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Nahum 1:12

Oracle of Deliverance to Judah

1:12 This is what the Lord says: 1 

“Even though 2  they are powerful 3 

and what is more, 4  even though their army is numerous 5 

nevertheless, 6  they will be destroyed 7  and trickle away! 8 

Although I afflicted you,

I will afflict you no more. 9 

Nahum 1:15

Proclamation of the Deliverance of Judah

1:15 (2:1) 10  Look! A herald is running 11  on the mountains!

A messenger is proclaiming deliverance: 12 

“Celebrate your sacred festivals, O Judah!

Fulfill your sacred vows to praise God! 13 

For never again 14  will the wicked 15  Assyrians 16  invade 17  you,

they 18  have been completely destroyed.” 19 

1 sn Verse 12 begins with a typical prophetic introduction (“This is what the Lord says”) in language similar to the typical ancient Near Eastern messenger formula (see C. Westermann, Basic Forms of Prophetic Speeches, 100-115). This formula is frequently used to introduce prophetic speeches (e.g., Jer 2:5; Ezek 2:4; Amos 1:3). The messenger formula indicates that the prophet’s message is not his own, but is a revelatory and prophetic oracle from the Lord. It confirms the authenticity of the message.

2 tn The syntax of this line is complicated and difficult to translate. The first clause is the concessive protasis of a real condition, while the second is the logical apodosis of a comparative clause. This creates an a fortiori argument: “Even though they are strong and likewise many, so much more will they be cut down and pass away!” The first use of the particle וְכֵן (vÿkhen, “Even though”) introduces a concessive or conditional protasis of a present-time or immediate future-time real condition (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 87, §515; IBHS 636-37 §38.2). The second use of the particle וְכֵן (“so much more…”) introduces the apodosis of a logical resultative clause (see IBHS 641-42 §38.5).

3 tn Or “are strong” (cf. NCV); or “are at full strength” (NAB, NRSV); or “are intact.” Alternately, “Even though they have allies” (cf. NIV, NLT). The Hebrew noun שְׁלֵמִים (shÿlemim, from שָׁלֵם [shalem]) means “complete, healthy, sound, safe, intact, peaceful” (BDB 1023-24 s.v. שָׁלֵם; HALOT 1538-1539 s.v. שָׁלֵם). It can connote “full strength” or “full number” of an object (Gen 15:16; Deut 25:15; Prov 11:1; Amos 1:6, 9). Most commentators view this as a reference to the strength or numbers of the Assyrian army: “strong” (R. L. Smith, Micah-Malachi [WBC], 77-78), “full strength” (NASB, NRSV) or “intact” (T. Longman, “Nahum,” The Minor Prophets, 2:798). On the other hand, NIV and NLT follow the lead of Wiseman who points out that שְׁלֵמִים can refer to military allies: “Even though they will have allies and so be all the more numerous” (D. J. Wiseman, “Is It Peace? Covenant and Diplomacy,” VT 32 [1982]: 311-26). Nahum refers to the allies of the Assyrians elsewhere (Nah 3:15-17).

4 tn The particle וְכֵן (vÿkhen, “and moreover”) functions as an emphatic comparative adverb of degree (BDB 486 s.v. כֵּן; IBHS 663, 665-67 §39.3.4). It draws a comparison between שְׁלֵמִים (shÿlemim, “strong”) and רַבִּים (rabbim, “many”) but goes one step further for emphasis. This creates an “A, what is more B!” parallelism: “They are strong – what is more – they are many!”

5 tc The MT reads אִם־שְׁלֵמִים וְכֵן רַבִּים (’im-shÿlemim vÿkhen rabbim, “Even though they are strong and numerous”). The complicated syntax of this line led to textual confusion and several textual variants among the versions. For example, the LXX’s κατάρξων ὑδάτων πολλῶν (katarxwn Judatwn pollwn, “ruler of many waters”) reflects מֹשֵׁל מַיִם רַבִּים (moshel mayim rabbim, “ruler of many waters”) which redivides the words, and omits the letter א (aleph) and the word וְכֵן (vÿkhen). Similarly, the Syriac reflects אֶל מֹשְׁלֵי מַיִם רַבִּים (’el mosÿle rabbim, “to the rulers of many waters”). The MT is the most difficult reading and therefore best explains the origin of these textual variants. Moreover, the LXX of Nahum is well-known for its unusual mistranslations of the Hebrew text of Nahum. The LXX butchers v. 12 in several other places (see below). All major English versions follow the MT here.

