The Babylonian Army Drives Red Chevy Volts
His warriors’ shields are painted red, And the soldiers are clothed in crimson; The chariots are like flaming torches, On the day they are made ready. The [arrows of] cypress wood are poisoned, The chariots dash about frenzied in the fields, They rush through the meadows. They appear like torches, They race like streaks of lightning. (Nahum 2:4-5, JPS Tanakh 1985)
Do you see modern cars? Do you see military vehicles rolling hither and thither through city rush-hour traffic? Through parking lots? With guns fired and missiles launched?
We won’t reproduce them here, but you can find a number of well-meaning interpretations of this prophetic verse declaring that Nahum is referring to modern automobiles, with their headlights flashing and their engines roaring. A quick internet search will suffice.
Here are the applicable verses, coming in chapter 2 of the short book of Nahum. Your Christian Bible numbers them as verses 3 and 4 but the Jewish-oriented Complete Jewish Bible here numbers them as 2:4-5, as does our quote from the JPS Tanakh above:
4 (3) The shields of [Ninveh’s] warriors are [dyed] red;
the soldiers are wearing scarlet.
The steel of the chariots flashes like fire
as they prepare for battle.
The cypress [spears] are poisoned.
5 (4) The chariots rush madly about in the streets,
jostling each other in the open places;
their appearance is like torches,
they run here and there like lightning. (CJB)
Some see modern cars here, in rush hour traffic, probably at night where the headlights of the moving vehicles flash this way and that, and the red tail lights light up the night sky. Perhaps the drivers are red-faced from fighting the beltway traffic, and they are flipping the bird with their poisoned cypress spear middle fingers.
We don’t know. We at least are not so sure. But let’s not be so quick to scoff and poke fun…
Let’s back up a bit an remind ourselves of the context in the prophet Nahum’s short, three chapter prophetic statement of coming events involving the collapse of major empire Assyria.
Assyria with capital Nineveh is the seventh century dominant world power of the ancient near east, and as empires go, one of the most cruel and vicious. The northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah have both been on the receiving end of Assyria’s terror, as have all the small independent states in the region. Assyria has held its dominant position for decades, but in the late 600’s, and on the horizon, are a pair of emergent powers, the Medes and the Babylonians.
The already powerful Medes are expanding their kingdom from the mountainous region of northern Mesopotamia and the northwestern modern Iran. Modern Kurds now live in this region. The Median capital city is Ecbatana, located at what is today Hamadān in Iran.
The emerging Babylonian kingdom, centered in modern Iraq, is now run by the cultural-tribal peoples of Chaldea, who have long settled alongside the Persian Gulf. The Babylonians are politically allied with the Medes to the north. The stronger Medes have their eyes set on a weakening Assyrian empire, and conspire with nascent Chaldean Babylon to wage war against and defeat the long-dominant Assyrians.
The prophet Nahum sees this coming.
We aren’t exactly sure when exactly Nahum sees this coming, as his book doesn’t tell us explicitly the time of his writing. Nevertheless, his clear topic is the coming collapse and suffering of the Assyrian empire, which we know dates to events unfolding in the late 600s culminating in the overthrow of capital Nineveh in 612, and the last outpost of imperial Assyria in Harran in 609. It is reasonable to suppose that he writes some time after 663, as Nahum makes reference to that year’s sacking of Egyptian capital city No, or No-Amon, by the Assyrians. We know this No-Amon city by the more oft-used name Thebes.
The Assyrians toppled the northern Jewish kingdom Israel five decades earlier, in 712, and Nahum’s Jewish brothers and sisters from the former northern tribes have largely been carted off to parts unknown. If Nahum didn’t personally live through the continued Assyrian military invasion of 701 from conquered Israel into still defiant Judah, he certainly is saturated with knowledge of this fairly recent and ongoing Jewish suffering in the ongoing aftermath of military occupation, subjugation, and terror. This was the time of Assyrian king Sennacherib (reigned 705 to 681) and Judah’s king Hezekiah (r.ca. 715-686), where the king in Nineveh tracked military actions from afar in his Tigris river palace as his armies crushed over 40 defended cities in Judah while our hero Hezekiah paid tribute as best he could and searched unsuccessfully for geopolitical allies and saviors.
It was during Hezekiah’s time — in a rare bit of happy outcome — that Sennacherib’s 180,000 man army suffered an overnight case of rat poop food-poisoning botulism, or some such hand-of-God plus angel-of-death action, ending Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem itself.
Some suggest Nahum’s life and activity occurred during Godly, reforming king Hezekiah’s reign, but any such activity must accommodate the reference to the No-Amon / Thebes action in 663.
