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Preliminary Introduction to Nahum


Overall Background: Nineveh 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 and especially its capital 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.

Kings of Assyria: 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. Nahum's Significance: So much for history, now the word of the Lord that came some eighteen years beforehand. Nahum probably prophesied about 630BC and as we just noted, it was destroyed in 612BC, and that is the main feature of this little prophetic book.

The City: Nineveh was a great city with great walls that stretched over 7 miles round 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 extent that they broke into the city and the walls collapsed. Nineveh fell by an act of God – just as He said!





FRAMEWORKS: Nahum 1: Warnings to Nineveh, encouragement to Judah


[Preliminary Comments: This first chapter, after simply having stated its goal, first extols the Lord [v.2-10], speaking of His character and activity, and then moves to speak more directly to Judah (to encourage) and Nineveh (to warn). The Lord is going to bring an end to Assyria's activity that has affected Judah.]



v.1 Clear goal of the prophecy: Nineveh, capital of Assyria


v.1  A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. 


PART ONE: v.2-10: About the Lord


v.2 He will declare three things about the Lord: 1. That God is jealous & avenging


v.2 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 vents his wrath against his enemies. 


[Note: Jealousy implies love & concern; here it will be for Israel but first he simply declares this characteristic: God will NOT ignore those who have made themselves His enemy and He will deal with them in His jealousy for His people.]


v.3-6 The second thing: 2. God is slow to anger but He will act


v.3  The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. 

v.4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. 

v.5 The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. 

v.6 Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. 


[Note: Although He seems slow to get angry and act [see also 2 Pet 3:9] He WILL bring justice on the guilty in the form of destructive judgments. Thus none [however proud, we might imply] will be able to withstand Him when He has set His mind on justice being brought.]


v.7-10 The third thing: 3. God is good and a refuge for those who trust Him


v.7  The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, 

v.8  but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness. 

v.9  Whatever they plot against the LORD he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time. 

v.10  They will be entangled among thorns and drunk from their wine; they will be consumed like dry stubble. 


[Note: The first thing is that those who turn to Him and trust Him will find He is a refuge. The second thing is that He will be a refuge against enemies and because Assyria has become an enemy He will bring down Nineveh, their capital. Note especially verse 8.]



PART TWO: v.11-15: About Nineveh's Fall & Judah's Freedom


v.11 Pride from a king [presumably] brings rebellion against God [the heart of sin]


v.11 From you, Nineveh, has one come forth who plots evil against the LORD and devises wicked plans. 


v.12,13 The Lord Speaks to Judah: Judgment on Nineveh, Freedom for Judah


v.12  This is what the LORD says: “Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be destroyed and pass away. Although I have afflicted you, Judah, I will afflict you no more. 

v.13  Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away.” 


v.14 The Lord Speaks to Nineveh; Because of your idolatry, you will die


v.14  The LORD has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.” 


v.15 The Lord speaks to Judah: Peace is coming so celebrate your festivals again


v.15  Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed.


[Note: The Lord moves on to confront Nineveh's leader [the king] who has turned against God. He then turns back to Judah to reassure then that however strong Assyria and their various alliances may appear, He will destroy them and lift off the burden that they had been to Judah. He turns back to rebuke Nineveh, warning that the destruction against them, and all their idol worship, will be terminal. So He turns back to Judah and reassures them that peace is being declared over them and they will rest secure.]


[Additional Comments: The chapter does three things:

1. Extol the Lord who is jealous for His people [v.2] and who, although He appears to be slow in acting against enemies, will come and deliver Judah [v3-6], because He is a refuge for those who turn to Him and trust Him and He will deal with Nineveh [v.7-13].

2. Brings hope & encouragement to Judah saying how the Lord will remove their oppressor [v.8] and He will remove their shackles [v.12,13] so they may know peace and the freedom to celebrate their festivals without interruption once again [v.15].

