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Friday, August 04, 2017

Where Is Meaning (Nahum)

In a recent post I retold the story of my dad selling his beloved '67 chevy for $1.  There is more to that story, of course.  There are complex forces that went into Dad's thinking that may have included things like needing to move soon, who knows how good the good offers were, and perhaps ego around a grand gesture played a part in Dad's choice.  A few days ago I gave away a bobble head to a kid who got to the game late and didn't get one.  My pastor accurately noted that I got to be a hero AND didn't have to carry home a bobble head I didn't want.  The guy he sold the car to ruined it, making it undriveable only a few months after the sale.  And, although acts of kinds should not be limited to the "deserving," absolutely evil behavior of the man would later come to light that added pain to the relationship and are conveniently omitted from the story.

So what does the story mean?

We have read in Isaiah, 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles of the siege of Jerusalem at the hands of Sennacherib and Jerusalem's subsequent deliverance.  This article from the Metropolitan documents several Biblical and other sources, such as Sennacherib's Steele, that recount the unsuccessful siege shortly before Sennacherib's assassination.

Here's what the prophet Nehum, writing after the fall of the Assyrian capital, had to say about the reason for Assyria's demise.  From Nehum 3:

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!
The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears!
Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses—
Okay, and why did this happen?
all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.
“I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.
I will pelt you with filth; I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.
All who see you will flee from you and say, ‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?’ Where can I find anyone to comfort you?”
Per Nahum, Nineveh fell because of its wickedness.  For Nehum, Nineveh is a cautionary tale.  Nehum makes an even more outlandish claim.  Nehum's oracle provides that the rise and fall of empire is not an endless cycle. "Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news,
who proclaims peace!Celebrate your festivals, Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed."  1:15.  Like the other prophets, Nehum predicts it is possible to break the cycle and no more be invaded.

Historically, Nineveh fell as the neo-Babylonians began to rise.  There was exactly a cycle that had continued from the end of the late Bronze age collapse around 1200 A.D.  With the Hittites & Egyptians in decline, Israel rose.  Then Assyria came back only to fall to the rising Babylonians, then Persians.  Eventually the Greeks and finally (only for Biblical purposes) the Romans.  So, in a very real sense, internal decline is at least an incomplete explanation.  

Nonetheless, is there value in learning a lesson that is incomplete?  Is it valid to use an experience as a metaphor?  

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