6 tn The particle וְכֵן (vÿkhen, “so much more…”) introduces the apodosis of a logical resultative clause (IBHS 641-42 §38.5). It emphasizes that the action described in the apodosis will occur almost immediately (e.g., 1 Kgs 20:40; Ps 48:6).

7 tn Heb “they will be sheared.” The term “cut off” (גָּזָז, gazaz) is ordinarily used to describe the literal actions of “shearing” sheep (Gen 31:19; 38:12-13; Deut 15:19; 18:4; 1 Sam 25:2, 4, 7, 11; 2 Sam 13:23-24; Job 31:20; Isa 53:7) and “cutting” hair (Jer 7:29; Mic 1:16; Job 1:20). It is used figuratively here to describe the destruction of the Assyrian army (BDB 159 s.v. גָּזַז; HALOT 186 s.v. גזז).

sn The expression they will be cut off is an example of a hypocatastasis (implied comparison); Nahum intentionally chose this term to compare the destruction of the Assyrians to the shearing of sheep. This word-play has great rhetorical impact because the Assyrians frequently used sheep imagery when boasting of the ease and brutality with which they defeated their enemies (see D. Marcus, “Animal Similes in Assyrian Royal Inscriptions,” Or 46 [1977]: 92-93). It is both appropriate (poetic justice) and ironic (reversal of situation) that the Assyrians themselves should suffer a fate which they boasted of inflicting upon others. They will be an easy, helpless prey for the Divine Warrior. Their punishment will fit their crimes.

8 tc In v. 12 the MT preserves a string of plural forms followed by a seemingly anomalous singular form: וְעָבָרנָגֹזּוּרַבִּיםשְׁלֵמִים (shÿlemimrabbimnagozzuvÿavar, “Even though they are numerous…they are many…they will be cut off…and he [?] will pass away”). Several other versions (LXX, Syr, Targum) read the plural form וְעָבָרוּ (vÿavaru, “and they will pass away”). Several scholars emend the MT to the plural form, noting that the next word (וְעִנִּתִךְ, vÿinnitikh) begins with vav (ו); they suggest that the plural ending of וְעָבָרוּ dropped out due to haplography or faulty word division (e.g., T. Longman, “Nahum,” The Minor Prophets, 2:798). Another scholar retains the consonantal text, but repoints the form as an infinitive absolute: “They will be cut off, passing away” (K. J. Cathcart). On the other hand, more conservative scholars defend the MT reading and try to solve the problem by suggesting a shift from a plural referent (the Assyrians) to a singular referent (God or the Assyrian king): “They shall be cut down, when he passes through” (KJV) and “They will be cut off and he will pass over” (R. L. Smith, Micah-Malachi [WBC], 77). Still others suggest that the singular form functions as a collective: “They will be cut off and [they] will pass away” (W. A. Maier, Nahum, 206; K&D 27:15).
However, rather than resorting to textual emendations or performing syntactical improbabilities, the best solution may be simply to posit the presence of a rhetorical, stylistic device. The shift from these plural forms to the concluding singular form may be an example of heterosis of the plural to the singular (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 525 [4.5]). This is a common poetic device used for emphasis, especially at the climactic point in a speech (e.g., Gen 29:27; Num 22:6; 32:25; Job 12:7; 18:2; Esth 9:23; Ps 73:7; Prov 14:1, 9; John 3:11; 1 Tim 2:15).

tn Or “pass away.” The term עָבַר (’avar, “to pass through”) is a key word in Nahum 1; it occurs three times (Nah 1:8, 12, 15 [2:1 HT]). This verb is often used in reference to water, both the raging onset of flood waters (Nah 1:8) and the passive trickling or dwindling away of receding waters (Job 6:15; 11:16).

