Once again we find ourselves reading a prophetic book and we know nothing about the author. All we know of Nahum is that he is from Elkosh, a village of unknown location. His commentary on Nineveh is very harsh. Nahum didn’t just cheer for the fall of Nineveh; he set this event within the context of the Biblical theology of the justice of God. The date for Nahum’s writing is not entirely clear either but he referenced the destruction of Thebes in Egypt which happened in 663 B.C. And he is anticipating the fall of Nineveh which occurred in 612 B.C. Scholars place this book sometime around 630 B.C. Nahum prophesied the fall of Nineveh , the capital of Assyria at the height of its power. The Assyrian brutality was legendary and their treatment of Israel and Judah had been particularly harsh. Nahum addressed his prophesy to the people of Nineveh, as well as to Judah. His message of doom for Nineveh, which came about 100 years after the prophet Jonah, was a comfort to the people of Judah who had seen the northern kingdom of Israel defeated and carried into exile by the Assyrians. And Judah was at that point suffering under that nations cruelty. Nahum reminded his readers that God is just and that the evil of the world cannot and will not escape God’s judgement. Nahum used a variety of literary devices in his writing. The book is written in a poetic style but Nahum painted vivid word pictures, used simile and metaphors and made use of repetition. He uses short phrases and he asked rhetorical questions.
Here are some interesting facts about the world during Nahum’s time of prophecy. It was common for people in the ancient world to identify their gods with observable, awe inspiring natural phenomena. Nineveh’s city wall was almost 8 miles long and there were 15 gates built into it. It was surrounded by a moat that was 150 feet wide that would have to be filled in if someone was trying to breach the city walls. They had protective shields that they put up which were hides, intended to stop arrows and stones. The Assyrian king Shalmaneser II boasted of having built a pyramid of chopped off heads in front of an enemies city. Other kings made a habit of stacking corpses like cordwood in front of cities they had defeated. When the time came, Nineveh’s destruction was so complete the decimated city was never rebuilt. Over time the remains were covered by blowing sand, leaving no trace except for a mound that today is referred to as the mound of many sheep. There are two main themes in the Book of Nahum. First of all, judgement. Nahum let it be known that the instrument of Nineveh’s destruction would be the Lord Himself. Nahum taught that God punishes violence, idolatry, ruthless business practices, materialism, and cruelty. The second theme is deliverance. God cares for His people and will punish those who abuse them. God will protect them, free them from oppression, and restore them.
Nahum begins his book by letting people know these words came in a vision from God. He did not make them up. His prophecy is against Nineveh. Nineveh became the capital city of Assyria in 705 B.C. and remained so until 612 B.C. when it was obliterated. Nahum means comfort or encouragement. He brings encouragement to his people through the prophecy of Nineveh’s downfall. The first 11 verses tell of God’s Sovereign power, that all of creation is subject to that power and God will ensure the punishment of those who oppose Him. God guards the welfare of His people and He wants their faithfulness. His vengeance is not to be confused with our human desire to get even. God’s actions come from His holiness, and faithfulness to the covenant with His people. His vengeance is never arbitrary. Nahum mentions, like Jonah, that God is patient, and slow to anger. Because of that He sometimes delays the punishment of sinners but those who are guilty will ultimately face God’s judgement. The whirlwind and wind storms describe the fury of God’s judgement against the wicked. God has sovereign control over everything He has created. Oceans and rivers are under His control. Think about the Red Sea parting so the Israelites could cross in dry ground. Bashan, east of the Sea of Galilee was known for its rich pastureland. Carmel on the Mediterranean coast in central Canaan was noted for its beauty and fruitfulness. Lebanon was famed for its great cedars. Nahum listed these places because not even the most beautiful and fertile places could withstand the power of God’s judgement. The people of Israel had experienced the demonstration of God’s power at Mount Sinai and it was awe inspiring and terrifying all at the same time. Putting God’s indignation, anger, and fury together showed just how intense the fire of God’s judgement against Nineveh really was.
However, God acts equitably when He judges the wicked. And, He provides refuge for those who trust in Him. God’s rich goodness can even lead people to repent. The overwhelming flood is a metaphor for the powerful nature of God’s judgement. Nahum reminds the people that no scheme or human plot will ever succeed against the Sovereign Lord. Our human plans are worthless if they do not match God’s plans. Their best plans will merely be a tangle of thorns, their finest moves will only be like the sloppy workload a drunkard. The wicked counselor is the king of Assyria. He stands over and in contrast to the Wonderful Counselor, Jesus Christ. Here the word wicked is nearly a swear word. It is one of the harshest terms in biblical language. It’s speaks of someone who is utterly worthless. Assyria’s allies are the vassals and subordinate kingdoms, including once powerful Egypt. But Nahum also refers to Judah…O my people…whom God had punished earlier when the Assyrian king Sennacherib launched a campaign against the western states of the Near East. He did not capture Jerusalem but he did manage to take control of 46 cities in Judah. They became vassals but Assyria did not defeat the southern kingdom. The Babylonians did. Judah learned nothing from the northern kingdoms problems and eventual defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. Nineveh’s defeat will be so stunning and so complete there will be no children to carry on. Nineveh will be no more and all of her false gods and idols would not be able to save her. Nahum was so bold as to predict that God was preparing a grave for Nineveh even as Nahum spoke. And He was directing Nineveh’s enemies to destroy the city. We thought Jonah didn’t like Nineveh, and that is true but it is clear there is out right hate of Nineveh on Nahum’s part.
