Are you better than Thebes
that sat by the Nile,
with water around her,
her rampart a sea,
and water her wall?
Cush was her strength;
Egypt too, and that without limit;
Put and the Libyans were her helpers.
Yet she became an exile;
she went into captivity;
her infants were dashed in pieces
at the head of every street;
for her honored men lots were cast,
and all her great men were bound in chains.
You also will be drunken;
you will go into hiding;
you will seek a refuge from the enemy.
All your fortresses are like fig trees
with first-ripe figs—
if shaken they fall
into the mouth of the eater.
Behold, your troops
are women in your midst.
The gates of your land
are wide open to your enemies;
fire has devoured your bars.
Draw water for the siege;
strengthen your forts;
go into the clay;
tread the mortar;
take hold of the brick mold!
There will the fire devour you;
the sword will cut you off.
It will devour you like the locust. – Nahum 3:8-15a ESV
Nahum is unrelenting in his description of Nineveh’s fall. You would think that, by now, he had made his point. But he is far from done. He continues to drive home the point that mighty Nineveh would fall, because God had ordained it. He even reminds them that the fall of great nations was not an uncommon thing to happen in that day and age. He uses the great city of Thebes as an example. Thebes had been the capital of upper Egypt and was similar to Nineveh in that it was surrounded by a protective barrier of water. But this powerful and well-protected city fell at the hands of the Sargon and the Assyrians in 663 B.C. And the Prophet Jeremiah predicted its coming destruction by the Babylonians:
The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, said: “Behold, I am bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him. I will deliver them into the hand of those who seek their life, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his officers” – Jeremiah 46:25-26 ESV
If Thebes could fall, so could Nineveh. And while Thebes had plenty of allies to assist her, they would prove helpless to provide her with adequate defense. Her superior forces, formidable defenses and more-than-adequate alliances, would prove to be insufficient. And the same would be true for Nineveh. In a sense, Nahum is warning the Assyrians that it is futile to put their trust in material or earthly things. It was King David who wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7 ESV). Nothing is an adequate defense against the wrath of God. Large armies, impregnable defenses, powerful allies, deep moats, massive walls, and the most state-of-the-art weapons are no match for God.
Nahum goes on to describe in graphic detail the fate of Thebes. The city fell and its people were captured and taken into exile. Innocent babies were murdered in its streets. Its powerful and prominent citizens were sold as slaves. And Nahum warns that the same fate is in store for the people of Nineveh. When the Medes and Babylonians show up and lay siege to the city, the Assyrians will spend their days drinking in order to escape the fear of destruction. They will seek places to hide within the walls of the city. But Nahum compares their fortifications to over-ripe fruit hanging on a tree. One shake of the trunk and the fruit falls to the ground. In other words, Nineveh was ripe for the picking. He compares the mighty Assyrian warriors to weak and defenseless women, incapable of standing up to the forces of the Medes and Babylonians. In the end, their wall and gates would be as if they were non-existent. The enemy troops will swarm into the city as if the gates had been opened wide to receive them.
All of this would have been difficult for the Assyrians to believe. Even the Jews to whom Nahum was writing this oracle would have had a difficult time believing that what he was saying would actually happen. He was describing the fall of the most powerful nation in the world at that time. No one had been able to stand up to the Assyrians. There were no powers comparable to them. The thought of their capital city being defeated by anyone was hard to believe. But Nahum was a prophet of God. He spoke on behalf of God. And what he was saying, while difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to believe, was going to happen. It was God-ordained, not wishful thinking. It was not a matter of if, but when.
What is amazing about what Nahum is predicting regarding Nineveh and the nation of Assyria is not only that it will happen just as he says it will, but that the Assyrian Empire will disappear off the face of the earth. A nation that had existed for more than 2,000 years, will suddenly vanish from the scene. It will become a historical footnote. And the once great city of Nineveh will become a heap of rubble and a lost kingdom. It would not be until 1842 that the remains of the city were discovered. When God decided to destroy Nineveh, He would do so in a no-holds-barred fashion. They would not live to repeat their sins of the past. They would not rise from the ashes to fight another day. Their destruction would be comprehensive and complete.
They would prepare for the siege. They could make more bricks and fortify their defenses. But it would all prove hopeless in the face of God’s wrath. No amount of chariots, soldiers, allies, walls, or military strategies would save them.
Nahum wants his readers to understand that Yahweh is a great and mighty God. He is all-powerful and no one can stand against Him. He wants the people of Judah to fear and reverence God, to show Him the glory and honor He deserves. There is a story in the book of 1 Samuel about the return of the Ark of the Covenant which had been captured in battle by the Philistines. God had punished them by sending a plaque on them as long as they held the ark. So, in fear of God’s continued vengeance, they returned it to the Israelites. And when the men of Beth-shemesh saw it, they made the mistake of looking inside the ark. For doing so, 70 of them were stuck dead. And their response was, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” (1 Samuel 6:20 ESV). The Philistines had not been able to stand before God. The disobedient men of Beth-shemesh had not been able to stand before God. And they had suffered the consequences.
But there is another passage, found in the book of Malachi, that also speaks of man’s inability to stand before God. It tells of a time when God shows up on the scene, but not to judge, but to refine. He will appear to the people of Israel, not as a burning fire of judgment, but a refining fire that will purge them once and for all of their sins.
“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.” – Malachi 3:2-4 NLT
God is a mighty, all-consuming fire. But His fire is not just destructive in nature. It can be purifying and redeeming. God would consume the Assyrians in His wrath. But there is a day coming when He will refine the people of Israel in His mercy and grace. He will keep the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He will fulfill His covenant with His people. And in spite of their sin and rebellion, in spite of their rejection of His Son as their Messiah and Savior, He will redeem a remnant of the people of Israel as His own. When God decides to judge, who can stand before Him? When God determines to redeem, who can stand before Him? He is the sovereign God of the universe. He does as He sees fit. He accomplishes what He desires. And no one can stand before Him. The book of Revelation tells of the coming day of judgment, when God will accomplish His final will concerning those who have refused to bend the knee to Him and acknowledge Him as God.
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” – Revelation 6:14-16 ESV
No one can stand before God. No one can stand up to God and live to tell about it. His will will be done. His kingdom will come. His Son will reign. And His chosen people will be there to reign at His side.
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.