3. Brings a severe warning to Nineveh that the Lord will destroy her with a great flood [v.8 – see Introduction] and He will do this because they have turned against Him [v.11] and turned to idol worship [v.14].

There is a remarkable clarity in purpose and detail here.]





FRAMEWORKS: Nahum 2: Nineveh's End under a magnifying glass


[Preliminary Comments: The descriptions of Nineveh's end as continued and expanded.]


v.1-6 An enemy attack on Nineveh is coming and she will fall


v.1  An attacker advances against you, Nineveh. Guard the fortress, watch the road, brace yourselves, marshal all your strength! 

v.2  The LORD will restore the splendor of Jacob like the splendor of Israel, though destroyers have laid them waste and have ruined their vines. 

v.3  The shields of the soldiers are red; the warriors are clad in scarlet. The metal on the chariots flashes on the day they are made ready; the spears of juniper are brandished. 

v.4  The chariots storm through the streets, rushing back and forth through the squares. They look like flaming torches; they dart about like lightning. 

v.5  Nineveh summons her picked troops, yet they stumble on their way. They dash to the city wall; the protective shield is put in place. 

v.6 The river gates are thrown open and the palace collapses.  


[Note: The warning is that an enemy is coming against Nineveh and that will result in Judah being restored. The picture of the enemy army plundering the city, once the walls are breached, is graphic and even Nineveh's elite troops will stumble and flee before the enemy. The breach will be caused by the river flooding. See Introduction.]


v.7-10 Nineveh's people will be taken away


v.7  It is decreed that Nineveh be exiled and carried away. Her female slaves moan like doves and beat on their breasts. 

v.8  Nineveh is like a pool whose water is draining away. “Stop! Stop!” they cry, but no one turns back. 

v.9  Plunder the silver! Plunder the gold! The supply is endless, the wealth from all its treasures! 

v.10  She is pillaged, plundered, stripped! Hearts melt, knees give way, bodies tremble, every face grows pale. 


[Note: The picture of the disaster continues with the emphasis turning to the people of Nineveh being carried away and the city being emptied of its occupants, rather like a pool of water that is draining away. The words ‘pillaged, plundered, stripped', show the extent of the overwhelming nature of this disaster for Nineveh.]


v.11-13 Their reputation for aggression & violence will become a past thing


v.11  Where now is the lions' den, the place where they fed their young, where the lion and lioness went, and the cubs, with nothing to fear? 

v.12 The lion killed enough for his cubs and strangled the prey for his mate, filling his lairs with the kill and his dens with the prey. 

v.13 “I am against you,” declares the LORD Almighty. “I will burn up your chariots in smoke, and the sword will devour your young lions. I will leave you no prey on the earth. The voices of your messengers will no longer be heard.”


[Note: They had once been like young lions, bred for violence but the Lord will deal with them in such a way that all of that will be past history.]


[Additional Comments: The chapter is full of graphic warning. An enemy is coming to attack them [ see Introduction] [v.1] so they will cease coming against God's people and Judah can be restored [v.2]. The enemy will enter and plunder the city [v.3,4] and their own soldiers will be helpless against them [v.5] and this will happen because the protective river around them will breach the walls [v.6]. So great will be this conquest that their people will be taken away [v.7,8] and the wonderful city plundered of all its valuables [v.9,10]. Their reputation for being warriors will be a thing of past history [v.11-13]. The prophecy leaves no room for doubt in its devastating clarity.]





FRAMEWORKS: Nahum 3: Rejoicing over Nineveh's downfall


[Preliminary Comments: Even more descriptions of the extent, cause and nature of the downfall of the city.]


v.1-3 The defeat will be of catastrophic magnitude


v.1  Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! 

v.2  The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots! 

v.3  Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses— 


[Note: The enemy coming into the breached city is graphic and horrific.]


v.4-5 The Reason for this will be exposed – their powerless idolatry


v.4  all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft. 

v.5  “I am against you,” declares the LORD Almighty. “I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame. 


