Nahum’s message is written in poetic style and concerns the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire.1 At the time Nineveh was one of the oldest inhabited cities on earth, having been built by Nimrod son of Cush, son of Ham, son of Noah (Gen. 10:6-11).
The name Nahum, meaning “comfort” or “consolation,” is an abbreviated form of Nehemiah (meaning “comfort of Yahweh”). Nahum’s words were certainly no consolation to the Assyrians, but did bring comfort to those who were tormented by the Assyrians (cf. 3:19).
The rising Empire of Assyria had repeatedly afflicted the Northern Kingdom of Israel, conquering and exiling them by 722 BC (2 Kings 15:19–17:23). With divine judgment on the horizon, God sent a prophet to Nineveh to call them to repentance (Jonah 1:1-2). Despite his reluctance, Jonah’s preaching was so effective that “they turned from their evil ways” (Jonah 3:10).2 Unfortunately, about a century later they had reverted back to their corrupt behavior and continued to afflict the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
The prophecy begins with “God” [Heb. el] (1:2a), followed by thirteen references to Yahweh [God’s personal name] (1:2b–3:5). There can be no question about the source of the prophecy and the executer of its fulfillment. Divine attributes are highlighted, namely God’s holiness (1:2a), wrath (1:2b), longsuffering (1:3a), justice (1:3b), sovereignty (1:3c), power (1:4), and goodness (1:7).
Whether God’s human creation cooperates or chooses to rebel, “The LORD has His way” (1:3c). “The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him” (1:7). Nineveh’s doom is assured: “an utter end of its place” (1:8b); “an utter end of it” (1:9b); “they will be cut down” (1:12b); “utterly cut off” (1:15c). The people of God are reassured: “For now I will break off his yoke from you, And burst your bonds apart” (1:13); “For the LORD will restore the excellence of Jacob Like the excellence of Israel” (2:2a) – a promise involving the whole nation.
What a terrifying revelation to hear, “‘Behold, I am against you,’ says the LORD of hosts …” (2:13a; 3:5a). The instrument of divine judgment is the combined forces of the Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians (2:3-13). The result is that “Nineveh of old …. is empty, desolate, and waste!” (2:8-10; 3:7b).
The Assyrian capital was to reap what it had sown after about 130 years of tyranny. “O king of Assyria …. Your injury has no healing, Your wound is severe. All who hear news of you Will clap their hands over you, For upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually?” (3:18-19). Nineveh fell in 612 BC. Today it still lies in ruins near the city of Mosul in Northern Iraq.
Lessons to Learn
1. God is in control (1:3, 9; cf. John 19:11; Rom. 13:1).
2. God is patient, but his patience is not limitless (1:3, 7-8; 2:13; 3:5; cf. Rom. 11:22; 2 Pet. 3:9-10).
3. God holds sinners accountable (1:2, 3, 9; 2:13; 3:5, 7; cf. Num. 32:23; 2 Cor. 5:10).
4. God hates evil and so should we (1:8-9; 2:13; 3:5; cf. Psa. 5:4-5).
5. God does not forsake his people (1:13, 15; 2:2; cf. Heb. 13:5).
6. God keeps his word (1:8, 9, 15; 2:13; 3:7, 19; cf. Rom. 3:4; Heb. 6:18).
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Cf. Jonah 1:2; 3:10; Isa. 10:1-27; 14:24-27; Mic. 5:5-6.
2 Scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
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