum foretells that the Assyrians will be utterly destroyed in spite of their power and unity. Furthermore, tangled thorns are impossible to uproot and remove because there is no place for a person to insert their hand and get a grip on the bush without sustaining injury. The thorns represent the Assyrians; a thorn stabbing painfully in the flesh of many nations, but firmly entrenched and seemingly impossible to uproot (Radak).
The Assyrians will not lose their powerful position in a piecemeal fashion- but while they are yet entrenched like a thorn bush and reveling in their drink- they will rapidly fall or be consumed as fully grown straw that is been set on fire (Rashi). It is true that the only way to eradicate a large thorn bush is to set it on fire, burning it to the ground. Furthermore, when thorns and straw have been completely burnt, they leave very little ash that is easily blown away by the wind. So too, the Assyrians will be so thoroughly destroyed that no remnant of them will remain (Radak).
Verse 11: “From you has come forth a plotter of evil against HaShem, a lawless counselor.”
From you, Nineveh, has come forth Sennacherib with his evil plot to destroy G-d’s Holy Temple (Rashi), or His nation Israel (Radak), and his wicked counsel to blaspheme G-d (Rashi; Metzudos).
When Sennacherib set out to conquer Judah, he sent an army under Rabshakeh to surround Jerusalem. Jerusalem was called on to surrender with Rabshakeh boasting of the irresistible might of Assyria and mocking G-d’s power to save Jerusalem from the hand of her king, Sennacherib. This blasphemy was repeated in a message sent by Sennacherib to Hezekiah, king of Judah (see II Kings Chs. 18-19).
Malbim maintains that the plotter of evil refers to the blasphemy of Sennacherib and his plan to destroy the Temple.
The Hebrew word used for lawless in verse 11 is a combination of two words to mean without the yoke of Heaven (Metzudos). In other words; without G-d’s Torah.
Verse 12: “Thus said HaShem [to Nineveh]: even if [your troops] are united and also numerous- even so they will be cut down and pass on. I will afflict you, and I will not [need to] afflict you again.”
It matters not how many or how powerful the troops are. It will only magnify their fall and destruction at G-d’s hand. They will be so utterly destroyed that they will pass from the stage of history, as G-d has decreed (Metzudos).
The reference to not needing to afflict them twice is spoken by Nahum in verse 9 also. An alternate interpretation is that these words are addressed to Israel. If I afflict you, Jerusalem, through Assyria, I will never again afflict you through them, for they will be totally destroyed (Ibn Ezra; Radak). I do not subscribe to the second interpretation simply because of the person used in the verses that precede and follow this verse.
Verse 13: “And now, I will break his yoke from upon you, [O Israel], and I will snap your bonds.”
This verse can be confusing because [O Israel] is not in other translations, including the Hebrew basically translated from the King James Bible, which is very inaccurate. Who is HaShem speaking to here, Israel or Nineveh? If he is speaking to Israel, then in the following verse it would follow that their name would never again be sown and that G-d’s people had become abhorrent (worthless or vile) in other translations. The phrase [to Me] is also not found in translations other than “The Prophets.” In the Hebrew translation from the King James version of the Bible, the Tetragrammaton for YHVH is translated as Judah in verse 12 which would make the statement about only being afflicted once in reference to Judah. I do not believe this is supported because of the earlier reference to the total destruction spoken of in verse 9. The initial phase of Nahum’s messages against Nineveh follows in vv. 12-14. As the opening monocolon declares, Nahum’s words were nothing less than a solemn pronouncement from the Lord. However flawless and numerous Nineveh’s armies might be, it was also true that G-d could cut them off so that the Assyrian forces would melt away. It had happened previously (2 Kings 19:32-36). Such a fact could serve as a guarantee that the Assyrian menace would never again bring affliction to G-d’s people. Indeed, the L-rd had a personal word for each of the parties involved. For Judah there was reassurance that its Assyrian vassalage would soon pass away, a condition that became a virtual reality during the latter days of Josiah’s reign. In contrasting Judah’s previous and future situations, Nahum compares Judah’s unjust treatment to a yoke and shackles, all of which shall be broken (v. 13). For Nineveh there was the solemn affirmation that her long night of cruel domination was soon to end. This vile and ruthless nation would shortly pass from the scene of earth’s history and leave it without any to carry on its political identity.
The gravity of the sentence against Nineveh/Assyria is underscored by Nahum’s use of a different figure, that of sowing. As a farmer sows his seed in anticipation of harvest, so a man’s posterity is viewed as his seed (e.g., Gen. 13:16). The metaphor is common in the Old Testament. Stress is laid here on the impossibility of Nineveh’s recovery. Never again will it know its former fame, for it will have neither status nor descendant to perpetuate its name.
Along with the idea of sowing, Nahum’s use of the word “name” is particularly appropriate. Whereas the term often carries with it the nuances of “character” and “reputation” it also connotes “existence”. In this case, to “cut of the name” was to destroy a person or leave him without descendant (cf. 1 Sam. 24:21; Job 18:17; Isa. 14:22). Conversely a man continued to exist in his posterity, for it was his name and seed (Isa. 66:22; cf. Jer. 13:11). Alas, Nineveh/Assyria would never again have its name sown! Therefore, we can deduce that Nineveh is the subject of this verse rather than Judah. Further support for this interpretation is found in the following verse:
Verse 14: “And HaShem will decree upon you that your name will never again be sown. I will eliminate idol and molten image from the temple of your gods; I will make your grave [there], because you have become abhorrent [to Me].
Next week we will begin at Chapter 2.
Rabbi Tamah Davis
My appreciation goes out to Dr. Richard D. Patterson for some of the information used in this week’s study pertaining to Chapter 1:12-14. Dr. Patterson has written excellent commentary on the Book of Nahum that will advance the reader’s knowledge of Nahum’s prophecies.