This prophecy was written some time before the fall of Nineveh (possibly between 613 BC and 611 BC, but there are disputes over the exact date – some make an earlier date) by Nahum (‘compassionate’ or ‘full of compassion’’), a prophet about whom we know almost nothing. Some think this book follows Jonah, but there is no guarantee about this, and so it might have been written before Jonah.
In this book we find that the people of Nineveh, though they repented before Jonah and God in a mighty way, soon returned to their idolatry, proving the truth of the text warning us that if we do not immediately keep our house clean after repentance, many more demons will harm us than there were before. Nineveh, then, is not the only case of repentant people ‘gone wrong’ by way of lapses and laxity. Indeed, this is the lot of the West today. Did not Britain have God’s gracious gift of the Reformation? Did it not cast off the yoke of Rome and remain free? Did it not lead the world in missions and the Gospel? Then, did it not start to crawl back to Rome like a cur, finally to become atheistic, and its genuine believers lax and prone to love sin? We are the modern Nineveh and judgment has already begun.
God used Nahum to warn Israel by describing the fate of Nineveh. It is worth remembering that when God warns us, it is both judgment and love, for He expects that we will take notice and change, repent and become holy. This is why the book also contains the fact that Israel will be delivered, even after suffering.
Notes: Nineveh was the greatest city in the ancient known world, ruled by the Assyrians. The attacking army consisted of Medes, Persians, rebellious Chaldeans and Babylonians, plus Cimmerians and Scythians. The city of Babylon soon took over the prominent rule in the whole region. The entire war took 6 to 12 years to run itself out. Zephaniah, too, prophesied the destruction.
The invading armies firstly breached the outer wall, before proceeding to take over the palace. Then, the temples were destroyed before the palace was burned. According to Nahum the battle took several months, as soldiers fought hand-to-hand, house-to-house, street-by-street. He may have written his account as a prophecy about 15 to 20 years before the event took place. Nahum said that Nineveh would never be rebuilt, and he was right, for its inhabitants gradually left, and the place became deserted for many centuries. Thus, the largest city in the known world became as nothing. It is now in ruins opposite the modern city of Mosul, Iraq.
When Nahum prophesied its destruction, Nineveh was at the height of its power. Yet, just a few decades later, it was ruined. It does not take very long for good intentions to degenerate into wickedness, if we do nothing apart from think about it! The slower we are to change and to return to God, the more likely we are to swiftly fall into grave sin and become worse than we were before. When this happens God must punish us, though He continues to love us. The message to us from Nahum is to repent and return to God in everything He demands of us, before He shows His wrath.
Nahum’s book also helps us to understand that even if we are under intense pressure and woes, God can overturn our sadness and bring in His rule and punishment of our enemies. We presently are being greatly subdued by many enemies, particularly homosexuality, Islam, environmentalism, atheism and socialism. But, these, like all enemies of God, will be short-lived and will fall.
Many who heard Nahum’s prophecy were incredulous. They could see Assyria in its strength, so could not envisage a time when it would be destroyed. Yet, this is what happened. It will happen again, and all who reject God and oppose Him will also be destroyed. When this happens, they will likely be at the height of their power, too – but it does not matter, for when God acts against an enemy it stands no chance of survival or opposition.
Look forward, as Nahum does; do not just wish for the ruin of our enemies – their ruin is already prophesied by the Lord, and will occur. Perhaps, very soon. The end will NOT come by our campaigns or political moves. It will come because God says it will – our part is simply to be holy and to stay obedient... now, not later!
- “The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.”
We come across the concept of a ‘burden’, massa’, in several texts. I am often asked how we know what God wishes us to do. The answer is – it will be a burden, a massa’. It means we carry the message on our shoulders, as an ox carries a yoke or a load. For a prophet this burden continues until he has done what God requires of him. The called men of God – pastors, teachers and preachers – also have burdens, messages and deeds they MUST speak or enact, because they are weighed down by their importance. It is where sound teaching comes from, not from books, commentaries, or personalised ideas. Do YOU have a massa’?
