Q&A: Why is Nahum in the Bible?

Why is Nahum in the Bible?

Question

In reading Nahum, I can't tell who his audience was. Did he prophecy to Nineveh? If so, how did a book given to Nineveh end up in the Bible?

Answer

When we open to Nahum 1:1, we find out that it is "an oracle concerning Nineveh." At first glance it would appear that he is speaking to Nineveh, as if his ministry was in this pagan city. However, this does not necessarily have to be the case. In determining the audience of Nahum's ministry, there are four things that need to be considered.

First, it is important to note that Nahum's audience does not determine whether or not his oracles "end up" in the Bible. The determining factor is whether or not this book is the Word of God. Even if Nahum had ministered to the pagan nation Nineveh, it would not exclude his words from being the very word of God and thus being worthy of being in the canon.

After all, many other oracles to foreign nations are in the Bible. For example, Amos 1 contains oracles against Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, and Ammon. Jonah's prophetic oracle was given to Nineveh, yet his story and message are in the Bible. Simply because a prophet was addressing a different group of people does not mean that God's people would not gain something as they heard it. It was as if they were overhearing a conversation that greatly affected them.

Is this not what we do with any book of the Bible? For example, Paul wrote to specific churches with specific problems living in a specific time, yet when we read his letters, we "overhear his conversations" and gain spiritual insight from them. The same could be true of Nahum's prophecies. God's people would have gained profound strength and assurance to hear Nineveh's downfall prophesied. Judah had suffered terribly at their hand, and Israel had been overthrown by them. To hear that God would one day judge them would encourage God's flock.

That being said, it is important to note a second issue. Nineveh is not the only audience that Nahum is addressing. Note whom he addresses in Nahum 1:15:
Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed.
Nahum could have addressed Judah at the same time that he prophesied about Nineveh. God's people needed to know that God was still in control of the world. It had not spun out of control. Assyria was not a force that God could not overthrow. Thus, Nahum addressed God's people and gave them hope by pronouncing judgment on their enemies.

Third, Nahum 1:1 must be considered. It tells us that Nahum was an Elkoshite. This may simply be telling us where Nahum was born, but it could also be telling us where he ministered. The exact location of Elkosh is uncertain and as with any uncertain issue in the Bible, there are many views. One tradition places Elkosh 25 miles north of Nineveh. This view could help to bolster the opinion that Nahum ministered within Nineveh, for it makes this area his home. However, it is important to note that this tradition cannot be traced back beyond the sixteenth century. It is most likely that Elkosh was a city in Judah.

Finally, although this is not a "water-tight" argument, I would also add that I doubt that Nahum ministered in Nineveh simply because of the harshness of his message against Nineveh. Could a person say such things boldly in the streets of Nineveh and live?

Nahum is ministering before the fall of Assyria. According to Nahum 1:13 the destruction of Nineveh is still in the future. It also appears that Nineveh is strong during Nahum's ministry. As Nahum 1:12 says, Nineveh has allies and is numerous.

Nineveh was the super-power of its day, and there was no freedom of speech. Had Nahum said these things boldly in the streets of Nineveh, I doubt that his oracle would have been preserved because he would have been killed.

Answer by Mr. Todd Johnson