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A Commentary On Nahum the Prophet.

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Nahum came from Elkosh which was possibly, but not certainly, in Judah. His prophecy may be dated between 664 BC and 612 BC.

The reason that we can date it so accurately is because it mentions the capture of No-amon (i.e. Thebes) (3.8-10), as an indication that no city is too great to declare itself invincible. But was clearly written before the destruction of Nineveh itself in 612 BC.

The historical events behind the prophecy were the death of Ashurbanipal, the great king of Assyria (c. 627 BC), who ruled a vast empire held together by force and cruelty. This produced a situation where, within a year or so, Babylon, under Nabopolassar, felt able to assert her independence. About ten years later Babylon made an alliance with the Medes and attacked Assyria with a view to destroying all its military might, systematically reducing all its major strongholds.

Assyria’s capital city, Ashur, fell in 614 BC, followed two years later, after bitter fighting, by Nineveh itself.

The world sighed with relief. Assyria’s cruelty was a byword among the nations who had experienced it at first hand, and no one regretted their passing. The prophecy is a timely warning that no matter how great and impregnable someone may seem, one day their actions will catch up with them.

But why should we be interested in a book about the fate of Assyria? The answer is because it is a book about us all, especially the nations that are at ease. We see in this book a warning and foretaste of God’s judgment on all. It is delayed but it is inevitable. Elsewhere the mercy of God is emphasised, although never overlooking His moral attitude towards sin, but here it is His judgment that is emphasised.

This book is a reminder that however dark things may appear, however powerful the enemies of God might seem, they are not so powerful that they will last for ever. One day, sooner than any might think, they will crumble and collapse. But God will go on for ever.

And this judgment comes on one who has offered false pleasures to a sinful world. It has multiplied businessmen and accountants. It has offered sexual perversion and sinful pleasures. It has grown great in trade, and accumulated power. But it has forgotten God. And in that is its downfall.

This was one of the times when God’s judgment was revealed in its full awesomeness on a nation which believed itself invulnerable, and the prophet spells it out clearly and in some detail so that we might truly absorb it. God is love, but He is also light, and where His love does not prevail only the consequences of His sin-revealing light remains. And that, unless we repent, leads only to judgment.

The prophecy can be split into three sections.

  • Chapter 1. Declaration of judgment on the great city, (on Nineveh).
  • Chapter 2. The sack of the great city, (of Nineveh).
  • Chapter 3. Why the great city (Nineveh) deserves its fate.

As we consider the prophecy, and consider Nahum’s feelings, we must remember that Assyria had cruelly downtrodden Judah and Israel for long periods, and had equally cruelly destroyed Samaria, the capital city of Israel (the Northern kingdom) carrying away into captivity, with great harshness, the cream of the nation, as well as crushing many other nations.

And the people shared with their king in his guilt. For they exulted in his conquests and benefited from his spoils. Judah had been impoverished by the burden of its demands, and the worship of YHWH had suffered because of the requirement to honour Assyria’s gods. Neither had any cause to pity Assyria the Arrogant. Now the Lord had determined an end to its cruel activities. It had run its course. Only judgment remained.

The prophecy is a warning to all despots and men of violence and great cities that affect the world, that they will reap what they sow.

Chapter 1. Declaration of Judgment on Assyria and Deliverance for God’s People.

1.1 ‘The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.’

‘The burden of Nineveh’ - prophecy was not easy, it came as a burden on the prophets as they had to speak of dreadful events. They carried the weight of God’s wrath and men’s misdeeds on their shoulder. That is ever the lot of the true people of God. The burden came by way of vision. In this case it concerned the destruction of Nineveh, that great capital city of Assyria, which since the time of Sennacherib had ruled the world. It had been extended and beautified through the suffering and deaths of many thousands of slaves at work on its buildings. It was the consequence of the ruination and devastation of many countries. It was based on a policy of transferring of large numbers of peoples from their homelands to exist in foreign countries which were strange to them, so as to keep them pacified. And it was a result of draining the wealth of the nations.

The prophecy is said to have been specifically written in book form, and to consist of a vision given by God to Nahum the Elkoshite. The name Nahum was fairly common, and is born witness to extensively in North-Western Semitic languages and probably means ‘full of comfort’. The message he brought was one of comfort to the world in the light of what Assyria had been. We do not really know where Elkosh was, but it was probably in Judah.

The Might and Character of God (1.2-8).

The prophecy begins with an awesome and magnificent picture of the might and character of God.

1.2 ‘YHWH is a jealous God and avenges. YHWH avenges and is full of wrath. YHWH takes vengeance on his adversaries and reserves wrath for his enemies.’

