Daily Bible Study Tips: Nahum

Nahum 1:1-15, The vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
Nahum 2:1-13, There’s going to be a battle.
Nahum 3:1-19, Assyria will fall.

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Nahum 1:1-15, The vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

The only thing we know for sure about Nahum is that he was from Elkosh; however, scholars do not agree on where Elkosh was located.  He was also an excellent writer.  Rabbi Ronald Isaacs characterizes his writing as "powerful, emotional, and dramatic, with brilliant imagery and picturesque phrases" (Messengers of God, 1998).  Isaacs says that Nahum probably wrote around 612 B.C.E., when Nineveh was destroyed.
 
So let's talk about Assyria, of which Nineveh was the capital.  Assyria was the major world power for about three centuries before 608 B.C.E.  It controlled most of the Middle East and also conquered Egypt, before falling in turn to the Babylonians.  The kingdoms of Judah and Israel mostly opposed Assyria, with varying degrees of success.  King Ahab of Israel and his allies seem to have fought Assyria to a standstill in 853, but around 841, King Jehu was paying tribute money.  In the 730s, King Ahaz of Judah allied himself with Assyria against King Menahem of Israel, and in the 720s, Israel was paying tribute again.  Israel allied itself with Egypt, but that didn't do any good, and the Assyrians defeated Israel and deported everyone about 722.  Judah managed to hang on against Assyria one way and another by the skin of its teeth, and when Nineveh fell in 612, Judah was still in business.  You can read the whole exciting story in 1 and 2 Kings or in Wikipedia.
 
From Nahum's point of view, Nineveh got what was certainly coming to it. 
 
Nahum 2:1-13, There’s going to be a battle.

Reading Nahum reminds me of watching the movie, "The Two Towers."  Everyone is preparing for battle, and it's pretty much the same type of battle:  swords, shields, spears, ramparts, walls, siege towers, and rivers that rise up for destruction.  Desolation and ruin!  But not without human interest - we see the queen and her serving girls taken away into captivity, beating their breasts.
 
Now, it may be that all battles look alike.  It's worth considering, however, that J. R. R. Tolkien was one of the translators of the Jerusalem Bible.
 
On another note, I saw in the paper the other day that after some sort of reading competition, the children were allowed to choose a book to keep for their very own.  One little boy selected a graphic novel.  (Graphic novels are like comic books, but with more plot.)  The teacher allowed as how that wasn't what she had in mind.  The parent wrote to a columnist who is a teacher, who said that graphic novels are fine.  If a little boy will read one, that's great, and he should be encouraged.  The point is, you should get a Bible that you will read.  I happen to like the Jerusalem Bible, but if Good News for Modern Man is what you want to choose for your very own, it's fine with me.  Just be sure that whatever good, modern translation you get, it has cross-references and study notes.
 
Nahum 3:1-19, Assyria will fall.

The book of Nahum is written in poetry.  I can tell this in two ways.  When I look at the text in Hebrew, the lines look roughly like this:
 
 
Horsemen charging,flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,heaps of corpses,
dead bodieswithout end--
they stumbleover the bodies!
 
That is the look of poetry.  Hebrew prose looks like English prose (except for being written in Hebrew, of course).  It fills the lines on the page; and there are no particularly long spaces to indicate the ends of phrases.
 
However, there is a way you can recognize Hebrew poetry even in your English Bible.  Look at verse 2:      We hear the sound of something, the sound of something.  We see the movement of something, the movement of something.  Whenever you see this kind of parallelism in the Old Testament, you are reading poetry.  Sometimes the pairs will be in two consecutive verses.  Sometimes (not today) the pairs will contrast with each other, not repeat each other.  Look for the poetic couplets as you read about Nineveh's doom.
 

Copyright 2010, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter.  All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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