Running a strong empire cannot be done forever however. At least not by sinful men. Growing Assyrian internal political dysfunction plus the growing state powers in Media and Babylon foretell an end to the wicked good times of slaughtering and torturing one’s enemies. Whether by direct vision from God or by close attention to geopolitical events over the century between 712 and 612, Nahum developed an intense loathing of Godless, wicked Nineveh, and saw the end of the Assyrian empire coming.
Yes, the prophet sees Nineveh’s end coming.
And the prophet Nahum is ecstatic that the cruel Assyrian empire is about to get its filthy, disgusting behind kicked by the Medes.
Whatever else the prophetic book of Nahum might be — a vision of modern 21st century motor cars catching fire from battery overheating failures or not — the book of Nahum is on its plain face a vision of events involving Nineveh and Assyria in and around 612 and 609 BC.
We like the way Nahum (or his editorial staff) starts off his chapter one and the book’s opening sentence, and the way the Complete Jewish Bible translates:
1 This is a prophecy about Ninveh, the book of the vision of Nachum the Elkoshi: (CJB)
Okay. Good. Let’s see. This is a prophecy about Ninevah, the wicked capital of wicked Assyria. “I’m gonna tell you about Ninevah and Assyria,” says Nahum.
But then, look at what Nahum actually speaks of in chapter one:
2 Adonai is a jealous and vengeful God. Adonai avenges; he knows how to be angry. Adonai takes vengeance on his foes… 3 Adonai is slow to anger, but great in power…
Adonai’s path is in the whirlwind and storm… 4 He rebukes … he dries up … 6 … his fury? … his fierce anger? His wrath … 7 Adonai is good, a stronghold … (from verses 2 thru 7, Nahum 1, CJB)
This (so far) isn’t a prophecy about Nineveh so much as it is a statement emphasizing the sovereignty of the Almighty Lord God.
Nahum finishes up his emphatic statement on Adonai — his real subject — and in verse 8 finally mentions the Assyrian empire at Nineveh:
Nahum 1:8-15, New English Translation: But with an overwhelming flood he will make a complete end of Nineveh; he will drive his enemies into darkness. 9 Whatever you plot against the LORD, he will completely destroy! Distress will not arise a second time. 10 Surely they will be totally consumed like entangled thorn bushes, like the drink of drunkards, like very dry stubble. 11 From you, O Nineveh, one has marched forth who plots evil against the LORD, a wicked military strategist. 12 This is what the LORD says: “Even though they are powerful – and what is more, even though their army is numerous – nevertheless, they will be destroyed and trickle away! Although I afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. 13 And now, I will break Assyria’s yoke bar from your neck; I will tear apart the shackles that are on you.” 14 The LORD has issued a decree against you: “Your dynasty will come to an end. I will destroy the idols and images in the temples of your gods. I will desecrate your grave – because you are accursed!” 15 (2:1) Look! A herald is running on the mountains! A messenger is proclaiming deliverance: “Celebrate your sacred festivals, O Judah! Fulfill your sacred vows to praise God! For never again will the wicked Assyrians invade you, they have been completely destroyed.” (NET)
Actually, in the Hebrew text of chapter 1, Nahum does not actually use the words Nineveh or Assyria. The translators of the New English Translation have supplied them. On the other hand, the Hebrew of chapter 1 includes the word Yahweh ten times and Elohim once.
A very recent translation, that of the Literal Standard Version, aligns with the Hebrew more strictly, where one just has to know that Nineveh and Assyria are being spoken of:
Nahum 1:8-15, LST: And with a flood passing over, An end He makes of its place, And darkness pursues His enemies. What do we devise against YHWH? He is making an end, distress does not arise twice. For while princes [are] perplexed, And with their drink are drunken, They have been consumed as stubble fully dried. From you has come forth a deviser of evil Against YHWH—a worthless counselor. Thus said YHWH: “Though complete, and thus many, Yet thus they have been cut off, And he has passed away. Though I afflicted you, I afflict you no longer. And now I break his rod from off you, And your bands I draw away.” And YHWH has commanded concerning you, “No more of your name spreads abroad, I cut off carved and molten image from the house of your gods, I appoint your grave, for you have been vile.” Behold, on the mountains the feet of one proclaiming tidings, sounding peace! Celebrate, O Judah, your festivals, complete your vows, For the worthless no longer pass over into you, He has been completely cut off! (LST)
Writing the names of either Nineveh or Assyria is too repugnant. At least in chapter one.