Before John the Apostle in 1 John 4.8 tells us that God is love, he first reminds us of the fact that God is light, and that in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1.5). By this he was indicating that God hates all sin, whether in individuals or in nations. His light shines on it and reveals it for what it is, and reacts to it, for His light is the essence of what He is, wholly moral and pure.

Nor can He bear sin or allow it to go on indefinitely. At some point He must step in, in judgment on it. Those who will not have a change of heart and mind, and will not repent, seeking His mercy, will eventually have to face His anger against wrongdoing and evil.

Nineveh had been given such an opportunity of repentance by Jonah (see the book of Jonah) and had for a time been spared. But their repentance had been mainly on the surface and they had in the end simply multiplied their sins, (although no doubt some few individuals did continue in the way of God), and they now faced the inevitable consequences.

‘YHWH is a jealous God and avenges.’ The jealousy of God reflects His overall concern for His people. He watches over them with a careful and concerned eye. He is deeply interested in their welfare.

It also reflects His concern that all men recognise His glory, that they recognise Him for what He is (Exodus 20.5). He knew the debasing result of their religions, and that it was only when they saw His glory that they could be released from them. So He was concerned that they worship Him as the only God. This was the reason for His ‘jealousy’. He was concerned for those whom He had created, and wanted nothing to spoil their lives.

But His people, whom He watched over as a father over his children, had been badly ill-treated by Assyria, and now God will reward those who have done it. His vengeance and wrath will come on those who have earned it. The same will eventually happen to all who mistreat His people. It had been delayed on Assyria. But at last the time had to come. The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.

‘YHWH avenges and is full of wrath.’ We like to stress God’s love and compassion. And that is gloriously true. But here we have the other side of the picture. He also takes vengeance on those who sin, and that includes those who treat His people badly. And at that point He is full of wrath.

Biblically ‘wrath’ is not strictly anger. It is not that God is filled with feelings of uncontrollable anger. It is that His attitude towards sin is such that, because He is truly pure and holy, He has an aversion to sin, He cannot therefore overlook it. Unless it is dealt with by atonement, He is roused to action against it. His wrath is the moral sensitivity and reaction against sin that results in the determination to remove it.

‘YHWH takes vengeance on his adversaries and reserves wrath for his enemies.’ We are not left in doubt of the seriousness of God’s reaction to sin. It is in the end inevitable because of what He is. However, it is not blind vengeance. It simply results in men reaping what they sow. When men’s hearts are totally set against God no plea will be effective. They are set in their ways. All that is left is for them to receive what is their due.

1.3 ‘YHWH is slow to anger, and great in power, and will by no means clear the guilty. YHWH has his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.’

‘YHWH is slow to anger and great in power”. The converse to verse 2 is that He does not act hastily. He does not lose His temper. He is ‘slow to anger’ (Exodus 34.6). His wrath is revealed only when it is fully and finally deserved. Assyria should have remembered how great and powerful He was by the way that He had delivered Jerusalem (Isaiah 36 - 38). But rather they had thought that they could mock at YHWH. While they had been chosen to be His rod for chastening Israel, they had one too far (Isaiah 10.5 ff).

But He is also great in power. His slowness to respond to sin is not because of weakness but because of strength. He is powerful enough to be able to delay judgment until He Himself determines that it is necessary. However, when He does decide to judge, nothing will prevent Him.

Nahum is not a hard hearted prophet. He wants us to be fully aware that what he is about to declare is the consequence of long years of sin and arrogance. God is slow to anger. What He does here is not the norm, except as a consequence of long years of sin.

‘And will by no means clear (clearing He will not clear).’ ‘Guilty’ is put in to make sense. He will by no means clear men unless they are ‘worthy’, that is, unless they make use of the means of mercy and forgiveness and abide by the covenant, which involves obedience to His will. He calls them to account. See Exodus 34.7; Numbers 14.18. This means that if men are unwilling to receive His offer of mercy then they must face the consequences of their guilt. God will not just overlook it or bypass it. He will not count it as nothing or sweep it under the carpet. In the end He will face them up to it. His very morality demands that sin is punished in one way or another.

‘YHWH has his way in the whirlwind and the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet’ This is a vivid picture of God, striding, as it were, on the pathway of a great storm, surrounded by whirlwinds, causing dust to rise up in the form of swirling clouds. He is seen as Lord over the elements and of disaster. He controls all the most violent elements that affect man’s world.

Notice the mention of YHWH five times. Five is the number of covenant; the number of fingers on the hand that confirms the covenant, the number of statements on each tablet of the covenant, the number whose multiples were constantly used in the tabernacle and the temple and the heavenly temple of Ezekiel. Thus the covenant is in mind. It is as though the hand of God is made bare.

