In the northern reaches of Iraq, in the Kurdish Autonomous Region, there is a town called Alqosh, which is populated now mainly by Aramaic speaking Christians. In that town is a very old synagogue, in great need of repair, which marks the tomb of the prophet Nahum. His ancestors had probably been carried to that location against their will by the Assyrians, who deported people from the northern kingdom of Israel, first in 732 B.C. under Tiglath-Pileser III, and again under Sargon II in the sixth year of Hezekiah, king of Judah, which was 722/721 B.C.
The prophetic activity of Nahum can be determined to have been in the seventh century B.C. In 3:8-10 he mentions the fall of Thebes, which happened in 663 BC, as already past. And he prophesies of the fall of Nineveh, which was in 612, therefore, he prophesied between those two dates, probably closer to the latter, since he sees the fall of Nineveh as imminent. Nineveh was only about 30 miles from Alqosh, so the fate of Nineveh was something which would have been of considerable concern to Nahum.
Nahum announces the coming destruction of Nineveh.
- 1. The oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum, the Elkoshite. 1
2. Yahweh is a jealous and vengeful God, and wrathful. Yahweh avenges himself upon his adversaries, and he maintains (his wrath) against his enemies.
3. Yahweh is slow to anger and great in strength, but he will surely not leave (anyone) unpunished. The way of Yahweh is in the wind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
4. He rebukes the sea and dries it up, and he has dried up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel are weakened, and the flowers of Lebanon are weakened.
5. Mountains quaked because of him, and hills have melted, and land rose up before him, and the earth and all its inhabitants.
6. Who can stand before his indignation, and who will arise during his burning anger? His wrath was poured out like fire, and the rocks were broken down by him.
7. Yahweh is good as a place of safety on the day of trouble, and he knows those who take refuge in him.
8. But with an overflowing flood he will make an end to its place, and darkness will pursue his enemies.
9. What do think of Yahweh? He will put an end to it; the trouble will not arise twice.
10. For, while the thorns were entangled and the drunkards were drinking, they were consumed like fully dry stubble.
11. From you one has come forth who devised evil against Yahweh, a counselor of ruin.
12. Thus says Yahweh, who rules many waters,2 and thus they will be cut down and it will pass, and (though) I have afflicted you, I will no longer afflict you.
13. And now I will break off his yoke from you, and I will tear apart your bonds.
14. And Yahweh will give orders concerning you: nothing more of your name will be sown. From the house of God I will cut off the graven image and the molten image. I will make your grave, for you have become insignificant.
15. Behold, upon the mountains are the feet of him who publishes good news, who announces peace. Celebrate, Oh Judah, your feasts, pay your vows, for the destroyer will not continue to pass through you; he has been completely cut off. 3
2. This phrase is based on a suggested emendation in the footnotes of the BHS. The Hebrew of the MT in this location is nonsensical, while both the Peshitta and the LXX have recorded something akin to the rendering offered above.
3. In the MT, this verse is the first verse of chapter 2.
Further details on the destruction of Nineveh
- 1. The scatterer1 who came up before your face has been besieged with a siege. Watch the road! Strengthen your loins! Fortify your strength greatly! 2
2. For Yahweh has restored3 the pride of Jacob, like the pride of Israel, for the emptiers have emptied them out, and they have destroyed their branches.
3. The shields of his mighty men have been made red, his soldiers are clad in scarlet; the chariots are with the fire of torches on the day of his preparation, and the junipers have been shaken.
4. The chariots are driven wildly in the streets, they rush to and fro in the city squares; their appearance is like torches; they dart about like lightening.
5. He will remember his nobles; they will (not) stumble while walking; they will hasten to its wall, and the protector 4 will be prepared.
6. The gates of the rivers have been opened, and the palace has dissolved.
7. And the queen is taken out into exile,5 and her maidens lament like the sound of doves beating their breasts.
8. And Nineveh is like an old pool of water, and they flee. Halt! Halt! But no one looks back.
9. Plunder silver! Plunder gold! And there is no end to the preparation; it is heavy with all the precious vessels.
10. Empty out! And it is emptied out and laid waste; and the heart melts, and there is a tottering of the knees, and anguish in all the loins, and all of their faces gather glory! 6
11. Where is the lion’s den? And it is a cave7 for the young lions, where the lion, the old lion, went, (and) the lion cub, and there was none to make afraid.
12. The lion tore enough for his cubs, and strangled (food) for his lionesses, and he filled his dens with prey, and his dwelling places with prey.