Nahum does in fact spell out the name of Nineveh later in 2:8, and then again in chapter 3, at a point where he also calls attention to the cities or nation-states of No-Amon, Cush, Mitzrain, Put, and Lubim. This draws our additional attention to the tricky decisions translators must make as they handle the Hebrew names and spellings of ancient places, which these days are typically buried under the dirt under some dusty hill or Tel:
Nahum 3:7-9, Young’s Literal Translation: And it hath come to pass, Each of thy beholders fleeth from thee, And hath said: ‘Spoiled is Nineveh, Who doth bemoan for her?’ Whence do I seek comforters for thee? 8 Art thou better than No-Ammon, That is dwelling among brooks? Waters she hath round about her, Whose bulwark [is] the sea, waters her wall. 9 Cush her might, and Egypt, and there is no end. Put and Lubim have been for thy help. (YLT)
Complete Jewish Bible: Then all who see you will recoil from you; they will say, ‘Ninveh is destroyed!’ Who will mourn for her? Where can I find people to comfort you?” 8 Are you any better than No-Amon, located among the streams of the Nile, with water all around her, the flood her wall of defense? 9 Ethiopia and Egypt gave her boundless strength, Put and Luvim were there to help you.
Hebrew Names Version: It will happen that all those who look at you will flee from you, and say, ‘Nineveh is laid waste Who will mourn for her?’ Where will I seek comforters for you?” 8 Are you better than No-Amon, who was situated among the rivers, who had the waters around her; whose rampart was the sea, and her wall was of the sea? 9 Kush and Mitzrayim were her boundless strength. Put and Luvim were her helpers. (HNV)
King James 1611: And it shall come to passe, that all they that looke vpon thee, shall flee from thee, and say; Nineueh is layde waste, who will bemoane her? whence shall I seeke comforters for thee? 8 Art thou better then populous No, that was scituate among the riuers that had the waters round about it, whose rampart was the sea, and her wall was from the sea? 9 Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was infinit, Put and Lubim were thy helpers. (KJV 1611)
King James Version: And it shall come to pass, [that] all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters for thee? 8 Art thou better than populous No, that was situate among the rivers, [that had] the waters round about it, whose rampart [was] the sea, [and] her wall [was] from the sea? 9 Ethiopia and Egypt [were] her strength, and [it was] infinite; Put and Lubim were thy helpers. (KJV)
New American Standard Bible 2020: “And it will come about that all who see you Will shrink from you and say, ‘Nineveh is devastated! Who will have sympathy for her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?” 8 Are you better than No-amon, Which was situated by the canals of the Nile, With water surrounding her, Whose rampart [was] the sea, Whose wall [consisted] of the sea? 9 Ethiopia was [her] might, Egypt too, without limits. Put and Lubim were among her helpers. (NASB 2020)
New King James Version: It shall come to pass [that] all who look upon you Will flee from you, and say, ‘Nineveh is laid waste! Who will bemoan her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?” 8 Are you better than No Amon [That was] situated by the River, That had the waters around her, Whose rampart [was] the sea, Whose wall [was] the sea? 9 Ethiopia and Egypt [were] her strength, And [it was] boundless; Put and Lubim were your helpers. (NKJV)
In the actual Hebrew, these place names are:
Hebrew Translit. Pronunciation English Modern Place, Otherwise Known As..., Think of... נִינְוֵה Nînvê nee-nev-ay' Nineveh Syria & Iraq, city located near modern Mosul in Iraq כּוּשׁ Kûš koosh Cush, Kush Nubia, southern Egypt into northern Sudan מִצְרַיִם Miṣrayim mits-rah'-yim Mizraim, Mitzraim Egypt, Egyptians לֻבִי Luḇî loo-bee' Lubim, Luvim Ethiopia, Ethiopians פּוּט Pûṭ poot Put, Phut (Punt?) Libya or perhaps Somalia's horn and Yemen מִנֹּ֣א אָמֹ֔ון Nō' 'āmôn no aw-mone' No-Amon, etc. Thebes capital city of Egypt there is a mix of proper name, descriptive word, and god name in the two words
Nahum lays it on thick, and he holds back nothing in his rant of hatred towards Nineveh. Here’s a sample from chapter 1, using the Complete Jewish Bible translation:
Adonai gave this order concerning you:
you will have no descendants to bear your name;
from the house of your god I will cut off
carved image and cast metal image;
I will prepare your grave,
because you are worthless. (Nahum 1:14, CJB)
And another from chapter 2, using the Jewish-specific JPS Tanakh (1985 version):
Desolation, devastation, and destruction! Spirits sink, Knees buckle, All loins tremble, All faces turn ashen.
What has become of that lions’ den, That pasture of great beasts, Where lion and lion’s breed walked, And lion’s cub—with none to disturb them?