1.4 ‘He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, and dries up all the rivers. Bashan languishes, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languishes.’

‘He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, He dries up all the rivers.’ He is Lord over the sea which obeys His commands (Psalm 77.16; 89.9; 104.7; Job 38.11). When He rebukes it, it becomes dry (Psalm 106.9). Contrary to what many say God is never revealed as struggling with the seas. They always obey His command. To Israel, who were always afraid of the sea, that was a wonder indeed. But the point being made here is that no forces can resist Him. Even the mighty sea does His bidding. It was Jesus’ command of the sea and its fury that made His disciples first say, ‘Of a truth You are the Son of God’ (Matthew 14.33).

All the rivers are subject to His word. The world’s prosperity and fruitfulness, which mainly depends on the rivers, is dependent on His beneficence. Even the fertile places are dependent on His provision, and when it is withdrawn they wither. The drying up of the Jordan for Joshua may be partly in mind here, but only as an example. The point is that man may boast of his success and plenty, but God can dry it up in an instant.

‘Bashan languishes, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languishes.’ Nahum selects the most fruitful areas that he knows of to illustrate his point. They are all dependent on His benefits. And when they are withdrawn, they wither. Bashan was in Transjordan, famous for its oaks, and its abundant sheep and herds (Psalm 22.12; Isaiah 2.13; Jeremiah 50.19; Ezekiel 27.5-6; 39.18; Amos 4.1; Micah 7.14). Carmel means ‘fruitful land’. See Jeremiah 50.19; Amos 1.2; 9.3; Micah 7.14. For ‘the flower of Lebanon’ see Psalm 72.16; Song of Solomon 4.11; Hosea 14.5-7. It is admired in the inscriptions of Tuthmosis III of Egypt.

1.5 ‘The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt. And the earth is upheaved at his presence, yes the world and all who dwell in it.’

So even the mighty mountains quake at His presence, and the hills melt, and the earth is upheaved before Him. This was the kind of language sometimes used by great kings as they advanced to conquer. They claimed that even the mighty mountains recognised their coming. Ashur-nasir-pal II claimed that at his approach “all lands convulse, writhe, and melt as though in a furnace”. For them it was simply arrogance and pride. But for YHWH it is true. He really does make the mountains quake and the hills melt. The language is expanded to take into account that YHWH is unique in power. Possibly partly in mind are the earthquakes familiar in the area. Everything, whether mountain, hill, plain or valley is affected. They all quake before YHWH and the earthquakes are all seen as being the result of His activity.

‘Yes, the world and all who dwell in it.’ No part of the world is outside His sphere of activity, all peoples are under His control. Their destinies are in His hand. They too are upheaved before Him and quake at His presence.

There are clear indications in the narrative that God’s power revealed in the Exodus is in mind, but not as a controlling feature. His ‘jealousy’, His slowness to anger, the storm and the clouds, the rebuking of the sea and the drying up of the river, the quaking of the mountains and the melting of the hills, all remind us of the Exodus narrative (Exodus 19.16-18; 20.5; 34.6-7; Psalm 106.9). But if so the ideas are greatly expanded on and universalised.

1.6 ‘Who can stand before His indignation, and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken asunder by him.’

‘Who can stand before His indignation?’ The answer is, no one, not even mighty Assyria. When God finally determines to deal with sin no one can stop Him. And one day all men will have to face Him. But for now, watch out Assyria! His anger is pictured as being like the lightning that strikes the earth and breaks rocks asunder. Alternately there may be in mind the powerful activity of a volcano, pouring its fiery lava on the earth, and cracking the rocks with its heat.

1.7 ‘YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and he knows those who put their trust in him.’

‘YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble.’ But while YHWH is fearsome to those who incur His anger by their constant sinfulness, and by their attacks on His people, He is good to those who trust in Him, those who are in covenant relationship with Him and seek honestly to fulfil their part in the covenant. Indeed when the day of trouble comes He is their stronghold, as Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem had discovered when Jerusalem was besieged by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18-19).

The idea here is that YHWH is essentially good, and His purposes are good. Indeed He only acts as He does because He is good. He acts on behalf of the weak and helpless against their oppressors.

‘He knows those who put their trust in him.’ This means more than knowing in our sense of the word. It means that He has entered into a relationship with them, and therefore acts towards them as protector (Psalm 1.6; John 10.14, 27; 1 Corinthians 8.3. It can have a reverse effect - Amos 3.2).

1.8 ‘But with an overrunning flood he will make a full end of its place, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.’

