Theological Themes in Nahum
Destruction of violent oppression
The depiction of the destruction of Nineveh is very vivid and concrete. Assyria’s artistic representations (as seen in palace reliefs) depict their own victories in graphic detail, and now the tables are turning. The violence and cruelty that Assyria visited upon its conquered victims will be matched by their decisive defeat. There is no reason to suspect that the actual conquest of Nineveh by a coalition of Medes and Babylonians in 612 BCE was any less severe than Nahum’s depiction. The details may not be exact, but the intensity of the terror and violence is accurate. The challenge to contemporary theological readers is to reflect honestly on equivalent embodied possibilities.
Jealousy and vengeance of God versus adversaries
No one, the book assumes, is able to stand against God’s indignation and anger (1:6). God’s vengeance and jealousy bring about days of trouble and judgment. The key difference in such events is whether or not one takes refuge in God or persists as an enemy of God. But Nahum keeps that from being an easy distinction. Judah was the name of Jacob’s fourth son and one of the 12 tribes. More, which is promised refuge and even restoration here, has had its turn at being afflicted by God (1:12). The very jealousy and vengeance of God that Judah has suffered is ironically the source of hope for its future restoration—thus, Nahum attests that there is comfort in the wrath and power of God. In the end, neither Judah’s misdeeds nor Assyrian cruelty can have the last word.
“Never again shall the wicked invade you” (1:15)
The future depicted in Nahum—both Nineveh’s destruction and Judah’s restoration—are stated unconditionally. The directive to celebrate festivals again is predicated on God’s promise never to permit Judah to be invaded again. But readers know that some decades later (586 BCE) Judah was invaded and its capital of Jerusalem was devastated by Babylon. (The Book of Lamentations presents images of Jerusalem’s devastation—violent, graphic, disturbing—not altogether different from those in Nahum 3.) Other invaders and destroyers followed in later centuries. Yet, the book of Nahum, with this direct, unconditional promise, has been retained in the A canon is a general law or principle by which something is judged. The body of literature in the Old and New Testaments is accepted by most Christians as being canonical (that is, authentic and authoritative) for them. More by both Jewish and Christian communities. It is canonically appropriate to ask with the lament psalms, “How long, O Lord, before this promise is kept?” Canonically, we wait in hope for God’s kingdom to come and for rejoicing that will not be based in vengeance.