sn The phrase trickle away is an example of a hypocatastasis (implied comparison); Nahum compares the destruction of the mighty Assyrians with the trickling away of once high waters. This imagery has strong rhetorical impact because the Assyrians often boasted that they overwhelmed their enemies like a flood. It is ironic then that they would soon dwindle away to a mere trickle! This is also an appropriate image in the light of the historical destruction of Nineveh through the use of flood waters, as predicted by the prophet (Nah 2:7-9) and recorded by ancient historians (Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica 2.26-27; Xenophon, Anabasis 3.4.12; also see P. Haupt, “Xenophon’s Account of the Fall of Nineveh,” JAOS 28 [1907]: 99-107).

9 tn The terms אֲעַנֵּךְ (’aannekh, “I will [no longer] afflict you”) and וְעִנִּתִךְ (vÿinnitikh, “I afflicted you”) are both derived from the root II עָנָה (’anah, “to afflict”). The LXX mistakenly confused this with the more common root I עָנָה (“to answer, respond”). Although it mistranslated the roots, the LXX reflects the same consonantal text as the MT: וְעִנִּתִךְ לֹא אֲעַנֵּךְ (vÿinnitikh lo’ ’aannekh, “Although I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no longer”). Some modern English versions supply various terms not in the Hebrew text to indicate the addressee: NIV “O Judah”; NLT “O my people.” Judah is specifically addressed in 1:15 (2:1 HT) and the feminine singular is used there, just as it is in 1:12.

10 sn Beginning with 1:15, the verse numbers through 2:13 in the English Bible differ from the verse numbers in the Hebrew text (BHS), with 1:15 ET = 2:1 HT, 2:1 ET = 2:2 HT, etc., through 2:13 ET = 2:14 HT. Beginning with 3:1, the verse numbers in the English Bible and the Hebrew Bible are again the same.

11 tn Heb “the feet of a herald.”

12 tn Heb “a messenger of peace.” The Hebrew noun translated “peace” is sometimes used in reference to deliverance or freedom from enemy attack or destruction (e.g., Jer 4:10; 6:14; 8:11; 12:5; 28:9; 29:7).

13 sn The sacred vows to praise God were often made by Israelites as a pledge to proclaim the mercy of the Lord if he would be gracious to deliver (e.g., Gen 28:20; 31:13; Lev 7:16; Judg 11:30, 39; 1 Sam 1:11, 21; 2 Sam 15:7-8; Pss 22:25 [26]; 50:14; 56:12 [13]; 61:5 [6], 8 [9]; 65:1 [2]; 66:13; 116:14, 18; Eccl 5:4 [3]; Jonah 1:16; 2:9 [10]). The words “to praise God” are not in the Hebrew, but are added in the translation for clarification.

14 tc The LXX reflects the plural יוֹסִיפוּ (yosifu, “they shall [never]”). The MT reads the singular יוֹסִיף (yosif, “he shall [never]”) which is also found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QpNah). The subject of the verb is the singular noun בְּלִיַּעַל (bÿliyyaal, “the wicked one”) which is also misunderstood by the LXX (see below).

15 tc The MT reads בְּלִיַּעַל (bÿliyyaal, “the wicked one”; so ASV, NASB). The LXX reading εἰς παλαίωσιν (ei" palaiwsin, “to old age”) mistakenly derived בְּלִיַּעַל from בָּלָה (balah, “to become worn”). There are several places in the book of Nahum where the LXX produced poor translations.

tn Heb “the wicked one.” This is a collective singular and has been translated as a plural.

16 tn The term “Assyrians” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied from context for clarity. If left unspecified, the prophetic statement could be understood to mean that the wicked [i.e., wicked conquerors in general] would never again invade Judah. Cf. NLT “your enemies from Nineveh.”

17 tn Or “pass through you” (NASB); or “march against you”; NCV “attack you.”

18 tn Heb “he.” This is in agreement with the singular “wicked one” in the previous line.

19 tn Heb “he is completely cut off.”

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