Yet although He is essentially good and compassionate He must also deal fully with sin. By its nature it is unavoidable. Let sin totally gain control and the world will be in torment. The overrunning flood almost certainly meant to Nahum a flood of soldiers (Daniel 9.26, 11.2; Isaiah 8.7-8; Jeremiah 46.7-9), swarming down on Nineveh and making a full end of it, following that up by pursuing the defeated enemy as they fled into the darkness. Babylon and the Medes, along with the Scythians, were in fact determined to make a full end of Assyria once and for all. They had suffered too much at their hands.

But ‘into darkness’ may also have a deeper significance. Men feared darkness (Isaiah 8.22; Joel. 2.2; Amos 5.20; Zephaniah 1.15). It spoke of the unknown. In it they would be swallowed up by they knew not what, even possibly the darkness of death (Jeremiah 13.16). Their worst nightmares will be realised. Jesus said that ultimately all those who set themselves against God will go into the outer darkness (Matthew 22.13). And the same darkness awaits those who reject God today, as for those Assyrians long ago.

But as often happens in prophecy his words were truer than he knew, for the city finally fell because of breaches made in the defences by the flooding of the river that passed through Nineveh.

‘He will make a full end of its place.’ The huge city was plundered and then burned and left to fall into a desolate heap. Two hundred years later, when Xenophon saw it, it was an unrecognisable mass of debris. And eventually its whereabouts became totally forgotten.

God’s Purpose Towards Nineveh (1.9-13a).

God purposes to destroy Nineveh once and for all.

1.9 ‘What do you imagine against YHWH? He will make a full end. Affliction will not rise up the second time.’

‘What do you imagine against YHWH?’ The question may mean, what chance did they think they had to prevent YHWH carrying out His purpose? What sort of defence did they think that they could put up? Alternately it may be asking what plans they had against God’s people, followed by the assurance that they would not be able to afflict Judah a second time. Either way their efforts would be futile.

‘Affliction will not rise up the second time.’ This was because there would be no second chance. Their destruction would be once for all. For Nineveh it was a final judgment.

1.10 ‘For though they are like tangled thorns, and are drenched as it were in their drink, they will be devoured utterly as stubble.’

As tangled thorns are tough to penetrate, so Assyria no doubt thought that their city too would be difficult to penetrate, because of the strong defences of the city and their own fighting capabilities. But they had forgotten YHWH. ‘And are drenched as it were in their drink.’ This may be a reminder that when men had to face battle they prepared themselves by heavy drinking, or it may be a sarcastic reference to the fact that they were drinking heavily, especially in the face of such troubles, raising the vivid picture of them as tangled thorns well doused to make them difficult to burn. But it would not save them. They will burn well in the flames lighted by the victorious enemy, (but really to be seen as the work of YHWH), just as stubble was totally burned up in the fields.

1.11-13a ‘There is one gone forth from you who imagines evil against YHWH, who counsels wickedness. Thus says YHWH, “Though they are in full strength, and likewise many, even so will they be cut down, and he will pass away.” ’

These words seem to be addressed to Judah. This would suggest that a plotter had gone to see the Assyrians in order to betray Judah, (and thus YHWH), advising wickedness, that is an attack on Judah, not realising that Assyria’s condition would soon be untenable.

But he would be unsuccessful. As indeed Assyria had once before come against Jerusalem in full strength and had been struck down, so it would happen again, but this time even before they came. And the plotter himself would also be slain or have to disappear.

Some, however, see this as referring to Sennacherib, speaking of the past as though it were in the present. He came out thinking evil against Judah, and even challenging Yahweh direct (2 Kings 18.22, 33-35), and he advised his generals to evil deeds.

Then God turns to Judah and reminds them that although those evil men came in full strength and indeed were many (2 Kings 18.17), they were struck down (2 Kings 19.35). And in the end Sennacherib passed away (2 Kings 10.37).

Either way the final point is that all men’s plans will finally come to nothing. The story is told of a great man who planned great things. He brought great turmoil on the world, and when challenged by God, cried, ‘And who are you?’ And when his world collapsed and he lay in his coffin, God quietly bent down and asked, ‘and who are you?’ And closed the lid.

YHWH Turns To His People And Promises That This Will Be An End Of Their Affliction By Assyria While At The Same Time Warning Assyria That He Will Make An End Of Them (1.12b-13)

1.12b -13 “Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And now I will break his yoke from off you, and will burst your bonds in sunder.”

Whatever the situation was YHWH now promises His people that He will not afflict them through Assyria (‘the rod of His anger’- Isaiah 10.5) any more. Rather He will destroy Assyria’s power so that their yoke might be removed. Judah will no longer be like beast’s of burden fastened to the plough. They will no longer be bound, enchained slaves. They would be free from their bonds.

