An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.
The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
he dries up all the rivers;
Bashan and Carmel wither;
the bloom of Lebanon withers.
The mountains quake before him;
the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
the world and all who dwell in it.
Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. – Nahum 1:1-6 ESV
Nahum was an unknown man from an unknown town. Other than what we read about him in the book that bears his name, we know very little about him. He was simply Naham of Elkosh, but the one thing that sets him apart from all his peers is that he was chosen by God to be a prophet. Nahum was most likely a contemporary of Jonah. We have some idea of when he penned this information, because he mentions the fall of Thebes in chapter three, verse 8. Historically, we know that took place in 663 B.C. So his writing had to have taken place after that. Most of this book predicts the fall of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, which occurred in 612 B.C., when Nineveh fell to a combined force of Medes, Babylonians, and Scythians. So, that puts the date of his prophecy and writing somewhere between 663 and 612 B.C. Most scholars put the date closer to 660 and 650 B.C. So, it is likely that Nahum prophesied during the reign of King Manasseh of Judah.
Nahum was a Jew and, while the majority of his message concerned the Assyrians and their capital city of Nineveh, it was intended for the Jewish people. It is interesting to note that Jonah was given a message of judgment for the people of Nineveh, but God spared them when they repented. Jonah was required by God to take that message directly into the heart of enemy territory, within the walls of the city of Nineveh itself. And he did so under great duress, having tried to escape from the task by running from God. And even when he saw that the people of Nineveh repented and God spared them from judgment, he was angry with God, and even accused God of evil. But at virtually the very same time, Nahum was writing an oracle concerning the Assyrians and their great capital city. He also had a word of warning from God concerning them. But his was very descriptive and specific as to exactly what was going to happen to them.
This message, while dealing with the coming fall of Nineveh, was meant to bring comfort to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah. The Assyrians were a powerful force in the region, having already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. The Assyrian troops remained in the area and had conquered many Judean cities and had even besieged Jerusalem, the capital of Judah in 701 B.C. While their efforts to take the city had failed, their presence had left its mark on the people of Judah. They were scared and demoralized. They felt it was only a matter of time before they were the next victims of the all-powerful Assyrians.
It is interesting to note that God had been warning the people of Judah that their destruction would come, and that He would use the Assyrians to accomplish it. He had warned of this very thing to King Ahaz of Judah through the prophet, Isaiah.
“The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!” – Isaiah 7:17 ESV
Unless the people of Judah repented of their rebellion against God, He would send judgment upon them. He would use godless nations like the Assyrians and Babylonians to harass and defeat them. But God also assured the people of Judah that He would bring justice to those same pagan nations.
“What sorrow awaits Assyria, the rod of my anger.
I use it as a club to express my anger.
I am sending Assyria against a godless nation,
against a people with whom I am angry.
Assyria will plunder them,
trampling them like dirt beneath its feet.
But the king of Assyria will not understand that he is my tool;
his mind does not work that way.
His plan is simply to destroy,
to cut down nation after nation.
He will say,
‘Each of my princes will soon be a king.
We destroyed Calno just as we did Carchemish.
Hamath fell before us as Arpad did.
And we destroyed Samaria just as we did Damascus.
Yes, we have finished off many a kingdom
whose gods were greater than those in Jerusalem and Samaria.
So we will defeat Jerusalem and her gods,
just as we destroyed Samaria with hers.’” – Isaiah 10:5-11 NLT
Ultimately, the book of Nahum is a book about the sovereignty of God. He is in control of all things, including all nations and kings. He has the power to lift up and tear down. He can make a nation great, like He had done for Judah, and He can bring a nation to its knees. As Daniel wrote:
…he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT
While God had sovereignly used Assyria to punish the sins of Israel, He would also hold them accountable for their own sins and for their pride and arrogance. The Assyrians would not acknowledge God as the source of their strength or power. They would never acknowledge that they were instruments in His hands. Instead, they would see themselves as all-powerful and a force to be reckoned in the world of their day. They were arrogant and self-assured, believing themselves to be invincible. But God had other plans for the nation of Assyrian. The prophet, Zephaniah would make those plans perfectly clear:
And the Lord will strike the lands of the north with his fist,
destroying the land of Assyria.
He will make its great capital, Nineveh, a desolate wasteland,
parched like a desert.
The proud city will become a pasture for flocks and herds,
and all sorts of wild animals will settle there.
The desert owl and screech owl will roost on its ruined columns,
their calls echoing through the gaping windows.
Rubble will block all the doorways,
and the cedar paneling will be exposed to the weather.
This is the boisterous city,
once so secure.
“I am the greatest!” it boasted.
“No other city can compare with me!”
But now, look how it has become an utter ruin,
a haven for wild animals.
Everyone passing by will laugh in derision
and shake a defiant fist. – Zephaniah 2:13-15 NLT
The Assyrians were mighty warriors. And their military exploits were well-known and well-chronicled. They were brutal in battle and unmerciful to all those they conquered. Nahum graphically describes this powerful and fearful nation:
She is crammed with wealth
and is never without victims.
Hear the crack of whips,
the rumble of wheels!
Horses’ hooves pound,
and chariots clatter wildly.
See the flashing swords and glittering spears
as the charioteers charge past!
There are countless casualties,
heaps of bodies—
so many bodies that
people stumble over them. – Nahum 3:1-3 NLT
They had left a wake of destruction in their path. They had swept through that region of the world, reeking havoc and decimating city after city. But Nahum also assures the people of Judah that God is also a great power.
The Lord is a jealous God,
filled with vengeance and rage.
He takes revenge on all who oppose him
and continues to rage against his enemies! – Nahum 1:2 NLT
He too, is a force to be reckoned with. He may be slow to get angry, but that does not mean His anger will go unchecked forever. And He has the power to back up His anger with action. He will ultimately deal with the guilty and justly mete out exactly what they deserve.
The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great,
and he never lets the guilty go unpunished.
He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm.
The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet. – Nahum 1:3 NLT
God could and did use nations to accomplish His divine will. He had used Assyria to conquer Israel. He would eventually use Babylon to conquer Judah. But God was not dependent upon these nations. He had all of creation at His disposal. He could wipe out entire armies with a word. He could use the forces of nature to defeat the forces of Assyrian or any other nation.
At his command the oceans dry up,
and the rivers disappear.
The lush pastures of Bashan and Carmel fade,
and the green forests of Lebanon wither. – Nahum 1:4 NLT
Nahum is about to utter an oracle against Nineveh and the nation of Assyria. And he reminds the people of Judah that their God is great. He is all-powerful. He stands in judgment over all nations, and is equipped to enact justice against any and all, at any time.
Who can stand before his fierce anger?
Who can survive his burning fury?
His rage blazes forth like fire,
and the mountains crumble to dust in his presence. – Nahum 1:6 NLT
The news of the day was filled with stories of the atrocities being committed by the Assyrians. Conversations at the water wells of Judah were all about what was going on in the surrounding regions. News of destruction and devastation was everywhere. The people had begun to fear the Assyrians. But Nahum wanted them to know that they need not fear their enemies. Their God was still in control. It was He they should fear. It was His power they should be talking about. It was His sovereignty they should be concerned with.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.