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Nahum 2:1-5 Prophecy and History, the Excellence of Jacob and the Siege of Nineveh

Prophecy and History

David Baron frequently stated that “Prophecy in its predictive aspect was just history written before it happened, even as history, when properly understood is the fulfilment of prophecy.”[i]Nahum 2 illustrates exactly that, since the unfolding of ancient history was precisely foretold in relation to the destruction of Nineveh.

Concerning the events leading up to this siege, John Phillips writes, “Cyaxares the Mede and Nabopolassar of Babylon had signed a mutual assistance pact against Assyria, and the alliance had been strengthened by the marriage of Cyaxares’ daughter to Nabopolassar’s son. The Medes attacked the city from the north and suffered at first heavy casualties. The Ninevites, now doubly sure of themselves, celebrated this initial victory by a round of revelry. Their foe took advantage of this indiscipline to drive the Assyrians back behind their walls and inflicted serious losses on them.”[ii]

The Assyrians would be punished in the way they had instilled fear and mistreated the surrounding nations in their empire but Nineveh is especially in view here. Nabopolassar the father of Nebuchadnezzar, together with Cyaxares the Mede would dash Nineveh to pieces in 612BC. The details of how this siege would play out were foretold one hundred years previously[iii] and the advance of the attacker was so certain that Nahum spoke of it in the present tense.[iv]

The Ninevites are addressed in the opening verse with what initially sounds like a warning but is in fact a mocking and taunting satire. It is as if the events are being relayed in slow motion as the unavoidable disaster is foretold. Man the fort! Watch the road! Fortify your power mightily, are the instructions given to the predator who has now become the prey.

The Lord will Restore the Excellence of Jacob

Verse 2 explains why these events are occurring. Neither history nor prophecy is random since God has plans for Israel and the nations. Assyria was now the rod of the Lord’s anger and the staff in whose hand was His indignation (Isaiah 10:5ff) yet they went too far and the Lord would use the Medes and the Babylonians as His instruments against Assyria. Nabopolossar’s son, Nebuchadnezzar had been described as God’s servant by Jeremiah in 25:9 and Babylon would in turn be judged by God and the Medes were used as His battle axe or war club against them (Jeremiah 51:11, 20, 28).

There is a warning to Nineveh but also a promise in this chapter to Israel in verse two that many interpreters give little or no attention concerning. The Lord will restore the excellence of Jacob like the excellence of Israel. The Assyrians were the ones who took the Northern Kingdom, Israel into captivity. They had ruined their vine branches. This prophecy is still future since Nahum was speaking of the restoration of all the tribes of Israel. This was something which Ezekiel spoke of in 37:15-28 where Judah and Ephraim would be united as one stick.

The Lord refers to “Israel My glory” and the Lord will place salvation in Zion (Isaiah 46:13). We must never lose sight of that fact that when we view this chapter and we must understand it with reference to God’s plans for Israel and the nations. In our time, even in the last century we have seen something marvellous regarding the physical restoration of Israel and the nation re-established. How much greater will the spiritual restoration of the excellence of Israel be when Messiah comes to Jerusalem?

Jacob is mentioned. The Lord would bless him and keep him wherever He went (Genesis 28:15). Jacob met God and He changed His name to Israel. God will keep His promises to Jacob and Israel and there will come a day when all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-26). The Messianic Kingdom is in view here and in contrast to the chaos of the ruining of the vine branches in Nahum’s day as the Prince of Peace will rule and reign in peace in Jerusalem.

Some will say these events occurred long ago and some are still future, so what I am supposed to do today? If the Lord keeps His covenants with Israel, is that not proof and certainty that He will watch over those who are trusting in Him? Israel is the apple of God’s eye and so are all those who put their trust in Him (Zechariah 2:8). Jeremiah speaks of the God that wants us to know and understand Him (Jeremiah 9:23-24). Furthermore we are privileged to have the knowledge of these events and the future, as well as the initial restoration of Israel before our eyes. How careful we must be to avoid idolatry in our hearts and to be diligent in loving the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with our heart, mind, strength and soul.

The Siege of Nineveh

The details of the siege are described precisely as the army of the Medes and Babylonians have red shields and the valiant men are dressed in red. Much has been written about why the colour of the shields and soldiers were red. The details are important in view of specific prophecy. The shields were red either from blood, but also from red-dyed leather over the wooden shields or being covered with copper.[v] Walvoord and Zuck also note that Xenophon wrote about the Persian army arrayed in scarlet.[vi] Unger importantly notes that these items of local colour are corroborated by ancient sculptures.[vii] In contrast, a few commentators note that the Assyrians wore a different colour though Brucker draws our attention to Ezekiel 23:6 in support.[viii]

The spears would be brandished and the chariots would rage in the streets and jostle. Their appearance is described as seemingly like torches, running like lightning. Now our attention is drawn to a scene where the assailant has broken through and the overthrow has begun. This may evoke memories of the famous chariot scene race in Ben Hur when the scythed chariots careered around, like a bolt of lightning causing terrible damage.[ix]Phillips notes that the chariots may have been scythed and if so even the caesars’ legions were reduced to a halt by the scythed chariots of the ancient Britons, hence the chariots created chaos and terror in the streets of Nineveh.[x] Jamieson, Fausset and Brown concur and think the Hebrew should be better translated as “the chariots (shall be furnished) with fire-flashing scythes”.

In verse five we focus on the ineffective efforts of the Assyrians to defend themselves. The nobility stumble instead of walking with a confident stride and hastily rush to the walls where their defences are prepared. In the past the Assyrian king’s nobles and generals would have seemed invincible though now the spirit had gone out of them.[xi]MacArthur cites the Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus who numbered Nineveh’s defence towers at 1500 and reaching a height of 150ft.[xii]The leaders thought their fortress was impregnable but their defences were actually their undoing.[xiii]

This shows the futility of trying to fight against God or to live a life as if He did not exist. God is just and as we learnt in Nahum 1:3 that God will not at all acquit the wicked. God is committed to His purposes and to justice. These events had already been foretold. Assyria was the world empire and they were powerless to prevent the relentless and terrifying siege that resembled what they had done to others previously. Nineveh repented in the time of Jonah but resorted to their old ways. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power and judgement is certain. To avoid the judgement we must all repent of our sins and trust in the Messiah who will come again and restore the excellence of Jacob as the excellence of Israel.

[i] Ronnie McCracken David Baron A Prince in Israel p165

[ii] John Phillips Exploring the Minor Prophets An Expository Commentary (Kregel, 2002; Grand Rapids), p193

[iii] George Williams Williams’ Complete Bible Commentary (Kregel, 1994; Grand Rapids), p665)

[iv] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Theological Seminary Old Testament (Victor, 1989; USA), p1500

[v] Ibid, 1500

[vi] Ibid, 1500 (cited from Xenophon, Cyropaedia 6.4.1)

[vii] Merrill Unger Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (AMG, 2002; Chattanooga), p1886

[viii] James Bruckner The NIV Application Commentary Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Zondervan, 2004; Grand Rapids), p167

[ix] Clive Anderson Opening up Nahum (Day One, 2005; Leominster), p63

[x] Phillips, p192

[xi] Ibid, 193

[xii] MacArthur, p1025

[xiii] Wiersbe, p1465