1.14 ‘And YHWH has given commandment concerning you, that no more of your name be sown. “I will cut off the graven image and the molten image out of your house of your gods. I will make your grave, for you are vile.” ’

Nahum now speaks again to Nineveh. YHWH is about to destroy their name and reputation. They will no longer be able to spread it by their activities. No one will talk about them any more. They will be a thing of the past. And, most importantly, they would no more have children to carry on their name, something seen as the greatest of tragedies for anyone in those days. Their gods in whom they had boasted would be violently removed from their temples.

‘I will make your grave, for you are vile.’ This may be said to Nineveh, or it may be said to the multitude of displaced gods. It is saying either that glorious Nineveh is in reality vile, or that their vaunted gods were vile. Both would in fact perish because of their vileness. They would be dead and forgotten.

The Glad News Is Brought To God’s People (1.15)

In words similar to Isaiah 52.7, Nahum declares the end of Nineveh. A messenger is on the way with the good news of peace. Judah can now worship freely because Assyria will trouble her no more. (Perhaps had Josiah not tried to interfere in things and thereby lost his life (2 Kings 23.29) such conditions might have continued a good while longer. The prophets rarely approved of interfering in things which were not strictly Judah’s concern).

1.15 ‘Behold on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace. Keep your feasts, O Judah, perform your vows. For the worthless will no more pass through you. He is utterly cut off.’

A messenger is seen as on his way. He will soon be there with the good news, promising peace from the activities of Assyria, because Nineveh is destroyed. Judah will now be able to worship in the purity of their religion, not being forced to have the gods of Assyria in their temple, nor to make Assyrian religion central to their worship. These words are a direct reference to Isaiah 52.7.

“Keep your feasts, O Judah. Perform your vows”. The one who stood in the way of the keeping of their feasts and the fulfilling of their vows to YHWH is about to be removed totally. They can now return to the unadulterated worship of YHWH.

‘For the worthless will no more pass through you. He is utterly cut off.’ Literally ‘the thing of worthlessness (or Belial)’. He who took them away from God. But now he is utterly cut off. There is therefore now no restraint on true worship.

So Nahum’s exultancy is based on the fact that wickedness has been dealt with, and that God’s people are now free to worship in purity. He announces it as though it had already happened.

The importance to us of this chapter is that it first reminds us of the greatness of God, and the reality of His judgment, and yet of His mercy to those who call on Him. All is under His control and we respond or fail to respond to Him for good or ill. It reminds us that He is the protector of His people and will in the end punish those who use them ill, or behave ill, however great they may think they are. Before Him all are minute. The point that come out is that although at times things may be difficult, we can always be sure that in the end we will see on the mountains the feet of those who bring the good news of deliverance.

Chapter 2. The Sack of Nineveh.

The prophet now sees in vision the ravage of Nineveh. The sight was similar to those that had been seen many times before, but in those cases it was Assyria who was the invader (the prophet may well have witnessed such sights himself). Now the tables were turned. We must remember as we read his words that the Assyrians had always been ruthless. They had invaded time and again, and killed without mercy. And while Jerusalem may have escaped, other towns were not so fortunate. The Assyrians had shown no mercy to Lachish, or to Debir, or to any other cities. Like Babylon would, they had raped and pillaged, and smashed babies heads against the walls (Psalm 137.9). Their yoke had been very heavy to bear. Now what they had done to others, and to Judah, was to be done to them.

2.1 ‘The scatterer has come up in front of your eyes (literally ‘before your face’). Man the ramparts; watch the road; gird your loins; collect together all your strength.”

Assyria is urged to prepare for what she is to face. Those who were the experts in scattering the forces of others would now experience it themselves (for the scatterer compare Psalm 68.1; Isaiah 24.1; Jeremiah 52.8). Now they must wait apprehensively, manning the ramparts, watching the road, arming themselves, trying to keep up each other’s spirits. Now it is their turn to feel afraid.

2.2 ‘For YHWH is restoring (or ‘turning away, removing’) the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel. For the plunderers have stripped them of everything and ruined their vine branches.’

This seems, as an illustration, to be contrasting the ups and downs of Jacob in his early life, and his servitude, with the prosperity and freedom he enjoyed when he became Israel. YHWH is restoring a Judah which was constantly up and down, and in servitude like Jacob, into a Judah that will flourish like Israel. This expressed the hopes of the period of Josiah, when, after a time of ups and downs, Judah again began to prosper.

