Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Introduction to the Book of the Prophet Nahum
Nahum, the seventh of the twelve minor prophets, was a native of Elkoshai, a little village of Galilee, whose ruins were still in being in the time of St. Jerome. However there are some who think that Elkoshai is rather the name of his father, and that the place of his birth was Bethabor, or Bethabara, beyond Jordan They used to show the tomb of the prophet at a village called Beth-gabre, now called Gibbin, near Emmaus. The Chaldee calls him Nahum of Beth-koshi, or of Beth-kitsi; but the situation of this place is as much unknown as that of Elkoshai.
The particular circumstances of the life of Nahum are altogether unknown. His prophecy consists of three chapters, which make up but one discourse, wherein he foretells the destruction of Nineveh. He describes it in so lovely and pathetic a manner, that he seems to have been upon the spot to declare to the Ninevites the destruction of their city.
Opinions are divided as to the time in which he prophesied. Josephus will have it that he foretold the fall of Nineveh one hundred and fifteen years before it happened, which will bring the time of Nahum to that of King Ahaz. The Jews say that he prophesied under Manasseh. We are inclined to be of St. Jerome's opinion, that he foretold the destruction of Nineveh in the time of Hezekiah, and after the war of Sennacherib in Egypt, mentioned by Berosus. Nahum speaks plainly of the taking of No-Ammon, a city of Egypt; of the haughtiness of Rabshakeh; of the defeat of Sennacherib; and he speaks of them as things that were past. He supposes that the Jews were still in their own country, and that they there celebrated their festivals. He speaks of the captivity, and of the dispersion of the ten tribes. All these evidences convince us that Nahum cannot be placed before the fifteenth year of Hezekiah, since the expedition of Sennacherib against this prince was in the fourteenth year of his reign.
This prophet gives us a fine description of the destruction of Nineveh. He says that this city should be ruined by a deluge of waters, which should overflow it and demolish its walls.
Diodorus Siculus and Athenaeus relate, that during the time this city was besieged by Belesis and by Arbaces, under Sardanapalus, the river Tigris swelled so as to overthrow twenty furlongs of the walls of Nineveh. But as the siege mentioned by Nahum was long after the taking of Nineveh under Sardanapalus, it must needs be that the same thing happened to Nineveh at the second and last siege, under Nebuchadnezzar and Astyages. Probably the besiegers at this second siege determined the course of the waters, and brought on the same fate to the city by the same means as at the first siege. And as the walls of those ancient cities were generally formed of brick kneaded with straw and baked in the sun, a flood of waters could easily effect their dissolution. Babylon was built in the same manner; and this is the reason why scarcely any vestiges of those cities are to be found. See on Nah 3:14 (note).
The time of the prophet's death is not known. The Greek meneologies and the Latin martyrologies place his festival on the first of December. Petrus Natalis places it on the twenty-fourth of the same month, which he says was the day of his death, without acquainting us whence he had learned this circumstance.
The conduct and imagery of this prophetical poem are truly admirable.
The exordium sets forth with grandeur the justice and power of God, tempered by lenity and goodness, Nah 1:1-8.
A sudden address to the Assyrians follows; and a prediction of their perplexity and overthrow, as devisers of evil against the true God, Nah 1:9-11. Jehovah himself then proclaims freedom to his people from the Assyrian yoke, and the destruction of the Assyrian idols, Nah 1:12-14. Upon which the prophet, in a most lively manner, turns the attention of Judah to the approach of the messenger who brings such glad tidings, and bids her celebrate her festivals and offer her thank-offerings, without fear of so powerful an adversary, Nah 1:15.
Nah 2:1-13. In the next place Nineveh is called on to prepare for the approach of her enemies, as instruments in the hands of Jehovah; and the military array and muster of the Medes and Babylonians, their rapid approach to the city, the process of the siege, the capture of the place, the captivity, lamentation, and flight of the inhabitants, the sacking of the wealthy city, and the consequent desolation and terror, are described in the true spirit of Eastern poetry, and with many pathetic, vivid, and sublime images, Nah 2:1-10.
A grand and animated allegory succeeds this description, Nah 2:11, Nah 2:12; which is explained and applied to the city of Nineveh in Nah 2:13.
Chap. 3. The prophet denounces a wo against Nineveh for her perfidy and violence, and strongly places before our eyes the number of her chariots and cavalry, her burnished arms, and the great and unrelenting slaughter which she spread around her, Nah 3:1-3.
He assigns her idolatries as one cause of her ignominious and unpitied fall, Nah 3:4-7.
He foretells that No-Ammon, (the Diospolis in the Delta), her rival in populousness, confederacies, and situation, should share a like fate with herself, Nah 3:8-11; and beautifully illustrates the ease with which her strong holds should be taken, Nah 3:12, and her pusillanimity during the siege, Nah 3:13.
He pronounces that all her preparations, Nah 3:14, Nah 3:15, her numbers, her opulence, her multitude of chief men, would be of no avail, Nah 3:15-17.
He foretells that her tributaries would desert her, Nah 3:18.
He concludes with a proper epiphonema; the topics of which are, the greatness and incurableness of her wound, and the just triumph of others over her on account of her extensive oppressions, Nah 3:19.
To sum up all with the decisive judgment of an eminent critic: "Not one of the minor prophets equals the sublimity, genius, and spirit of Nahum. Besides, his prophecy is a perfect poem. The exordium is exceedingly majestic. The apparatus for the destruction of Nineveh, and the description of that catastrophe, are painted in the most glowing colours, and are admirably clear and powerful." Lowth, Praelect. Hebrews 21, p. 282.
It must be farther observed, that this prophecy was highly interesting to the Jews; as the Assyrians had often ravaged their country, and I suppose had recently destroyed the kingdom of Israel. See Calmet.