Devotional Commentary on Nahum 1


The prophet Nahum wrote his book before the fall of Niniveh in 612 BCE and before the fall of Assyria in 608 BCE.

He utilized the scriptures to use phrases 9 from Moses; 33 from Isaiah; 12 from Psalms; 4 from Micah and 4 from Joel. There are 3 connections similar to Chronicles and Kings. It is as if he speaks through this older phraseology to say his own message.

There is a cuneiform text in the British Museum, BM 21901 (96-4-9, 6) that relates all one needs to know about the fall of Niniveh and Assyria. The text is dealing with the early years of Nabopolassar of Babylon and ends with the late years of that king. A. K. Grayson translated it (1975) and some readings can also be found by Jean-Jacques Glassner (1993). From the month of Simanu until the month of Abu, for three months, the forces of Cyaxares [the Mede] made an attack against Niniveh. On the [ ]th day of the month Abu they defeated the city and many people suffered. At that time the king of Assyria died, Sin-šar-iškun died. A large booty from the city and the temple were carried away and they turned the city into a ruin heap. On the 20th day of Ululu [14th of September 612 BCE] Cyaxarus and his army went home. According to the text the walls of Niniveh may have been partly reconstructed again? In the 17th year of Nabopolassar in the month of Du'uzu the Assyrian king Aššur-uballit, with the assistance of a large army from Egypt, crossed the river of Euphrates and marched against Harran to conquer it. It appears as if the king of Akkad or Babylon was on the retreat but then in the 18th year [608-607 BCE], in the month Ululu, the king of Akkad [Babylon] mustered his army and [lacuna]. For the outcome we have to guess. The words following is a wish "Let the one who loves [the gods] Nabu and Marduk [Babylonian gods] keep this tablet and not let it stray into other hands" (see

In the time that Niniveh was plundered by the Medes in 612 BCE, Josiah of Jerusalem called for a reform with the discovery of the book of Deuteronomy. By this time the prophecies of Nahum was already received and in book form. The reality of the fall of Niniveh in the book of Nahum is historical verified. It is indeed a very reliable source.

Rabbis of the Middle Ages has also commented on the book of Nahum and their texts are available to us for example Rashi (1040-1105), Redak (1157-1236), Ibn Ezra (1140), Mezudath David written by Rabbi Yechiel Hillel Altschuler 18th century, Rabbi Joseph Kimchi (1160-1235), Kara (contemporary and student of Rashi, 1065-1135), Abarbanel (1437-1509) and others.

But our focus today is earlier than these Rabbis and their commentaries on Nahum.

Yaphet ibn Ali ha-Levi lived in Jerusalem during the time of the Karaites (950-980) who had a community there. He wrote a commentary in Arabic on Daniel but also on Nahum. It is his Arabic commentary of Nahum that we are considering here.

Yaphet ibn Ali ha-Levi is very special since he attempted to put Jewish tradition aside and consider the plain text paying attention to the various opinions that existed before and at his time. He almost had a sola scriptura approach in at time when the twist of arguments had to run through the Jewish traditions and limited by it.

If one compares Ibn ha-Levi with Saadia Gaon and Ibn Ezra, then one has a biblical fundamentalist compared to two free-thinkers. Gaon was his contemporary.

What is surprising is that Gaon translated Daniel in Arabic by leaving out words, included errors with corrections in the text, abbreviated the text, lengthened the text, all aspects that are taboos in serious biblical scholarship. But Judaism calls him the great Saadia Gaon. In Daniel 11:6 for example, Ibn Ezra worked with the corrupt text of Gaon by also rendering the in-text error. Ibn Ezra was then followed by Ralbag or Levi ben Gerson (1288-1344) both rendering the text here following the faulty text of Gaon. The bulk of voices against Gaon should have been known to Ibn Ezra and he should not have followed Gaon. Gaon used a glossing methodology in rendering a commentary on Job. It appears as if Gaon's method of commentary is eisegesis not exegesis. Gaon practiced permutation, glossing, paraphrasing and ended with a methamorphosis translation.

