The Way of the Lord (Nahum 1:3) by L. Juliana Claassens

The enigmatic reference to the “way” of the Lord (Nah 1:3) is best read in the context of the imagery in Nah 1:2-8. These verses offer a glimpse into the biblical writer’s thought process as he, in conversation with the rest of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East traditions, imagines the divine in the context of some greatly traumatic geopolitical events.

What is God’s Way?

This description of God’s “way” occurs in the context of a classic theophany in which God’s power is revealed in nature (see, e.g., Ps 18:2-16; Judg 5:4-5). God is manifested in “whirlwind and storm” (Nah 1:3), riding the clouds like the storm god Baal who is viewed as the quintessential cloud rider. The imagery of mountains shaking (Nah 1:5) and vegetation wilting (Nah 1:4), though, is also reminiscent of imagery in the book of Jeremiah in which the impact of the world-turned-upside-down is effected in creation with the earth being waste and void, with mountains quaking, and with the “fruitful land” being turned into “a desert” (Jer 4:23-26). The theophanic imagery in Nah 1:2-8 thus captures the trauma of a world rendered uninhabitable by means of military invasion, with famine and disease following in its wake.

The way of the Lord is furthermore framed in terms of the superscription in Nah 1:1 in which readers are reminded of what Nineveh had done to the Northern Kingdom, attacking and obliterating the people of the North, and also threatening the South with its capital, Jerusalem, besieged. God’s display of power in nature thus is connected to the portrayal of the vengeance of God, whose fierce anger is unleashed on those who have purported violence against the Northern Kingdom and the rest of Judah’s neighbors. In conversation with the classic self-expression of God in Exod 34:6-7, which is reused elsewhere (e.g., John 4:2; Ps 103:8; Ps 145:8; Neh 9:17), one finds in Nah 1:3 no reference to God relenting from punishment; rather we encounter a vengeful, angry God that unleashes fury on nature. And on Nineveh.

How are we to understand the divine violence in this passage?

As part of a meaning-making feature of prophetic discourse that emerged out of the context of imperial power, the overarching theme of this text is that God is all-powerful—God’s power, revealed in nature, matches and overtakes the powerful storm gods of the time. But the pericope also ends with a reference to God’s goodness (Nah 1:7); it therefore captures the hopes of those who have suffered as they yearn for a Divine Warrior to act on their behalf.

Contemporary readers rightly have been troubled by this violent portrayal of God. One way of understanding this imagery is to think of this text as a type of revenge fantasy in which those traumatized by a shocking display of imperial violence, hope and pray that the violent regime of the Assyrians, or perhaps, depending on when one dates Nahum, the Babylonian or Persian Empires, may come to an end.

L. Juliana Claassens , "The Way of the Lord (Nahum 1:3)", n.p. [cited 3 Dec 2021]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/passages/related-articles/the-way-of-the-lord--nahum

Contributors

Claassens-Juliana

L. Juliana Claassens
Professor in Old Testament, Stellenbosch University

Juliana Claassens is Professor in Old Testament with a focus on human dignity at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University. Her most recent book Claiming Her Dignity: Female Resistance in the Old Testament has recently been published with Liturgical Press (2016). She is also the author of  Mourner, Mother, Midwife: Reimagining God’s Liberating Presence (Westminster John Knox, 2012) and The God who Provides: Biblical Images of Divine Nourishment (Abingdon, 2004). She serves as the Head of the Gender Unit at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University.

A region notable for its early ancient civilizations, geographically encompassing the modern Middle East, Egypt, and modern Turkey.

People from the region of northern Mesopotamia that includes modern-day Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

The supreme male divinity of Mesopotamia and Canaan.

Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

The kingdom consisting of the northern Israelites tribes, which existed separately from the southern kingdom of Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, all the tribes were part of a unified kingdom under David and Solomon, but the northern kingdom under Jeroboam I rebelled after Solomon's death (probably sometime in the late 10th century B.C.E.), establishing their independence. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E.

A discrete unit of biblical text, usually coherent as a story or explanation.

The addition of a title or subtitle in an ancient work; see especially the designation of certain types of psalms in the book of Psalms.

visible appearance of God or a god

Nah 1:3

3The Lord is slow to anger but 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 o ... View more

Nah 1:2-8

The Consuming Wrath of God

2 A jealous and avenging God is the Lord,
    the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
    and ... View more

Ps 18:2-16


The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I ... View more

Judg 5:4-5

4“Lord, when you went out from Seir,
when you marched from the region of Edom,
the earth trembled,
and the heavens poured,
the clouds indeed poured water.5The m ... View more

Nah 1:3

3The Lord is slow to anger but 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 o ... View more

Nah 1:5

The mountains quake before him,
    and the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
    the world and all who live in it.
 

Nah 1:4

4He rebukes the sea and makes it dry,
and he dries up all the rivers;
Bashan and Carmel wither,
and the bloom of Lebanon fades.

Jer 4:23-26

23I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.24I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and al ... View more

Nah 1:2-8

The Consuming Wrath of God

2 A jealous and avenging God is the Lord,
    the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
    and ... View more

Nah 1:1

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

Exod 34:6-7

6 The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,

“The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness ... View more

John 4:2

2—although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized—

Ps 103:8

8The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Ps 145:8

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Neh 9:17

17 they refused to obey, and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them; but they stiffened their necks and determined to return to their sla ... View more

Nah 1:3

3The Lord is slow to anger but 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 o ... View more

Nah 1:7

7 The Lord is good,
    a stronghold in a day of trouble;
he protects those who take refuge in him,

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