[Where is] the lion that tore victims for his cubs And strangled for his lionesses, And filled his lairs with prey And his dens with mangled flesh?
(Nahum 2:11-13, JPS Tanakh 1985)
We at Bible Bits sense that pious ancient Jewish scribes and polite modern translators of most English translations do not fully capture the vulgar venom of Nahum’s thoughts. To demonstrate this notion, and magnify the raw venom of Nahum’s thoughts (of our imagining) by splicing together the juicier bits of the 1599 Geneva Bible, the King James Version, the Complete Jewish Bible, and The Message:
Nahum 3:4-7 cobbled together: Because of the continual whoring of this whore — whores! whores without end! — the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, luring nations to their ruin with her evil spells. Behold, I come upon thee, Whore Ninevah, saith the Lord of hosts, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies. I’ll strip you of your seductive silk robes and expose you on the world stage. I will show the nations your private parts and the kingdoms your shame. I’ll pelt you with dog dung, with filth, disgrace you, and place you on a pedestal: “Slut on Exhibit.” Everyone who sees you will gag and say, “Nineveh’s a pigsty!” (spliced assembly of the best nasty parts from the Geneva Bible, KJV, Complete Jewish Bible, and The Message)
Even if the Hebrew words don’t exactly provide this specific (or worse) vulgarity, we can’t help but think that our human prophet was THINKING with such crude language, and Hebrew scribes copying our text might have toned it down a bit.
Finally, a couple of thoughts regarding modern automobiles in chapter 2, verses 4 and 5.
First… Does Nahum prophecy into the future world beyond, what to him, was the future world of the collapse of Assyria and Nineveh in the 612+ BC time frame? Yes, Nahum is a prophet. Yes, Nahum’s book in our Bible is prophecy. But is it an ongoing prophesy not merely of Assyria, but of the usual candidate prophetic targets of Babylon, Persia, Alexander, Antiochus Epiphanes, Rome, the Pope, the Soviets, and modern Islam? And of the shiny modern Chevy Volt? Nahum can be prophesy without that prophesy moving beyond the seventh and sixth centuries.
Second… Some will certainly think the automobile interpretation is, uh, silly. We caution you to be hesitant to go down this path of mockery.
We Christians and our Jewish friends believe all sorts of crazy things which defy rational knowledge of the natural world and its natural phenomena. We silly, readily mocked Christians believe in this non-tangible supernatural God, and believe further that this Hebrew-origin God has specific characteristics viewpoints, none of which can be observed or measured using the natural and usual devices of human observation and measurement. We believe this particular god — our God — spoke or otherwise communicated with specifically named individuals in the ancient record. We believe this God created the tree in your front yard and the earthworm in our garden. We believe in this thing we call prayer, a babbling to oneself and into the apparently empty space around us. We believe in this thing we call salvation, a defiance of all evidence demonstrating that our bodies (which certainly do NOT have this other invisible thing we call the soul) end their quick activity by the being fermented and decayed, dissolved (by those earthworms) into the surrounding garden dirt. We believe Elisha rode some sort of silly chariot up to an unbelievable place we call heaven. We believe all the wild events of Daniel and Ezekiel and Revelation and Matthew 25 will, in some form, actually take place (or already have). We believe we are like sheep and goats and that Jesus the Christ has a two-edged sword of division.
And so, if some of our Christian brothers and sisters see Humvees, aircraft carriers, F-35 fighter jets, surface-to-air missiles, and little red Corvettes in Nahum chapter 2, then we should not be so quick to ridicule.
After all, it is perfectly reasonable to figure that when the end-times events do occur, they will involve God’s movement of natural things such as storm and fire and quake and flood, but also human-made ships, planes, trains, cars, and the military machines of warfare of whatever day and time all this finally unfolds.
Even if Nahum the prophet is himself speaking only (maybe) of late seventh century versions of those military things.
Thanks go to Blue Letter Bible and Scripture4All for the Hebrew lexicon helps, and to Sefaria’s collaboration with Jewish Publication Society, Bible Hub, Bible Gateway and the Literal Standard Version for translations. None of our usual go-to commentaries see modern automobiles in Nahum 2:3-4, but this is to be expected because many of these are in the public domain, and nearly all of these predate the existence of Ford, General Motors, Peugeot, and Daimler-Benz. Several modern commentators on our list mention that there are those who do see modern cars in our passage. And yes, you can find these easily for yourself. But we caution you to go easy on your snickering, as there are many other “wacky” supernatural, prophetic, futuristic, and far-fetched things that we devoted, believing Christians actually DO believe.
God’s blessings and mercies and tenderness to you! We pray you experience earthly nice things this week and month and that your chariot / automobile does not need work in the shop.
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