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Bible Study: The Book of Nahum

The Book Of Nahum

The prophecy of Nahum, written by a Hebrew against the capital of a Gentile world power (Nineveh), is a denunciation of rampant militarism and tyranny, especially as it affects God’s people. Although God uses pagans to punish His people’s apostasy and sin, the tool itself is also liable to punishment.

As R. K. Harrison puts it:
“In this small prophecy of doom the author demonstrated in vigorous and memorable language that the God of the nation whom the Assyrians had despised was in fact the controller of all human destiny. To His justice even the greatest world power must submit in humility and shame.”

Nahum was from Elkosh, a town not certainly known, but often identified with Capernaum (Hebrew: “Kāphar Nahûm,” Nahum town), near the Sea of Galilee. The prophet’s name means “Consoler.”

Although no date is given, it is possible to pin down the period of writing to within half a century. It had to be written after the conquest of No-Amon (Thebes) in 663 b.c. since Nahum mentions that event (3:8). It must have been written before 612 b.c. when Nineveh was destroyed. This would put the book probably between about 663 and 654 b.c.

Nahum the Elkoshite had a message of consolation to Judah since he foretold the doom of the Assyrians and the restoration of God’s people. His prophecy supplements the Book of Jonah. In Jonah we see Nineveh’s repentance, but in Nahum the Ninevites have returned to their old ways and have incurred God’s wrath. Our Lord favorably compares the Ninevites in their repentant mode with the unrepentant Pharisees (Matthew 12:41).

The little book is a classic rebuke of militarism. The Assyrians were ruthless with their enemies. Their inscriptions of military victories gloated over hanging the skins of their conquered enemies on their tents and walls. They also despised the God of Israel, the God who controls all things—including Nineveh’s fall.

Nahum predicts the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria and the world’s largest city of that day.

THE CHARACTER OF GOD, THE JUDGE (1:1-8)
The character of God is described as jealous, avenging, and wrathful on the one hand, and yet slow to anger and great in power on the other. He controls the universe and all its inhabitants. His jealousy is the righteous jealousy of a husband for the wife he loves, not an envy of others’ happiness. Israel is the “wife” of Jehovah (see Hosea).

When He punishes, no one can withstand Him. Yet He is good to those who trust in Him. His judgment would sweep like an overflowing flood through Assyria, destroying Nineveh, her capital.

CERTAINTY OF THE DOOM OF NINEVEH (1:9-15)

These words are addressed to the Assyrians. God was about to destroy them. The one who plotted evil against the Lord would fall. This probably refers to Sennacherib or to the insolent Rabshakeh.

Though the Assyrians are currently safe, they will be cut down. Though Israel had been afflicted, it will be afflicted no more, for God will break off the Assyrians’ yoke from His people.

Next, the Lord addresses the Assyrian king directly. His name would be forgotten, his idol-temple would be pillaged, and the Lord would dig his grave, because he was vile.

This verse describes the messenger who brings the good tidings of Assyria’s destruction and the resulting peace in Judah. Paul quotes similar words in Romans 10:15, but there they are used in a gospel context (Isaiah 52:7 ).

DESCRIPTION OF THE SIEGE OF NINEVEH (Nahum 2:1-12 )The first ten verses deal with the siege of Nineveh by the Babylonians.  The frenzied inhabitants of the city are mockingly told to prepare for battle with four commands: “Man the fort!” “Watch the road!” “Strengthen your flanks!” and “Fortify your power mightily.”

The Lord will restore His people. There will be some restoration of Israel’s excellence, but it will not necessarily be soon. The Southern Kingdom had not yet been deported, but was paying tribute.

The reference to Israel as a ruined and emptied vineyard fits in with several OT images (Psalms 80:12; Isaiah 5:5; Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 12:10; Hosea 10:1).

The soldiers of Babylon are pictured in verses 3 and 4, clad in their favorite colors: the Babylonians in red, and their allies, the Medes, in their scarlet tunics. (The Assyrians’ military color was blue.) The stumbling officers of verse 5 are the Babylonian invaders. The rivers pour into the city, undermining the foundations so that the palace is dissolved.

The queen is led away captive. The people flee from the city, disregarding the order to “Halt!” The wealth and treasure of Nineveh are plundered—the spoil of silver and the spoil of gold. The city is now desolate. Fear reigns on every face.

Verses 11-12 are much better appreciated when we recall that as Great Britain has the lion, and the United States has the eagle as its emblem, the Assyrians were simply mad about lions. Men’s heads with lions’ bodies (or vice versa) appear regularly in Assyrian art and sculpture. No doubt they thought of themselves as lions and tried to act the part.

Comparing Nineveh to a lion’s den, Nahum pushes his irony in deeply to wound Ninevite arrogance by using the words lions, young lions, lioness, lion’s cub—seven times in two verses!

GOD’S DETERMINATION TO DESTROY THE CITY 2:13–3:19
The Lord of hosts has decreed Nineveh’s utter destruction. Since the Lord has made Himself her enemy, the city does not stand a chance. Her chariots will be burned and her young lions (warriors) will be cut off by the sword. The sound of her armies would be heard no more and she would have no more victims.

Chapter 3 continues the picture of the fall of Nineveh and gives the underlying reasons: It is a bloody city and full of lies and robbery, having seized booty from many others. Now the Babylonian horsemen are attacking with bright sword, and the streets are full of countless corpses.

The nation is being judged for her harlotries and sorceries, corrupting others with her idolatry and commerce. Jehovah will expose sinfulness and cover her with shame, the punishment befitting a seductive harlot.

She will not escape any more than No Amon (Thebes) did, that great city which symbolized the concentrated might of Ethiopia and Egypt. As allies or helpers, Thebes also counted on Put and Lubim for security. These are territories generally associated with Libya.

Nineveh, also, would be drunk with the cup of God’s wrath. Like ripened figs, it was ready for judgment. Its defenses would fail when the gates of their land would swing wide open for their enemies. In spite of Nineveh’s most elaborate preparations for the siege—acquiring extra water and fortifying its strongholds with new clay bricks where needed—it would fall. Though the merchants, commanders, and generals were as numerous as the stars of heaven, yet they would desert the city like swarming locusts flying off at sunrise.

The shepherds (leaders) of Assyria now slumber in death. The nation has suffered a mortal wound. News of its fall will cause great rejoicing because many have suffered at its hands. Nineveh fell in 612 B.C.

So thoroughly was Nahum’s prophecy fulfilled that, in later times, armies, such as Xenophon’s and Alexander the Great’s, were totally unaware that they were marching near or over the ruins of great Nineveh.
Not until the nineteenth century was the ancient site of Nineveh even definitely relocated.