So YHWH was giving Judah the opportunity to become prosperous again. They had been completely stripped of their possessions by the plundering Assyrians, but even worse, their vines had been ruined. That was unforgivable. It was rare in ancient warfare to destroy trees. However fierce the battles the trees were preserved, for they took years to grow again and would be needed to bring gain to whoever won. Thus it demonstrated remorseless and unnecessary destruction. But now Judah had the opportunity to recover.

Sadly the recovery would not last overlong, for the death of Josiah would bring it to an end, but that was not in the purview of Nahum.

2.3 ‘The shield of his mighty men is red, his prime soldiers are clothed in scarlet, the chariots flash with steel in the day of his preparation, and the lances (from fir or pine trees) are shaken fiercely.’

Red was a favourite colour of the Babylonian and Medan armies, and as the people of Nineveh watch from the ramparts they would see the blood red shields, and the scarlet uniforms, the chariots flashing with metal as preparations are made, and the soldiers fiercely brandishing their long spears of pine.

2.4 ‘The chariots rage in the streets, they jostle against one another in the broad ways, their appearance is like flaming torches, they race like flashes of lightning.’

The enemy have breached the outer defences outside the walls, their chariots race though the suburban streets, jostling in their hurry to get at the foe. They shine in the sun, and speed like lightning.

Alternately this may be the Assyrian chariots racing to the walls to prepare for the assault, and possibly a few skirmishes..

2.5 ‘The officers are summoned, they stumble as they go, they hasten to the wall, the mantelet is set up.’

The Ninevite officers race to defend the walls, but in their haste they stumble in their armour, or possibly because drunk. Yet they hurry on to the wall, for it is vital, and there they set up their protective shields.

2.6 ‘ The river gates are opened, the palace is in dismay.’

But then comes the terrifying news. ‘The river gates have been opened.’ Thus their hurrying will do no good. The idea is probably that the flooding of the river Khasr will cause the river defences to be broken down. The river gates will then provide access to the enemy. No wonder the king and his counsellors are dismayed. It will make them recognise that the gods are against them. But they will not realise that it is YHWH Who has done this. Thus the palace is now filled with dismay, (it is also filled with the spoils of war seized from others. Now they too are to be spoiled).

2.7 ‘Huzzab is uncovered, she is carried off, her maidens lamenting, moaning like doves, and beating their breasts”.

‘Huzzab = she who is set up.’ The word is uncertain, but probably represents a goddess. As the statue is dragged away the temple prostitutes lament and moan, beating their breasts. She whom they worshipped was being degraded. Their pantheon of gods and goddesses could do nothing for Assyria now.

2.8 “ Nineveh is today a pool whose waters run away. "Stand, stand,” they cry; but none turns back.’

Nineveh is described as like a pool whose banks have burst so that its waters are flowing out from it, not to be replaced. In the same way both soldiers and refugees are fleeing from the city. The pool is emptying. The officers call on their men to ‘make a stand, make a stand’, but none of them listen. All hope is gone. The once proud army of Assyria is routed. The shock of the breach of the defences, seen as perpetrated by the gods, has been too much.

Many people today see themselves as equally as invulnerable. Like Assyria they feel that they can ignore God, and that it will not matter. But the sad truth is that many of them will later in life discover too late that actually they are very vulnerable, some sooner than anyone expects. And in the end death will come to all. The only certainty of a secure future is to be in His hands.

2.9 ‘Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of what is stored up, the wealth of precious objects.’

This is probably spoken to the enemy soldiers rather than to the refugees. Wealthy Nineveh is providing rich pickings. And there would be no doubt that the soldiers would take very advantage of it. But their delay while gathering such spoil probably helped the fleeing Ninevites time to escape.

2.10 ‘She is empty, totally empty and barren, and the heart faints and knees are knocking, and anguish is on all loins, and all their faces grow pale!”

The result of the looting is a Nineveh empty of treasures and empty of life, a barren desert where shortly before had been a lively city. Those who remain shiver and fear, feel sick and are deathly pale. Their hearts are fluttering, their knees are knocking, their legs will not hold them up, their faces are ghastly pale. How often this had happened to other nations under the might of an Assyrian attack. And now they begin to know what it was like from the other end. They have sown and now they reap.

2.11 ‘Where is the lions' den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion, the great lion walked, the lion’s whelp, and none made them afraid?’

This probably represents the king of Assyria and his sons and nobles. The question now is where are the banqueting halls where they banqueted and ate in such confidence and safety, where they strutted in their supremacy, totally without fear? Why are they no longer occupied and filled with drunken merriment?

Possibly the hope was to find the ‘lions’ still there. We are told in the Babylonian chronicle the that the King, Sin-shar-ishkun died in the flames .

