Nahum 1:9-12

Denunciation and Destruction of Nineveh

1:9 Whatever you plot against the Lord, he will completely destroy!

Distress will not arise a second time.

1:10 Surely they will be totally consumed

like entangled thorn bushes,

like the drink of drunkards,

like very 10  dry stubble.

1:11 From you, O Nineveh, 11  one has marched forth who plots evil against the Lord,

a wicked military strategist. 12 

Oracle of Deliverance to Judah

1:12 This is what the Lord says: 13 

“Even though 14  they are powerful 15 

and what is more, 16  even though their army is numerous 17 

nevertheless, 18  they will be destroyed 19  and trickle away! 20 

Although I afflicted you,

I will afflict you no more. 21 

tn Alternately, “Why are you plotting?” or “What are you plotting?” The term מַה (mah) ordinarily functions as the interrogative pronoun “what?” (HALOT 550-51 s.v.; BDB 552-53 s.v.). It is often used in reproachful, ridiculing questions and in accusations with an insinuation of blame, reproach, or contempt; see Gen 4:10; 37:10; 44:15; Josh 22:16; Judg 8:1; 15:11; 20:12; 1 Sam 29:3; 2 Sam 9:8; 1 Kgs 9:13; 2 Kgs 9:22; 18:19). It is more disparaging than מִי (mi; HALOT 551 s.v. מַה). The LXX translates it with the interrogative pronoun τί (“what?”). R. L. Smith (Micah-Malachi [WBC], 76) takes it as the indefinite pronoun “whatever” (see also BDB 553 s.v. מָה 3; GKC 443-44 §137.c; Num 23:3; 1 Sam 19:3; 20:10; 2 Sam 18:22-23, 29; Job 13:13; Prov 25:8). W. A. Maier (Nahum, 186) takes it as the interrogative adverb “why?” (see also BDB 553 s.v. מָה 2.b; Gen 3:13; 12:18; 26:10; Exod 14:15; 17:2; 2 Kgs 6:33; 7:3; Pss 42:6, 12; 43:5; 52:3; Job 7:21; 15:12; Song 8:4). All three are represented in English versions: “What?” (KJV, NKJV), “Why?” (NRSV, NJPS), and “Whatever” (NASB, NIV).

tn Less likely, “[What are you] thinking about.” When used with אֶל (’el) the verb חָשַׁב (khashav) may be taken (1) in a hostile sense: “What are you plotting against the Lord?” or (2) in a nonhostile sense: “What are you thinking about the Lord?” The hostile sense is clearly intended when it is used in collocation with the direct object רָעָה (raah, “evil”; Zech 7:10; 8:17; Pss 35:4; 140:3; Prov 16:9) or when it is followed by the preposition עַל (’al; Gen 50:20; 2 Sam 14:13; Jer 11:19; 18:11, 18; 29:11; 48:2; 49:30; Mic 2:3; Nah 1:11; Pss 36:5; Esth 8:3; 9:24, 25; Dan 11:25). It is also used in a hostile sense when followed by the preposition אֶל, as it is here (Jer 49:20; 50:45; Hos 7:15; Nah 1:9). The major lexicons classify this usage in a hostile sense (BDB 363 s.v. חָשַׁב; HALOT 360 s.v. חשׁב). The verb is repeated in Nah 1:11 where it is clearly used in a hostile sense.

tn Or “The Lord will completely foil whatever you plot against him”; or “Whatever you may think about the Lord, he [always] brings everything to a conclusion.”

tc The MT reads צָרָה (tsarah, “distress”). This is supported by the LXX. However, the BHS editors propose emending the MT’s צָרָה (“distress”) to צָרָיו (tsarayv, “his adversaries”). Several English versions follow course (NRSV, NJPS); however, the majority of English versions follow the traditional MT reading (KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV). The term “distress” (צָרָה, tsarah) is repeated from v. 7: God will not only protect his people in time of “distress” (צָרָה) from the Assyrians (v. 7), he will put an end to “distress” (צָרָה) by destroying the Assyrians (v. 9).

