Introduction to Nahum (Nahum 1) June 18
Little is known of the prophet Nahum, whose message concerns the coming destruction of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire. The time of his prophecy is ascertained from two key facts. The fall of the Egyptian city of Thebes (No Amon), which occurred in 663 B.C., is mentioned as a past event (3:8). And the fall of Nineveh, which occurred in 612 B.C., was yet future. So Nahum must have written between these dates.
The prophet is called an Elkoshite (1:1), apparently after a native city named Elkosh, the location of which is uncertain. Some maintain that, "since Nahum wrote considerably after the destruction of Israel in 722 B.C., we may assume that Elkosh was in Judah" (Nelson Study Bible, introductory notes on Nahum). And Nahum does specifically address Judah in the prophecy (verse 15). Others, however, point out: "His name is in the word 'Capernaum' [modern Kfar Nahum], which means 'village of Nahum.' This may indicate that he was a resident, or founder, of Capernaum.... Elkosh, his birthplace, was probably nearby" (Halley's Bible Handbook, 1965, "Nahum"). This at first glance seems odd since Capernaum was located on the north coast of the Sea of Galilee, in the land of the former northern kingdom of Israel. But a period of residence in Capernaum could actually make sense if Nahum preached during the time of Josiah, when Israelites known as Scythians reoccupied the area of the northern kingdom for a decade or so prior to Assyria's fall. Perhaps Nahum lived for a while in the area of Capernaum, preaching to these Israelites. The Nelson Study Bible suggests that his book was written "under the reform of Josiah in 622 B.C." And that would fit the time frame of Scythian occupation.
He could not have been born nearby, however, as that would have been too long before the Scythian occupation. So Elkosh may have been in Judah even if Nahum later lived in Capernaum. Smith's Bible Dictionary, however, places Elkosh much farther away: "This place is located at the modern Alkush, a village on the east bank of the Tigris," the area of ancient Assyria ("Elkosh"). Halley's Bible Handbook comments on this, "There is said to have been an Elkosh on the Tigris, 20 miles north of Nineveh, and that Nahum may have been among the Israelite captives." Surprisingly, this is quite possible. Perhaps Nahum was actually among the Scythians who came back to the Promised Land from northern Mesopotamia. He may have given witness to Nineveh itself of its coming destruction before later proclaiming these words to Judah. However, it should be pointed out that there is no indication that Nahum's words were ever actually communicated to the ancient Assyrians.
In any case, we can be confident that these words of Nahum were communicated to the people of Judah—for it is the Jews who preserved his prophecy. The name Nahum means "Comfort," and his words—foretelling the destruction of Israel and Judah's terrible enemy—were certainly of great comfort. Assyria, portrayed as a den of ravaging lions feeding on the blood of the nations, was brutal beyond imagination (2:11-13). Though Nineveh had temporarily repented at Jonah's preaching around 150 years before and had been spared, the capital city of Assyria is now marked for destruction. And God will bring infinitely more power and finality than Assyria had brought upon her enemies.
We should not miss the duality of this warning. There are clear indications that it is also an end-time prophecy. First is the mention of the "day of trouble" (1:7), which signifies the future Day of the Lord. Then there's the fact that God's people will be afflicted no more (verse 12), the wicked enemy never again allowed to pass through their land (verse 15)—which has not been true of the Jewish people in the more than 2,600 years since the fall of ancient Nineveh. And finally, the description of Nineveh as the great harlot of sorceries (3:4) ties it directly to other prophecies of end-time Babylon (see Isaiah 47; Revelation 17-18). At the end, modern Assyria will once again arise as the foe of Israel (see Isaiah 10:5-6). As explained in the Bible Reading Program highlights on Isaiah 10, it is the people of Central Europe who are, in large part, descended from the ancient Assyrians. Nineveh may represent the seat of power of a future Central European nation or of the empire this people will come to dominate. For modern Assyria will be the foremost nation of the coming Beast power, end-time Babylon, which will once again enslave Israel and then fight against Christ at His second coming (see Revelation 13; 17; 18). And once again she will be brought to utter destruction!
Thus, the book of Nahum is a book of stern warning—to the peoples of Central Europe yes, but in a larger sense to the entire European empire they will be part of and, in an even larger sense still, to all who will oppose God and His people. However, it is a book of blessing and great comfort to all who will stand with God and put their trust in Him (Nahum 1:7)—including any of Assyrian descent who will forsake the ways of sin and pursue God's Kingdom and righteousness. Ultimately, under the rule of Christ, the Assyrian nation will repent and serve God alongside the Israelites (Isaiah 19:23-25). But dark times will precede this wonderful future.
