Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Study of the Prophets: Nahum (Introduction)
We are going to examine the prophets of the seventh century, who came in a group as did those of the eighth century. The eighth-century prophets ministered between 760 and shortly after 700 B.C.E., where they prophesied in Israel or Judah. The territory of the seventh century prophets was even more limited, beginning probably not before 630 B.C.E. and running again shortly after the turn of the following century. There were no writing prophets who ministered during the first two thirds of the seventh century except for Isaiah, who lived most likely the first 20 years of that time. This is not to say that there were no prophets ministering during this time at all, because there was probably never a time in Israel’s history that there were no prophets available for consultation and guidance. However, there were none of the writing prophets who lived and ministered during those intervening years.
There were four writing prophets who ministered during the last part of the seventh century: Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah. Because the first three are considered minor prophets, there is less known of them than the major ones. This study will examine the prophecies of Nahum.
Nahum does not date his ministry to the reign of any king as do the eighth-century prophets, so his time must be determined by internal evidence from his book. To events provide some very helpful information. One is the reference to the destruction of the city of No in Egypt. The city was No-Amon (Thebes), which was destroyed in 663 B.C.E. by the Assyrian Ashurbanipal. The event is spoken of in the past, therefore Nahum must have prophesied after it happened (3:8-10). The other clue that helps us place the timing of his mission is that the fall of Nineveh is still spoken of as a future event. In fact, the theme of the book is the predicted destruction of this major Assyrian city. This occurred in 612 B.C.E.; therefore, placing Nahum’s ministry somewhere between these two dates. Although it is not possible to designate a precise date, we can look at Zephaniah who dates his ministry more precisely as occurring in the rule of Josiah and also foretells the fall of Nineveh (2:13), as a probable time that Nahum also made his prediction. The rationale for grouping the seventh-century prophets closely together provides further support that Nahum came approximately the same time as Zephaniah. It may be that the beginning of Nahum’s ministry was somewhere around 630B.C.E., and it is very possible that he continued to serve during most of Josiah’s reign.
Nahum’s prophecies and that of the other prophets of the seventh century cannot be understood or appreciated without considering the events that occurred preceding their work. Manasseh and Amon had previously reigned. Manasseh (697-642 B.C.E) was the son and successor of Hezekiah, who was a good king. He ruled 55 years, the longest of any king in either Judah or Israel. Unfortunately, Manasseh did not follow the ways of his father who followed the ways of G-d. Rather, he sought after the ways of his wicked grandfather, restoring offensive cultic objects that Hezekiah had destroyed. He placed altars of Baal throughout the land and even in the Temple. He recognized the Ammonite deity, Moloch, by sacrificing children in the Valley of Hinnon. He approved of various forms of pagan divination and placed an image of the Canaanite goddess Asherah in the Temple. Anyone who protested was killed. It is said of Manasseh that he caused the people to do more evil than any of the nations whom G-d dispossessed from the land in previous centuries (II Kings 21:9).
G-d did not take to this rebellion lightly. Manasseh was taken captive to Babylon (II Chron. 33:11). Little is known about the captivity. Manasseh was eventually permitted to return to Judah, when he repented before G-d and sought to make amends for his earlier wickedness. There is no indication of how many years of his rule remained in which he could continue to set things right.
Amon was Manasseh’s successor (642-640 B.C.E). He reverted back to the wicked practices, paying no attention to his father’s life, captivity, and repentance. Perhaps some of his own servants became repulsed by his behavior because some of them banded together and killed him in his own house after only two years on the throne.
Because of his early demise, his son and successor, Josiah (640-609 B.C.E.), inherited the throne at only eight years old. Nevertheless, he proved to be one of the finest rulers in all of Judah’s history, and the 30 years of his reign were some of the happiest in the history of Judah. They were characterized by peace, prosperity, and reform. Assyria, who was the greatest enemy until his reign, was no longer a great power. Babylon as the next great power in the Middle East would not rise to take over leadership until 605 B.C.E., leaving smaller kingdoms in the area to rule autonomously.
When Josiah was young, he had G-d-fearing advisors who mitigated the influences of his father, for he followed the ways of G-d from the beginning. At 16 years old, he began to “seek after the G-d of David his father” (II Chron. 34:3). At 20 he undertook the cleansing of Jerusalem and Judah of the idolatrous objects that his father and grandfather had brought into the land (II Chron. 34:3-7).