tn The originally unvocalized consonantal form תקום is vocalized in the MT as תָקוּם (taqum, “will arise”) from קוּם (qum, “to arise”). However, the LXX reflects a vocalization of תִקּוֹם (tiqom, “will take vengeance”) from נָקַם (naqam, “to avenge”). The Masoretic vocalization makes sense and should be retained. The LXX vocalization probably arose under the influence of the three-fold repetition of נקם in Nah 1:2.

tn The verb אֻכְּלוּ (’ukkÿlu, “they will be consumed”) is an example of the old Qal passive perfect 3rd person common plural which was erroneously pointed by the Masoretes as Pual perfect 3rd person common plural. The Qal passive of אָכַל (’akhal) occurs several times in the Hebrew Bible, pointed as Pual (e.g., Exod 3:2; Neh 2:3, 13; Isa 1:20; Nah 1:10). For further discussion on the old Qal passive see H. L. Ginsberg, “Studies on the Biblical Hebrew Verb: Masoretically Misconstrued Internal Passives,” AJSL 46 (1929): 53-56; R. J. Williams, “The Passive Qal Theme in Hebrew,” Essays on the Ancient Semitic World, 43-50; Joüon 1:166-67 §58.a; IBHS 373-76 §22.6 (see especially n. 36 on p. 375).

tn The particle עַד (’ad) is taken as a comparative of degree (“like”) by many lexicographers (BDB 724 s.v. I.3; HALOT 787 s.v. 5), English versions (NASB, NRSV, NJPS), and scholars (W. A. Maier, Nahum, 192; R. L. Smith, Micah-Malachi [WBC], 76; R. D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah [WEC], 42). Although the comparative sense is rare (1 Sam 11:15; 2 Sam 23:19; 2 Kgs 24:20; 1 Chr 4:27), it is suggested by the similes in v. 10 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 57, §312). The comparative sense is reflected in the Greek versions of Symmachus, Aquila, and Theodotion. Although Origen took עַד in its more common spatial sense (“up to”), his approach can be dismissed because he misunderstood the entire line: ὅτι ἕως θεμελίου αὐτοῦ ξερσωθήσεται (Joti Jew" qemeliou autou xerswqhsetai, “up to his foundation he shall be laid bare”). The KJV takes עַד in its rare temporal sense (“while”; see BDB 725 s.v. II.2). T. Longman suggests a locative sense: “by the entangled thorns they are like drunkards stinking of drink” (“Nahum,” The Minor Prophets, 2:794, 796; see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 56-57, §310). Because of its difficulty, several scholars have resorted to conjectural emendations of the MT: (1) K. J. Cathcart (Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic [BibOr], 61) suggests emending the MT’s עַד to the temporal particle עוֹד (’od, “again”); (2) The BHS editors suggest emending the MT’s כִּי עַד (kiad) to הוֹי עִיר (hoyir, “woe to the city!”) which appears in Nah 3:1; (3) The BHS editors suggest the alternate conjectural emendation of יִבְעֲרוּ כְ (yivaru kÿ, “they will burn like …”); (4) H. Junker (Die zwolf kleinen Propheten, 175) suggests emending כִּי עַד (kiad) to כְּיַעַד (kÿyaad, “like a forest”). Although the Masoretic reading is difficult, it is more plausible than any conjectural emendation.

tc The MT reads סִירִים סְבֻכִים (sirim sÿvukhim, “entangled thorn-bushes”), and is supported by the Dead Sea text from Murabba`at: סירים סבכים (see DJD 2:197). The noun סִירִים (“thorn bushes”) is from סִיר (sir, “thorn, thorn bush,” BDB 696 s.v. II סִיר; HALOT 752 s.v. *סִירָה), e.g., Isa 34:13; Hos 2:8; Eccl 7:6. The Qal passive participle סְבֻכִים (sÿvukhim) is from סָבַךְ (savakh, “to interweave,” BDB 687 s.v. סָבַךְ; HALOT 740 s.v. סבך), e.g., Job 8:17, which is related to Assyrian sabaku (“to entwine,” AHw 2:999.a) and Arabic sabaka (“to entwine”; Leslau, 51). The MT is supported by several LXX translators, e.g., Symmachus, Aquila, and Theodotion. It is also reflected in Vulgate’s spinarum perplexi (“thorn-bushes entangled”). On the other hand, the Syriac Peshitta reflects סָרִים סוֹרְרִים (sarim sorÿrim, “your princes are rebels”) which points to orthographic confusion and a different vocalization. Similar textual confusion is apparent in Origen: θεμελίου αὐτοῦ ξερσωθήσεται (qemeliou autou xerswqhsetai, “his foundation shall be laid bare”) seems to reflect יְסֹדָם יְכָבֵּס (yÿsodam yÿkhabbes, “their foundation shall be washed away”) which was caused by orthographic confusion and transposition of consonants. The MT should be retained.