Not only did Nahum have much to say about Nineveh’s destruction but he had some good news for Judah. A messenger was coming and He would bring the good news of restored peace. Assyria’s grip on Judah would be broken and God’s people would be free of that burden. This was a political message at the time, but it points ultimately towards God’s final triumph over evil, when His people will be released from bondage to sin through the saving work of the returned Messiah. Then God’s people will know eternal peace.
Even though Nineveh’s defenders might fully prepare to protect the city their efforts will be doomed. The destroyer of Judah will themselves be destroyed. The vine here symbolizes God blessing His people, and the stripped vine was their time of chastisement. Compared to the time of king David and Solomon, the people were in sorry shape but God would restore them. Verses 4-10 describe the destruction of Nineveh. Chariots were virtually unstoppable because of their power and maneuverability. We see images of bloodshed, violence and warfare. If we go back to Isaiah, he makes reference to the custom of the Assyrians rolling their outer garments in blood before a battle to strike terror in the hearts of their opponents. Now the tables would be turned. Others would have shields, spears, and chariots, and the blood the Assyrians were wearing would be their own. No matter what the Assyrians did, their enemies would prevail because God had decreed it. The Assyrians rush to defend their city and themselves began too late. They were caught off guard and the defenses were already breached. Nineveh was served by a reservoir formed by a double dam on a tributary of the Tigris River that flowed through the city. The reservoir was augmented by a series of floodgates. There had been torrential rains and the city river system had already been taxed and swollen. By first closing, then opening the flood gates Nineveh’s attackers released the pent up water and it acted like a battering ram against the city walls. The people would run as fast as they could, but they could not outrun the water.
Assyria had despoiled many nations, and there seemed to be no end to the loot that could be found within the city walls. It was gone in an instant. Following Nahum’s description of the fall of Nineveh there are three taunt songs. This was common in the ancient Near East where part of celebrating a victory was the taunting, humiliation and looting of the losers. In biting satire, Nahum compares Nineveh to a lions den. The kings of Assyria had compared themselves to lions, even decorating their palaces and the city with lions. But with God as its enemy, Nineveh would no longer be the lair of an invincible predator.
Assyria was a city of murder. Their graphic cruelty is well documented. They often cut off body parts…noses, ears, hands, feet. Their preferred method of execution was to impale some on a stake, like a sish kabob. It wasn’t unusual to put out people’s eyes or skin them alive. The Assyrians were viciously brutal. Nahum turned to short, staccato sentences to dramatize the effects of war. Assyrian charioteers were feared far and wide for their skill and brutality. One translation refers to Nineveh as a mistress of deadly charms. The Assyrians charmed other nations with wealth and promises of safety and prosperity but they then victimized them by military might and economic exploitation. Their punishment was a reflection of what they had done to many others. Twice God told the Assyrians He was their enemy. What happened to Nineveh stands as a reminder that God abhors sin and He will deal with people and nations accordingly. God’s justice will fall worldwide on those who have rebelled against Him. Nahum sarcastically describes the strongholds of Nineveh as being so easily defeated they would be like fruit trees that DROP their figs into waiting mouths!
Thebes was the historic capital of Egypt and it received great fame as the political, religious, and cultural center of Egypt. But Thebes fell to the Assyrians in 663 B.C. Prior to their fall they seemed unconquerable. They had the help of many allies along with the Ethiopians. Neither together or separately could the Egyptians stand against Assyria. Babies were killed so there would be no next generation. Assyrian soldiers threw dice to see who got which military leaders as slaves, and the leaders were bound in chains and led away. The more humiliation the better. The third taunt is found in verses 14-19. Nahum sarcastically tells the Ninevites what they should do to prepare. But they had been such a powerhouse for so long the people had never had to prepare for a siege. It wouldn’t matter what they did because nothing would withstand God’s wrath. The siege of Nineveh lasted just over two years. They may have had great economic and military strength but there was nothing lasting in the city’s power. Fire would devour, swords would cut down those who were not burned up, and locusts would come to devastate. Often in the Old Testament locusts are used as a descriptor for foreign armies. In this case it would be the Babylonians. Locusts were a fitting description for Nineveh’s attackers. The Assyrians had spread out throughout the Near East like locusts, filling Nineveh with untold wealth. But just as locusts desire only to satisfy their insatiable appetites and then fly off, the merchants would take their goods and go in the time of Nineveh’s distress, leaving a once wealthy but now needy people with nothing. After the siege began all their wealth would buy them nothing, and the people were like nocturnal insects that disappeared when the sun came up.
With their leaders gone, the Assyrians would scatter like lost sheep and not only would they scatter but many would be found dead, laying in the dust. In contrast, Israel’s Shepherd does not slumber or sleep, and He will gather Israel’s lost sheep and bring them back home. Nineveh deserved destruction rather than healing. Although God had been patient with them in Jonah’s day, the Assyrians had returned to their cruelty and they would now reap the harvest of their own evil. Those who had suffered under Assyria’s cruelty would shout and clap their hands in celebration of their defeat. There would be no mourning for Assyria.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W