Nahum Overview: The Judge, the Verdict & the Sentence

9th Century Prophets 8th Century Prophets 7th Century Prophets Exilic Prophets Post-exilic Prophets


1. Name

The book is named after its prophetic author, Nahum, whose name means “compassion” or “consolation.”

2. Theme

God’s (and His people’s) enemies will be destroyed.

3. Purpose

To comfort Judah by announcing future judgments against Nineveh.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1479.[/footnote]

4. Key verses

The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him. But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies (Nahum 1:7-8).

5. Key truths

• God’s glory in judgment is worthy of praise.
• God would judge Nineveh, as well as other nations, for mistreating his people.
• God would keep his faithful people safe and restore them from destruction and exile.[footnote]Ibid, 1479[/footnote]


I. Author

Jeremiah was the dominant prophetic figure of the 7th century BC. Preceding him, however, were three other prophets whose writings are part of the Minor Prophets – Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah.
Nahum was an Elkoshite (Nahum 1:1). The exact location of Elkosh is much debated but ultimately uncertain. His name means “compassion” or “consolation.” Some regard his name to be a misnomer. He certainly had no compassion upon Assyria. His message of doom on Nineveh, however, would demonstrate Yahweh’s compassion for his people Judah.

Because of the subject matter of his book, Nahum has been called “the prophet of Nineveh’s doom” (Huffman) and “the critic of Nineveh” (Ward). His skill as a poet has earned him the designation “the tragic poet” (Scofield) and “poet laureate of the Minor Prophets” (Patterson and Travers). A theologian might designate Nahum as “prophet of God’s sovereign righteousness.”[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition[/footnote]


II. Date

The Egyptian capital Thebes fell to the Assyrians in 663. As the book regards this event as past (3:8), we can set this as the earliest possible date. The latest possible date is 612 BC, the year in which Nineveh fell to the Babylonians, an event which the book sees as still future.
As Nahum does not condemn Judah for present sins in her life it is possible that he prophesied between 650 and 627, during the reformations of Manasseh or Josiah.
As Nahum 1:12 describes Assyria as intact and large, Nahum probably wrote before the Assyrian Empire significantly weakened in the years 630 BC and following.
Liberal critics argue for either a post-612 BC date or else around 614 BC when any astute person could read the obvious political signs of Nineveh’s decline.
Earliest Date: 663
Latest Date: 612
Probable date: 650-630

III. Historical Analysis

1. Chronology

Obadiah, Jonah and Nahum addressed foreign nations. Obadiah spoke to Edom, Jonah and Nahum spoke to Assyria. Its capital had long forgotten its repentance under Jonah and had returned to their old sinful habits. God, therefore, decreed that its destruction, forestalled by their earlier repentance, was now to be executed.

Date Event
Late 8th to 7th Century BC Assyrian power and expansion under Tiglath-pileser III (745-727), Shalmaneser V (726-722), Sargon II (721-705), Sennacherib (704-68 1), and Esarhaddon (680-669),
722 Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom and removed the people into exile
668-627 Assurbanipal’s cruel and tyrannical reign is climax of Assyrian power
664 Assurbanipal captures Thebes, the ancient capital of Egypt (also called No)
652 Assyrian civil war as Assurbanipal’s brother led Chaldean revolt against Assyrian domination. Assyria weakened,
626 Assyrian governor of Babylon died, Nabopolassar seized throne and founded independent Chaldean dynasty in Babylon.
612 Nabopolassar joined with Medes to destroy Assyrian empire and its seemingly impregnable capital, Nineveh.

2. Fulfillment of Prophecy

Nahum’s prophecy of Nineveh’s destruction came to pass in 612 BC when the combination of drunken soldiers celebrating their successes (Nahum 1:10) and the Tigris flooding the city (Nahum 1:8; Nahum 2:6) provided the opportunity for the Babylonians to enter the flood-breached wall, plunder the city and set fire to it (Nahum 1:6,10).


IV. Literary Analysis

1. Comparative outlines

Nelson Smith Young Murray

Destruction of Nineveh decreed
(Nahum 1:1-15)

Destruction of Nineveh described
(Nahum 2:1-13)

Destruction of Nineveh deserved
(Nahum 3:1-19)

The Vision of the Judge
(Nahum 1:1-8)

The Verdict of the Judge
(Nahum 1:9-2:13)

The Vengeance of the Judge
(Nahum 3:1-19)

Praise to God who judges His enemies and protects His people
(Nahum 1:1-15)

The siege of Nineveh and her destruction
(Nahum 2:1-13)

The reasons for the city’s downfall
(Nahum 3:1-19)

The Judge
(Nahum 1:2-8)

The Verdict
(Nahum 1:9-2:13)

The Sentence
(Nahum 3:1-19)

a. The Judge (Nahum 1:2-8)

God’s character (Nahum 1:2-3a)

