Examining Biblical Literature: Nahum

There are evil people in this world. Evil cities, nations, and empires dedicated to oppressing others for their interests. Will God address these evils?

The prophetic book of Nahum was written against Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, after it had ravaged the northern kingdom of Israel. The text took on its final form in the mid to late 7th century BCE reflecting the deep pain and anger of Israel for being treated so horrifically by the aspiring empire. Written about a century after the events of Assyrian captivity, the language of Nahum is potent with the hatred of an oppressed people towards their oppressors.

Nahum gives a few of parallel clues to the book of Joel. 1) Yahweh is seen as the Creator god who cannot be stopped from inflicting judgment for violence against Israel.[1] 2) The metaphor of lions and locusts are used to represent the violent invader of the land.[2] 3) Nahum seems to draw from a similar phrase in 1:15 as Joel 3:17. The point of the passage is that never again will evil peoples conquer the land of God’s people again. For Joel, this phrase is about the reconstitution of the Edenic life in the land by the empowerment of the Spirit. For Nahum, this security will occur when the gospel (good news) is proclaimed—Nineveh has been destroyed! Assyria has fallen!

Interestingly, Nahum uses the metaphors of lions and locusts in a different nuance than the way Joel used them. Joel speaks of the invading as a swarm of locust coming to destroy Israel’s state of Edenic tranquility. Nahum uses the imagery of locusts for Nineveh as a way of saying their power and leaders will scatter to the wind at God’s judgment. The lion metaphor is used by Joel to talk about the violence of the invaders, while Nahum agrees with this use of the metaphor his point is that the lions will made to suffer on account of the violence they have done to God’s people.

Observations

  1. There is no judgment language towards Israel. There are only three references to the people of God and all of them are connected to restoring Israel in the midst of destroying Nineveh.[3] The celebratory nature anticipated by Nahum concerning the fall of Assyria even ends the text in 3:18-19.
  2. Nahum 1:15 seems to be one of the earliest biblical uses of theme “gospel”, or good news, and it is directly tied to celebrating the destruction of another nation. This destruction is seen as God action to restore Israel in 2:1-2.
  3. The imagery of a prostitute is employed by Nahum to describe the evils and relationships of other kingdoms with Nineveh.[4] This would be an early use of imagery relied on in Revelation 17.
  4. The imagery of fruit in 3:12 is not about individuals’ actions, but rather fruit is about the outcome of the communal reality of Nineveh. It’s goods and prosperity.
  5. References to the female body are only negative. The prostitute text infers that female genitalia is shameful. Though this could express the belief that all genitalia is shameful and the prostitute is simply the example at hand.[5] Also, the Assyria army is depicted as a group of women who will be easily overpowered when Nineveh’s lands are invaded.[6]

 


[1] 1:2-13

[2] 2:10-13 and Joel 1:5-7; 3:14-17 and Joel 1:4, 2:25

[3] 1:15, 2:2

[4] 3:1-7

[5] 3:5

[6] 3:13

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