The way in which those from Nineveh had mistreated Israel and the surrounding nations would now be redirected upon them. The Assyrians were a bloodthirsty people and that is recorded graphically in history and in writing. There is a relief from Ashurbanipal’s palace picturing the king and queen celebrating victory over the Elamites and close to the table there is a fruit tree with the head of the vanquished king dangling from the branches.[i] Ashurbanipal wrote concerning his campaign against Taharqa of Egypt, “The people who had revolted, I captured. I cut them down with the sword. Their corpses I hung on stakes. I tore off their skins and covered the city wall with them.”[ii]
In the ancient world, it was commonplace to make and break treaties with other nations in favour of gaining an advantage. The Assyrians were particularly adept at lying and deception to obtain their objectives (cf. 2 Kings 18:28-32). They often used that so that they could impose heavy tribute and maintain control over other nations. All of that was about to change and the warning of the chariot invasion in chapter two that could not be averted is revisited in chapter three. Verse 2 emphasises the noise of the whip and the rattling wheels of the chariots and galloping horses. There would be so many slain that they would stumble over the corpses.
Delayed judgement does not mean judgement will not happen
Further judgement is about to fall on Nineveh, but an explanation is given before the poetic justice continues. This helps us to understand that the Lord does not acquit the unrepentant wicked and that the punishment fits the crime. It was one hundred and twenty years between when God told Noah to build an ark until the world was flooded. People may well have concluded that since it had not rained previously and it was a long time in waiting, there was no reason to believe that the world would be flooded. Assyria undoubtedly assumed that they were the empire that could never be usurped. A similar length of time would pass until the Assyrian Empire would collapse in 612BC. It also is a warning for superpowers today not to rely on their own strength but to look to the Lord otherwise they will inevitably experience the same fate in the Lord’s perfect timing.
Nineveh had committed spiritual unfaithfulness and was described as a “mistress of sorcery.” This was corrupting nations on a large scale and also the family unit on a smaller scale. It is no accident that Nineveh would be likened to a prostitute and would be punished according to the means of the day. The Ninevites worshipped Ishtar and their religious rituals sometimes involved acts of prostitution. In addition, Nineveh exerted control over others by using multiple incantations to forecast the future and influence people and they read omens using creatures or through dreams.[iii]
The Lord would expose Nineveh and uncover all their abominations before the nations. Like a shamed prostitute in an ancient civilization no one would bemoan her or comfort her. Williams adds that the ancients stripped a debauched woman, exposed her to the public and covered her with all kinds of filth.[iv]
What we believe will determine how we behave
Akin with Babylon, this harlotry had two overriding aspects namely the religious (Revelation 17) and the political- commercial (Revelation 18).[v] Wiersbe insightfully observes that people become like the god they worship (Psalm 115:8), because what we believe will determine how we behave.[vi]Individuals in their conduct will inevitably resemble the idols they venerate. Humans are hardwired to worship and that which is most important in our lives is ultimately what we will worship. How important it is they we take God at His world and believe the whole of the Bible since our beliefs will direction our actions. How vital it is that we do not merely assimilate with the prevailing culture of our day. We must always consider whether we are trying to be politically or culturally popular or whether we are committed to pleasing God first and foremost since the same temptations and trappings of the world will repackage themselves until the Lord returns.
In a similar way Isaiah proclaimed judgement upon Babylon in Isaiah 47:1-15. They also used a multitude of sorceries and an abundance of enchantments, (Isaiah 47:9) astrologers, stargazers and monthly prognosticators (Isaiah 47:13). I remember the first time I thought about that last reference and recognised that although I was living in a technological age people still consulted horoscopes in the newspaper, television and sought counsel from those trained in those practices. It is painstakingly evident how the Bible is written in the historical context of its era yet its truth speaks to every generation.
The way to live
There is a way that seems right unto man but the end leads to destruction. There are many ways to choose from, but only one way to God and that is through the Lord Jesus, the Messiah who is the way, the truth and the life. Unlike the leaders of empires past and present, His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and He is the first and the last, the aleph and the tav and He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
[i] Merrill F. Unger Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (AMG, 2002; Chattanooga), p1890
[ii] Daniel David Luckenball Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia-Part Two Histories and Mysteries of Man cited in Clive Anderson Opening up Nahum (Day One, 2005; Leominster), p80
[iii] 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), p1502
[iv] George Williams Williams’ Bible Commentary (Kregel, 1994; Grand Rapids), p666
[v] Unger, p1890
[vi] Warren W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary The Complete Old Testament in One Volume (David C. Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p1466