After the failed siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians, the Jews still feared their return, and Jerusalem suffered because of it. Nahum's prophecy would potentially give the economy in Jerusalem a boost.
Mirror-Reading The Book of Nahum Gives Us A Greater Understanding
The Assyrian army had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel (Did you know that?). The southern kingdom was next on the chopping block, but after suffering losses foretold by the prophet Isaiah, they withdrew to the Assyrian capital, Nineveh. However, the Jews were nervous about them returning. The Assyrians had regained their footing and went on to conquer Thebes, a well fortified Egyptian city. Was Jerusalem next?
The Jews were supposed to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate their feasts and pay their tithes. This would have been a huge boost to the Jerusalem economy as the pilgrims would have been required to spend money while there. However, a looming invasion would make any pilgrim hesitant of making the journey. No Jew wanted to find themselves in the middle of a conflict or trapped inside the walls of Jerusalem if the Assyrian army arrived. The pilgrimages made everyone vulnerable. and no one wanted to get caught with their pants down, so to speak.
How Nahum's Prophecy Tried To Boost The Economy In Jerusalem
Nahum's primary objective was to convince the Jews that the Assyrians would not invade again so that they'll feel comfortable making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Nahum makes it clear:
What do you plot against the Lord?
He will make a complete end;
trouble will not rise up a second time.
Nahum 1:15 (LEB)
Look! On the mountains!
The feet of the one who brings good tidings,
the one who proclaims peace!
“Celebrate a festival, O Judah,
Fulfill your vows!
For he will not invade you again;
the wicked one is cut off completely!”
Nahum predicts the destruction of Nineveh, but in the mind of many at that time, it may have seemed unlikely. Nineveh was well fortified, not only with walls, but with water too. It sat on the banks of the Tigris river, and it also had canals on the other side that could act as moats. On the side with no canals, they could simply flood with water. There was also a river that ran through the city that would provide it with fresh drinking water if it came under siege. All of this water provided a formidable defense that would not make life easy for an would-be invader.
Nahum responds by pointing out that the Egyptian city of Thebes was well fortified and had a natural water defense also, yet the Assyrians were still able to conquer it. If Thebes could be conquered, so could Nineveh.
Are you better than Thebes
that sat by the Nile,
with water around her,
her rampart a sea,
and water her wall?
Nahum projects God's power over water early in his prophecy:
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
he dries up all the rivers;
Bashan and Carmel wither;
the bloom of Lebanon withers.
The aftermath of Nineveh's destruction is described as lacking water:
Nineveh is like a pool
whose waters run away.
“Halt! Halt!” they cry,
but none turns back.
However, most fascinating is the method of how Nineveh would be conquered:
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
One ancient account describes Nineveh being conquered because the Tigris river overflowed and flooded the city, causing the walls to falter. The very thing that was supposed to make Nineveh formidable was actually it's downfall. Nahum describes it this way:
The river gates are opened;
the palace melts away;
So overall, Nahum makes a solid case that the Assyrians are not a threat and hopes the Jews will make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and inject the city with much needed capital.
What Do You Think?
What do you think of this mirror-reading of Nahum? Was Nahum addressing a financial need of Jerusalem? What other situations do you think Nahum was responding to?