God’s manifestation (Nahum 1:3b-6)

God’s power (Nahum 1:6-8)

God praised for his great judgmental power upon his enemies.

b. The Verdict (Nahum 1:9-2:13)

Nineveh judged (Nahum 1:9-11)

Judah saved (Nahum 1:12-13)

Nineveh judged (Nahum 1:14)

Judah saved (Nahum 1:15)

Nineveh judged (Nahum 2:1)

Judah saved (Nahum 2:2)

Nineveh judged (Nahum 2:3-13)

The great Judge who was described in the opening paragraph now speaks definitively and decisively. He alternatively addresses the oppressor and the oppressed as he announces God’s judgment on Ninevah and God’s deliverance of His oppressed people.

c. The Sentence (Nahum 3:1-19)

Accusation (Nahum 3:1)

Sentence (Nahum 3:2-19)

2. Genre

Nahum is given three descriptions in Nahum 1:1. We shall consider these in turn before looking at a fourth genre suggestion.

a. “A book”

This would seem to distinguish him from most other prophets. They tended to preach and their words were collected into book form later. But it appears that Nahum actually wrote a book.

b. “An oracle (or burden) concerning Nineveh”

An oracle describes a message of divine judgment against a foreign nation (Isa. 13:1). In it, the proud are humbled, the oppressed are liberated, the cursed are blessed and vice versa.

It is unlikely that Nahum communicated his prophecy to Nineveh, and more likely that it was delivered to Judah as were most of the oracles against the foreign nations. The purpose of these oracles was to reassure Judah that the Lord was faithful to His own nature as Judge and Redeemer.

c. “The vision of Nahum”

“Vision” describes the unique way God communicated His message to the prophets.

d. A poem

Some see the book as a poem describing God’s just character and Nineveh’s destruction. Nahum certainly uses bold and picturesque language. Some see evidence of an incomplete acrostic in chapter 1 although the evidence is far from convincing. Nahum also uses repetition, alliteration, assonance, and paronomasia.

3. The Prophetic Perfect

So confident were the prophets concerning the reality of their predictions that they spoke of them as having already happened. This “tense” is called “the prophetic perfect.” We find this throughout Nahum. Although the fall of Nineveh was still future (Nahum 1:13-14), the prophet described it as happening before his very eyes (Nahum 2:3-7; Nahum 3:1-7).

4. Jonah parallels

Jonah and Nahum have much in common. Both addressed Nineveh. Both believed that God was slow to anger (Jon. 4:2; Nah. 1:3). However, Nahum reveals that slow to anger does not mean never to anger. Nineveh’s time had run out.

The prophecy ends with a dirge that sarcastically laments the end of Nineveh (Nahum 3:18-19). Only one other book ends with a rhetorical question, and that is Jonah, the prophecy of salvation toward Nineveh. A conscious contrast is surely intended to he highlighted.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 407.[/footnote]


V. Thematic Analysis

1. The Judge (Nahum 1:2–8)

God’s judicial character is described in chapter 1 in the following ways

a. God is jealous (Nahum 1:2)

He cannot tolerate any rival to the love, fear and trust which he demands from all.

b. God is an avenger (Nahum 1:2)

Vengeance here does not mean malicious retaliation against wrong, but rather describes God’s judicial anger against His and His people’s enemies.

c. God is patient (Nahum 1:3)

He is “slow to anger.” He is not capricious, arbitrary, nor hasty in the exercise of his wrath. He is not like one who strikes out without rhyme or reason. His wrath is well planned, well placed, and well considered. Assyria had tormented Judah for over 100 years. Her time had come.

d. God is powerful (Nahum 1:3)

He is “great in power.” He thus is in a position to execute any threat no matter how unlikely or difficult. In verses 4-6, Nahum sees him travelling through the tornadoes. He walks across the clouds as though they were dust beneath his feet. The seas, rivers and mountains are all under His control. This power is exercised for His people and against their enemies. Nahum reveals that the events of history do not occur by coincidence nor by chance. God’s planning of, control over and guidance of history are asserted and demonstrated in how He deals with even the most powerful nations of the world.

e. God is just (Nahum 1:3)

He will by no means “clear the guilty,” lit., declare the guilty to be innocent. He cannot acquit the wicked. No amount of bribery or flattery will deflect his judgment.

2. Message to the oppressor and the oppressed (Nahum 1:9ff)

The general description of God in Nahum 1:1-8 had a twofold message; one message was to the oppressor and the other to the oppressed. This message of hope for God’s people and judgment for His enemies is summed up in Nahum 1:7-8

The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him. But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies.

This general two fold message regarding God’s people and their enemies, is then made specific and applied to God’s intention to judge Nineveh and deliver His people from their oppression.

a. Judgment to the oppressor

Assyria and its capital were renowned for their arrogant abuse of power (Nahum 2:12; Nahum 3:1,4) and merciless military violence. Judah had not been spared suffering at their hands (Nahum 1:9,12,15), and it was this that justified God’s wrath. (Nahum 1:12; Nahum 3:4).