In this text the thing Nahum must do is proclaim God’s judgment upon the city of Nineveh, even though, at the time, the city was the greatest one on earth, under the dominant ruling power, Assyria (which is what frightened Jonah). This is the “book of the vision”, the written account, in a book or scroll, of a vision given to Nahum by the Holy Spirit, by way of a night dream or a sight that took the place of normal vision. Nahum came from Elkosh; nothing is known of its true location, but it may have been the village of Elkosh in Galilee.
Note, too, that when God wishes to speak, He may use just one person. He need not gather an army, and certainly does not need a campaign team. This is because when He speaks it will come to pass, therefore He only wishes to speak through one mouth or pen. So, do not readily dismiss the warnings given by a lone voice, even if no-one else believes it, for it might be the result of a massa’ given by the Lord.
- “God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.
- The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
- He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth.”
God begins the prophecy with the reason for the massa’ – He is intensely angry. Though He is slow to anger (a fact we can all be grateful for), his slowness will gather strength if there is no repentance, and He will erupt with volcanic power. We cannot complain, for we have His word and know His commands! We are without excuse.
The Lord describes Himself with the adjective, qannow’. He says He is jealous. Do not confuse this with human jealousy. We see this in the root, qanna’, which ONLY refers to the jealousy of God. The primary or primitive root of these is qana’, and it tells us that, in God, jealousy leads to His anger, because he is provoked. (Another meaning is ‘envy’, but God does not have envy of anything – He created all and owns everything!). Jealousy in this context refers to a rival, because a rival (in this case, idolatry and so Satan) leads people to reject God or to act against His laws.
Godly jealousy, then, is about God being angry when something/someone else tries to take possession illicitly of what rightly belongs to Him. In this text, Israel and nations that formally do not acknowledge Him. Here, Nineveh was visited by Jonah and it repented. Spared by God, the city soon reverted to its former sins. And that is why God is filled with wrath: He gave them life, but they spurned it. Those who repent and acknowledge the Lord, belong to Him as a bride belongs to a groom, and this is how we should view this text. That is, God is a jealous groom – the bride belongs to Him and to no other. And, as His bride, Israel and the Church must reciprocate His love.
In this text “God”, is ‘el, and “the LORD” is Yēhovah. The noun, el’, speaks of the astounding, unmatched power of the Creator; hence He is said to be “great in power”. He is not just angry, He is “furious”, because someone or something has tried to take what belongs to Him. This ownership means only He may take revenge, naqam, and revenge involves punishment. (Remember that unless God Himself allows us to repent, any punishment He has commanded will come about). His wrath and vengeance are aimed at His adversaries, His enemies.
We are told that Yēhovah is slow to anger. In this text ‘anger’ is related to the snorting of the nostrils, such as that of a war-horse or warrior in battle. Unlike humans, God does not always strike straight away, but often holds back from an angry retort for a long time. Why is this? Is it because He knows our frame and waits, that we may recognise our folly, repent, and return to Him of our own volition? Whatever the reason, He “will not at all acquit the wicked”.
That is, He will not accept any excuse, nor will He turn back from punishing those who are wicked, even on this earth. He does not turn a blind eye, but must punish wickedness, because of His nature. And He can reveal His wrath in many ways: here shown as the whirlwind, storm, thunder clouds, desert dust. Indeed, God is in these very elements. The whirlwind carries everything before it, remorselessly, as does the storm. These are as nothing before Him, so how much greater and worse is it to contemplate an angry God ready to strike? Everything is under His feet, to be trodden down at will.
The sea thrashes about with raging foam and tides. Yet God can rebuke it, as did Jesus on Galilee. He has the power to instantly dry up the oceans and rivers. The fertile land of Bashan can be made infertile; the ‘garden land’ (Carmel) can lose everything growing, and the lush woods of Lebanon can lose their trees and shade.
Once God commands against something, a nation, or a person, nothing can stop His decision. His will must be done. In these descriptions God is warning Nineveh of His coming judgment, which cannot be thwarted. None of us should take God for granted, nor make Him angry; nor may we presume to apply the vengeance that belongs solely to Him. And warnings must be obeyed instantly.
- “The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein.
- Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.
- The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.
- But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies.”
