Friday, February 15, 2013

Nahum 1:1-2 (Part 1)

Nahum 1:1-2 – An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.

1:1 “Oracle” in the Hebrew literally means burden. There are a couple of ways that this might be taken. One might say that the Oracle was a burden in the sense that the prophet carried with him everywhere he went, which is to say that it weighed heavily upon him until he discharged his duty proclaiming it. The more likely meaning, however, is that the message was a burden to its recipients. The term is used by many of the Old Testament prophets and carries with it a few different connotations. It generally implies that the message contained a burden, that is to say, something which distressed God about the people’s covenant-breaking behavior. This is the sense in which Jeremiah (Ch. 23) uses the term. By the time we get to Malachi, the term has become sarcastic. It has a two-way sarcasm: on God’s side, his burden is the disobedience of his people. On Israel’s side, every time a prophet proclaims a message from God to them, knowing that it is likely a message about their disobedience, they sarcastically complain, “What’s God’s burden now?” “What’s bugging Him now?” Jeremiah 23 has God saying, “When the people ask, ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ say ‘You are the Lord’s burden.’”

In this case however, the burden is clearly to be understood as the message of impending doom against Nineveh. What makes this message interesting, to me anyway, is the fact that it was not actually given to Nineveh. The recipients are actually God’s people. The target audience is not the target of the message’s threats. This can clearly be seen language of 1:12 when you pay attention to the pronouns. Nineveh, the subject of the prophecy is called “they;” whereas Judah, the beneficiary of the message is called “you.” (And God claims sovereignty over both sides.)

Every one of the forty-seven verses of this short prophecy has been attacked by higher critics as being spurious. Contemporary critical scholarship tends to hold that at least one-third of the material was written by someone other than Nahum. Special targets for this critical attack center on:
·          parts of the title,
·          the acrostic poem (1:2-10),
·          the “hopeful sayings” (1:12-13; 2:1, 3),
·          and the closing dirge (3:18-19).
The result has been a rather uniform denial of the unity of the book.

All of this, however, rests on the shakiest of premises.
·         The rejection of part of the superscription we will deal with in a minute.
·         The supposedly interpolated acrostic hymn of praise can be seen as part and parcel of the message and development of the entire book and integral to the words directed toward Nineveh and Judah that follow (1:11-15).
·         Rejecting the genuineness of the “hopeful sayings” would necessitate doing so in virtually every prophetic book, for the prophets uniformly combine condemnation and comfort in their messages. It must be added that the messages of hope in Nahum depend not only on the process of Nineveh/Assyria’s downfall but also on God’s use of nations, which He will ultimately judge, to bring about conditions favorable to Judah’s restoration. Judgment and hope are thus inextricably intertwined; both are integral to the theme, development, and applications found in the book. The ultimate spiritual restoration of God’s people is the true underlying purpose behind His judgment of the wicked, for He does all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.
·         The attempt of several critics to deny the closing dirge to Nahum is subjective at best and erroneous in fact, for it forms a proper ending refrain not only to the previous taunt song (3:8ff.) but also to the entire second half of the book (2:1-3:19).

The various denials of the unity of the book are thus arbitrary and without foundation. A demonstrable unity of theme and development is wedded to the structure of the entire prophecy. Further, there is thematic unity to the book in the author’s employment of several key words and at least ten literary motifs sprinkled throughout. Indeed, Nahum’s literary genius has enabled him to write a carefully composed and tightly structured prophecy that is unsurpassed by any of the writing prophets. The logical conclusion is that the book of Nahum is a unified literary piece, the product of the prophet Nahum.

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