The Lord Avenges His People (Nahum 1)
The book opens with a portrait of God as an avenger of His people. The term is used in different forms three times in verse 2. He is further described as jealous and furious. The fact that He is "slow to anger" in verse 3 may be a reminder of Jonah's visit to Nineveh long before, when God stayed His hand in response to the citizens' repentance. But now they had devolved into their former conduct. In an end-time setting, we should remember that the peoples of Central Europe and other Europeans have been exposed to Scripture for centuries—with all of its godly instructions and warnings against disobedience such as Jonah gave—and yet a regime to rival the Third Reich is going to eventually arise again among them.
God's all-consuming power is witnessed by His control over all elements of the earth (verses 3-6)—a common formula in the Minor Prophets. Yet His fierce anger against His enemies is contrasted with His goodness toward those who trust in Him (verse 7). If we remain faithful, we will be preserved through the day of trouble—be it any time of great difficulty or the worst time of trouble ever seen, which is yet to come upon the earth.
In verse 8, the end of Nineveh comes with an overflowing flood. "It is believed that the invaders of Nineveh entered the city through its flooded waterways" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 8). This may well be as the city was guarded by walls 100 feet high. And it seems to be supported by Nahum 2:6. "Archaeologists have found evidence of flood debris that may be associated with the destruction of the city" (note on 2:6). Still, it should be noted that an overwhelming flood can simply signify an invading enemy army in Scripture (see Isaiah 59:19; Jeremiah 46:7-8; 47:2; Psalm 18:16-17; 69:1-2).
In Nahum 1:9-11, the prophet directly addresses Nineveh, seen as conspiring and plotting against God. This could apply in some sense to Assyria's planned invasion of Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah—but that was perhaps 80 years before Nahum wrote. Since this doesn't appear to refer to anything that transpired in Nahum's own day, it seems to make more sense to view this in an end-time context—when the peoples of Central Europe, as part of the final Beast power, will destroy the modern Israelite nations and then oppose Christ at His return (see our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy). The "wicked counselor" of verse 11 could be the end-time Beast dictator or his accomplice, the false prophet—or perhaps even Satan the Devil, the dragon who empowers their evil system (see Revelation 16:13-14 and our free booklet The Book of Revelation Unveiled).
Verses 12-13 of Nahum 1 contain a message to God's people. Though Assyria feels safe, she will be utterly cut off. No more will God afflict His people with this destructive empire. The bursting of bonds shows that His people will be enslaved by this empire in the last days (compare Jeremiah 30:8). Thankfully, God will free them—and free them for good.
In Nahum 1:14, the prophet proclaims to Nineveh the direct warning of God. Its idolatrous religion will be brought to an end. In ancient times, this was centered on the worship of the forefather of the Assyrians, Asshur (see Genesis 10:22; "Assyria, Asshur," Smith's Bible Dictionary). Yet he was, it appears, in many respects confused with the ancient founder of Nineveh and Babylon, Nimrod (see Genesis 10:8-12). And the worship of Nimrod has actually persisted to the present day in what the book of Revelation calls "Mystery Babylon," a great false religion masquerading as Christianity that dominates the world. It will come to an end with the return of Christ.
God also states that Nineveh will be buried. Concerning ancient Nineveh, "this prophecy came true literally—the city was destroyed so completely that its very existence was questioned until its discovery by archaeologists in the nineteenth century ([Nahum] 3:13-15)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 1:14). "For all its might, Nineveh fell quickly into ruin, leaving no trace but a mound which is known today as Tell Kuyunjik, 'the mound of many sheep'" (Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible, note on Nahum 3). Yet that was but a forerunner of the destruction that will ultimately come on the end-time Assyro-Babylonian superpower centered in Europe.
In verse 15 of chapter 1, Nahum repeats a prophecy of Isaiah (see Isaiah 52:7). It applies to God's servants proclaiming His gospel (meaning "good news"). First and foremost it is a prophecy of the coming of Jesus Christ, who "came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God" (Mark 1:14). This may even refer here to Christ's second coming—when He announces to the world His intention to bring peace (see Zechariah 9:10) and then brings world peace at last (following a period of terrible rebellion against Him at the end). "Behold...!" the message says here in Nahum and in Isaiah. And indeed, "every eye will see Him" (Revelation 1:7).
Also in Nahum 1:15, the Jews are told to keep their appointed feasts. Indeed, the feasts the Jews observe are God's feasts (see Leviticus 23)—and God is telling them to keep these feasts in an end-time context, as frankly all of mankind should. Yet, before the end, the Jews will apparently be forbidden to observe God's festivals by the invading European power—a repeat of what occurred when Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes took over the land in the second century B.C. (see "Just What Is the Abomination of Desolation?," The Good News, Jan.-Feb. 2002, pp. 8-9, 24). But God will remove the end-time invader, enabling the Jews to freely observe His festivals again. Indeed, that is the point of this wonderful verse of Nahum.