UNDERSTANDING THE IDENTITY, ROLE & RESPONSE OF MINOR PROPHETS - NAHUM

The prophetic account of Nahum intertwines the themes of divine judgment and compassion. The judgment coming on the Nineveh promises salvation for the people of God. The prophet proclaims the doom of Nineveh and says that God will show compassion to his oppressed people.

Identity

The name Nahum may be translated as compassion. Many scholars are of the opinion that Nahum’s ancestors were exiled in northern Israel and that Nahum wrote his prophecy in Assyria and sent it to Judah.1 It has been generally assumed that "the Elkoshite" given in Nahum 1:1, refers to Nahum's place of origin and not as ‘son of Elkosh’.

The critical study of this text infers that Nahum was a well- educated man, with access to royal files, and Judah's intellectual and military elite. As a citizen of Judah and a sensitive prophet, his feelings of sorrow and revulsion for the state of both kingdoms under Assyrian despotism must have been magnified by several factors. He represents the state of mind of the average man of his times, who has been rankled by the long-lasting oppression and humiliation of his people, and whose faith in God's goodness and power had been tested daily. A number of commentators even assumed a cultic background for Nahum’s prophecies. Nahum was a central prophet related to the Jerusalemite tradition.

Role

The sole purpose of Nahum's prophecy was to breach the wall of hopelessness, and persuade his listeners that salvation is coming, and that a complete downfall of Assyria is in the making. R.R. Wilson believes, "As a central prophet Nahum helped to preserve the social structure by expressing the nationalistic values of the royal cult."2

Nahum prophesied at a critical time in the history of the Israelite people. The nation was split, part in exile and part under the harsh Assyrian rule and internal despotism of Manasseh. The long Assyrian tyranny, coupled with Manasseh's long reign, and constant fear of a fate similar to that of the Northern Kingdom, have created an atmosphere of hopelessness. Nahum brought hope to the downtrodden nation.

Nahum's prophecy had a strong sense of God's sovereignty and lordship over history. Nahum used his extraordinary poetic capability to convey realistic scenes of the fall of a seemingly invulnerable empire. His eternal message is one of hope, which gives comfort to anyone oppressed by a long-lasting and seemingly invulnerable tyrant.

Response

His oracles against Nineveh have both religious and political implications, for his words help to maintain the whole social structure and not just the cult.3 To communicate his message to the people of Judah, Nahum uses theology, pathos, and irony. Assyria is undoubtedly a mighty empire, but the Lord is infinitely stronger.

By the time of Nahum, the Israelites were well aware of God as their divine warrior. During Nahum’s life time, the people of god could still hope that the divine warrior would intervene and alleviate their oppression by destroying the Assyrians.4 This book is not just a warning or speaking positively of the destruction of Ninevah, it is also a positive encouragement and "message of comfort for Israel, Judah, and others who had experienced the endless cruelty of the Assyrians." Also Nahum shows the nature of God to be slow to anger. But God will by no means clear the guilty, but will bring his vengeance and wrath to pass. God is presented as a God who will punish evil but will protect those who trust in Him.


1 Thomas Edward McComiskey ed., The Minor Prophets vol 1 (Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 768.

2 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 277.

3 Ibid.

4 Thomas Edward McComiskey ed., The Minor Prophets vol 2 (Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 777.

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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