Is grandmother a paraphrase of grammar or is it a permutation of grammar or an acoustic misperception of grammar? This is the dilemma we deal with when we analyse the Arabic texts of Saadia Gaon. Yaphet is more promising in comparison with Gaon. Especially his Arabic translation, which is sometimes more literal and careful than the paraphrases of Gaon.

The translation we are using here is that of Hartwig Hirscfeld of the text of Nahum (Y. Yaron, Angels and Fire: Yefet ben `Eli HaLewi on Dani'el and Nahum [Al-Qirqisani Center for the Promotion of Karaite Studies, 2003]). The Arabic text for Daniel is that of D. S. Margoliouth.


Nahum the Elkoshite (1:1)

According to Rashi, Elkosh is a city name. This is also what Yaphet (980) made it. He translated "Nahum of Elqosh". The Targum Jonathan to the prophets reshuffled the letters so that it is eshqa'h. This is taboo. Ibn Ezra thought it is patronimic and derived from the name of one of his forefathers. In the Assyrian times when this prophecy was received, it was customary to sometimes place in cuneiform writing m for man, dingir for god and then a name like qosh. A person's name may be El-Natan which is the deity epithet added to a verb for "he gives or he gave". So what is qosh? City name or person?

The Lord avenges Himself to His adversaries and He watches to His enemies (1:2)

Yaphet did a very interesting thing here, he separated the two classes of enemies of the Lord so that the adversaries are those who will die in the eschaton of which Isaiah 10:23 and Daniel 12:1 speaks but that the enemies are those who "show no such hostile feelings".

Ellen White said about Nahum 1:3 and the eschaton the following:

“‘The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet.' Nahum 1:3. 0 that men might understand the patience and long-suffering of God! He is putting under restraint His own attributes. His omnipotent power is under the control of Omnipotence. 0 that men would understand that God refuses to be wearied out with the world's perversity and still holds out the hope of forgiveness even to the most undeserving! But His forbearance will not always continue. Who is prepared for the sudden change that will take place in God's dealing with sinful men? Who will be prepared to escape the punishment that will certainly fall upon transgressors? Ellen White, Counsel to Parents, Teachers, and Students, pages 415, 416.

Ellen White also said about the fall of Assyria: The pride of Assyria and its fall are to serve as an object lesson to the end of time.”—Ellen White, Prophets and Kings, page 366.

Nahum said (verse 2) that God is jealous (Ex 20:5) vengeful (Josh 24:19) and is full of wrath (Deut 32:35). He avenges Himself (Psalm 94:1). Yet, (verse 3) He is slow to anger (Ex 34:6, 7 and Psalm 103:8. His way is with a tempest (Ex 19:16) and cloud is the dust of His feet (Psalm 104:3). Nahum is well read in the Word of God and utilize the phrases from it for his own description of his own vision.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Bashan, Carmel, Lebanon (1:4)

In verse 4 Nahum said that God rebukes the sea (Jos 3:15) and it dries up (Psalm 106:9). He mentioned Bashan (Micah 1:4) and Carmel (Psalm 98:7) that are cut off. Nahum brought together the well-known eschatological Day of the Lord language and go through them one by one.

Yaphet in 980 suggested that the verse is allegorical and that Bashan and Carmel stands for two kingdoms, "Edom [Byzantium] and Ishmael [the Arabs] whose rule extends along the ocean over the world". The rivers are in his rendering "the great Emirs". There was another explanation available in the time of Yaphet and he mentioned it. It stated that Bashan and Carmel stands for two generals. Lebanon refers to royal princes and the mountains for the other kingdoms. He rejected this second opinion. Rashi said that "Bashan and Carmel are two good dwelling places". The truth is that they are probably literal geographical spaces in the time of Nahum the prophet. Rashi felt that these places are within the time frame when God delivers Assyria in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.

In verse 5 Nahum said that mountains quaked (Ex 19:18; also Psalm 18:7). The hills melted because of God (Isaiah 13:13). All the land raised up (Isaiah 24:1, 20). Also the inhabited earth raised up (Psalm 98:7).

In verse 6 Nahum asked who can stand before His fury? (Mal 3:2). Who can keep standing in His wrath? (Isaiah 13:13). Like fire His wrath has reached the earth (Isaiah 66:15). It is in the eschaton here. Rocks have been broken up by Him (1 Kings 19:11).

