Nahum, *Prophet of Comfort
An EasyEnglish Commentary (2800 word vocabulary) on the Book of Nahum
This commentary has been through Advanced Checking.
Words in boxes are from the Bible.
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
Comfort them; comfort my people, says the *LORD (Isaiah 40:1). (‘Comfort’ means ‘stop them suffering and make them strong’. ‘*LORD’ is a special word for God. Look below at note on Nahum 1:2. The name Nahum means ‘comfort’.)
Assyria was a country to the north and east of Israel. For many years, when Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah lived, it ruled most of the world. In 722 B.C., Assyria defeated Israel. B.C. means ‘years Before Christ came to the earth’. Israel was a country where 10 of the tribes (or very large families) of the *Jews lived. Judah was a country to the south of Israel. It had two tribes in it. They were Judah and Benjamin. Jerusalem was the capital of Judah.
Soldiers from Assyria defeated Israel’s people. They took the people from Israel away to Assyria. They did not take away the people from Judah. But soon after, they made Judah’s people obey Assyria. Sargon the Second and Sennacherib were kings of Assyria. They made Judah pay taxes to Assyria. After that, Judah’s people were not really free. They were the servants of Assyria.
The people who lived in Assyria were very cruel. Graham Scroggie tells us some of the things that they did. (He tells us in his book, The Unfolding Drama of Redemption.) They threw away the bodies of soldiers as if they were rubbish. They made big piles of human heads. They burnt the sons and daughters of their enemies. They burnt their cities. They killed so many people that the ground was red with blood. They stuck men on to poles that had sharp points. They scattered dead bodies on the mountains and in the rivers. The rivers could not flow! They cut the hands from kings. And they fixed them to walls with nails. They left their bodies for animals to eat. They did many other nasty things also.
After about 750 *B.C., Nineveh became the capital of Assyria. It was on the east side of the River Tigris. There was a wall round it nearly 100 kilometres long. The wall was nearly 40 metres high. The wall was wide enough for three horses and their chariots to drive together on it. A chariot was a special cart that soldiers rode in. Horses pulled them. 600 000 people lived in Nineveh. They grew enough food inside the walls of the city to feed them all. The palace where the king lived was wonderful. Nineveh had beautiful gardens. The gardens had rare plants and animals in them. Foreign slaves built all this! They built temples, palaces, libraries and many other magnificent buildings. The temples were buildings where Nineveh’s people met to praise their gods.
Nobody ever thought that anyone would defeat Assyria. Nobody ever thought that anyone would destroy Nineveh! People thought that Assyria was much too strong for anyone to defeat it. But Assyria had problems. In 626 *B.C. one of their strongest kings died. After that, there were only weak kings. Also, two other nations became very strong. They were called the Scythians and the Babylonians. We do not know much about the Scythians. The Babylonians destroyed Nineveh in 612 *B.C.
We want to think about how Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah come into this story.
They were prophets that lived about 625 *B.C. A *prophet tells us what God is thinking. And he tells us what God will do. Probably Nahum came first. He said that God would send someone to destroy Nineveh. He also said that people who trusted in God would be safe. He probably said this between 660 and 620 *B.C. Then came Zephaniah, about 630 *B.C. He said that the Empire of Assyria would soon end. An empire meant all the countries that a king ruled. He also said that God would save people who trusted in him. Then came Habakkuk. This was about 615 *B.C. He said that the Babylonians (people from Babylon) would destroy Assyria. (The Babylonians had another name. People also called them the Chaldeans.) But Habakkuk also said something else. He said that God’s people would live if they trusted in God. That was very important in the *New Testament.
Not all Bible students agree with the dates above. But most students agree that these three *prophets lived about 650-600 *B.C.
Words in brackets (...) are not in the *Hebrew Bible. They help us to understand Nahum. *Hebrew is the language that Nahum spoke. ‘Serious words’ means that they are important words and sad words. Some translations call them ‘oracles’ or ‘burdens’. Perhaps they were words that the people read aloud. The word ‘book’ may mean that. Perhaps they were like the script (words) of a play. They were like the words that actors repeated. Perhaps the people said them in the *temple at Jerusalem. This was where God’s people met to praise him. Nahum may be short for ‘Nahumiah’. Nahumiah means ‘God will comfort’. Nahum came from Elkosh. We do not know where this was. There is a ‘Capernaum’ in the *New Testament. Capernaum means ‘City of Nahum’. Bible students do not think that this was Elkosh. They think that it was nearer to Jerusalem. Nahum ‘saw’ these words, or things. He did not invent them. They came from God.