Others see it as a picture of the whole of Nineveh and its people.

2.12 ‘The lion tore in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for his lionesses, and filled his caves with prey, and his dens with carcasses.’

Previously the lion had slaughtered enough to provide sufficient and more for all who looked to him. There had been no lack then. His sons and nobles had revelled in splendour, his wives in finery and perfumes and bejewelled chariots. His treasure houses had been full, and his prisons full of wounded captives. But now his gods have failed. Why should this be?

2.13 “Behold, I am against you,” says YHWH of hosts, and I will burn her chariots in the smoke, and the sword will devour your young lions, and I will cut off your prey from the land, and the voice of your messengers will no more be heard.’

Here is the answer to the unspoken question. It is because YHWH is against him, that YHWH Whom Sennacherib’s officers had derided before the walls of Jerusalem (2 Kings 18.22, 33-35). Thus his wives’ chariots will be burned in the burning stables from which smoke was billowing, his sons and nobles will be smitten with the sword, their treasures and all their fine things will be carried off as spoil, and no further messengers will stream through the gates of Nineveh with their news or carrying their messages of war.

The last point is potent. For centuries the gates of Nineveh had streamed forth messengers to every part of the empire, to carry the king’s commands, and to bring him tribute, and news of all that was going on. For the empire had been alive with activity. But now no messengers go out. There are no messages to carry. All is dead.

So while history will give the victory to the Medes and their allies, Nahum and Israel will know that it was YHWH Who had done it. It may even be significant that many of Israel’s exiles lived among the Medes (2 Kings 17.6). It was poetic justice.

We too must remember that what a man sows he will reap. We should not be deceived. If we sow to the flesh we will accordingly reap corruption and death, but if we sow to the Spirit we will reap life everlasting (Galatians 6.7-8)

Chapter 3 Why Nineveh Deserves Its Fate.

The prophet now explains why this is to happen to Assyria

3.1-3 ‘Woe to the bloody city, it is all full of lies and booty. Its spoils (or ‘the prey’) do not leave it. The crack of the whip, and the rumbling of wheels, and prancing horses and bounding chariots! Horsemen charging, and flashing sword and glittering spear, and a host of slain and a great heap of corpses. And there is no end to the dead bodies --they stumble over their bodies!’

This is the grisly fate of Nineveh, as it had been for the many cities from which they had filled their treasure houses and sated their pride. It was not without reason that he named it ‘the bloody city’. It was a city filled with the rewards of blood, and of men boasting about having shed blood, and it was also full of deceit and booty. Sham, hollowness, pretence, all vied with each other and there was booty beyond counting. Nor were their spoils used to benefit others. They remained within the city. This could describe many of our modern cities today, their lives a constant pretence and show, their wealth built on the poverty of others. Why should their inhabitants escape the fate of Nineveh?

Alternately we may read ‘the prey does not leave it’ meaning that many Ninevites are made a prey and cannot flee the city.

But then came the crack of the whip, the rattling of wheels, the prancing of horses and their riders, and the bounding forward of chariots. The flashing sword, the glittering spear, the piles of corpses, corpses without end. Their nemesis had arrived. It was the end that they had never believed would come. This was to be the fate of Nineveh, but why?

3.4 ‘Because of the countless harlotries of the beautiful prostitute, the mistress of witchcrafts, who betrays nations with her harlotries, and peoples through her witchcrafts.’

This could almost be transferred as it is to Revelation 17, although there it was Babylon the Great. But Babylon the Great sums up all large cities, and Nineveh is one of them and a part of the whole.

Her fate came because like a prostitute she had attracted men to what she had to offer. She had offered occult practises, sexual perversion, false religion, political favour and indecent wealth in a poor and struggling world. And she had offered pleasure beyond telling. And people had flocked to her and had been degraded, and had become like her. She had even tried to turn YHWH’s people against Him, offering the very things that He had offered (2 Kings 18.31-32), but with a very different purpose and with a very different intent.

3.5-7a “Behold I am against you,” says YHWH of hosts, “and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will let nations look on your nakedness and kingdoms on your shame. I will throw horrible filth at you and treat you with contempt, and make you a gazingstock. And it shall be that all who look on you will shrink from you and say, ‘Wasted is Nineveh; who will bemoan her?’ ”

Because of her sins God will lay Nineveh bare. She will be the laughing stock and abhorrence of nations. The picture is of a disgraced prostitute, grown old and unwanted, and therefore treated with abhorrence and contempt. Those who had once vied for her attention and paid for her favours, now treated her disgracefully and pretended that they had never known her. What she truly was has been revealed. And no one wants her any more. That is the consequence of the life that she had chosen. (But her despisers are as bad, or worse, than she was. There are none who should not feel ashamed). She had offered them a delusion, and now she was exposed, and the same nations who had honoured her, now looked at her in horror. If you lead people into sin they will not thank you in the end. For all will in the end be exposed as what they are like Nineveh. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing (Ecclesiastes 12.14). One day what is done in darkness will be revealed in the light (Luke 12.3).

