Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
NAHUM CHAPTER 1
Nahum the Alkoshi was so called after the name of his town or family. Seder Olam (ch 20) states that Nahum prophesied in the days of Menasheh king of Judah , who was the son of Hezekiah. The commentators suggest that Menasheh's name is not mentioned in the text as he was not a righteous king. Rambam in his introduction to the Mishneh Torah states that Nahum received Torah from the prophet Joel, who had received it from Micah, and that Nahum transmitted the Torah to Habakuk, who gave it over to Tzephaniah, who taught Jeremiah.
The main theme of Nahum's prophecy is the overthrow of Nineveh , which was the capital of the empire of Ashur, Assyria . While the earlier kings of Judah and Israel suffered from the incursions of Aram, by the reign of Hezekiah Aram had been eclipsed by Assyria, which became the major "superpower" of the time and which under Sennacherib not only exiled the Ten Tribes but also laid siege to Jerusalem itself, threatening the very Temple, until the miraculous overthrow of his army as described in detail in II Kings chs 18ff. Thereafter Ashur continued to be a major center and Jonah was sent to prophecy against the sinful Nineveh . In the days of King Menasheh, Judea was subject to Assyria and had to pay her taxes, but Nahum prophesied that God would take vengeance and that Nineveh would be overthrown, as happened about a century after his time, when Nebuchadnezzar conquered the city and Babylon took Assyria 's place as the major world empire.
While the classical commentators explain Nahum's prophecies about the coming doom of Nineveh as referring to its overthrow by Nebuchadnezzar, Targum Yonasan also interprets the same prophecies as alluding to the future destruction at the end of days of all the nations that harmed Israel . As a prophecy of vengeance against her enemies, Nahum's message, although fearsome and doom-laden, is a consolation to Israel . Thus the name Nahum is from the Hebrew root NAHEM meaning to comfort. The form Nahum is adjectival (like BARUCH, RAHUM, HANUN) indicating that the bearer of the name is a source of comfort (just as RAHUM, from RAHEM, to show mercy, applies to He who is the source of all mercy).
The opening verses of Nahum, following on as they do in our Bible texts from the closing verses of Micah, continue to describe God's attributes, focusing here on His vengefulness to His enemies (v 2). While verse 3 describes God as "long-suffering" or "slow to anger", it also describes Him as being "great in power". Rashi (ad loc.) explains that God has the power to take vengeance, and if He does not hurry to do so, this is because He is long-suffering - but in any event He will not acquit the wicked.
Vv 3-5 evoke the mighty powers of God as manifested in nature in the storm winds that raise clouds of dust, in the drying up of seas and rivers, the destruction of the most fertile of areas and in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In the words of RaDaK (on v 4): "He has the power to overturn nature - all the more so does He have the power to give one nation sway over another so as to destroy it, which is in any case not contrary to nature". Thus the commentators interpret the references to God's power over the forces of nature as metaphors for His overthrow of the nations. "He rebukes the sea and makes it dry." (v 4) - "this is a metaphor for the nations, who are compared to water" (Isaiah 17:12; Rashi on Nahum 1:4). ".and He dries up all the rivers" (v 4) - "Here the prophet prophesies that God would make Nebuchadnezzar king in the days of Yeho-yakim and give over Assyria and all the other lands to the sword" (Rashi ad loc.).
V 7: "HaShem is good, a stronghold on the day of trouble." "Even when He exacts punishment from His enemies, His mercy does not move from benefiting those who fear Him, unlike a man of flesh and blood who when occupied with one thing is unable to direct his attention to something else" (Rashi).
V 8 prophesies how Nineveh would be completely swept away.
Vv 9-11: When Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem , his lieutenant Ravshakeh publicly blasphemed (II Kings 18:22ff), as if God had no power against Assyria , but Nahum prophesies that its overthrow will be swift and total.
Vv 12-14 make up a Parshah Sethumah emphasizing how complete will be the overthrow of Assyria, to the point that it will never again be able to oppress Israel . "Though they are at peace and likewise many, even so they shall be cut down and it shall pass away." (v 12). In its simple meaning this verse is saying that even if the Assyrians are all at peace - unified and of one accord - and constitute a great multitude, they shall still be sheared like wool and pass away, never again able to afflict Israel . Rabbinic Midrash turns the whole verse around, darshening homiletically that if a person sees that his livelihood is limited and all the more so if he is "at peace and likewise many" (=wealthy), he should "shear" his possessions and give charity and then he is assured that he will not see the face of hell. "It's like when two sheep have to cross through the water. If one of them has been sheared and the other not, the one that is sheared gets across but not the one that is covered in thick wool, which gets weighed down by the water" (Gittin 7a).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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