Introduction to Nahum

Movie enthusiasts would be aware that the movie “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” has been screening in the cinemas for a few weeks now. This is the second of three movies in the Hobbit film series.

“The Hobbit” is Tolkein’s prequel to the more well-known and famous, “The Lord of the Rings.” Or to put it the other way round, “The Lord of the Rings” is the sequel or follow-on to “The Hobbit.”

“The Lord of the Rings” was a hugely successful film trilogy earning almost $3 billion dollars in box office revenue and winning no less than 17 academy awards. It remains to be seen whether “The Hobbit” series will be just as if not more successful.    

The book of Jonah and the book of Nahum go together. We may think of Nahum as a sequel to Jonah; and not only a sequel, but also a dramatic contrast.

 These two books present us with two contrasting pictures of God’s dealings with one nation. Unfortunately, the link or connection between these two books is not often appreciated or recognised. Jonah is a very familiar book to many people, especially the children. Nahum, however, is one of the least known books of the Old Testament.

We’ve already looked at the book of Jonah over the past few months. We’ll now consider its biblical sequel. What I’ll like to do in this article is to introduce the book of Nahum. 

Verse 1 says, “The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.” We are told right from the very outset that this book has to do with the city of Nineveh.

The word burden means oracle or utterance or message. The oracle or prophecy against Nineveh is what Nahum is all about.

There are two things that are unique about this book. First, apart from the book of Obadiah, Nahum is the only prophetic book that is entirely taken up with God’s judgment on a Gentile city or nation, and it makes no mention of the sins of God’s people. Furthermore, it contains only words of judgment and no explicit words of redemption or blessing.

Second, Nahum is the only prophet to tell us that he is writing a book. We see that in verse 1. “The book of the vision of Nahum…” His message or rather series of messages against Nineveh is explicitly described as a book.

Little is known about Nahum. His name means “comfort,” which was an appropriate name for this book. God’s message to him concerning His judgment upon Nineveh would bring comfort to the people of God.

Nahum comes from Elkosh, which was probably located somewhere south west of Jerusalem. This means that he was from the southern kingdom of Judah and he ministered to the people of Judah.

As to when this book was written, there are three considerations that will help us locate it in history. First, Nahum predicts the fall of Nineveh which took place in 612 BC, so the book must have been written before that time.

Second, Nahum mentions the fall of the city of No in chapter 3 verse 8 as something that was well-known in the ancient world. The city of No was a very important and powerful city located in southern Egypt. It was captured and destroyed by the Assyrians around the year 664 BC, so Nahum must have been written some time after that.

The third historical consideration is that when Nahum wrote this book, the Assyrians were still at or near the height of its power, which is why its destruction seemed so unlikely. Assyria remained at the height of its power until 640 BC, when it started to rapidly decline and weaken.

And so taking into account these three things, we can say that the book was most probably written sometime between 660 and 640 BC.

The book of Jonah, on the other hand, was probably written sometime in the middle of the 8th century or about 100 years before the book of Nahum. Jonah records the repentance of the Ninevites and the Lord’s merciful withdrawal of His threatened judgment against them.

But that generation of penitent Ninevites did not last very long. Fast forward about a hundred years, we meet a city that is once again full of violence and lies and robbery and idolatry. This time, the Lord was not going to send another Jonah to their city to preach to them and call them to repentance. Instead, He would simply declare, through His prophet Nahum, His awful judgment against them.

And so the theme of the book of Nahum is simply the judgment and destruction of Nineveh, the arrogant and wicked capital of the Assyrian Empire.

As I mentioned earlier, Nahum served to comfort and encourage the people of Judah in those days when the Assyrian Empire was at its height and striking great fear into the hearts of all the nations in the Middle East. People lived in fear of the Assyrians because of their terrible cruelty and wickedness.

In the midst of all this fear and terror in the hearts of His people, the Lord raised up His prophet to inform them of how He was going to deal with those who threatened and terrorised them.

But it is very interesting to note how the book begins. It does not begin with a description of the wickedness of Assyria or the judgment that would fall on them or even the troubles of Judah. Rather, it begins with a description of God Himself. 

This teaches us something, doesn’t it? That the first thing we should turn to for help and hope and comfort in whatever situation we are faced with is the Lord God Himself. His character and His nature provides the only firm foundation upon which to stand and to build our faith. When things are uncertain and we are filled with anxieties, then what we need to do is to return to what we are sure and certain of, namely, unchanging character of God.

In the verses that follow, we may discern at least three characteristics or attributes of God, namely, God is just, God is powerful, and God is good. We’ll look at the first of these three in the next article.