The book of Nahum is a proclamation of judgement towards Nineveh and a message of comfort towards Judah. The prophecy could be considered a sequel to Jonah just over one hundred years later. Josephus mentions some of the events in the second chapter and states they happened one hundred and fifteen years later.[i]
Little is known concerning Nahum although his name means “comfort” or “consolation” and that is derived from a shortening of Nehemiah.[ii] As the prophet’s name suggests, it was a much- needed communication of comfort to Judah although a terrifying pronouncement of judgement upon Nineveh who had resorted to their old ways prior to the preaching of Jonah. The Lord is slow to anger yet reserves wrath for his enemies and Nineveh would be punished.
The Lord raises nations and pulls them down (Jeremiah 1:10). He also uses leaders, nations and empires as His chastening agents (Isaiah 10:5-6; Jeremiah 25:8-9). Egyptian was once a world empire yet they were defeated by the Assyrians. The Assyrians ruled for a while yet they were superseded by a coalition at the time of Medes and Babylonians although the Babylonians became the dominant world power.
These events should not be considered as happenings from an entirely different era and therefore not relevant to the present. The Lord has a plan for Egypt, Assyria and Israel still future (cf. Isaiah 19:18-25). The Assyrians were idolatrous, arrogant, violent and exceptionally cruel people. Dictators, rulers and oppressors today will be brought down in the Lord’s timing and purposes and one day every knee will bow to the Lord and confess and oath unto Him (Isaiah 45:23; cf. Philippians 2:10-11).
Nineveh was an infamous ancient city described in Jonah as a three- day journey (Jonah 3:3). It is located in Northern Iraq on the eastern bank of the River Tigris opposite Mosul. In 1985, Merrill Unger described it as comparable in complexity with the city of New York.[iii]However that could have included a journey for one day, business another day and a return journey of another day.
The Mosul Museum is the second most important museum in Iraq though sadly it was looted in 2003. There is a restorative project underway including the Louvre, the Smithsonian Institute, the Iraqi Board of Antiquities and of course the Mosul Museum themselves.[iv]The excavation site for Nineveh is not surprisingly, enormous and many artefacts can be seen today in London, Paris, the United States and Iraq. Also, the Iraq Museum in Baghdad hosts many related artefacts. Nineveh was for many years the capital of the Assyrian Empire and was more war-like than cultured Babylon.
The timing of writing has been debated though it can be deduced from the text. Nineveh collapsed in 612BC and No Amon (Thebes) (Nahum 3:8) was plundered in 663BC so this places it during the reigns of Manasseh (695-642BC) and Josiah (640-609BC). Nahum would therefore have been a contemporary of Jeremiah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. In connection with that Zephaniah pronounces similar judgement upon Assyria and Nineveh (Zephaniah 2:13ff.).
We cannot be absolutely certain where Nahum lived. Some say Alqosh (Northern Iraq) suggesting that he was taken by the Assyrians along with the ten tribes in 722BC. Others say “Elkosh” is a village in Galilee or possibly Capernaum meaning “village of Nahum.” Some say he was from Judah.
Nonetheless the most important matter is his message over and above the finer details concerning the messenger.
This burden which can be considered an oracle and a prophecy is against Nineveh, though how often do we consider the jealousy, vengeance of wrath of God and how seldom is it preached? Psalm 5:5 warns us “The boastful shall not stand in your sight; you hate all workers of iniquity.” Psalm 7:11 reminds us “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.”
Nahum 1:2 states that God is jealous and this is similar to what we read in Exodus 20:5. We must give this thought and have in view who the Lord is. God is jealous but not envious. He has every right to be jealous for His glory and rightly deserves our worship. Jealousy here relates to what someone has and protecting it. Envy is an entirely different matter. To be envious is to desire what others have and that does not belong to you and desiring to possess it. The Lord has no need to envious!
The Lord avenges and is furious, takes vengeance upon His adversaries and reserves wrath for His enemies. We must bear in mind that the Lord is perfect in all His attributes and that includes perfect love, righteousness and justice. This is terrifying for the Lord’s adversaries but of immense comfort to His children. Vengeance belongs to the Lord and the Judge of the whole earth will do right. Hence it is a message of wrath for Nineveh and a message of comfort for Judah. For those that do not know God, the message is repent and believe in Him. Often people talk about “giving your heart to God” or “accepting Him” but the scriptures speak with more clarity, urgency and certainty of repentance and faith.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power and will not at all acquit the wicked. Remember that Jonah was disappointed that Nineveh was spared because she repented. They used to impale people on spears as a warning to others and were notably cruel people. They went out of their way to brutalise, humiliate and inflict pain on their victims. They were exceedingly arrogant and boasted against King Hezekiah and his God. They were violent people. They persistently worshipped false gods and would be judged for those things. Just over a hundred years had elapsed since the preaching of Jonah and the repentance of that generation and they were back in former times. We are at a crisis level of immorality and falsehood in our country and we will reap what we sow.
So often people emphasise the love of God as if that is His only attribute! Just because the Lord is slow to anger that by no means reduces His ability to bring wrath upon the unrepentant. Nahum speaks of the Lord’s control of the elements. He parted the Red Sea and the Egyptian soldiers perished yet the children of Israel were delivered. Our Lord calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Bashan, Carmel and Lebanon were known for being fertile and productive yet the Lord could make them wither. Ancient cultures were often dependent upon good weather and some societies today still are. The false gods worshipped were often believed to be able to harness the weather such as the Baals and the Ashtoreths. We must be clear that God is glorified in His wrath as well as His mercy and in His righteous anger as well as His grace.
Previously in Isaiah 36:18-19, the Rabshakeh, speaking on behalf of Sennacherib boasted rhetorically against the Lord. Judgement would follow and we see the devastating effect of that in Nahum 1:8-14. Some act as if God does not exist but that is foolish and tantamount to behaving as if there were no such thing as gravity. God created and sustains His universe and one day we will give an account of our lives before Him. If we jump off a cliff we will plummet to our destruction and the unbeliever needs to do more than acknowledge His existence but must turn to Him and trust in Him.
The Blessed Hope
But first, there is a wonderful encouragement in Nahum 1:7. “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.” This verse seems to jump out of the page and is a verse for the believer to go to for encouragement when it seems that the wicked are allowed to prosper. Our Lord is a stronghold in the day of trouble and Jeremiah spoke along similar lines whilst Babylon seemed all powerful and the situation was bleak (Jeremiah 33:10-11). The Lord knows those who are His. Paul encouraged Timothy quoting those words (2 Timothy 2:19). If Paul used that verse to encourage Timothy how much more can believers in Messiah be encouraged too?
[i] The New Complete Works of Josephus Translated by William Whiston Commentary by Paul l. Maier (Kregel, 1999; Grand Rapids), Jewish Antiquities Book 9, Chapter 11:3
[ii] The Holy Bible New King James Version (Thomas Nelson, 1988; Nashville), p820
[iii] Merrill F. Unger Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Moody Press, 1985; Chicago), p795-796