‘*LORD’ is a special Bible word. It translates the *Hebrew word ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah’. *LORD is the Covenant Name of God. A covenant is when two or more people agree. Here the covenant is between God and the people of Judah and Israel. God is angry because he agreed to protect his people. But only if they obeyed him. But they did not obey him. So, he allowed Assyria to punish Judah and Israel. But now God decided to punish Assyria because they did it! This is because he is a jealous God. This means that he still loves Judah. The word ‘*fury’ means ‘great anger’. So ‘*Lord of *fury’ means that he is very angry. ‘*Lord’ here translates the *Hebrew word ‘baal’. It means ‘master’. Often in the *Old Testament, ‘Baal’ is the name of a false god. They believed that Baal rode on the clouds. Another name for him was ‘cloud-rider’. Nahum makes clear that the one true God is the real cloud-rider, not some false god! So, he calls the one true God ‘Baal’!
In verse 3, God rides in the wind and the storm. This happens in many places in the Bible. A good example is Psalm 18. Several psalms describe God as a storm.
In verse 4, God makes everything that is near him dry. He makes the sea, the rivers and even the land dry. Bashan, Carmel and Lebanon are places near to Judah. It is so dry that flowers will not grow!
In verse 5, we read that the mountains shake. We call this an earthquake. The ground shakes and the buildings on it fall over. The difference between the earth and the world in *Hebrew is this. The earth is everywhere. But the world is only that part of the earth where people live. A big earthquake destroys everything!
In verse 6, God is like a volcano that is erupting. A volcano is a mountain that shoots out rocks and fire. Then we say that the volcano is ‘erupting’.
Verses 7-8 Verse 7 is very important. It tells us about the time when all these bad things will happen. At that time, God will make everyone who *trusts him safe. Here it probably means that God will help his people, the *Jews. But ‘its place’ in verse 8 is a puzzle. It probably means ‘Nineveh’. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. But the *Greek *Old Testament says that it means any city that fights against God. The *Jews translated their Bible from *Hebrew into *Greek about 200 *B.C.
Verses 2-8 are a psalm (or song with music). It tells us how great God is. It is like a picture of God in action. That picture includes storms, earthquakes and volcanoes that are erupting! (See note above about verse 6.) They are pictures of God’s anger. He is angry with his enemies. But he is not angry with anyone who trusts in him. That is still true today.
Look in the note on verse 2 for what ‘the *LORD’ means. In these verses, we must decide whom God is talking to. The *Hebrew Bible does not tell us. (Remember that the *Jews wrote their Bible in *Hebrew.) Sometimes it is Nineveh (or the King of Nineveh). Sometimes it is Judah. In verse 9, it is Nineveh. Nahum is very clever here. He uses words from Assyria itself. They said, ‘God does not say things twice.’ But Nahum changes it to ‘trouble will not come a second time’. God means ‘trouble’ to the people in Assyria. This means that God will destroy Assyria. Then there will be no more people in Assyria! God will not have to destroy Assyria again.
In verse 10, there are some pictures. The people in Assyria try to run away. But, it will be as if bushes had caught them. Or they will not be able to run because they are so drunk. And something will eat them as if they were dry leaves. The Bible does not say what will eat them. Our translation suggests that it might be fire. So it translates the *Hebrew word ‘eat’ as ‘burn’.
In verse 12, ‘many (of them)’ probably includes people from other countries that fight with the soldiers from Assyria. Again, in verse 13, note that the words Nineveh and Judah are not in the *Hebrew Bible. But, in verse 14, the word ‘you’ probably means the King of Assyria. He would have no children and no gods. Also, he would not decide where his people would bury him. God would decide that. Usually kings decided for themselves where to put their graves. Often they were very special places, like the *Pyramids where the people in Egypt buried their kings.
In the *Hebrew Bible, verse 15 starts chapter 2 of Nahum. Here, Nahum does use the name Judah. He tells them to have their festivals. Festivals were special times in the *Jewish religion. They were like parties. The people enjoyed good food and wine. They praised God at those times, too. They also sang and they danced. But think about why Nahum does not speak about Judah and Nineveh in verses 9 to 14. It is because these verses are always true. It does not matter where the bad country is. And it does not matter when it happens. But God will decide when he will become angry! Think about ‘the wicked people will never attack you again’. It means the people from Assyria. Other nations did attack Judah. For example, Babylon did in 586 *B.C., only a few years later. But the people from Assyria, the ‘wicked people’ never attacked Judah after 612 *B.C.
In English Bibles, verse 15 ends chapter 1 of Nahum. But in *Hebrew Bibles, it starts chapter 2. Also, many Bible students agree that Nahum 2:2 should follow Nahum 1:15. So we printed it like this. But it means that these two verses come twice! The two verses probably belong together.
