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Nahum means "consolation" and "vengeance"; symbolizing the "consolation" in the book for God's people, and the "vengeance" coming on their enemies. In the first chapter the two themes alternate; but as the prophet advances, vengeance on the capital of the Assyrian foe is the predominant topic. He is called "the Elkoshite" (Na 1:1), from Elkosh, or Elkesi, a village of Galilee, pointed out to Jerome [Preface in Nahum] as a place of note among the Jews, having traces of ancient buildings. The name Capernaum, that is, "village of Nahum," seems to take its name from Nahum having resided in it, though born in Elkosh in the neighborhood. There is another Elkosh east of the Tigris, and north of Mosul, believed by Jewish pilgrims to be the birthplace and burial place of the prophet. But the book of Nahum in its allusions shows a particularity of acquaintance with Palestine (Na 1:4), and only a more general knowledge as to Nineveh (Na 2:4-6; 3:2, 3).
His graphic description of Sennacherib and his army (Na 1:9-12) makes it not unlikely that he was in or near Jerusalem at the time: hence the number of phrases corresponding to those of Isaiah (compare Na 1:8, 9, with Isa 8:8; 10:23; Na 2:10, with Isa 24:1; 21:3; Na 1:15, with Isa 52:7). The prophecy in Na 1:14 probably refers to the murder of Sennacherib twenty years after his return from Palestine (Isa 37:38). The date of his prophecies, thus, seems to be about the former years of Hezekiah. So Jerome thinks. He plainly writes while the Assyrian power was yet unbroken (Na 1:12; 2:11-13 Na 3:15-17). The correspondence between the sentiments of Nahum and those of Isaiah and Hezekiah, as recorded in Second Kings and Isaiah, proves the likelihood of Nahum's prophecies belonging to the time when Sennacherib was demanding the surrender of Jerusalem, and had not yet raised the siege (compare Na 1:2, &c., with 2Ki 19:14, 15; Na 1:7, with 2Ki 18:22; 19:19, 31; 2Ch 32:7, 8; Na 1:9, 11, with 2Ki 19:22, 27, 28; Na 1:14, with 2Ki 19:6, 7; Na 1:15; 2:1, 2, with 2Ki 19:32, 33; Na 2:13, with 2Ki 19:22, 23). The historical data in the book itself are the humiliation of Israel and Judah by Assyria (Na 2:2); the invasion of Judah (Na 1:9, 11); and the conquest of No-ammon, or Thebes, in Upper Egypt (Na 3:8-10). Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaneser had carried away Israel. The Jews were harassed by the Syrians, and impoverished by Ahaz' payments to Tiglath-pileser (2Ch 28:1-27; Isa 7:9). Sargon, Shalmaneser's successor, after the reduction of Phœnicia by the latter, fearing lest Egypt should join Palestine against him, undertook an expedition to Africa (Isa 20:1-6), and took Thebes; the latter fact we know only from Nahum, but the success of the expedition in general is corroborated in Isa 20:1-6. Sennacherib, Sargon's successor, made the last Assyrian attempt against Judea, ending in the destruction of his army in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah (713-710 B.C.). As Nahum refers to this in part prophetically, in part as matter of history (Na 1:9-13; 2:13), he must have lived about 720-714 B.C., that is, almost a hundred years before the event foretold, namely, the overthrow of Nineveh by the joint forces of Cyaxares and Nabopolassar in the reign of Chyniladanus, 625 or 603 B.C.
The prophecy is remarkable for its unity of aim. Nahum's object was to inspire his countrymen, the Jews, with the assurance that, however alarming their position might seem, exposed to the attacks of the mighty Assyrian, who had already carried away the ten tribes, yet that not only should the Assyrian (Sennacherib) fail in his attack on Jerusalem, but Nineveh, his own capital, be taken and his empire overthrown; and this, not by an arbitrary exercise of Jehovah's power, but for the iniquities of the city and its people.
His position in the canon is seventh of the minor prophets in both the Hebrew and Greek arrangement. He is seventh in point of date.
His style is clear, elegant, and forcible. Its most striking characteristic is the power of representing several phases of an idea in the briefest sentences, as in the majestic description of God in the commencement, the conquest of Nineveh, and the destruction of No-ammon [Eichorn]. De Wette calls attention to his variety of manner in presenting ideas, as marking great poetic talent. "Here there is something sonorous in his language there something murmuring; with both these alternates something that is soft, delicate, and melting, as the subject demands." Excepting two alleged Assyrian words (Na 3:17), English Version, "crowned," or princes, and English Version, "captains," or satraps (used by Jer 51:27), the language is pure. These two, doubtless, came to be known in Judea from the intercourse with Assyria in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.
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