Nahum was called to prophesy God’s awful vengeance upon Nineveh and the Assyrian king who had presumed to reproach and blaspheme the Lord. However, his message also contains encouragement for God’s people, for in His wrath, He remembers mercy and shows kindness to His people.
The prophet and his times
We are told very little about Nahum. He was from a town called Elkosh, which has never been identified. Some think it may have been near the New Testament city of Capernaum, which means ‘the Village of Nahum’ or somewhere near the present Iraqi city of Mosul, across the Tigris from Nineveh’s ruins. In this latter case his family could have been among the tribes deported by the king of Assyria in the days of King Hoshea, 2 Kgs. 17.
We are not told at what period he exercised his prophetic ministry, but it seems appropriate to place him about the time of King Hezekiah, when Jerusalem was being threatened by the Assyrians. In the days of King Josiah, Zephaniah also prophesied the total destruction of Nineveh. From history we know that Nineveh was utterly destroyed by a coalition of Medes and Babylonians around 612 BC.
The judgement of God
Nahum’s prophecy is called a ‘burden’, a solemn utterance or sentence of judgement, concerning Nineveh. The Assyrians were always an arrogant, boastful and cruel people. Their king’s general threatened Jerusalem, ‘Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?’ Isa. 10. 11. They did not understand that the living God is totally different from the idol gods of the nations. ‘And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are forsaken, have I gathered all the earth: and there was none that moved the wing, or that opened the mouth or chirped’, Isa. 10. 14 RV. They assumed Jerusalem would fall into their hands just as easily as other peoples and cities had. ‘Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered?’ Isa. 37. 11. Memorial pillars unearthed from the site of Nineveh include an inscription claiming Sennacherib to be ‘the king of the universe’. God took notice and dismissed these blusterings, ‘Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel. By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord’, Isa. 37. 23, 24.
In the three chapters of this book, Nahum prophesies the coming judgement. When the Lord comes forth in vengeance, even the great eternal mountains quake, 1. 5. Nineveh may hastily prepare for a siege within its strong walls, muster its forces, deploy its chariots, man its ramparts (‘keep the munition’), but it will all be to no avail. Nineveh is portrayed as a disreputable woman – Huzzab – exposed to shame and ridicule, and led away, 2. 7.
Nineveh had had its day. Now it was to be a city of blood. The prophet describes what will happen. The sights and sounds of defeat, the clatter of the enemy’s chariots and horses, the terrible shining weapons, and ‘there is a multitude of slain, and a great number of carcases; and there is none end of their corpses; they stumble upon their corpses’, 3. 3. The king and the city were become vile, that is contemptible and shamed and worthless, their gates were wide open unto their enemies. Human power and vanity cannot stand before this awful judgement from the Lord.
The princes of Nineveh, concerning whom their king had boasted that ‘they were altogether kings’, and the military governors (‘captains’) were nowhere to be seen. Now it is Nineveh’s turn for her young children to be dashed in pieces in the streets, and her prominent citizens bound and led away in chains. They would reap the whirlwind, 3. 10, 17; Isa. 10. 8, and all the nations would rejoice at its ignominious end. Nineveh is a type of the world’s political power, wealth and cruelty. The judgement of our world has yet to come, but come it will, cf. 3. 19; John 3. 36; Acts 17. 31; 1 Thess. 1. 10; 2 Pet. 3. 7-10.
The goodness of the Lord
This book contains encouragement for God’s people of all generations, ‘The Lord is good and doest good’; ‘The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord’. The Lord is faithful to His creation. Since time immemorial He has kept His promise, ‘While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease’, Gen. 8. 22. Paul spoke to the men of Lystra of the God who ‘left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness’, Acts 14. 17. ‘The eyes of all wait upon thee: and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing’, Ps. 145. 15, 16. ‘Who provideth for the raven his food?’ the Lord asked Job, Job 38. 41.
