|Minor Prophets: Major Messages
1. A slow unhurried reading of Nahum is essential. Reading the chapter before looking at the notes, while working with the notes, and after finishing with the notes will give each researcher a powerful sense of the series of meanings within each chapter. It is important to be comfortable with all the names and places in the prophecy and to understand the announcements the prophet makes on behalf of the Lord. When possible, historical information will be included in the notes to increase reading comprehension and enhance application.
2. Our study of each chapter of Nahum will begin with quotes from a work of the Writings called Summary Exposition of the Prophets and Psalms. This work includes a verse-by-verse overview of all three chapters of Nahum that provide general information about the internal sense. Our research will help move us from the generals to the particulars of the internal sense.
3. Another important reference tool is Searle’s General Index to Swedenborg’s Scripture Quotations. This reference is used to find passages in the Writings where a verse(s) from the Word is either explained specifically or used to illustrate a doctrinal point that we can use in our study. There is also another use of this work. As we study, each researcher will be led by the Lord’s Providence in myriad ways, according to specific needs or states. Knowing how to use this book will help each of us to explore relevant topics and look up related passages to increase our knowledge of the three-fold Word.
4. You will soon discover that not every verse, word, name, etc. is directly quoted in the Writings. But there are often other references to the same name, place, or thing in the explanation of a different verse of the Word. The hope is that reflection on these other doctrinal explanations will help us see possible applications to our study of Nahum. We will need to use "derived doctrine" often. Please don’t run away from this maligned term. If we use it properly and admit openly that it is derived doctrine, we bring no harm to the internal sense.
5. Keep some kind of notebook handy during your study times. Write out insights, questions, and any summaries you find helpful in organizing your thoughts about each chapter. The goal of this study guide is not to give a detailed summary of the internal sense but to start each researcher’s quest for deeper insight.
6. At the end of each chapter in the study guide, you will find a study review. The review includes a summary of each section to help you reinforce and build on your understanding of several of the key points.
7. Begin each study unit with a devotional prayer asking the Lord to guide and direct your thoughts. Certainly beginning in this sphere has the power to inspire and open our minds with a higher spiritual priority that will keep us in the company of the Lord’s angels. As the Writings teach, we must seek to love truth for truth’s sake. Such an approach will free each reader from preconceived ideas that might limit his or her ability to "see" the intent and message of the Lord’s Word.
Listen to a few rave reviews the book of Nahum has received:
Rev. Ormond Odhner, in his notes on Pre-Advent Churches, says that Nahum’s "work is unmitigated gloating over the fierce wrath that Jehovah has brought upon His enemies…. But for all of that, it is a piece of exceptionally beautiful poetry, written in a quick and rapid meter, and at times throwing up one piece of sensual imagery after another in such quick succession that the prophet did not even bother to finish his sentences…"
The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary says, "Nahum’s poetic genius ranks with the highest in the Hebrew Bible. He sketches scenes of warfare with the vivid sense of the picturesque or horrible details…. Nahum is different from the other literary prophets of the Old Testament…"
In A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Micah, Zephaniah and Nahum, by J.M.P. Smith, we read, "Though the rhythm and metre of Nahum are not smooth and regular as is the case with some Hebrew prophets, yet in some respects the poetry of Nahum is unsurpassed in the Old Testament. His excellence is not in sublimity of thought, depth of feeling, purity of motive, or insight into truth and life. It is rather in his descriptive powers. He has an unexcelled capacity to bring a situation vividly before the mind’s eye…. Accurate and detailed observation assists in giving his pictures verisimilitude."
Have these reviews piqued your interest to read and study this book of the Lord’s Word? One can hope that this fascinating study will be helpful with life issues and with our battle against Hell and its arrogance and false sense of invincibility.
Some Background Information
Most scholars agree that the Book of Nahum is the seventh book of the collection of the "Twelve Prophets." When was it written? The estimated date of authorship is placed between 663 BC and 612 BC. How did the researchers come up with this time span? Nahum mentions the fall of Thebes in chapter 3, verse 8, and this event is believed to have occurred in 663 BC. The fall of Nineveh occurred when the combined forces of the Medes, Babylonians, and Scythians besieged the city and destroyed it in 612 BC. The Oxford Annotated Bible narrows the range of dates to between 626 and 612 BC. Most scholars lean toward 612 BC as possibly the correct date.
