Nahum: The Ultimate in Fire and Brimstone

Posted on July 2, 2018

8


By David Ettinger

Note: This series was published in the magazine Zion’s Fire a few years back. I offer it here for anyone interested. I plan to run one article a day for 13 days. Being magazine articles, obviously each post will be longer than my usual blog length.


Name of Book:
Nahum 

Author: The prophet Nahum 

Meaning of Author’s Name: “Consolation” or “Comfort” 

When Written: Between 663-613 B.C., most likely between 660 and 655 B.C. 

Themes

  • Judgment upon Nineveh
  • The vengeance of the Lord
  • The toppling of the wicked

Political Background
book of nahum,There are enough clues in the text to accurately indicate when Nahum was written. Verse 3:8 tells us about the fall of the Egyptian city of Thebes (“No Amon” in the New King James Version). This occurred in 663 B.C., therefore giving us the earliest possible starting point of Nahum. We also know that the Assyrian city of Nineveh fell in 612 B.C., and that this event was being looked ahead to. Therefore, 613 B.C. is the latest year in which Nahum could have been penned. However, the text indicates that Assyria was still a menacing empire and had not begun its descent. Therefore, a year of 660 to 655 B.C. would be accurate. This would put us in the wicked reign of Judean King Manasseh and the sin he wrought upon Jerusalem and Judah. By this time, the Northern Kingdom had already been long exiled by Assyria in 722 B.C.

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, one of the most cruel, vile, powerful, and brutal dynasties that ever existed. Just how inhumane were the Assyrians? Here are a few graphic examples – in their own words. (The vivid descriptions are extremely disturbing, but are significant for understanding the Book of Nahum.)

  • King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.): “I stormed the mountain peaks and took them. In the midst of the mighty mountain I slaughtered them; with their blood I dyed their mountain red like wool … The heads of their warriors I cut off, and I formed them into a pillar over and against their city; their young men and their maidens I burned alive in the fire” (Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1:148).
  • King Ashurnasirpal again, this time telling of a captured enemy leader: “I flayed [him], his skin I spread upon the wall of the city …” (ibid, 1:146).
  • King Sennacherib (705-681): “I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives [as one cuts] a string. Like the many waters of a storm I made [the contents of] their gullets and entrails run down upon the wide earth … Their hands I cut off” (ibid, 2:127).
  • King Shalamaneser II (859-824 B.C.): “A pyramid of heads I reared in front of his city. Their youths and their maidens I burnt up in the flames” (ibid, 1:213).

The barbarism executed upon their victims was wretched as the Assyrians cut off their hands, gouged out their eyes, and left them to die in utter agony. Nobles were skinned alive and “common” prisoners of war were thrust through the stomachs with stakes.

Though the above accounts are disconcerting, there is an important purpose for listing them. As you read the book of Nahum and of God’s severe punishment upon the Ninevites, keep these accounts in mind as justification for the Lord’s retribution.                                                                                                  

Key Verses

  • page of nahumNahum 1:3: “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet.”
  • Nahum 1:7: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him”

References in the New Testament: None 

Synopsis
Have you ever heard the expression, “Fire and brimstone”? Well, the book of Nahum is the epitome of it.

The first verse immediately introduces us to the book’s topic: “The burden against Nineveh.” The prophet Nahum then exposes his readers to the opening salvos of the book, a rousing introduction to the God of Israel, the One who will inflict the brutal (and much warranted) judgment upon the detestably wicked heathens. Nahum writes: “God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; the Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (vv. 2-3). Harsh words, but we must remember that though sensitivities today would have us view God solely as a God of love and compassion –which He surely is – He is also a holy and righteous God, a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). As such, He cannot allow evil to reign unchecked and must eventually take vengeance upon it, punishing wickedness and stamping out murderous iniquity.

The Creator of Heaven and Earth is not to be trifled with, as Nahum tells us: “Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him” (v. 6). Yet, in the midst of the Lord’s burning anger, Nahum reminds us that our God is “slow to anger and great in power” (v. 3), and “is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him” (v. 7). But, then again, “with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place, and darkness will pursue His enemies” (v. 8). God operates at both ends of the spectrum in perfect harmony.

God is slow to anger and a stronghold for those who know Him, but when it comes to unremitting cruelty, vileness, and merciless savagery, the Lord’s holiness dictates that He must mete out absolute judgment. Yet, in the midst of dispensing wrath, the Lord displays His tenderness and compassion for Israel. Though Nineveh will be dealt with harshly, Israel, on the other hand, will be protected from destruction and ultimately restored. Nahum writes, “Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more; for now I will break off his [Nineveh’s] yoke from you, and burst your bonds apart” (vv. 12-13).

After this scintillating initiation into the realm of God’s mighty wrath, Nahum begins chapter 2 by getting to the proverbial “nitty-gritty,” the actual verdict pronounced upon Nineveh. 

lightning stormIn preparation for what is to come, the Lord instructs the profane pagans to, “Man the fort! Watch the road! Strengthen your flanks! Fortify your power mightily” (v. 1). What is the reason for this defensive posture the Ninevites are to assume? The answer is that a terrifying foreign force is about to invade Nineveh and wreak havoc upon it. The fearless army is described this way: “The shields of his mighty men are made red [with the blood of their victims], the valiant men are in scarlet. The chariots come with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the spears are brandished” (v. 4).

