The name Nahum means “comfort” or “consolation.” He is a part of the Twelve, or the Minor Prophets and, like many in this collection, is focused on judgment for sin, in this instance focusing on Nineveh, a key city in Assyria.
In terms of details regarding the prophet, there are few we know of. We know that he is an Elkoshite (1:1), referring either to where he was born or where he was ministering. Where the city of Elkosh is located is debated and in any conceivable sense, unknowable. No kings are mentioned in the introduction of the book, but a message of judgment against Assyria connotes a time when they ruled with strength, thus likely prior to 612 BC and its fall to the Babylonians.
Mention of Nineveh likely reminds the reader of the Book of Jonah when the city turned from sin and idolatry to the living God. Now, however, the city has returned a century later to idolatry, violence, and arrogance (3:1-4). Assyria was a vast and powerful empire, but its demise came about just as God predicts through his prophet Nahum.
While it can certainly be broken down further, it seems that each chapter of Nahum is of a piece, and therefore is best preached as three distinct units for three different messages. Breaking the sermon texts down any further could allow one to work on other important details, but may miss the overarching thrust of these chapters respectively.
Nahum 1:1-15: The God of the Bible is a jealous, avenging God who will not acquit the wicked, but bring destruction, in this case, on Nineveh; however, he is also slow to anger, good, a stronghold, and knows those who trust in him.
Nahum 2:1-13: God will restore the excellence of Jacob, but Nineveh, boasting in its power, will be overthrown by the Lord.
Nahum 3:1-19: Woe to Nineveh, it is full of sin and wickedness, and it will be plundered and defeated.
Exegetical Details: The destruction of Nineveh is pronounced in this section with great force. Here the reader is reminded of Exodus 34:6-7 as God is revealed as a merciful and gracious God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (cf. 1:7), but who also will by no means clear the guilty as he acts in justice toward them. Nineveh may feel safe and secure, but no one can thwart the power of God in his judgment. No one can endure the fierceness of his anger, and thus Judah is instructed to take heart at these good tidings (cf. Isa. 40:9; 52:7; Rom. 10:15) and keep the appointed feasts, knowing their enemy would be defeated. One further exegetical note is that the first chapter of Nahum contains a partial acrostic structure, with nine of the first eleven letters of the Hebrew alphabet being found in order from 1:2-8.
Big Idea: Judgment is inevitable when you rebel against the one true God.
Exegetical Details: Though Nineveh’s defeat at the hands of the Babylonians is still future to the writing of this book, the prophet speaks of their impending judgment in present-tense terms. So sure is this judgment, Nahum speaks of it in that way. Nineveh has historically torn in pieces their prey as a lion (2:11-12), but they will become the victim as the Lord is set to cut them off from the earth. This is in keeping with many texts that speak of the defeat of God’s enemies in his justice, culminating in the depiction of the overthrow of Babylon, the great enemy of God, whom the people of God are told to remove themselves from (Rev. 18:1-8; cf. Nahum 2:8-10).
Big Idea: God will have mercy on his people who repent and rely on him, but his enemies’ defeat is sure.
Exegetical Details: Nineveh is condemned on three counts. First, it is full of lies, robbery, and victimization (3:1). Second, because of the infidelity and spiritual and moral adultery that is rampant within its culture (3:4). Finally, Nineveh is indicted for not learning from others who had been judged by God for their pervasive sinfulness (No Amon; 3:8-10). Because of these actions, Nineveh would reap death (3:2-3), exposure as vile and abominable before all the nations (3:5-6), and utter devastation accompanied by gladness of others over their demise (3:11-19).
Big Idea: Judgment of evil is justly deserved, we reap what we sow.
Know and embrace the twin truth that God is both holy and gracious, righteous and merciful. We cannot pick and choose when it comes to God’s attributes, we must embrace all that the Bible says he is.
Repent of your sin and turn to Christ, the only means of our salvation.
Praise God for his mercy, that he is a stronghold, and that he knows those who trust in him. These truths solidify our faith and enable us to minister to others well.
Proclaim the good news of salvation to those who must hear.
Turn away from sin, it will only bring about destruction ultimately.
If those who reject God and his ways are prospering and even persecuting God’s people trust that God is sovereign over all things and his timing and plan are perfect. In the end he will glorify himself through ultimate judgment and salvation.
We reap what we sow, therefore sow righteousness and not sin.
Remove yourself from worldliness, do not love the ways of the world, it is fleeting and passing away, but God and his kingdom will endure forever.
Nahum in some ways forms a sequel to the Book of Jonah. As such, one implied theological theme could be that of perseverance by means of God’s grace (1:6-15). Nineveh repented of their sins under Jonah’s preaching, but then reverted to their old ways over time. It is instructive to us to persevere in the faith ourselves, and also to teach the content of our faith to the coming generation so that, again by God’s grace, they know and worship the one true living God.
The most prominent theme teased out directly within the book is that of judgment for enemies of God who live in ongoing, unrepentant sin (1:6; 2:10-13; 3:5-7, 18-19). As with many books of the Minor Prophets, the reminder of the wages for our sin is in the foreground of all that is said. The theme of judgment for sin would also demand one think further on the attributes of God, particularly his righteousness, justice, and wrath.
A more minor theme, but no less important, is that of the gracious salvation of God’s people (1:7, 12-13, 15; 2:2). Comfort is brought to God’s people by means of this reminder, as well as a call to continue living by faith in him. This also highlights the characteristics of God, such as his kindness, grace, mercy, and love.
The theme of repentance is also noted here (1:7, 14-15). Sin puts us in a position of condemnation before God, and the only means of salvation is by turning from sin and believing in his Messiah, Jesus Christ. Implicit, and often explicit, in all of the Minor Prophets is a call to repent and live in line with God’s purposes.
One final theme would include the surety of the future (2:10-13; 3:5-19). God’s judgment of Nineveh in this book is also pointing forward to the way God will deal with all of his enemies in the end. Thus, a book like this should serve as a warning and a comfort, calling people to response as one considers the eschatological reality of how God will work in the world in an ultimate and decisive manner.
My Encounter with Nahum
This is a very stark book, one that merits attention, but is often avoided because of its emphasis on judgment and the seeming notion that is does not relate to people today because it is written to Nineveh. However, there are ample lessons for us to learn and abundant wisdom for us to take hold of as we rightly respond to the glorious God who judges and saves.
The title for my series was “The Glorious God of Desolation and Consolation.” Yes, it sounds a bit dismal, but the accent of the book certainly focuses on judgment. And yet there is also a key theme of consolation (that part of the title was based on Nahum’s name), and in it all the character of God is shining through.
The chapters are brief enough and packaged in a way that I approached this as a brief three-part series. Section two highlights the approach and gets at each chapter’s main themes.
A series on any book in the Minor Prophets may not be a preacher’s first choice, but they are important books to convey to our people. Specifically, Nahum reminds us of God’s character, particularly his jealous anger, teaches us about justice, both at the divine and human levels, offers comfort for those who take refuge in God, and points us forward to salvation in Christ and the ultimate final assize to come. In all of this, the hope is that people would walk away with reminders of who God is and what he is calling us to, so that we might turn from sin, worship the Lord, and live in light of his purposes.
David W. Baker, Nahum Habakkuk, Zephaniah, TOTC (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1988).
Kenneth L. Barker, and Waylon Bailey, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, NAC (Nashville: B&H 1998).
O. Palmer Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).
Jeremy Kimble is Assistant Professor of Theology at Cedarville University and the author of '40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline' (Kregel, 2017).