Nahum 1:9-14 is about Nineveh. It tells us what God will do to the city. Nahum 2:1 and 2:3-10 describe the defeat of Nineveh. But the two verses printed above are about God’s people. They are not about Nineveh. However, Nineveh is in these verses. In verse 15, ‘the wicked people’ means ‘Nineveh’s people’. In verse 2, ‘wasters’ means the people that wasted Israel and Judah. These wasters were the people from Nineveh, the Assyrians. For nearly a century, Assyria made Judah obey the King in Nineveh. Judah’s people could not do what they liked. They could not have all their festivals, or special times, in their religion. But now someone will bring good news. There will be peace. God will kill their enemies. Judah will be free again to have (or enjoy) their festivals. The Assyrians will not stop them. Jacob and Israel will be splendid again! Assyria destroyed Israel in 722 *B.C. It is now 100 years later. Only Judah remains. But Nahum hopes that both countries will be great and splendid again. Christians believe that it will not happen yet. Probably it will not happen until Jesus returns to the earth. The vines were plants. Fruit called grapes grew on them. They made wine from the grapes. There may be a double meaning in the word ‘vines’. The vine was a sign of Judah’s people. So it may mean ‘wasted them and killed them’. ‘Them’ is the people of Israel and Judah.
These verses describe the time when enemies seized Nineveh in 612 *B.C. But Nahum wrote the verses before that. Nowhere does the book describe Nahum as a *prophet, but he was a prophet. He told people what God thought. And he told people what God would do. We need to know whom these verses are about. If we do not know that, these verses will confuse us. That is why our translation puts extra words in brackets (…). Not all Bible students agree, but this is a sensible way to make the meaning clear. So we have this:
Verse 1 God is warning Nineveh. Someone will attack the city, so its soldiers must be ready.
Verses 3-4 These verses describe the enemy. The enemy is the armies of Babylon. We say armies, because there were three of them: Scythians, Medes and Persians. Together we call them Babylon. They had red *shields and uniforms. Scarlet is a colour very like red. Soldiers protected themselves with *shields. *Spears were long sticks with points on the end. They could kill an enemy. The soldiers rode in chariots. Chariots were carts that horses pulled.
Verse 5 The King of Nineveh sends for his best soldiers. They run to his palace. But many of them fall (or trip) on the way. The *Hebrew Bible says ‘they rush to her wall’. We think that ‘her’ means the palace. The King of Nineveh lived in the palace. But maybe it was the *temple where their goddess was. A goddess is a female god. There were many gods and goddesses in the *temple at Nineveh also. One goddess was Ishtar, or Huzzab. The people in Assyria thought that she was goddess of the whole world. And they thought that she was the goddess of love.
Verse 6 They had built the city called Nineveh on a river. It was a river that flowed into the River Tigris. At this time, rains made the rivers flood. The flood knocked down part of Nineveh’s wall. Nahum *prophesied that this would happen. He said, ‘the gates of the rivers are open wide.’ It means that the floods in the rivers made gates (holes) in the city’s walls. Soldiers from Babylon came in through these gates. The floods also knocked down buildings like the palace of the King of Nineveh.
Verse 7 So the soldiers from Babylon carry away Ishtar, or Huzzab. Her female slaves cry and they are very sad. They make noises like birds called doves.
Verse 8 The people in Nineveh flow away like water. The soldiers from Babylon shout ‘Stop!’ but nobody does stop! The people in Nineveh all run away.
Verses 9-10 Steal their silver and gold (their *treasure) says the *prophet. So they robbed it. ‘It’ means the capital of Assyria, called Nineveh. This made Assyria’s people very frightened. Remember that Nahum spoke the *Hebrew language. In the *Hebrew Bible, there are just three words at the start of verse 10. The verse should start, ‘Robbed, stolen, taken’. This gives us an idea of the *Hebrew poetry in the book of Nahum. Our English words have not so much poetry in them.
These verses are a ‘taunt song’. This means that the *prophet is laughing at Assyria with these words. Assyria is the lion in the song. The place where he slept has gone. The place where young lions fed has gone. Once that place was Nineveh and Assyria. Now it is nowhere! A lioness is a female lion. The lions and lionesses and the baby lions have gone because Nineveh and Assyria have gone. Babylon has destroyed them! Verse 12 tells us what Assyria was like. Assyria’s soldiers tore and killed. They were very cruel to the people that they defeated. They took people away from their own countries … or ‘fills these caves with the bodies that he has torn’. Verse 12 says ‘he’ because it tells us about a male lion.
‘The *LORD of everything’ is a name for God. It means this: God is King of everything that we can see. And he is King of everything that we cannot see.