Nahum made clear that in any confrontation with God, Nineveh was doomed to fail (Nahum 1:9). The agent of God’s judgment was to be the Medo-Babylonian forces. Nahum foresees them approaching with their red shields, scarlet uniforms, chariots, and lances. The Assyrian solders flee (Nahum 2:8) while the Ninevites watch helplessly as their city is plundered and emptied.

The city is compared to a once powerful but now desolate and helpless lion deprived of its prey, and also to a beautiful and seductive harlot that God would soon strip of all her trappings and cast abominable filth upon her.

The certainty of Nineveh’s defeat is confirmed by Nahum’s recourse to a historical analogy. If disaster was brought upon another influential capital of a mighty empire (No-amon) then it could also come upon Nineveh (Nahum 3:10). So doomed was Nineveh that only in 1843 were the ruins of Nineveh eventually discovered.

The Book of Nahum concludes with a graphic picture of the aftermath of Nineveh’s destruction. Only the king is left, the solitary survivor of the empire which once ruled the world (Nahum 3:18). Even the king of Assyria has received a grievous wound. No one could relieve the hurt or heal the wound. All who hear the report of the dying tyrant would clap their hands in glee.

b. Hope to the oppressed

Although God had used Assyria as a means of chastising His people, their usefulness to God was coming to an end and their oppressive yoke would be broken forever. The news of Nineveh’s fall would be relayed toward Judah by messengers. In the fall of the oppressive superpower the faithful in Judah would discern the ultimate destruction of all enemies of God’s people. The reason for the impending destruction of Nineveh is stated in Nahum 2:2. Yahweh was in the process of restoring the splendour of Jacob as the splendour of Israel.

3. Rejoicing in God’s judgment

The believing Israelite is represented as rejoicing at the sight of God’s righteous vindication of His holiness in the destruction of the God-defying and bloodthirsty power of Assyria. Some have criticised this as unchristian nationalism and vengeful malice. However, the prophet’s main concern is that the Lord’s honour and cause be vindicated after being so despised for so many years by His people’s enemies.

Only by a crushing and exemplary destruction of Assyria could the world be taught that might does not, in the long run, make right, and that even the mightiest infidel is absolutely helpless before the judicial wrath of Yahweh. The fact that the God of Israel could predict with such startling accuracy the fact and the manner of Nineveh’s fall was best calculated to prove to the ancient world the sovereignty of the one true God. It was a most remarkable reversal of fortune for the proud pagan capital to fall to its enemies within less than two decades after the reign of the mighty Ashurbanipal. In just fourteen years after his decease in 626 B.C. , the apparently invincible empire which he had so successfully maintained toppled in ruins, never to rise again.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Nahum is not here gloating over the destruction of the enemy so much as he is rejoicing over the restoration of pure worship of Yahweh. God’s honour, not Israel’s national pride, is the issue in this book.

Surely there is a place for a book like Nahum even in the revelation of Grace. Instead of taking the Book of Nahum out of the Bible, we had better leave it there. We need it. It reminds us that love degenerates into a vague diffusion of kindly feeling unless it is balanced by the capacity of a righteous indignation. A man who is deeply and truly religious is always a man of wrath. Because he loves God and his fellow men, he hates and despises inhumanity, cruelty and wickedness. Every good man sometimes prophesies like Nahum.[footnote]I L Jensen, Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), 441.[/footnote]


VI. New Testament Analysis

1. God the Divine Warrior (Nahum 1:2-8)

Nahum depicts God as the Divine Warrior, who both delivers his people and judges his enemies. This foreshadows the coming of Jesus Christ, the New Testament warrior against evil and the judge of His enemies (Col. 2:14, 15; Eph. 4:7-11). This in turn foreshadows the ultimate battle where Christ will war against and totally defeat all His and our enemies (Rev. 19:11-21).

2. Messengers of Good News

Nahum predicts that there will be announcers of good news of full restoration for Judah sometime after Assyrian destruction (Nah. 1:15). The news of Nineveh’s fall would be relayed toward Judah by messengers. Nahum uses the word “behold” to introduce the unexpected announcement. In the fall of the oppressive superpower the faithful in Judah would discern the ultimate destruction of all enemies of God’s people. While Nahum does not mention the Messiah, the promise of this good news is certainly messianic in connotation. For this reason Paul used the language here to describe Gospel preachers (Acts 10:35; Rom 10:15).

And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Rom. 10:15)


VII. The Message of Nahum

Original Message: Rejoice in certain judgment of Nineveh and continue in positive hope for Judah
Present Message: Rejoice in certain judgment of God’s enemies and continue in positive hope for the Church.