Who was Nahum?
Very little is known about Nahum. We know that his name means "compassion" or "comfort." Nahum states his name and identifies himself as an "Elkoshite." Is "Elkosh" a city, town, or family name? I found a wonderful summary on the Internet of how this question has been answered within theological circles. A Dr. Greg Herrick (no identification of his work or background) summarized the four major theoretical answers one might consider:
As interesting and speculative as all these theories might be, we need to resist the urge to adopt one. Instead, we are urged by the Writings to hold fast to the doctrines that remind us it is the internal sense that must lead and reveal the true meaning of each thing represented in prophecy. As hard as historians seek to find the place of Elkosh, we must work as hard, if not harder, to find the inner (timeless) meaning of Nahum. Let’s consider these helpful teachings as a model to strive for in our study efforts:
As we read the words of Nahum and consider the meter, the poetry, the vivid descriptions of war, we must resolutely consider the historical facts as the means by which the inner beauty of the "more perfect" representations of heaven is transmitted to the angels and to us.
Historical Facts As a Foundation for the Spiritual Sense
Nahum’s prophecy tells the story of the defeat and destruction of the great and powerful city of Nineveh. This city was also the centerpiece of the Book of Jonah. The Lord called Jonah to "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me." Jonah’s hatred for Nineveh caused him to run away from his appointed mission. His efforts to run from the Lord’s call might have been based on some first-hand experience with Nineveh’s injustice. But he finally went and preached the words of the Lord: "Yet in forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" Nineveh’s king decreed that all its people should fast and turn from their ways, and they were spared because they did as they were told. Jonah was sad about their repentance. He sat on the hillside waiting to witness Nineveh’s complete destruction. It didn’t happen.
Nahum’s story takes place some 100 to 140 years after the repentance of Nineveh. The destruction Jonah had hoped to see Nahum not only saw but reported. Indeed, he did so with glee and gratitude for the Lord’s humbling of the tyrant nation. Why was there such widespread hatred for this great city?
Nineveh was for hundreds of years the dread of western Asia. It was strongly fortified, and its position as a great commercial center increased its wealth. Nineveh also enriched itself through numerous military conquests. It enjoyed a continuous succession of great, but harsh, rulers. Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Asshurbanipal are a few of the names that brought fear to the hearts and minds of the neighboring nations.
With each conquest, the armies of Nineveh carried off prisoners and plundered cities, towns, and villages shamelessly. They became masters in the art of war and of humiliating those they conquered. They were merciless, ferocious, and heartless. With this power came the feeling of invincibility. However, Nineveh was hated by all the surrounding nations, and several of them began to plan secretly for Nineveh’s demise. They watched and waited for signs of vulnerability. Any differences they had among themselves meant little for the time being; they were united in their common hatred of Nineveh and their common goal to defeat this hated Assyrian power.
We learn in the introduction to the Book of Nahum in the Oxford Annotated Bible that "The fervent reaction to the overthrow of Assyria, expressed by the peoples long subjected to its yoke, is nowhere more clearly seen than in the book of Nahum. The core of the book is a superb, vivid poem extolling Nineveh’s destruction, which Nahum felt to be inevitable. The prophet spells out the reason…in unequivocal terms: it is the Lord’s judgment upon an unscrupulous, defiant nation."
Nahum’s Acrostic Composition in Chapter One
Verses 2 to 11 of Chapter One are written in an incomplete "acrostic psalm" form. What does that mean? Acrostic writing is found in some of the Psalms. It is a composition, Webster’s Dictionary says, that occurs "usually in verse, in which one or more sets of letters, when taken in order, form words." Nahum uses another form of acrostic, in which each separate line begins with a Hebrew letter, and the letters used are in Hebrew alphabetical order.
Nahum starts using this format in Chapter One, uses 11 letters, and then stops. If anyone owns a copy of The Jerusalem Bible, turn to the Book of Nahum and you will find the acrostic format wonderfully illustrated.
Now let us turn to the verse-by-verse exposition of the Book of Nahum.