Saturday, March 04, 2023

Mining the Minors: Nahum (4)

The remainder of the first chapter of Nahum careers back and forth between addressing Nineveh and addressing Judah. The word “you” necessarily has different meanings as we move through these last five verses. In verse 11, “you” is Nineveh. In verses 12-13, it’s Judah. In verse 14, it’s Nineveh again, or perhaps the “worthless counselor” described in verse 11. Finally, in verse 15, the prophet returns to addressing Judah with further words of comfort.

You have to have your head on a swivel as you read it or you’ll lose track of who’s being addressed at any given point.

Nahum 1:11 — Introducing the Worthless Counselor

“From you came one who plotted evil against the Lord, a worthless counselor.”

A Counselor of Belial

The Hebrew word translated “worthless” here is a familiar one: bᵊlîyaʿal. Often translators have transliterated it, as in when Shimei called David a “man of Belial”. In the Psalms and Proverbs, it is translated “evil”, “wicked” or “ungodly”. Literally, it is a compound of two other Hebrew words. Together they mean “unprofitable”, “good for nothing” or “base”. Used as a proper name, Belial became the personification of evil, and by the New Testament, a euphemism for Satan.

That’s somebody you’d probably prefer not to have counseling you. It didn’t work out so well for Eve, among others.

In Nahum, the worthless counselor comes from Assyria, or perhaps the city of Nineveh more specifically. The tense of the Hebrew word translated “came” is ambiguous, so Nahum could be talking about an unusually evil Assyrian who was a matter of historical record, an enemy of Judah at the time he wrote, an Assyrian of some future day, or even a future personality who will embody the satanic adversarial spirit of early seventh century Assyria. Micah refers to an adversary he calls “the Assyrian” who will invade future Israel and will be defeated by Christ himself. For this reason, some students of Bible prophecy believe an “Assyrian Antichrist” will arise only to perish in the brightness of the Lord’s second coming. Peter Goodgame even speculates that the Antichrist may arise out of Iraq. Isaiah also paints a picture of this future scenario.

Hints of Something Beyond the Obvious

If these students of prophecy are correct in how they assess the words of Isaiah and Micah, it’s not impossible Nahum is doing something similar in this passage, though it seems likelier he has in mind one of the particularly vile Assyrian kings of history.

But the fact that Nahum calls this worthless individual “counselor” makes me wonder if just maybe Goodgame and his friends are on to something. Daniel speaks of a “prince who is to come” who will “make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering”. Who is worth less than a counselor who suggests you do something, then changes the rules on you unilaterally when you comply?

The evolution of the word “Belial” is interesting in this connection. Where early uses simply mean worthless, we are not stretching things to say the later uses make Belial explicitly satanic. What might be more satanic than a counselor who is the devil’s foremost agent on the planet in his time? Taken together with the apocalyptic language of the earlier part of this chapter, one wonders if there isn’t a hint here of something beyond the obvious.

Are we putting these things together correctly? Who knows, but it’s an interesting possibility.

Nahum 1:12-13 — Comfort for Judah

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.’ ”

Nahum now conveys a promise of deliverance to Judah in the Lord’s own words. The yoke of Assyria will be broken. Despite their superior numbers, the Assyrians will no longer demand tribute of Judah or treat it as a vassal state.

It is notable that Judah’s affliction during this period was ultimately from God himself (“I have afflicted you”). Remember that during the wickedness of Manasseh’s reign, Judah behaved so abominably that their king had to be taken into captivity until he humbled himself before God. The writer of Chronicles directly attributes Manasseh’s chastening to God. Josiah’s reforms were necessary because of the extent of Judah’s idolatry and worship of Assyrian deities. If Nahum wrote during this later period of extensive reform in Judah, it is not surprising that God’s outlook toward his people had taken a turn for the positive.

Too bad it wouldn’t last. What Assyria was unable to conquer, Babylon would. But that is not Nahum’s subject in this prophecy.

Nahum 1:14 — The Worthless Counselor Addressed?

“The Lord has given commandment about you: ‘No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile.’ ”

Like others of this period, this prophecy could conceivably have multiple fulfilments. Certainly the name of Nineveh would no longer be perpetuated from its downfall onward. For many centuries, historians were not even sure where to find the city. The houses of the Assyrian gods were equally devastated, and their idol worship ceased with the destruction of their capital and the loss of the empire. Assyria was eventually subsumed into the Babylonian Empire that succeeded it.

But if this passage may also be applied to a worthless counselor of a future day, the statement “I will make your grave, for you are vile” seems even more apropos. I suppose we may say a city could have a grave, but that imagery is usually individual. Again, it will be interesting to see how the future siege of Jerusalem shakes out.

Nahum 1:15 — More Comfort for Judah

“Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.”

Isaiah began to prophecy well before Nahum, and this language probably originated with him. He said this in connection with the future redemption of Jerusalem:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ ”

Nahum picks up Isaiah’s language up and runs with it. He is saying, in effect, those days Isaiah talked about are here, at least in a measure. The feet of the good news messenger are on their way. The “good news” in this case would be the news of Nineveh’s demise and Judah’s release from their present condition, and the peace that would at least temporarily follow it.

Most of our readers are probably more familiar with the way Paul picks up these words and repurposes them in Romans. There he is using Isaiah’s language proverbially rather than literally, applying it to the message of the gospel. In Romans, the news Paul talks about has nothing to do with the fall of Nineveh or the destruction of Israel’s enemies, but everything to do with the joy that accompanies salvation and the appreciation the saved have for those who bring them the message of faith.

In addition to Paul’s present day application of the prophecy, we should also look forward to the eventual, inevitable fall of all who oppose Christ. Zion will not truly hear the words “Your God reigns” until Christ returns to set up his millennial kingdom, putting down all his enemies in the process — including, perhaps, this “worthless counselor”. Likewise, the realization of Nahum’s words “Never again shall the worthless pass through you” has never occurred to date. “Belial” of one sort or another has passed through Jerusalem many times since Nahum prophesied, and it will do so again.

When Belial is utterly cut off, that will be good news indeed.

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