“Where is the dwelling of the lions, And the feeding place of the young lions,
Where the lion walked, the lioness and lion’s cub, And no one made them afraid?
The lion tore in pieces enough for his cubs, Killed for his lionesses, Filled his caves with prey, And his dens with flesh.“Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts, “I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more.” (Nahum 2:11-13)
To gain insight concerning this series of rhetorical questions about the whereabouts of the lions and how they would prey on their enemies, it is necessary to know something about the Assyrian relationship with lions. Other ancient cultures took great interest in lions and portrayed them as lion or lioness human figures such as Sekhmet the Egyptian goddess and the Babylonians often depicted lions linking them with royalty. The Assyrians went even further and were obsessed with lions!
The Assyrians, Ashurbanipal and the Lions
Some of the ancient Assyrian sculptures found in today’s museums, show lions with wings and human heads and distinctive Assyrian beards. In former times, Sennacherib had boasted, “Like a lion I raged.”[i] In the British Museum there are a couple of narrow galleries showing the lion hunts of Ashurbanipal often with arrows embedded into them. One shows a male lion standing on two legs and King Ashurbanipal with his sword plunged through him. The depictions of the king make him appear taller than his contemporaries and even than the lion standing on his hind legs who in reality would have towered over him like a giant. Lions are often linked with strength, power, invincibility, royalty and especially kingship. By lionising themselves and killing lions, the Assyrians sought to impress others concerning their might.
Ashurbanipal imported lions for his royal hunts and Ishtar, goddess of sexuality and war was also represented with lion imagery.[ii] One inscription reads, “I am Ashurbanipal, to whom Assur and Belit have given sublime powers. On the lions I have killed I have set the grim bow of Ishtar, mistress of battle, I have offered a sacrifice and poured wine over them.”[iii]In the British Museum publication, “Assyrian Sculpture,” a full chapter is given to the hunts of Ashurbanipal. Julian Reade notes that “though lions are to be killed, only royalty is allowed to do the killing.”[iv]
Clive Anderson writes that, “The ritual hunt took place at the New Year festival when the king acted out a number of symbolic roles, including the killing of lions outside the walls of Nineveh. This was a public performance to show that the king was able to protect his subjects from evil. Wall reliefs found in the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh show eighteen lions being released in a stacked out area, because Nineveh had eighteen main gates and the king was going to show in the slaughter of those lions he was powerful enough to protect the city from evil invaders and also to maintain the safety of the approach roads.” [v]Hence this prophecy is directed against Ashurbanipal and his warriors.
In summary, the King of Assyria and his young lions (warriors), would no longer prey on their subjects. Their den at the royal palace and immediate surroundings in Nineveh would be devastated. Their chariots would be burnt, the soldiers killed, they would become the prey rather than the predator and their arrogant, vitriolic messengers would be heard no more. The voice of the Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:17-35) and others, who boasted so defiantly against King Hezekiah and the Lord would merely be a voice from the past.
Learn from History and Turn to the Lord
The Lord knows the end from the beginning and history is His story, written in advance. Egypt was once the world empire but will never again exalt itself above the nations (Ezekiel 29:15). Assyria was conquered by the Medes and Babylonians. Yet mercifully, the Lord has a future plan for Egypt, Assyria and Israel (Isaiah 19:18-25).
Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome rose and fell as foretold by Daniel in chapter two and seven. John Philipps notes a similarity between Nahum 2:13 and Ezekiel 38:3 and 39:1 where God would be against Gog and equates Russia with the Assyria of our day determined to rule the world and opposed to both the Lord and His chosen people and in so doing is invoking wrath.[vi] Sadly in the United Kingdom we have departed far from our Judeo-Christian morals and have embraced Paganism, Atheism and syncretised religions and are tolerant of everything and anything.
But there is hope since the Lord has begun to restore the excellence of Israel. These mighty Gentile powers will pale into insignificance compared with the coming Messianic Kingdom when Messiah reigns in Jerusalem and the Prince of Peace brings peace on earth. The Ninevites repented in Jonah’s day so turn to the Lord and trust in Him whilst you can. Pharaoh hardened his heart further and what good came of that? Sennacherib boasted against Hezekiah and his sons killed him and Ashurbanipal had his comeuppance. Belshazzar was too late since the writing was on the wall. Do not try to fight against God or leave it too late! Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and “happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).
[i] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by the Dallas Seminary Faculty Old Testament (Victor, 1989; USA), p1501
[ii] James Bruckner The NIV Application Commentary Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Zondervan, 2004; Grand Rapids), p170
[iii] Sara Evans When the Last Lion Roars (Bloomsbury, 2019; London), p98
[iv] Julian Reade Assyrian Sculpture (The British Museum Press, London), p72
[v] Clive Anderson Opening Up Nahum (Day One, 2005; Leominster), p75
[vi] John Phillips The John Phillips Commentary Series Exploring the Minor Prophets (Kregel, 2002; Grand Rapids), p194