Poetically the little book of Nahum is one of the finest in the Old Testament. Its descriptions are vivid and impetuous: they set us before the walls of the beleaguered Nineveh, and show us the war-chariots of her enemies darting to and fro like lightning, ii.4, the prancing steeds, the flashing swords, the glittering spears, iii.2,3. The poetry glows with passionate joy as it contemplates the ruin of cruel and victorious Assyria.

In the opening chapter, i., ii.2, Jehovah is represented as coming in might and anger to take vengeance upon the enemies of Judah, whom He is to destroy so completely that not a trace of them will be left; and Judah, now delivered, will be free to worship her God in peace. In ch. ii. the enemy, through whom Assyria's destruction is to be wrought, is at the gates of Nineveh, v.8, in all the fierce pomp of war. The city is doomed, the defenders flee, everywhere is desolation and ruin, the ravenous Assyrian lion is slain by the sword. It is because of her sins that this utter ruin is coming upon her, iii.1-7, nor need she think to escape; for the populous and all but impregnable Thebes (No-Amon) was taken, and Nineveh's fate will be the same. Already the people are quaking for fear, some of the strongholds of Assyria are taken; it is time to prepare to defend the capital. But there is no hope, her doom is already sealed, iii.8-19.

From the historical implications of the prophecy, which belongs, as we shall see, to the seventh century, and also from definite allusions (cf. i.15), Nahum must have been a Judean; and, of the three traditions concerning Elkosh his birthplace, which place it respectively in Mesopotamia, in Galilee, and near Eleutheropolis in southern Judah, the last must be held to be very much the most probable. Within certain limits, the date is easy to fix. Ch. iii.8-10, which are historically the most concrete verses in the prophecy, imply the capture of Thebes, which we now know to have been taken by the Assyrians in 663 B.C. On the other hand, Nineveh has not yet fallen: the theme of the prophecy is just the certainty of its fall. It was taken by the Medians under Kyaxares, leagued with Nabopolassar of Babylon in 606 B.C. The prophecy therefore falls between 663 and 606.

The fixing of the precise date depends on two considerations: (1) whether the allusion to Thebes in iii.8-10 implies that its capture was very recent, and (2) whether we must suppose that the prophecy was inspired by a definite historical situation. It is usually felt that the reference to Thebes implies that the memory of its capture is fresh, and that the prophecy must stand very near it -- not later perhaps than 650; and just about this time there was a Babylonian rebellion against Assyria. This date must be regarded as by no means impossible. On the whole, however, a later date appears to be distinctly more probable The last few verses, iii.12f., 18f., imply the thorough weakness, disorganization and impending dissolution of the Assyrian empire, and so early a date as 650 hardly meets the case. We must apparently come down to the time when the fate of Nineveh was obviously inevitable and her conqueror was on the way, ii.1. Probably Marti is not far from the truth in suggesting 610 B.C. The reference to Thebes is intelligible even at this later date, when we remember that the capture of so strong a city, already famous in Homer's time, must have left an indelible impression on the mind of Western Asia. It is no doubt abstractly possible that the prophecy is not intimately connected with any historical situation, and therefore might be much earlier; but to say nothing of the concreteness of the detail, such a supposition would be altogether contrary to the analogy of Hebrew prophecy. When Jehovah reveals His secret to the prophets, it is because He is about to do something (Amos iii.7).

The concreteness of detail just alluded to is characteristic only of the second and third chapters. Ch. i., however, is confessedly vague, and moves for the most part along the familiar lines of theophanic descriptions. It is not plain in i. (cf. ii.8) who are the enemies to be destroyed, as i.1 is probably a later addition. Further, as far as v.10 the prophecy is alphabetic: this circumstance has given rise to the view that i., ii.2 originally formed a complete alphabetic psalm whose second half has either been worked over, or displaced by i.11-15, ii.2, the object of the psalm being to present a general picture of the judgment into which the particular doom of Nineveh is fitted, and to give the prophecy a theological complexion which it appeared to need. The acknowledged vagueness of the chapter and the demonstrably alphabetic nature of at least part of it, certainly render its authenticity very doubtful.

The theological interest of Nahum is great. It is the first prophecy dealing exclusively with the enemies of Judah. There is a hint of the sin of Nineveh, but little more than a hint, iii.1, 4; she is the enemy and oppressor of Judah, and that is enough to justify her doom. Whether we accept the earlier or the later date for the prophecy, the reign of Manasseh or that of Josiah, the moral condition of Judah herself was deplorable enough, and so clear-eyed a prophet as Jeremiah saw that her doom was inevitable. Nahum probably represents the sentiment of narrowly patriotic party, which regarded Jerusalem as inviolable, and Jehovah as a jealous God ready to take vengeance upon the enemies of Judah.

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