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Lesson 86: Nahum

Updated: May 23

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Background Information

I. Nahum’s name means “Consolation” or “Consoler.”

II. “Since the message of the book is a prediction of the destruction of Nineveh, it must have been delivered sometime before 612 B.C., when the city was destroyed by the Babylonians. It was clearly written after 663 B.C., the year that the capital of Egypt, Thebes (called ‘No Amon’ in 3:8), was captured by Assyria. Since Thebes regained its independence in 654 B.C., and Nahum does not allude to that event, it may be that the book was written between 663 and 654 B.C.” (Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, pg. 264).

III. Message of the book: Nahum single–mindedly proclaims the destruction and doom of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital.

IV. Nineveh: “The ancient capital of Assyria. First mentioned in Genesis. The country was also called the land of Nimrod by Micah. Balaam prophesied the captivity of Israel by Assyria, and Asaph sings of their alliance with Moab. Jonah was sent to the city about 800 B.C. and Nahum devotes the whole of his book to “the burden of Nineveh,”... Isaiah says that Sennacherib resided in the city; and it was probably the scene of his death, while worshipping in the temple of Nisroch, his god. The last notice of it is by Zephaniah, B.C. 630. Assyria is alluded to as having been destroyed, according to prophesy by Ezekiel, and Jeremiah omits it from the catalogue of all nations. The city is not mentioned in the inscriptions of the Persian dynasty. Herodotus passed very near, if not over, the site of the city, about 200 years after its destruction, but does not mention it, except as having once been there. Xenophon, with his 10,000 Greeks, encamped near the site (B.C. 401) but does not mention its name, although he describes the mounds as they appear now. Alexander marched over the very place and won a great victory at Arbela, in sight of it, but his historians make no note of it. The Emperor Claudius planted a colony there and restored the name Nineve. Tacitus calls it Ninos when taken by Meherdates. On the coins of Trajan it is Ninus and on those of Maximinus it is Niniva; Claudeopolis being added on both coins. Many relics of the Romans have been found; vases, sculptures, figures in bronze and marble, terra-cottas, and coins. The site was again deserted when Heraclius gained a victory over the Persians, A.D. 627. The Arabs named their fort, on the east bank of the Tigris, Ninawi (A.D. 637). The accounts of its immense extent are various and not very reliable. Diodorus Siculus says the dimensions were (according as we estimate his figures, from 32 to 60, or even) 74 miles in circuit. The walls were 100 feet high and wide enough for 3 chariots to drive abreast, flanked by 1500 towers, each 200 feet high (accounts which have not yet been verified). Layard says: ‘If we take the 4 great mounds of Nimrud, Koyunjik, Khorsabad, and Karamles as the corners of a square, it will be found to agree pretty accurately with the 60 miles of Jerodotus, which make the three days’ journey of Jonah.’ Within this space there are many mounds and remains of pottery, bricks, etc. The name of Nineveh is found on the Egyptian monuments of the date of Thothmes III, about 1400 B.C.” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary).

V. The fall of Nineveh: “Sardanapalus then shut himself up in Nineveh, and determined to defend himself to the last. The siege continued two years, for the walls of the city were too strong for the battering machines of the enemy, who were compelled to trust to reducing it by famine. Sardanapalus was under no apprehension, confiding in an oracle declaring that Nineveh should never be taken until the river became its enemy. But, in the third year, rain fell in such abundance that the waters of the Tigris inundated part of the city and overturned one of its walls for a distance of twenty stades. Then the King, convinced that the oracle was accomplished and despairing of any means of escape, to avoid falling alive into the enemy’s hands constructed in his palace an immense funeral pyre, placed on it his gold and silver and his royal robes, and then, shutting himself up with his wives and eunuchs in a chamber formed in the midst of the pile, disappeared in the flames. Nineveh opened its gates to the besiegers, but this tardy submission did not save the proud city. It was pillaged and burned, and then razed to the ground so completely as to evidence the implacable hatred enkindled in the minds of subject nations by the fierce and cruel Assyrian government. The Medes and Babylonians did not leave one stone upon another in the ramparts, palaces, temples, or houses of the city that for two centuries had been dominant over all Western Asia. So complete was the destruction that the excavations of modern explorers on the site of Nineveh have not yet found one single wall slab earlier than the capture of the city of Arbaces and Balazu. All we possess of the first Nineveh is one broken statue. History has no other example of so complete a destruction.” (F. Lenormant and E. Chevallier, The Rise and Fall of Assyria).

VI. What can we learn from the book? Nahum sums it up well in 1:3, “the Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked.”