In verse 7 the reaction of the remnant is cozy: The Lord is good (Psalm 25:8 and Psalm 37:39, 40). He is a stronghold on the day of trouble (Psalm 46) which is good for the faithful. Those who trust Him He knows (Psalm 1:6). They are safe.  

And with an overrunning flood He shall make an end from its place and darkness shall pursue His enemies (1:8)

Yaphet felt that this verse is the turning point. Whereas verses 1-7 spoke of the World at large, verse 8 returns to Niniveh only. Redak also felt that verse 8 refers to Niniveh. For Ibn Ezra it means that the end of Niniveh will not be little by little but all at once. The darkness that shall pursue His enemies is explained by Ibn Ezra as refering to a place of darkness. Targum Jonathan to the prophets renders it with "He shall deliver His enemies to Gehinnom". Redak is closer to the truth when he wrote "He shall cause darkness to pursue His enemies".

Yaphet is not exactly sure if it is Niniveh. He said that if Babel is meant by this verse, then the flood refers to the "Kings of the North" of Daniel 11:40, 44.

In verse 9 Nahum indicated that God will make a full end of wickedness the trouble will not rise twice (verse 9). Many people have said for example how do you know that another Lucifer will not rise again as rebel in heaven in future? This verse cancels that option completely.

Wickedness will be consumed (Isaiah 5:24; 10:17; Nahum 3:11 and Mal 4:1).

From you has emanated one who plots evil against the Lord [Isaiah 10:7-11; Nahum 1:9], one who counsels wickedness [Ez 11:2] (1:11)

Yaphet felt in 980 that the kings of Assyria went forth to destroy Israel. He contemplates a second interpretation that is allegorical and means that Babylon is meant. If that is the case, then it is the Little Horn of Daniel 7 that is meant here. The words counsels of wickedness, or as he has it in the Arabic, "counsels of iniquity" refers in his opinion either to Sennacherib or to Babylon and the "Man of the Spirit" [in Yaphet's thinking, Mohammed]. Rashi later also said that it refers to Sennacherib. Rashi was convinced that it refers to Niniveh. Rashi felt that Sennacherib thought of destroying the earthly abode and the heavenly abode. We must remember that Niniveh was also called Babylon in ancient times since it was also the Gate of the gods = bab-ilu. The reality is that by the time Nahum prophecied, Ashurbanipal's library contained many plagiaristic examples of an amalgamation of the Hebrew works of Moses and Psalms, Gilgamesh Epic, Rebellion in Heaven Motif, Enuma Elish, Fall of Man and other themes of the Old Testament, reworked and fused by exiled secularized Jews in captivity for the scribes of Niniveh. The reality is that Israelites were in Niniveh since 723 BCE. The prophecies of Nahum is a century later. Jews in America is a good example of what happened with Jews in Assyria. Of course there were those who kept to the pure words of the Lord.

Nahum said in verse 12 if they are at peace with the remnant, the Lord will no longer afflict the remnant [Lam 3:31, 32]. He promised to break the yoke from them (Is 9:4; Jer 2:20).

And the Lord shall command concerning you: No more of your name shall be sown, from the house of your god I will cut off a graven image and a molten image, I will make your grave, for you have become worthless (1:14)

Yaphet felt in 980 that there are two explanations here: either it refers to Sennacherib who will die due to the murders of his sons or allegorically to the descendants of Mohammed. Yaphet equates the Little Horn of Daniel 7 with the life and works and continuation of Mohammed and his descendants. The idol he felt is the holy shrine in Mecca "to which they make pilgrimages every year". He felt that "Arms will rise against them, and slaughter them". Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Redak all felt that the king of Assyria was addressed here.

Nahum pointed out further that because the wayward remnant clung to their idols the Lord was determined in verse 14 to make your grave for you have become worthless. He cites from Isaiah, Psalm, Job and Micah to make his point here. It was not an attempt to interpret his vision as something happening in their past but utilizing future predictions that showed correspondences to what he was describing and to say the same.


Dear God

Thank you for the message of Nahum. Teach us your way and help us to stand in Your truth all the time. In Jesus Name. Amen.