God is good. Hence, when He gave His laws to Israel, He required that they too should do good to others. He stooped to concern Himself with the lot of the fatherless child, the widow, and the stranger. He gave them specific instructions about their treatment of the old, and the deaf and the blind, sometimes laying special emphasis upon their doing these things, because it was His will. This is His commandment. Even concerns about overburdened and straying animals, or birds’ nests, are enshrined in the law. Such things are not too insignificant or trivial so far as God is concerned. We depend upon the goodness of the Lord throughout our lives. For the psalmist David, the Lord was his light, his strength, his confidence and his help.
How utterly different the Lord is from the idol gods of men! Truly, God was good unto Israel, ‘Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee’, Deut. 4. 36, and, ‘What nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them … that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law?’ Deut. 4. 7- 8. ‘O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness’, Ps. 107. 8.
A secure refuge
He is a stronghold – literally a ‘rock’, being an image of firmness, strength, and security. This is a spiritual fastness to which we may flee wherever we are, and in whatever circumstances we are. David often spoke of the Lord in this way when he was having his problems and facing his adversaries, cf. Pss. 27. 5; 59. 16; 62. 6-8; 144. 1, 2. The Lord stands by us, and strengthens us in the day of trouble. He stood with David, and with Paul when he and his fellow passengers were endangered in the sea, and when he was obliged to stand before Nero to answer for his life, Acts 27. 23; 2 Tim. 4. 17.
We are not promised an easy life, free from everyday cares, dangers and difficulties. The Lord was with Joseph, even when he was sold into slavery and put into prison. The Lord reassured King Hezekiah in his ‘day of trouble’, ‘Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard’, Isa. 37. 6. ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safe’, Prov. 18. 10.
The Lord Jesus prayed for His disciples that they should be kept ‘from the evil’ of the world which would hate them, John 17. 15. We will never appeal in vain to the Lord whatever problem we face. He does hear and He will answer. It may be in ways we do not expect, but it will always be for our good and the working out of all God’s sovereign purposes. ‘How unsearchable are God’s judgments, and his ways past finding out’, Rom. 11. 33. But we have to learn, and be ready to trust Him.
The Lord cares for us
The Lord knows us, and this implies He also cares for us. The idol-gods of the nations could not see, hear or speak, ‘Who has formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?’ Isa. 44. 10. They had to be carried, ‘a burden to the weary’. The Lord sees us in all our human experiences. He is concerned about us, whether poor or rich in this world, or whether we occupy an important position or none at all. A remarkable instance of God knowing and caring for an apparently insignificant person is seen when He sent the angel to Hagar, and told her what she should do, ‘And she called the name of the Lord who spoke unto her, Thou God seest me’, Gen. 16. 13. On another occasion when God intervened in her life God heard the voice of her son and opened her eyes to see the needed water. She was just a servant girl to Sarah; she was not in the line of the Lord’s promises to Abram, but He had heard her affliction. The Lord’s tenderness made up for her mistress’ harshness, Gen. 21. 17, 19.
The Lord led Abraham’s servant to the house of his master’s brethren, where the divine purposes concerning Rebekah would be made plain. ‘The Lord God’, he said, ‘led me in the right way to take my master’s brother’s daughter unto his son’, Gen. 24. 48. The mighty God still works out His purposes through men.
The Lord sees and blesses ‘the way of the righteous’, Ps. 1. 6. The Lord Jesus knew Nathaniel, and surprised him by his notice of him. He cares for those who are hungry and thirsty, troubled and distressed. For those who are in captivity and the darkness of despair, and He saves them. He cares for those who have behaved foolishly and are self-afflicted because of it. He cares for those who experience the ups and downs of life, its storms, perils and dangers, He knows and makes all our human needs His concern. In any time of trial we should remember He cares for us, 1 Pet. 5. 7.
Although he was called to preach a heavy message of judgement, Nahum reassures his people, and we too find encouragement and blessing today in his words about the goodness of God, His absolute reliability in every time of need, and His abiding concern and care for us. Those glad tidings of joy that Nahum included in his prophecy are also ours. ‘Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings’, 1. 15. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him’, Ps. 34. 8. Even though our friends may inadvertently confound our hopes like Job’s did, the Lord never will. ‘They trusted in thee and were not confounded’, Ps. 22. 5.
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