Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 51. Nahum
Nah 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.
Trying to find a ‘highlight’ in Nahum is hard going. Our verse above might be it! There are echoes here of the Lord’s words to Moses: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Ex 34:6,7) As we read the three brief chapters of Nahum it is God’s power that Nahum has in mind more than anything else. God is going to get Nineveh!!!
Nineveh we’ve already encountered with Jonah. It was the capital of the Assyrian kingdom (not to be confused with Syria), originally built by Nimrod (Gen 10:11). Assyria crops up a number of times in Scripture and so it is important that we understand something of this nation against which Nahum prophesies. As a nation it started developing about 800BC and really started expanding in the 700s BC, destroying Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel in 722BC. As such it had been used as God’s tool of judgment. Nineveh had been established as its capital in 705BC and Nahum prophesied about 630BC. As we will come to see, it was destroyed in 612BC, and that is the remarkable feature of this little prophetic book.
In the Scriptures we come across a number of Assyrian kings: Tiglath-Pileser invaded the northern kingdom about 740BC (2 Kings 15:19), Shalmaneser attacked the northern kingdom and eventually carried them all off in 722BC (2 Kings 17:3,6). Sennacherib attacked Judah in 710BC (2 Kings 18:13). Jonah had announced its destruction earlier (Jon 3:4), but the people repented and the destruction was temporarily averted. Not long after that, however, Nineveh reverted to its extreme wickedness, brutality and pride. The brutality reached its peak under Ashurbanipal (669-627), the last great ruler of the Assyrian empire. After his death, Assyria’s influence and power waned rapidly until 612, when Nineveh was overthrown. So much for history, now the word of the Lord that came some eighteen years beforehand.
We have seen Nahum’s starting point is to declare the Lord’s greatness and the verse before our one above declares, “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies.” (v.2) Well, yes, that is true as Ex 34:14 testifies, but only after the words about ‘abounding in love’ etc. But Nahum has picked up something in his spirit and it is all about destruction and judgment by the all-powerful Creator God who can make rivers run dry and mountain quake etc. (1:4-6). But he does keep perspective for he then declares, “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” (1:7) That is standard Hebrew basic theology, if we may put it like that.
But that is immediately followed by the first of three highly significant words: “but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh.” (1:8) i.e. by implication Nineveh does not trust in the Lord and, by further implication, is against the Lord and will therefore reap His judgment. His condemnation is clear: “From you, O Nineveh, has one come forth who plots evil against the LORD and counsels wickedness,” (v.11) and when a few verses later he says, “Although I have afflicted you, O Judah, I will afflict you no more’” (v.12b) we realise and remember that Assyria had been a tool used by the Lord to discipline Israel (northern & southern kingdoms), but that time is over: “Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed.” (v.15) The Lord is going to bring an end to Assyria which will be a relief to Judah.
In chapter 2 He warns Assyria to prepare to be attacked (2:1) for Israel will be restored, never to be attacked by them again (v.2); soldiers and chariots are on their way (v.3,4) and will lay siege to Nineveh (v.5) but, and watch this, “The river gates are thrown open and the palace collapses.” (2:6) the rest of the book speaks about their downfall. Now let’s note the wonder in all this.
Nineveh was a great city with great walls and had the water of rivers surrounding and protecting her. The Medes, Persians and Scythians came against it but the walls were too great for them. After a 3 month siege heavy rains raised the river levels to such an extend they broke into the city and the walls collapsed. Nineveh fell by an act of God – just as He said!
In chapter 3 we read his derision of them: “Are you better than Thebes, situated on the Nile, with water around her? The river was her defense, the waters her wall.” (3:8) Thebes in Egypt had water as their defence, they had alliances with other nations and felt secure; look at what happed to them! Thebes had fallen in 664/663. The same thing is going to happen to you. You are going to get into a fearful state where you will go into hiding from the enemy. Nineveh was under siege from invaders for three months before she fell but fall she did, exactly as Nahum prophesied in 1:8, 2:6 and then 3:8. There they are, three little indicators of how this mighty city, the capital of this declining nation, is going to fall, never to recover. The Lord spoke it, and it happened exactly as He indicated. That is the glory of this little book.
There are some basic lessons here. First, God IS loving but God will hold the ongoing unrepentant accountable. Second, it doesn’t matter who it is or how strong and impregnable they may appear, they are not so before the Lord. Third, don’t worry about years passing before words from the Lord are fulfilled; so often He waits until the time is just right and then He acts. Such are the lessons of which Nahum reminds us.