Book Reviews

Book Review: Nahum (ZECOT), Daniel Timmer

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In a fantastic series, Daniel Timmer, professor of biblical studies for the PhD program at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, has written a new commentary on Nahum. This series is well-suited to the shorter books of the Bible, like the Minor Prophets and Ruth, however, I can’t wait to see what guys like Sklar does with Leviticus or Gentry with Isaiah. 

The aim of this series is discourse analysis, which is also called macrosyntax. Rather than merely studying a book sentence by sentence, the authors recognize that “the paragraph serves as the basic unit of thought” (10). Daniel Block, the general editor, writes that “too little attention has been paid to the biblical authors as rhetoricians, to their larger rhetorical and theological agendas, and especially to the means by which they tried to achieve their goals” (9). The authors intentionally selected, arranged, and shaped their ideas to reach the ears of their hearers in specific ways. The primary goal of these commentaries “is to help serious students of Scripture, as well as those charged with preaching and teaching the Word of God, to hear the messages of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard” (10).

Often times how someone says something is just as important as what they say. Nahum’s main message is that “God as the Divine Warrior and only deliverer announces a global ‘day’ in which he will pour out his righteous vengeance on the powers of evil that oppose him” (33). Nahum 1:2-8 tell the audience that God’s intervention brings “the deliverance of those who seek refuge in him,” which includes anybody (33). Nahum centers on Assyria, a major world superpower, and shows that its destruction (which is described in the rest of the book) “is a prelude to this larger, final intervention” (33). How do we know that God will one day, once-and-for-all, come to rescue his people? He shows us a mini-picture of what that looks like when he comes to rescue his people from Assyria.

Nahum’s Rhetoric

  • Nahum’s (meta)genre is “that of an oracle against a foreign nation,” a “kind of literature which involves the deity letting the audience (Judah) hear what he is planning with respect to another group (Assyria)” (45). Judah learns that God is well aware of Assyria’s offenses, that he will indeed punish them, and it will be beneficial for Judah. Because Judah hears this message before Assyria does, they can calmly wait for Yahweh’s intervention while Assyria knows nothing of the sort.
  • Because of Assyria’s seemingly “unlimited power,” Nahum begins his book (1:2-8) by reminding Judah that they need “to believe firmly that YHWH’s power and control were truly unlimited,” that is, his power reached “outside Israel and over the world in general (1:5c, d)” (46).
  • Yahweh is the main character here, and he will do battle with Assyria. This “denies to Judah any military role,” which “prevents the Judean king in particular from taking center stage in the process” (47). This keeps Yahweh and his power in the center of the reader’s mind, instead of a mere human, such as the Assyrian king who consciously, proactively, and foolishly opposed Yahweh (Nah 1:9; 2 Kgs 18:22) (pp. 47, 101).
  • Binary differences: to give one example, Nahum portray’s Assyria as the bad guy and Judah as the good guys, both trusting in God and benefiting from his deliverance. But we know that throughout Israel’s history, they were never 100% faithful (Nahum even reminds Judah of God’s judgment on their past sins in 1:12). Yet, as Timmer writes, “Judah’s characterization is positive enough that it is not threatened by the same judgment that will bring down Assyria” (48). For now, God is dealing with Assyria for its egregious sins. God has dealt with Judah before, and he will deal with them again later. But in this moment, his focus is on Assyria.
  • Ironic reuse of Assyrian propaganda: “elements of Assyrian propaganda were intended by their original (Assyrian) authors to promote the empire’s glory ad the submission of others to its will” (49). Yet Nahum reuses Assyrian propaganda images against them. Nahum 2:6 says that “the river gates are opened,” such that Assyria will be swept away in a flood (such aquatic language was often used by Assyria). Ashurbanipal employed many lion metaphors (and locusts, p. 169), since he was “divinely authorized” to be “his people’s protective shepherd” (50; see Nahum 2:11-13). Assyria had preyed upon other nations, but now Yahweh will take on the lion metaphor and eliminate Assyria themselves.

Commentary Structure

Timmer outlines Nahum into 5 major sections (or “chapters”). Each chapter follows the same structural path:

  • Main Idea of the Passage: The main points are condensed into 1-2 sentences.
  • Literary Context: Gives a brief explanation to how this chapter fits into the broader text of Nahum.
  • Translation and Outline: Timmer provides his translation and outline of the section which is crafted to show the text’s flow of thought.
  • Structure and Literary Form: Summarizes how the author uses literary devices (e.g., key words, motifs, parallels, contrasts) to craft his message.
  • Explanation of the Text: A thorough explanation on the use of words, phrases, and syntax in the biblical author’s message. Attention is given to how the material is arranged, what the biblical author is trying to say, and how he says it. 
  • Canonical and Practical Significance: This section tries to answer the question on what role does this book plays in the Bible’s canon, such as how knowing the end helps us have hope (144-145) for on the day of the Lord, no oppressor will be able to escape (176). Nahum reminds us that God will defeat evil, and in fact, he already has won in principle through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. And God’s kingdom is “the only empire that cannot be shaken” (117). 

Nahum 1:9-15

One thing I’ve never known was that Nahum switches between Judah and Assyria (twice!) in 1:9-15. In the ESV Bible, versus 9-11 are together with verses 6-8. Yet Timmer argues well that 1:2-8 is its own unit teaching “The threat of YHWH’s coming global judgment.” The next sections goes like this:

  • vv9-10
    • Assyria (masculine plural)
    • Message: Destruction
  • vv11-13
    • Judah (feminine plural)
    • Message: Deliverance
  • v14
    • Assyria (masc. sg., probably addressed to the Assyrian king)
    • Message: Destruction
  • v15
    • Judah (fem. pl.)
    •  Message: Rejoice!

If you’re not reading from a Hebrew Bible (or perhaps not paying close enough attention), you might not even realize that the message is switching. Since in my ESV Bible one section of text stretches from verses 6-11, that includes the second half of 1:2-8, all of vv9-10, and then keeps v11 from vv12-13. That said, I find Timmer’s explanation to be convincing, and, though I haven’t read other commentaries on Nahum, if Timmer is right I hope the ESV (and any other translations) will follow this line of thought to suit the audiences Nahum is speaking to.

Recommended?

Timmer really draws out Nahum’s meaning and intention in his commentary. While Joel Barker spends a lot of time looking at word order and such things in his Joel commentary, Timmer spends more time looking at Assyrian history and texts and how what Nahum said fits with something that Assyria either did, had, or said about itself.

Whether you know Hebrew or not, pastors, teachers, or students will benefit greatly from this volume. If you want to dig into the weeds and have connections to the NT, this commentary is highly recommended.  

Lagniappe

    • Series: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament
    • Author: Daniel Timmer
    • Hardcover: 208 pages
    • Publisher:Zondervan Academic (August 4, 2020)

Buy it on Amazon or from Zondervan Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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