At 26 (622 B.C.E.), Josiah continued and intensified his efforts in reformation. This was prompted in part by the discovery of “a book of the law of the L-rd given by Moshe” (II Chron. 34:14). Josiah was extremely distraught at the division between the requirements set forth in the book and what was actually being practiced in the land. He sought the counsel of the prophetess Huldah, who warned that punishment was inevitable in view of the people’s deviation from G-d’s instructions/laws. She indicated that the punishment would not come in the time of Josiah because of his commendable attitude and love of G-d. With this information, Josiah inaugurated the reforms called for in the book. All foreign cult objects were removed, the idolatrous priests were driven from the land, and the houses of prostitution were destroyed. Child sacrifice was abolished, and horses dedicated to the sun were removed from the entrance to the Temple. The chariots were burned (II Kings 23:4-14). Josiah then extended these reforms beyond Judah to the northern regions, formerly Israel, taking advantage of Assyria’s general period of weakness. Bethel was of particular interest, because it had been the center of golden calf worship. According to a promise that was made 300 years previous, Josiah burned the bones of the former false priests on the altar that Jeroboam I had built and then destroyed the altar and its high place (II Kings 23:15,16).
Because Nahum is not mentioned anywhere else in the Old Testament, and does not provide any personal historical information, little is known about Nahum’s personal life and work. He does mention that he was an Elkoshite. There are four possible locations, the most likely being a place called Bir-el-kaus in the territory of Judah.
Because the Book of Nahum is concerned entirely with the destruction of Nineveh, Nahum must have been knowledgeable of the political environment, particularly the Assyrian Empire and its capital at that time being Nineveh. Though he was probably born in a rural area, he must have had contact with larger cities where he would have obtained information of the world around him. He must also have been conversant with its past history. He would have known of Israel’s fall to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E. and the danger it portended for Judah. He would have been familiar with Sennacherib’s campaign in the days of Hezekiah and the extensive ruin that befell the country as a result. He would have been very familiar with the powerful reign of Ashurbanipal (669-633 B.C.E.), grandson of Sennacherib, who died at about the same time he began his ministry. Ashurbanipal’s was a glory period for Assyria, when the empire reached its pinnacle of power. This fact would have dominated Nahum’s thinking as her wrote of the destruction of the great capital of Nineveh.
Although the focus of the Book of Nahum was the destruction of Nineveh, he was not silent to the ministering needs of his own people. IN this area he may be compared to Obadiah, who wrote exclusively about Edom but was also active in preaching to his fellow countrymen. Being knowledgeable of Assyria, he would have known of Manasseh’s captivity and would have used this event as a warning to his people in general about what happens when people rebel against G-d. Also being knowledgeable of the destruction of Thebes in Egypt (3:8010), he may have warned against dependence on Egypt, akin to some of Isaiah’s prophecies a century previous. Being aware of the world as it was in general, he certainly had contact with King Josiah and must have encouraged him in his efforts to reform the people and the land along with encouragement from Jeremiah and Zephaniah.
With a focus on Nineveh, we must ask ourselves about a possible relationship between Nahum and Jonah. Since Nineveh repented and G-d spared its destruction in the Book of Jonah, why would G-d have Nahum speak of it yet again? The answer lies in the chronological relationship of the two prophets. Approximately a century and a half had elapsed and Jonah had no doubt been forgotten by the time of Nahum. Just as we selectively or otherwise forget destructive and tragic events as time marches on, unfortunately also the lessons that can be learned from these events. So it happened in Nineveh. Sin abounded once again with punishment certainly in order, and G-d used Nahum to predict to the people that it would come. Nineveh fall in 612 B.C.E., as the city was overrun by a combined force of Babylonians, Medes, and probably Scythians. With all of the information provided by G-d’s prophets that reiterate G-d’s admonishment to obey His commands, regulations, and statutes, humans are indeed a stiff-necked people to believe for a moment that our rebellion against G-d and His Torah will bring us anything but punishment and sorrow if we do not repent. We are beginning to reap the fruits of our sin and the worst is yet to come, so says the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; YHVH/Yahshua.
In the first chapter of Nahum, he begins with a psalm of triumph, in which he praises G-d and announces G-d’s punishment on the wicked and bestowal of goodness on those who trust Him. This is encouraging news for us but may also cause feelings of urgency and/or sadness for those we love who are not true believers according to Yahshua’s definition found in the Torah. Just as for Nineveh, punishment for rebellion and wickedness that is not met with repentance and reform will be administered by the One True Judge. In chapter 2, Nahum predicts actual scenes from Nineveh’s destruction, using very vivid and forceful language. Continued use of vivid language in chapter 3, Nahum sets forth the reasons that brought on the destruction. An outline of the book is as follows:
- A psalm of G-d’s majesty (1:1-15)
- Description of Nineveh’s destruction (2:1-13)
- Reasons for Nineveh’s destruction (3:1-19)
Next week we will begin with Chapter 1. It will be beneficial to review the studies on the Book of Jonah for contrast and comparison to this study.
Rabbi Tamah Davis
Additional reference: Wood, L.J. (1979). The Prophets of Israel. Baker Book
House: Grand Rapids, MI.