How to Read Nahum

The Book of Nahum

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application.  

Nahum is a short, prophetic collection of poems announcing the downfall of Assyria and Nineveh. It invites readers to take refuge in God’s justice, revealing God’s response to violent oppression and suffering in every era of history. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Nahum, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 

Now that you have an overview of Nahum in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Nahum. Read about God’s response to evil in Nahum 1:1–15. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Nahum 1:1–15. 

Nahum 1:1-15 (ESV)

1 An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.

God’s Wrath Against Nineveh

2 The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;

the Lord is avenging and wrathful;

the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries

and keeps wrath for his enemies.

3 The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,

and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.

His way is in whirlwind and storm,

and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;

he dries up all the rivers;

Bashan and Carmel wither;

the bloom of Lebanon withers.

5 The mountains quake before him;

the hills melt;

the earth heaves before him,

the world and all who dwell in it.

6 Who can stand before his indignation?

Who can endure the heat of his anger?

His wrath is poured out like fire,

and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.

7 The Lord is good,

a stronghold in the day of trouble;

he knows those who take refuge in him.

8But with an overflowing flood

he will make a complete end of the adversaries,

and will pursue his enemies into darkness.

9What do you plot against the Lord?

He will make a complete end;

trouble will not rise up a second time.

10For they are like entangled thorns,

like drunkards as they drink;

they are consumed like stubble fully dried.

11From you came one

who plotted evil against the Lord,

a worthless counselor.

12Thus 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.

13And now I will break his yoke from off you

and will burst your bonds apart.”

14The 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.”

15 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.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: God is a refuge for His people, but will completely wipe out His enemies.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Nahum 1:1–15? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) God is a refuge for His people, but will completely wipe out His enemies. (Interpretation) God is faithful, loving, and slow to anger toward those He loves, keeping His covenant. God is just and righteous, and opposes those who violently deface His world and bring about evil.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Nahum 1:1–15? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Nahum? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: After sin entered creation, evil filled the human heart, fracturing the wholeness of God’s world. God promised to send someone to make things right again. God sends a flood to cleanse the world from evil, but provides refuge to Noah and his family. God makes covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God righteously judges Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s people are taken into exile. The Assyrians are warned of God’s judgment on their violent and oppressive ways. God sends His Son, Jesus, as the descendent who will set all things right. Jesus absorbs the full wrath of God for sin, enabling mankind to find refuge in God instead of judgment. God continually works His plan for a full cleansing of evil and restoration of all things in a new and perfect Kingdom. 

Contextualize: What themes does Nahum 1:1–15 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the story of Nahum? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: I live in a broken and fallen world. Evil and injustice run rampant, and fear and terror often seem to have the upper hand. But God is faithful, He is actively working His good plan to restore and redeem His world, and He is a refuge to those who trust Him. When world events cause anxiety or uncertainty, I can pray for peace, and rest in God’s faithfulness to sovereignly work His justice and peace. Whether I see that now, or trust for it to be fully completed in the coming of His Kingdom, God will remain faithful to avenge evil and be a refuge for His people.  

Apply: How does the truth from Nahum 1:1–15 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Nahum to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps us wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Nahum, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Nahum this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.