The phrase “the day of his preparation” has two meanings. First, it refers to the preparedness of the coalition of nations launching the attack on Nineveh. Second, and much more important, this day of “preparation” is one the Lord has literally “prepared.” Perhaps Nineveh believed it could live forever as the ruthless warlords of the earth, but the God of Israel will have none of it. He always intended to snuff out Nineveh’s arrogance, and now that day has arrived. Nahum describes several elements of Nineveh’s destruction: “… his nobles; they stumble in their walk” (v. 5); “the palace is dissolved” (v. 6); “she shall be led away captive” (v. 7).

To accomplish this, the Lord orders the fighting force He has assembled to destroy Nineveh: “Take spoil of silver! Take spoil of gold! There is no end of treasure, or wealth of every desirable prize” (v. 9). Nineveh has become wealthy by pillaging the nations it had conquered. Now, in a literal reversal of fortunes, Nineveh is itself to be pillaged.

Just how bad will the plundering of Nineveh be? As bad as it gets: “She is empty, desolate, and waste! The heart melts, and the knees shake; much pain is in every side, and all their faces are drained of color” (v. 10).

Whereas chapter 2 depicts what will happen to Nineveh, chapter 3 tells us why.

Verse 1 says: “Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs.” A vivid example is this horrific account of a captured leader by Assyrian King Ashurbanipal, who reigned from 669 to 626: “I pierced his chin with my keen hand dagger. Through his jaw … I passed a rope, put a dog chain upon him and made him occupy … a kennel” (Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylon, 2:310).

Following the “why” of verse 1, Nahum continues to describe the absolute carnage being unleashed upon Nineveh, which is an exact description of the kind of carnage Nineveh has wrought upon its victims: “The noise of a whip and the noise of rattling wheels, of galloping horses, of clattering chariots! Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear. There is a multitude of slain, a great number of bodies, countless corpses.” The city is being overrun, overwhelmed, and overcome. The battle is one-sided, and Ninevite corpses lie everywhere, mirroring the profusion of corpses Nineveh always left behind when it conquered a city.

And just in case the inhabitants of Nineveh don’t understand why this is happening, God explains it: “‘Behold, I am against you,’ says the Lord of hosts” (v. 5). Whenever the Lord makes this particular announcement, nothing good ever follows, and this holds true here.

anceint ninevehWhat follows is the aftermath of Nineveh’s violent and bloody fall: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle. It shall come to pass that all who look upon you will flee from you, and say, ‘Nineveh is laid waste! Who will bemoan her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?” (vv. 6-7). Of course, there will be no comforters for Nineveh; no one will mourn for this wicked empire when it is turned into a wretched heap of rocks, ashes, and corpses. There will be no mourning over Nineveh as victims living in nations conquered by Assyria will neither lament nor bemoan Nineveh’s fall.

In verses 12 through 17, Nahum describes the annihilation of Nineveh’s military: “All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs: if they are shaken, they fall into the mouth of the eater” (v. 12); “surely, your people in your midst are women! The gates of your land are wide open for your enemies; fire shall devour the bars of your gates” (v. 13); “your commanders … flee away, and the place where they are is not known” (v. 17).

Earlier in history, Jonah preached to Nineveh, the people repented, and were given a second chance. This time, however, there will be no second chance: “Your injury has no healing, your wound is severe” (v. 19).

When the day of Nineveh’s fall comes, not only will it have no mourners, but, quite the contrary, “All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you” (v. 19). There will be rejoicing over the demise of Nineveh. But, you may be wondering, isn’t this overkill? Isn’t it wrong to gloat over an enemy’s downfall, even if that enemy is oppressively evil? 

The answer is “not in this case.” Multitudes have suffered horrifically at the hands of this satanic horde. Nahum expresses this in the final sentence of his book: “For upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually?” (v. 19). 

Aftermath

  • Nineveh was destroyed in August 612 B.C. by a coalition of Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians.
  • The ruins of Nineveh still stand and are adjacent to the modern city of Mosul in Northern Iraq.

Significance for God’s People Today

  • God punishes sin, particularly ongoing, persistent sin. He judges cruelty harshly. God is righteous and holy and must discipline His children and punish the wicked for wrongdoing. Guard against sin in your life, and when you do sin, come to God in humble repentance.

Implications for the World Today

  • The West is quickly descending into the depths of moral depravity because of unbelief. As God judged the Ninevites, so the West will eventually be judged. God will not be ignored; America must repent and give glory to her Creator.
  • no to GodAll of the powerful kingdoms and nations on earth have fallen. Many of today’s Western nations, most prominently America, have been among the most powerful the world has ever known, but growing apostasy is weakening nations as God is withdrawing from them, thereby leaving them to their own devices. Financial, military, and governmental decisions that are initiated by leaders apart from the directives and blessings of God can only result in failure and ultimate destruction.

Of Note

  • Nahum’s name appears just once in the Bible (1:1).
  • Scholars cannot identify the location of Nahum’s hometown of Elkosh (1:1).
  • Nineveh was easily overtaken when a tributary of the Tigris, the Khosr River – which ran through the city – overflowed its banks. This is alluded to in Nahum 1:8, 2:6, 8.
  • Nineveh fell about 150 years after the preaching of Jonah.

Up Next: “Habakkuk: Why, Oh Why, Lord?”

Part 1: “Introduction: The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets”

Part 2: “Hosea: Adultery, Judgment, and God’s Grace”

Part 3: “Joel: Behold the Day of the Lord”

Part 4: “Amos: A Corrupt People and a God of Fury”

Part 5: “Obadiah: Pride and Arrogance Brought Low”

Part 6: “Jonah: Running From God”

Part 7: “Micah: He Has Shown You, O Man”