Nachum

June 14, 2006

The seventh in the traditional listing by CHAZAL of the group of Prophets known as the “Trei-Asar,” the “Twelve”

The Book of Nachum begins with a Prophecy concerning Nineveh, the capital city of “Ashur,” the Kingdom of Assyria. Note that this is the second Prophecy concerning this city, but how different!

In the first, Yonah ben Amitai had been commanded to prophecy to Nineveh, which had sunken to such a degraded state that they were comparable to Sodom, “In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown.” But then the King of Nineveh had taken Yonah’s words to heart and had been the center of a movement of “Teshuvah,” of Repentance – one of the rare times in the Bible that we see Repentance among the nations. And indeed Nineveh was overthrown – from bad to good!

But now things are radically different. Nineveh has fallen again, this time displaying more evil than before. And Hashem is informing them here, through the Prophet Nachum, whose name means, paradoxically, “comfort,” that this time they are doomed, doomed to destruction at the hands of Nevuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.

Nachum has a distinctive “literary” style, in a number of ways. He uses repetition in an interesting and unusual manner, as in this somewhat frightening verse (Nachum 1:2):

“E-l Kano Ve’Nokem HaShem,
Nokem HaShem U-Vaal Chaymah,
Nokem HaShem L’Tzarav,
V’Noter hu L’Oyevav,”

“The L-rd is a jealous and avenging G-d,
The L-rd takes revenge and is full of wrath;
The L-rd takes revenge on His adversaries,
And He saves up anger for His enemies.”

RASHI explains that the three occurrences of the word with the root of “revenge” corresponds to the three exiles that Sancheriv inflicted upon Israel.
He also uses alliteration (use of consonants to achieve a literary effect) and onomatopoeia (definition in American Heritage Dictionary: the formation or use of words such as “buzz” that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to).

An example of the former is in Nachum (2:11) where the Prophet describes Nineveh as “Bookah, U’Mevookah U’Mevoolagah,” “kah,” “kah,” “gah,” “empty and void and waste;” – the double o’s in English anyway, and the sound of the double o (the equivalent in Hebrew is the “shuruk” or the “kubutz” also suggest emptiness.

Of the latter is the description of the sound of chariots in Nachum (2:5) as “Yishtakshekun,” “they jostle against one another.”
Though Nineveh has powerful chariots (Nachum 2:5) and attacks and destroys its enemies like lions (Nachum 2:12-13), HaShem says,

“I am against you, says the L-rd of Hosts,
And I will burn her chariots in smoke,
And the sword shall devour her young lions,…” (Nachum 2:14).

“Woe to the bloody city…” wherein is heard
“the sound of the whip
And the sound of turning wheels,
And of prancing horses and dancing chariots.
Of horsemen charging, and the flashing sword and the glittering spear;
And a multitude of slain, and a heap of carcasses;
And there is no end of the corpses,
And they stumble upon the corpses.”
(Nachum 3:1-3)

“Behold I am against you,
Says the L-rd of Hosts,…”
(Nachum 3:5)

With all of its might, Ashur was not able to stand against the “Destroying Messenger of HaShem,” Nevuchadnezzar.

“And it shall come to pass,
That all that look upon you,
Shall flee from you,
And say, ‘Nineveh is laid waste;
Who will moan for her?
Where shall I seek comforters for you?’ ”
(Nachum 3:7)

“Your shepherds are in deep sleep,
O King of Ashur,
Your mighty ones are fallen and cannot rise,
Your people are scattered over the mountains,…”
(Nachum 3:18)

And, unlike the Jewish People who will also be scattered, for you…
“There is none to gather you up.”
(Conclusion of Nachum 3:18)

According to the RAMBAM, Nachum was a link in the Chain of “Mesorah,” and received the Tradition of Torah from Yoel and his court.