The ancient site of Nineveh has been rediscovered through excavations in the last couple of hundred years but Thebes is visited by many tourists regularly. A joint venture between America and Iraq is currently being undertaken in excavating ancient Nineveh closely adjacent to Mosul, Northern Iraq. Thebes was the greatest of the ancient Egyptian cities and the Jewish Encylopedia notes that the most famous pharaohs of Egypt, Tuthmosis III and Rameses II built magnificent structures which comprise the main ruins of Karnak and Luxor.[i]
Comparing Nineveh with Thebes
At Thebes, there are many fascinating sites of biblical archaeological interest including the temple of Queen Hatshepsut who was almost certainly the Egyptian princess who took compassion on Moses. Nineveh is compared with Thebes because she resembled Thebes. The city is located on both banks of the Nile just as London and Paris extend over the banks of the River Thames and River Seine.[ii] The River Nile flowed through the plain and the city which occupied most of the river valley was approximately ten miles in breadth. Thebes was also a municipal centre of false gods, many of which resembled animals and it was the Assyrians who [iii]captured the city[iv]. It fell to Ashurbanipal in 663BC.
Thebes is the Greek name of the city,[v] “No-Amon” which refers to “the city (of the god) Amun”.[vi]The god Amun in the form of a ram with Pharaoh Taharqa can be seen in Room 4 in the British Museum and this is the same Pharaoh who was the broken reed of Hezekiah’s trust in 2 Kings 19:9 and Isaiah 36:6.[vii]Nineveh was famous for its gates and so was Thebes. Thebes was renowned in Homer’s era for its hundred gates.[viii]Amongst the famous ruins of the temples of Luxor and Karnak and on one of the colonnades of the grand hall of the temple of Luxor, is a representation of the expedition of Shishak against Jerusalem under Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25; 2 Chronicles 12:2-9).[ix]Interestingly, Shishak is the first individual mentioned on the Biblical Archaeological Review’s 53 People in the Bible confirmed archaeologically.[x]
Nahum mentions that Put and Lubim were Thebes’ allies. It is difficult to be definitive here but these are territories associated with Libya and may also have included Somalia.[xi]Nineveh managed to exact tribute from surrounding nations but if they were attacked, who would come to their aid? The destruction of Thebes was an excellent comparison and a warning that could not be averted. Nineveh was guilty of the same sins as Thebes and in addition to excessive brutality and cruelty, their demise was foretold before it happened. Their people would share the same punishment.
As Nineveh fell, verse eleven describes the scene as if they were drunk, hidden and seeking refuge from the enemy. Radak equates this with a cup of God’s wrath which is a common Scriptural metaphor.[xii] When someone is drunk, they are bereft of sense and direction and whilst under attack would desperately seek somewhere to hide.[xiii]Additionally when they were literally intoxicated this would only contribute to their inability to defend themselves.[xiv]The most remarkable part of this verse is as Unger observes that Nineveh would be “hidden” since the arrogant city vanished out of sight until the nineteenth century.
Drunk, Hidden and Seeking Refuge
The metaphors in verse 12 and 13 present a vivid scene concerning the speed and ease at which the destruction of Nineveh occurred. We sometimes use the expression, “ripe for the picking” meaning that something is easy to obtain and if someone just turns up they will be able to have what they want because the opportunity is presenting itself on a plate. The strongholds are here described as ripened figs which if shaken, will simply fall into the mouth of the eater. Their people are described as women, the gates are wide open and fire would devour the bars of the gates. They are powerless and not able to put up a defence against their attackers, the gates which used to protect and secure them are now flung open and fire would devour their gates.
A Hope and a Promise for Egypt, Assyria and Israel
Following hundreds of years of hidden silence for Nineveh, is there any hope for the future? Is there any hope for Thebes beyond a fascinating tourist site and a repository of ancient biblical history? Is there hope for Egypt, Assyria or Israel? Keen students of Bible history will notice the miracle of the re-establishment of Israel in 1948 in accordance with specific biblical prophecy and recognise that God has a plan not only for Israel but also for the nations. Nahum pronounced judgement on Nineveh but also comfort for Judah. There was a gospel promise in Nahum 1:15. The Lord would restore the excellence of Jacob, like the excellence of Israel since the Assyrians had ruined the vine branches. But there is a certain hope that was foretold in Isaiah’s day.
When Messiah comes and establishes His kingdom things will be remarkably different for Egypt, Assyria and Israel. In Isaiah 19:18-25 we discover that the Egyptians will know the Lord and will make sacrifice and offering to Him. There will be a highway between Egypt and Assyria and they will serve together. Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria and a blessing in the midst of the land. The Lord of hosts will bless them and say, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance” (Isaiah 19:25).
When I visited Israel one of the most notable things I witnessed was to see Jewish and Arab people worshipping together and unified through Jesus the Messiah. This is merely a foretaste of the Messianic Kingdom when the Prince of Peace brings real peace. Biblical prophecy is history written in advance and history is merely the fulfilment of prophecy. The idea of different ways to God through the respective “Abrahamic Faiths” is self-contradictory. There is only one way to God and that is through the Son of Abraham, the Jewish Messiah whose kingdom shall outlast the years and whose dominion shall endure forever.
[i] Executive Committee of the Editorial Board J. Frederick McCurdy No-Amon https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11569-no-amon
[ii] Merrill Unger Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Moody Press, 1985, Chicago), p1087
[iii] John Philipps The John Phillips Commentary Series Exploring the Minor Prophets An Expository Commentary (Kregel, 2002; Grand Rapids), p196
[iv] Ibid, 196
[v] Merrill Unger, p1087
[vi] The Illustrated Bible Dictionary Part 3 (IVP, 1994; Leicester), p1553
[vii] Brian Edwards & Clive Anderson Through the British Museum with the Bible (Day One, 2004; Leominster), p77
[viii] (Iliad, 9.381), cited in Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Zondervan, 1961; Grand Rapids), p825
[ix] Ibid, p826
[xi] William MacDonald Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1995; Nashville), p1140
[xii] The Stone Edition Tanakh The Torah/Prophets/Writings The Twenty Four Books of the Bible Newly Translated and Annotated (Mesorah, 2000; New York), p1388
[xiii] John F.Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures Old Testament by Dallas Theological Faculty (Victor, 1989; USA), p1503
[xiv] Ibid, p1503