3.7b-10 “From where shall I seek comforters for you? Are you better than No-amon (Thebes) which was situated among the rivers, which had waters round about her. Whose rampart was the River (the Nile), and whose wall was of the River? Sudan and Egypt were her strength, and it was immeasurable, Put and the Libyans were your helpers. Yet she was carried away, she went into captivity. Her young children also were dashed in pieces at the top of every street, and they cast lots for her honourable men, and her great men were bound in chains.”

Thebes was captured by the Assyrians in 663 BC. The fathers of these very Ninevites had descended on her and destroyed her, even though she was a great city, protected by surrounding water and strong walls, and had powerful allies. Her king was Sudanese, who at this time ruled Egypt. Yes, Nineveh had destroyed her, and taken away her finest people into captivity (a particularly nasty trait of the Assyrians and Babylonians), and had slaughtered her innocent children, and had made slaves of her nobles and had bound in chains her finest warriors.

And now what she had done to Thebes was to be done to her. She too would be shamed. And why should she see herself as any different? We must remember that how we treat others is the measure by which we should expect to be treated.

3.11-13 “You also will be drunken, you will be hidden; you will seek a refuge because of the enemy. All your fortresses will be like fig trees with first-ripe figs, if they are shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater. Behold, your troops in your midst are women. The gates of your land are set wide open to your foes; the fire has devoured your bars.”

This is the picture of defeated Assyria, a people with no hope, a pitiable sight. On the run from their enemies, drinking heavily in order to drown their sorrows, hiding because they are afraid, seeking for safe refuge in their last few remaining cities. But her fortresses will be easily taken, as easily as shaking first-ripe figs from a fig tree. Her troops will be like women (in those days seen as incapable of fighting), her gates useless, their bars unable to keep out the enemy. The result is that the bars will be burned once the city has fallen, proof of their humiliation. Her proud strength will become firewood.

3.14-15a “Draw yourselves water for the siege, strengthen your forts; go into the clay, and tread the mortar, take hold of the brick mould! There will the fire devour you, the sword will cut you off. It will devour you like the young locust.”

All her efforts to save herself will be in vain. She may draw water for the siege, strengthen her forts, erect new defences and new buildings, but even while she makes the attempt she will perish. Fire and sword will do their work. And just as the young locust descends on the land, devouring until nothing is left, so will their enemies descend on them and devour them.

3.15b-17 “Multiply yourselves like the locust, multiply yourselves like the grasshopper! You have increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away. Your princes are like grasshoppers, your scribes like clouds of locusts, settling on the fences in a day of cold, but when the sun rises, they fly away; and no one knows where they are”

Assyria was constantly expanding and growing rich, boasting at her prosperous economy and the huge numbers of her merchants, as they multiplied like locusts and grasshoppers, and even more than the stars of heaven. But her merchant princes are grasshoppers, her accountants (scribes) in their huge numbers are locusts, they have flown in and settled there because circumstances are favourable, but as soon as there is a change of circumstance, and there is no more for them there, they will disappear to where the sun shines. No one is more flexible than the merchant. When it comes to the crunch Nineveh only has fair-weather friends.

So nothing lasts for ever. We must therefore ensure we make the most of what we have while we have it. Our wisest move is to lay up our treasure in heaven where the equivalent of the Babylonians cannot reach it, to use it to make lasting friends in eternal habitations (Luke 16.9).

13.18 “Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles are slumbering. Your people are scattered on the mountains and there is no one to gather them. There is no assuaging your hurt, your wound is grievous. All who hear the news of you clap their hands over you. For on whom has your evil not continually descended?”

The king of Assyria now finds himself helpless. There is no hope of recovery, for it is the act of God. The result is that those who should be caring for the people, their shepherds and nobles, are asleep, and will continue to be so. (This probably signifies that they are mainly dead). The people are left without leaders. They are no longer a united people. His task is therefore in vain for Assyria is wounded with a deadly wound.

Nor will anyone lament her fate. They have suffered too much at her hands. When they hear they will clap with delight. For their suffering under the hand of Assyria has been long and continuing. And now it is over.

So the prophecy is a warning to all nations, and all people, that in the end they must give account to God. It is telling us that the selfish multiplying of riches can only in the end result in sorrow. What a man sows he will reap.

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