Nahum prophesies to the Ninevites 100-150 years after Jonah’s reluctant ministry, which resulted in the greatest “revival” in Old Testament record.
Nineveh is an interesting chapter because it was a serious capital. It was surrounded by massive 100-foot walls, 200 towers set around the wall for defense, 150-foot wide, 60-foot deep moat surrounded this incredible fortress. The city was massive. Its grandeur couldn’t rival Jerusalem’s at its zenith.
Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message in 760BC. However, In less than 40 years (by 722BC) they had regressed completely back to their old ways. Sargon II destroyed Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel at that time. 10 tribes were dispersed in that area, and under Sennacherib the Assyrians nearly captured Jerusalem, then under King Hezekiah’s reign, in 701 BC.
By the time of Nahum, circa 660BC, Assyria was at the height of its power and wealth under Ashurbanipal, whose reign from 669-633BC exceeded all other Assyrian kings. Nineveh was his capital and fortress, but Ashurbanipal’s sons were no match for the future their father had established and their power failed.
Nahum is God’s voice of an overflowing flood (Nahum 1:8), which literally came true when the Tigris overflowed and destroyed part of Nineveh’s wall. Babylonians took advantage of the opportunity, breached the wall through the destroyed sections and invaded, plundered, burned, and destroyed the city.
Nahum 3:11 prophesied that Nineveh would “be hidden” and indeed it was until the site was discovered in 1842.
Nahum stated that God was coming not with a call to repentance, but with the sword of judgment. While Jonah brought God’s warning of judgment unless they repented, Nahum brings God’s vice of judgment in cold terms, a pronouncement of death.
A compelling chiasm in the literature:
A Assyrian king taunted/Judah urged to celebrate (1:2- 15)
––B Dramatic call to alarm (2:1-10)
––––C Taunt (2:11-12)
––––––D Announcement of judgment (2:13)
––––––––E Woe oracle (3:1-4)
––––––D’ Announcement of judgment (3:5-7))
––––C’ Taunt (3:8-13)
––B’ Dramatic call to alarm (3:14-17)
A’ Assyrian king taunted as others celebrate (3:18-19)(1.)
- As Dr. Constable remarks, Nahum is “a story of utter and irrevocable destruction.” Nahum was tasked to explain that God would destroy the Assyrian capital, along with its evil, immoral, and proud ways. (2.)
- Nahum is unambiguous. God is indeed a God of wrath.
Each prophet had a primary message:
- Isaiah saw God’s holiness.
- Jeremiah saw God’s judgment.
- Ezekiel saw God’s glory.
- Micah saw God’s leadership.
- Nahum saw God’s wrath.
Nahum’s prophecy begins with heavy terms of anger (well translated, “furious“), avenging, and wrath; hardly popular in our modern sensibilities and ill-defined notions from a “Love Wins” Christian nomenclature.
A holy God who is loving is also a God who loves justice. Justice is a two-edged sword. If you’re going to administer justice you must cut the offender to give mercy to the offended. It is a good thing that this judgment and justice rests with God and not with human agency.
Our human anger rarely can be compared to God’s anger.
God’s anger is not quelled by revenge but retribution; a reckoning of bringing justice to those who deserve punishment.
Wrath literally means to keep his anger (Nahum 1:2). This then suggests that, unlike man who cannot always control his anger, God the sovereign and holy judge of all mankind reserves His anger to be dispensed at the proper time, in the proper way, against those who deserve it.
4 Hebrew terms to define the anger of God are offered and tied tightly to the name of YHWH in these short verses: Nahum 1:1-3
- A jealous and avenging God is the Lord – establishes His character.
- The Lord is avenging and wrathful – His holiness, His justice, His character will be expressed in bringing about vengeance and that, through wrath.
- The Lord is slow to anger and great in power – a striking contrast to man’s anger that is quick and reactive… And last a summary and reiteration
- The Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
Nahum ties the Lord to these actions so we don’t miss it. We don’t like to hear sermons on hell and God’s anger, but it is the Word of God and He did not err in giving us His counsel.
As Constable notes, “people are often controlled by their anger, but God controls His.”
Nahum explains God’s anger in examples that are easy for his listeners (and for us) to understand:
“Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger?”
BUT, understand His character: The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him (vv. 7). He knows His own.
When you step back and look at Scripture, God abhors the proud. Wickedness and pride always go together. His wrath comes upon the proud.
God’s wrath demonstrates His love. Think of it as a two-sided coin with love on one side, and wrath on the other.
What do you love? What do you get angry at?
Understanding what brings God’s wrath and judgment reveals what He loves.
If God’s a loving, holy, perfect judge; what does He love?
When people say, “I could never believe in a God who overlooks or allows…(fill in the blank)” they’re halfway there. That statement reveals a desire for justice and righteousness, for someone to step in and make things right.
That which inflames our anger may reveal that which we love.
We can love the wrong things, but as we walk humbly with God and grow to love the things He loves, then what instigates and inflames our anger probably reveals injustice and unrighteousness.
“A person who doesn’t know how to be angry doesn’t know how to be good.”
– Henry Ward Beecher
Nahum is a difficult book to read. God’s wrath is sure.
When we understand that God’s wrath ultimately judges the proud, it reveals that God’s kindness ultimately judges the humble.
Matthew 23:12, James 4:6.
- Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets, p. 428. See also Gordon H. Johnston, “A Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Nahum,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1992) for a thorough analysis of the book’s structure
- Click Here for Constable’s Notes on Nahum.