13. Behold, I am against you, says Yahweh of the Heavenly Hosts, and I will burn her chariots with smoke, and the sword will consume your young lions; and I will cut off your prey from the land, and the sound of your messengers will no longer be heard.
2. Verse 1 of the English version of chapter 2 corresponds to verse 2 of chapter 2 in the MT, so the numbering in the chapter does not correspond to that in the MT.
3. In this chapter we have good examples of what is called the prophetic perfect, meaning the verbs are in the perfect tense (which refers to actions which have already been completed, and is therefore usually a type of past tense), but they actually refer to events still in the future.
4. The word sokhekh refers to a type of covering used to protect men who are trying to storm a city.
5. The first part of the verse is corrupted in the Hebrew, and this emendation is taken from one of the suggestions in the footnotes of the BHS.
6. This word is also uncertain, but it seems to come from the root פאר, which is associated with the concept of glory, and has nothing to do with blackness, or gloom, or any such thing. The “faces” referred to here are those of the invaders, thus we have a situation parallel to the one described by Joel (2:6).
7. There appears to be a metathesis and the word should be מערה "cave” instead of מרעה "pasture,” for a pasture has nothing to do with lions. This is also the suggested emendation in the BHS and also in the BDB sub מרעה.
Nahum completes his description of the destruction of Nineveh
- 1. Woe to the city of blood, it is all lies, full of plunder; the prey is not taken away.
2. The sound of the whip and the sound of the rattling of wheels, and of prancing horses, and of jolting chariots.
3. The riders raise the blade of the sword and the glittering spear; and the slain are many, and the mass of corpses, and there is no end to the bodies, and they will stumble over their bodies;
4. Because of the many fornications of the prostitute; (she is) elegant, a sorceress who sells nations with her fornications, and families with her sorceries.
5. Behold, I am against you, says Yahweh of the Heavenly Hosts, and I will uncover your skirts1 in your presence, and I will show the nations your nakedness, and the kingdoms your dishonor.
6. And I will cast detestable things upon you, and I will regard you as a fool, and I will make you something to stare at.
7. And it will come to pass that all who see you will move away from you, and will say, Nineveh has been devastated. Who will console her? Where can I seek comforters for you?
8. Are you better than Thebes2 of Amun,3 which sits among the rivers, with water around it, whose strength was the sea, and whose wall was from the sea?
9. Ethiopia was its power, and Egypt, which had no end; Put4 and the Libyans were among your assistants.
10. They also went as captives into exile. Their children will also be dashed to pieces at the intersections of the highways; and they have cast lots on their dignitaries; and all their great men have been bound in chains.
11. You will also become drunk; you will also disappear. You will seek refuge from the enemy.
12. All your fortresses are (like) fig trees with first-fruits; if they are shaken they will fall into the mouth of the eater.
13. Behold, your people are (like) women in your midst; the gates of your land will surely be opened for your enemies. A fire will consume your bars (from the gates).
14, Draw siege water for yourselves; strengthen your fortifications; come into the clay and tread the mortar; strengthen the brick mold.
15. A fire will consume you there; a sword will cut you off; it will consume you like the yeleq.5 Make yourself as numerous as the yeleq; make yourself as numerous as the locusts.
16. You have increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The yeleq have stripped off (their coverings) and have flown away.6
17. Your anointed ones are like the locusts, and your officials7 are like a swarm of locusts settling on walls on a cold day, (but then) the sun rises and they leave, and it is not known where they are.
18. Your shepherds are sleeping, Oh king of Assyria, your nobles dwell (in the dust); your people are scattered upon the mountains and there is no one to gather (them).
19. There is no alleviation for your bruise; your wound is grievous; all who hear your report clap their hands because of you, for upon whom has your evil not passed continually?
2. Thebes was located on the Nile at the site of modern-say Luxor, about 500 miles south of the Mediterranean. From the end of the New Kingdom (11th century BC) it was known as Niwt-Imn (“city of Amun”), hence the use of this name by Nahum.
3. Amun was a major Egyptian god, and was the patron deity of Thebes.
4. Put seems to also refer to Lybia, perhaps to a different tribe or group of Lybians than the word lubim which is translated in this verse as Lybians.
5. This may be a type of locust. Cf. Joel 2:25.
6. This verse gives us a little more information on the yeleq. Now we know that is is some kind of insect which goes through a larva stage like a caterpillar, undergoes a metamorphosis and emerges with wings.
7. The Hebrew word here is ṭipsar, which is a loan-word from Akkadian (i.e. “Babylonian”) DUB.SAR which means “scribe,” or appointed official.
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