In these verses, Nahum curses (says that evil things will happen to) Assyria. He says that trouble will come because they killed people (blood). And because they said things that were not true (lies). And because they stole things. In an English *idiom, Nahum said, ‘*Damn you, you *bloody city’! Then, in verses 2 and 3, he describes the battle that will happen. His words here do not make sentences. Instead, they make sounds like what happens.
· the ‘crack’ (sharp sound) of a whip,
· the ‘rattle’ (sound of wood when it hits wood) of *chariot wheels,
· the ‘gallop’ (sound of their feet on the ground) of horses,
· the ‘scream’ (like someone who is crying) of the *chariots,
· and so on.
Chariots were carts that horses pulled. Soldiers rode in them. There will be dead bodies everywhere. And in verse 4, Nahum gives the reason. Nineveh is like a harlot. A harlot is a woman that has sex with a man for money. Nahum means this as a picture. Because people pay taxes to Nineveh (Assyria), Nineveh does not hurt them. But he also says that Nineveh uses magic. God’s rules do not allow this. Today we do not use the word magic. We say ‘occult’ instead. This means to let evil *spirits do things for and by means of us. But, in verse 5, God says ‘I am against you’. He will make Nineveh like a naked woman. This again is a picture. It means this: People will see Nineveh’s people and Assyria’s people as they really are. They are very evil and wicked.
Verses 8-10 tell us about when soldiers destroyed Thebes. Thebes was a city in Egypt. Soldiers from Assyria destroyed it in 663 *B.C. It had the River Nile to defend it. Thebes had the people from Put and Libya to help it. But Assyria still destroyed Egypt.
Verses 11-19 tell Assyria that it will be like Egypt. Someone will destroy Assyria.
In verses 11-13, there are three pictures:
a) Nineveh will be like a drunk. It (its people) will run away and hide.
b) Nineveh will be like a ripe fig tree. Figs were fruits. When someone shook the tree, the ripe figs fell off.
Enemies will beat Assyria when someone shakes the tree. That means ‘when someone attacks it’.
c) Nineveh’s soldiers will be like women. This means that they will not be as strong as men. So, its enemies will destroy Nineveh.
Again, Nahum tells Nineveh to prepare itself for the attack. In verse 14, God tells Nineveh to:
a) make sure that there is enough water in the city,
b) make its castles strong. (They might have to get more cement from the ground in order to do this.)
In verses 15-17, there are grasshoppers and locusts. Grasshoppers are insects. Locusts are big grasshoppers. Millions of them flew into countries that we read about in the Bible. They ate everything green. They left nothing for the people to eat. God tells Assyria to multiply like these grasshoppers. Someone will still destroy it. It can have as many merchants as there are stars. Someone will still destroy it. The officials of Assyria will give no help. When trouble comes, nobody will find them. They will fly away like locusts on a hot day!
B.C. ~ 700 BC means the year that was 700 years before Christ came to the earth, and so on.
bloody city ~ city where they have killed many people.
chariot ~ a kind of cart that soldiers use to fight. Horses pull it.
covenant ~ two people have agreed what each should do.
damn ~ to damn someone is to send them to hell.
exile ~ when people have to leave their own country, often for a long time.
festival ~ special times in the *Jewish religion. They were like parties but the *Jews praised God at those times.
fury ~ what you feel when you are very, very angry.
goddess ~ a female god.
Greek ~ the language of people from Greece.
Hebrew ~ the language of *Jewish people.
idiom ~ when we use a word to mean something different from what it usually means; a special way to say something in your language.
idol ~ something that a person makes to be a god.
Jew ~ people who were born from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their children.
Jewish ~ a word that describes a *Jew or anything that belongs to a *Jew.
LORD ~ a special name for God that his people use. It is the *covenant name of God.
Lord ~ master, ruler, God.
New Testament ~ the last part of the Bible, which the writers wrote after the life of Jesus.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible; the holy things that the writers wrote before Christ’s birth.
prophesy ~ to tell about things that will happen in the future; to speak with God’s help and on God’s behalf.
prophet ~ person who speaks for God. He can sometimes say (prophesy) what will happen in the future.
pyramid ~ a building with a point at the top; the people in Egypt buried their kings in pyramids.
scorn ~ to show that you think that a person or his message has no worth.
shield ~ something that a soldier holds in front of his body to protect him in a battle. People made shields from metal, wood or from hard leather with a wooden edge.
spear ~ a long and thin weapon of war (something to fight people with), like a sword.
spirit ~ spirits are alive, but we cannot see them. There are good spirits usually called angels. Bad spirits (also called evil spirits, or demons) do not live in God’s home now, but in the air round us. Satan (the devil) is their leader.
temple ~ the special building in Jerusalem where the *Jews worshipped God (showed honour to God).
treasure ~ something that has a great value.
vine ~ a plant that fruits called grapes grow on.
© 2001-2006, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words)
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