The book of Nahum is God's vision of the impending judgment against the city of Nineveh. The prophet Jonah had gone to Nineveh to proclaim a warning of destruction, and at that time the city was spared. However, after a hundred years [Precept Ministries] had passed, God declares through the prophet Nahum that judgment was to come. It has been said that when God's vision came to Nahum, Nineveh was at the pinnacle of wealth and power as the capital of Assyria, “secure behind her impregnable walls. Or so she thought.” [Precept Ministries]
The prophet Nahum, the Elkoshite (1:1), was the author of this book. The name Nahum, or Nachuwm in Hebrew, means “comfort”. Although there is little recorded in the text of scripture to inform us of who Nahum was, it is possible that he was a prophet of Judah (cf. 1:15) [Norman Geisler]. The book of Nahum provides us the knowledge that he was an Elkoshite. While there is no scriptural cross references for this people group or possible city of Elkosh, it is interesting to note that according to Wikipedia, there is a modern-day village of Elkosh in northern Israel. The village was established in 1949 by immigrants from Yemen. It is proposed that the village, “was named after the biblical city of Elkosh, birth-town of prophet Nahum (Nahum 1:1), which was located in the area.” The red text on the map below shows the location of this modern-day village.
However, there is dispute over the translation and location of the city Elkosh alluded to in Nahum 1:1. Theologian Norman Geisler outlines the major differences in opinion over this. He states, “Jerome held that it was the Elkesi in Galilee; others say it was Capernaum, which means “city of Nahum” (kephar-Nāhūm); some say it refers to Alqush near Mosul in Assyria; but it was probably Elecesei, a city in Judah between Jerusalem and Gaza, since the internal evidence indicates Nahum was a native of Judah.”
The Old Testament commentary of Keil and Delitzsch records that, “Elkosh is not to be sought for in Assyria, however, viz. in the Christian village of Alkush, which is siuated on the eastern side of the Tigris, to the north-west of Khorsabad, two days' journey from Mosul, where the tomb of the prophet Nahum is shown in the form of a simple plaster box of modern style, and which is held in great reverence, as a holy place, by the Christians and Mohammedans of that neighbourhood (see Layard, Nineveh and its Remains, i.33), as Michaelis, Eichhorn, Ewald, and others suppose.”
Although it might be difficult to determine an exact date, there are a few events that help us narrow down a window of time. For example, Rose Publishing describes the fact that, 1) Nahum refers to the fall of Thebes (3:8-10), which took place in 663 B.C. and 2) the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. is described in the book of Nahum. Theologian David Malick says, “Therefore it is reasonable to affirm that Nahum was written sometime between 663 B.C. and 612 B.C., perhaps before the rebuilding of the city of Thebes from 663 B.C. to 654 B.C.” This is a well agreed upon view among many resources.
In 722 B.C. Assyria conquered Israel [Precept Ministries]. According the Jewish Virtual Library, Assyrians were aggressive and effective; Assyrian dominance was great in the Middle East. In 701 B.C. the Assyrians invaded Judah [Precept Ministries]. Second Kings 18 records that in the fourth year of King Hezekiah, Shalaneser the king of Assyria came up against Samaria and besieged it. At the end of three years they captured it. Then the king of Assyria carried Israel away into exile to Assyria. The testimony of the Jewish Virtual Library says that, “In order to assure that conquered territories would remain pacified, the Assyrians would force many of the native inhabitants to relocate to other parts of their empire. They almost always chose the upper and more powerful classes, for they had no reason to fear the general mass of a population. They would then send Assyrians to relocate in the conquered territory. When they conquered Israel, they forced the ten tribes to scatter throughout their empire.”
The historical background of Nineveh includes the account from Genesis 10:8-12 which records that Nimrod went forth into Assyria and built Nineveh as Theologian Hampton Keathly points out in his article on the book of Nahum. He further states that the city of Nineveh was destroyed by the Babylonians, Medes and Scynthians in 612 B.C. The ancient historian Diodorus Siculus* (picture to the right) recorded that the armies laid siege to Nineveh for two years, until the Khosr River, which ran through the city, flooded and broke down part of the city wall providing a breech for the enemy. Keathly states, “This fulfilled part of Nahum's prophesy in 1:8; 2:6 and 3:13.”
One way the chapters of Nahum can be outlined is:
Hampton Keathly, co-founder of Bible.org suggest that the chapters show that Nineveh's doom was, 1) Declared, 2) Described, and 3) Deserved.
It could be offered that one of the purposes of the book of Nahum is to remind God's people across the centuries after its authorship of the mercy and grace of God. The first chapter of Nahum deals much with the character of God. And although many of the verses found therein display the power and purity of his justice, the book as a whole can be seen as a drop of mercy. God gives Nahum a vision for the destruction to come to Nineveh, however He is not simply bringing punishment to Nineveh without cause. For in Nahum 1:7 the reader is reminded that, “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.” God had already given warning to Nineveh through Jonah to turn from their ways and be spared. Against the wishes of the prophet Jonah who wanted God's wrath to come upon them, God told Jonah, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more that 120,000 persons…” (Jonah 4:11). God spared Nineveh and extended compassion to them in Jonah's day.
Also, it is important to remember that by bringing destruction on Nineveh this time, He was also acting as a protector for Israel. In Nahum 2:2 one reads, “For the LORD will restore the splendor of Jacob like the splendor of Israel, even though devastators have devastated them and destroyed their vine branches.”
The book of Nahum displays the way God's justice and mercy are bound together in His perfect character.
Additionally, the purpose of Nahum was to pronounce the Divine Vengeance upon the bloody city, and to console Judah with the promises of future deliverance, chapter 3:1 and 1:13 - 15.
Norman Geisler suggest that the purpose of the book of Nahum can be divided into three categories.
For the Jews in the era following the authorship of Nahum, one could have applied the text to their life by allowing it to ignite thankfulness in their hearts for the tender care of God that He consistently showed them. Even though He allowed them to experience the disciplinary consequences of their rejection of Him, the book of Nahum is a reminder that His covenant bond of love expresses itself through protection and restoration (2:2) for them as His people.
Application for the New Testament Christian can be expressed as the following:
“In this Scripture [Nahum] there is encouragement and warning for the growing Christian today. Encouragement, because we can be sure that the guilty will get what they rightly deserve. It may seem at times that God doesn't know or care when the wicked appear to be getting away with their unethical and immoral ways. However, this Scripture assures us that although God is long-suffering, He is certain in His punishment of the unrighteous. There is also a warning here for the growing Christian. Let's not think that we can get away with sin! Although the eternal penalty for our sins has been paid for by Christ our Savior, the consequences of sin cannot be avoided. God is 'slow to anger,' but our heavenly Father must discipline us when we depart from His standards. (See 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 and Hebrews 12:5-11.)” [growingchristians.org]