Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nahum 2

What is this passage all about?
Nahum warms Nineveh that the LORD Almighty is against the city so it will be attacked and fall; all its people will be carried off.

What can I learn from it?
The core of this passage is the detailed description of a city under seige, which is overthrown and its inhabitants are taken away. Nahum's prophecy provides a vivid but tragic picture of Ninevah's fall. After first giving a brief warning of coming attack (v1), and a short rationale (v2), Nahum gave his description of Ninevah's hectic preparations for defence, right down to the colours of the defending army (v3-5). Nahum tersely explained how the city's defences would be breached (the picked troops stumble v5, "the river gates are thrown open" v6a), Nahum went on to describe the havoc that would ensue (v6b-10), as Ninevah's people would be taken away "Ninevah is like a pool, and its water is draining away..." (v8) and the city was to be "pillaged, plundered, stripped!" (v10). Finally, there is something of a taunt to Ninevah (v11-12), "Where now is the lions' den...?"
Wait on a minute! I think there is one of those chiastic structure thingos in this passage. (Jeff's Former Prophets lecturer had him looking for them all the time in 1&2 Samuel last semester.) A chiastic structure is a rhetorical device typical of Hebrew poetry or prose, which takes the form of a reflection and serves to direct the reader's attention to the centre of the structure. Here is my breakdown:

A - 1:15a Messenger brings good news of peace to Judah

B - 1:15b Promise of security for Judah

C - 2:1 An attacker advances on Nineveh

D - 2:2 The LORD will restore Judah, though once they were laid waste

E - 2:3a Nineveh's army prepares for battle

F - 2:3b Nineveh's glorious chariots muster

G - 2:4a Ninevah's chariots storm through streets

H – 2:4b The chariots dart like lightning

I - 2:5a Nineveh's picked troops are summoned

J - 2:5bThe picked troops stumble

K -2:5c Nineveh's troops dash to the wall

K' - 2:6a The river gates are thrown open [ie invaders enter]

J' - 2:6b The palace collapses

I' - 2:7 It is decreed that the city be exiled

H’ – The slave girls moan like doves

G' - 2:8 Nineveh's people leave the city

F' - 2:9 Nineveh's marvellous wealth is to be plundered

E' - 2:10 Nineveh is pillaged and the people fail

D' - 2:11-12 The "lions' den" of Nineveh will be no more, though once they killed many

C' - 2:13a The LORD Almighty declares Himself to be the attacker

B' - 2:13b Promise of destruction for Nineveh

A' - 2:13c Voices of Nineveh's messengers will no longer be heard

I am absolutely blown away. This is amazing! When I first realised there was a possible pair with the two mentions of messengers, I thought there might be a chiasm. The closer I looked at this passage, the more intricate the rhetorical device was revealed to be! There is a definite development of the reflected statements, which I have represented with the different letter pairs. At the centre of the chiasm, there is a sort of double reflective effect which I have tried to show with my indenting. Now I am wondering if I looked further out (ie before 1:15 and in chapter 3) I would find more of this structure, or if what I have found just happens to come in the middle of this book. I'll have to look for that tomorrow.

So what does all this emphasis draw me to? The central point (K/K') seems to be the actual event of the unsuccessful defence of Nineveh's wall. There are two mini centres (I and I') which emphasise the different leaders' instructions. The ends of the chiasm (as far out as I have examined so today) declare that it is the LORD Almighty who is in control of all these events. Thus the main lesson that I am finding seems to be along the line of the proverb "man proposes, God disposes". Regardless of who says what about an event, it is God who is in control of the outcome.

How does this apply to my own life?
The minute detail of the chiastic structure of this passage, combined with the vividness of the description it contains, both remind me of the fact that God is involved with the details of my own life, and not just the major crises. Now I know this application doesn't necessarily derive from the main point that I considered above but it is certainly intimately related to it. The LORD Almighty is not a god who is removed from everyday life. He has His hand deep into the nitty gritty of my life. I need to remember that every day, especially when I am tempted to tell myself "this is just a little out of God's will and He won't really notice or care," or "this decision is not important enough for me to share with God, so I won't bother," or "this pain in my life is not big enough for me to concern God about, so I won't take the time to ask for His help." Each of these statements is wrong-headed, and I do need to take my actions, my decisions and my worries to Him, whether they be big or small.

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