[Note: The cause of all of this is the idolatry and occult following that exists in this great city. One might suggest that it has reached such a degree as to possibly spread across and contaminate the whole empire so as to require the Lord's restraining intervention before that can happen.]


v.6,7 Their power and greatness will be turned to contempt & mockery


v.6  I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. 

v.7  All who see you will flee from you and say, ‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?' Where can I find anyone to comfort you?” 


[Note: A city once proud and haughty in its might, will be so broken down that it becomes a spectacle to passersby. Historical records suggest that within a few years of its downfall all that was left was an almost unidentifiable mound of ruins.]


v.8-11 The will be shown no better than Egypt


v.8  Are you better than Thebes, situated on the Nile, with water around her? The river was her defense, the waters her wall. 

v.9  Cush and Egypt were her boundless strength; Put and Libya were among her allies. 

v.10  Yet she was taken captive and went into exile. Her infants were dashed to pieces at every street corner. Lots were cast for her nobles, and all her great men were put in chains. 

v.11  You too will become drunk; you will go into hiding and seek refuge from the enemy. 


[Note: Thebes in Egypt had water as their defence, they had alliances with other nations and had felt secure; look at what happed to them! Thebes had fallen in 664/663. The same thing is going to happen to you!]


v.12,13 All your fighting resources are inadequate for what is coming


v.12  All your fortresses are like fig trees with their first ripe fruit; when they are shaken, the figs fall into the mouth of the eater. 

v.13  Look at your troops— they are all weaklings. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has consumed the bars of your gates. 


v.14,15 Your siege provisions will be inadequate


v.14  Draw water for the siege, strengthen your defenses! Work the clay, tread the mortar, repair the brickwork! 

v.15  There the fire will consume you; the sword will cut you down— they will devour you like a swarm of locusts. Multiply like grasshoppers, multiply like locusts! 


v.16,17 Your merchants & warriors will all be stripped away


v.16  You have increased the number of your merchants till they are more numerous than the stars in the sky, but like locusts they strip the land and then fly away. 

v.17  Your guards are like locusts, your officials like swarms of locusts that settle in the walls on a cold day— but when the sun appears they fly away, and no one knows where. 


v.18,19 Your economy & people will go


v.18  King of Assyria, your shepherds slumber; your nobles lie down to rest. Your people are scattered on the mountains with no one to gather them. 

v.19  Nothing can heal you; your wound is fatal. All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?


[Note: Nothing they have – none of their various resources - will be sufficient to ward off the destruction and downfall of the empire that is coming.


Additional Comments: This chapter almost mocks and derides Assyria as the prophecy heaps one negative after another on the previous pictures and warnings of the coming destruction. The enemy will get into the city [v.1-3], their idolatry has raised God's anger against them [v.4,5], He will make Nineveh a ruin and a source of mockery [v.6,7], and just as Egypt was brought down, so will they [v.8-11]. Their defenses and troops will prove inadequate [v.12,13], as will their ability to withstand a siege [v.14,15] and the backbone of their empire, their economy, their merchants, and their warriors, will all melt away [v.16,17], so the king should take heed of this warning, for his people will be scattered and nothing can heal the weak state of morale of the nation which WILL fall. [v.18,19]


Concluding Notes: As we observed in the Introduction, Ashurbanipal (669-627) was the last great ruler of the Assyrian empire. [There were lesser kings]. After his death in 627, Assyria's influence and power waned rapidly until 612, when Nineveh was overthrown. If our dating is correct Nahum probably prophesied about 630BC and the king still had three years to live and so the warning comes to him. The city fell and was destroyed in 612BC, just eighteen years after Nahum prophesied.

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, three little indicators of how this mighty city, the capital of this declining but still proud nation, is going to fall because of the river flooding and breaching the walls which the surrounding army had not managed to penetrate. The Lord spoke it, and it happened exactly as He indicated. A challenging book, as short and as limited as it is!]