The current set of Facebook devotions (friend and follow us!) is a series of sketches of the minor prophets – generally, the single most neglected portion of Scripture. Jonah, of course is pretty well known to us since the story of Jonah and the fish made great flannel graph episodes in our early Sunday School experience. (If you didn’t get your first sense of the drama of the bible watching an elderly lady move a paper fish with a wide-open mouth up a blue flannel graph background and watch wide-eyed as the dog paddling prophet disappeared behind it – well, you missed it!) As adults, most of us have learned the story of Hosea – the salacious aspects draw us in I guess. And we’ve heard enough sermons on tithing to become acquainted with at least Malachi 3:10. But most Christians can’t tell you what Obadiah is about or even locate Habakkuk without consulting the index. It’s a shame. The background of Habakkuk makes the book fairly riveting material and you really aren’t prepared to read the book of Revelation until you have first read the prophecy of Zechariah. My point – we should not neglect the minor prophets. In considering these twelve prophetic voices (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum. Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai. Zechariah and Malachi) I think probably Nahum is the most neglected of the overall neglected set. You can prove me wrong (or right) by stopping right now to summarize what you know about Nahum before reading any farther. I’ll wait. … OK
We know almost nothing about Nahum’s personal circumstances except that he was an Elkoshite and we don’t know for sure where that village may have been. There are various proposals for locations in Galilee and Judea though the traditional tomb of Nahum is in Alquosh, Iraq. The book was likely written in Judea but Nahum may have been born abroad.
Nahum is, in a sense – the Anti-Jonah. Jonah (reluctantly) preached repentance to the great city of Nineveh – and Nineveh repented and escaped destruction. About 200 years later Nahum prophesied the complete and utter destruction of Nineveh – and Nineveh was completely and utterly destroyed. The book is generally dated (neverminding the varied assertions of more liberal Bible scholars who don’t accept the possibility of prophecy) around 620 BC. In Nahum 3:8 the destruction of No-Amon is (Thebes) is recalled as a past event. Thebes fell in 661 BC. Nineveh fell in 612 BC. A fairly firm set of parentheses is thus established and the prophecy of Nahum is seen to be a short term prediction.
Though it is not obvious to us as readers of an English translation, the prophecy of Nahum is a masterful acrostic poem. Calvin thought Nahum painted the most-clear picture of the nature of God in all of the Bible. Calvin would! The terms used to describe the humiliation, pillage, and destruction of Nineveh are stark, brutal, and graphic – including the bit about pulling her (the city’s) dress off over her head and putting her nakedness on public display. The idea is that in the destruction, the corruption of the city (and the larger Assyrian Empire) will be laid bare. For instance, when people see the way that Nineveh’s leaders grab what they can of the city’s vast wealth and flee like rats from a sinking ship – lessons are learned by the onlookers. The principle remains true – judgment reveals corruption.
Nahum teaches other important truths. The repentance accomplished in the days of Jonah did no good for those folk’s great grandchildren. Every generation has to answer for itself.
And last here (though there is much more that can be learned from Nahum) I concentrate on Nahum 3:12 ‘All your fortifications are fig trees with ripe fruit. When shaken, they fall into the eater’s mouth.. Nineveh (like many another locale we might name) enjoyed the pleasures of sin – for a season. For a while, the sinful store up treasure and enjoy prosperity and seeming security. But God did once say that the sin of the Cannanites was not yet ripe. When it was ripe, all their houses, lands, and crops turned out to be built, tended and raised for their conquerors. It can be galling to see the wild prosperity of the wicked. How do men like Weinstein and Epstein gather so much money and power unto themselves while treating their fellow humans so abominably? Well, people pursue what they value – even if what they value is abominable. Little surprise that they sometimes get it in spades. And while I take no personal delight in the fall of such men – it is good that they fall – and that their fall should be instructive to onlookers – that their pride should be revealed by judgment to be shame. And – that we should realize – the fruits of evil are tended and grown for those who will execute that judgment. Yes, it’s still stark, brutal and graphic – but also true. And even Calvin had a point. We forget these truths at our peril. Thanks Nahum.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church