sn This simile compares the imminent destruction of Nineveh to the burning of a mass of entangled thorn-bushes (Job 8:17). When thorn-bushes are entangled they burn quickly and completely ( Eccl 7:6; Isa 34:13).

tc The MT reading וּכְסָבְאָם סְבוּאִים (ukhÿsavam sÿvuim, “and like the drink of drunkards”) is supported by Symmachus (“and as those drinking their drink with one another”) who is known for his wooden literalness to the Hebrew text, and by Vulgate which reads et sicut vino suo inebriati. K. J. Cathcart revocalizes as וּכְסֹבְאִים סְבֻאִים (ukhÿsovÿim sÿvuim, “and like drunkards sodden with drink”; Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic [BibOr], 61). Haldar equates Hebrew סָבָא (sava’) with Ugaritic sp’ (“eat”) due to an interchange between ב (bet) and פ (pe), and produces “and as they consume a consuming” (A. Haldar, Studies in the Book of Nahum, 32). Barr argues that the mem (מ) on MT וּכְסָבְאָם (ukhÿsovam) is enclitic, and he translates the line as “and as the drunken are getting drunk” (J. Barr, Comparative Philology, 33).

tn The MT’s וּכְסָבְאָם is a noun with masculine plural suffix from סֹבֶא (sove’, “drink, liquor”), meaning “their drink, liquor” (e.g., Hos 4:18). This is supported by Symmachus (“their drink”) and is reflected in the Syriac (“in their drink”). The Masoretic סְבוּאִים (sÿvuim) is the passive participle from סָבָא (sava’, “to drink,” BDB 684-85 s.v. סָבָא). This produces “and like their liquor/drink being drunken.” This makes good sense with the following line in which אֻכְּלוּ (’ukkÿlu, “they will be consumed”) appears. The verb אֻכְּלוּ is frequently used in comparisons of consuming liquor and being consumed like chaff.

10 tc The BHS editors propose emending the MT’s מָלֵא (male’, “fully”) to the negative interrogative הֲלֹא (halo’, “Has not…?”) and connecting it with the next line: “Has not one plotting evil marched out from you?” However, this emendation is unnecessary because the MT makes sense as it stands, and there is no textual support for the emendation. The MT is supported by the Greek tradition, the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QpNah), and the other versions.

tn Or “They will be fully consumed like dried stubble.” The term מָלֵא (“fully”) functions either as: (1) an adjective modifying כְּקַשׁ יָבֵשׁ (kÿqash yavesh, “like fully dried stubble”) or (2) an adverb modifying אֻכְּלוּ (’ukkÿlu, “they will be fully consumed”); see BDB 571 s.v. מָלֵא. The adverbial sense is rare, appearing elsewhere only in Jer 12:6; thus, the adjectival sense is more probable. The Hebrew word order also suggests the adjectival sense because מָלֵא follows כְּקַשׁ יָבֵשׁ (kÿqash yavesh) rather than אֻכְּלוּ.

11 tn The words “O Nineveh” are not in the Hebrew text, but are supplied in the translation for clarity. The preceding pronoun is feminine singular, indicating the personified city is in view. See 2:1 (2:2 HT).

12 tn Heb “a counselor of wickedness”; NASB “a wicked counselor”; NAB “the scoundrel planner.”

13 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.

14 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).

15 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).

16 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!”

17 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.

18 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).

19 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.

20 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).

21 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.