God’s warning continues: even the inanimate mountains quake at His presence and commands; the hills melt to nothing; the earth itself, and everything in it, burns to a crisp at His mighty word. (All similar to volcanic activity). And so, we have the question: “Who can stand before His indignation?” The present-day foes of God and us will come to see this answered, very soon! They will experience the scalding wrath of the Lord, with no opportunity of repentance or mercy. They will indeed burn to nothing by His anger, and will know a veritable ‘hell on earth’ even before they enter hell for ever and ever.
Conversely, those who know God and trust (have faith) in Him, will see a very different Lord, One Whose love will flow over them like a soothing balm. He will soothe them amidst troubles, and during times when His enemies and ours are at their most active. They are filled with pride and self-importance, scorning God and His people with derision and evil intentions. But, they will all be stopped in an instant when God burns them up with wrath. And that will be soon. His will, to destroy enemies’ is already in His mind, ready for implementation. This WILL happen.
As we come to know this peace and love, God will deliver death to the enemies of our souls and God’s truth. He will be like a sudden flood of huge proportion, which nothing and no-one can stop. He will envelop His enemies with darkness, a symbol of their evil hearts and minds. They will come to an “utter end”. Then, we can rejoice.
- “What do ye imagine against the Lord? he will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time.
- For while they be folden together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry.
- There is one come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the Lord, a wicked counsellor.”
So, friends and foes alike: “What do ye imagine against the Lord?” What do you chashab? What ideas do you harbour against Him, and us? What plans do you devise to oppose Him, and us? And who cares what you think if it is in opposition to the Creator? Why do you try to mix fable and truth and call it scripture? Why invent what God has not said? Be under no delusion, “He will make an utter end (of it)”!
What do you imagine, eh? If you are an enemy, do you think He will allow you a second, return move, to ruin His people? No! He will not allow it. Enemies cling to each other like thorns in a tangled bush. They laugh and scorn to their heart’s content, like drunkards heavy with wine, as they conspire against God and us. In their foul state, with mouths full of evil, God will burn them to nothing, like useless stubble. This will be the reward for their following of a wicked counsellor, led by Satan.
This false counsellor will rail against the Lord, stupidly and vainly, thinking that his atheistic, wicked thoughts, can undo God’s word and will! What a fool! He will be crushed in an instant by Almighty God. What do YOU imagine? Is it consistent with scripture? If it is not, then you may as well join the enemy, for you are treasonous.
- “Thus saith the Lord; Though they be quiet, and likewise many, yet thus shall they be cut down, when he shall pass through. Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more.
- For now will I break his yoke from off thee, and will burst thy bonds in sunder.
- And the Lord hath given a commandment concerning thee, that no more of thy name be sown: out of the house of thy gods will I cut off the graven image and the molten image: I will make thy grave; for thou art vile.
- Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off.”
“Thus saith the Lord”! Only His pronouncements are worthy. The enemy will come in their thousands. Their path thus far has deluded them into thinking they can now rest in their evil labours, for they have defeated God’s people. Even so, God will come and cut them down. Like the angel of death passing over Egypt, God will pass through this world like a red-hot knife. All who are against Him and His people will be cut down. This will be when God returns to give us His remedy of peace and love.
God will, and does, judge and punish us for our sins, but this is never the end. He MUST punish sin, to satisfy His law; but then He comes with comfort and joy, that we may return to Him as we ought. Thus, God will break the yoke of oppression and wickedness pressed upon us by the enemy (this can even apply to other things, such as illness, personal attacks, financial troubles, etc). God will cut off the oppression and evils, freeing us in Christ.
God then gave a dire judgment upon Nineveh. He has seen the people go back to worship false gods, after they had received so gracious a national salvation. Now, He would destroy those same gods and send the people to their doom, here specified as the grave or death, “for thou art vile”. It is their just reward for being qalal – in this text it means to be of no account or insignificant, to be despicable and cursed, and so to be treated with contempt and dishonour. It may not be our idea of ‘reward’, but it is certainly God’s, such is His view of the nature of sin. Never accept or condone sin. Treat it, and those who practice it, with contempt.
God’s people can now rejoice, as running upon the fresh grass on a mountain side. Judah – keep the solemn, righteous feasts demanded by God. Do what you must do in the Temple, for you will no longer be subjected to ridicule and the scorn of the wicked. Where once they were many and powerful, now they are no more, destroyed by the very God they despised. Nineveh was once the most powerful city on earth. Its rulers and people had no idea that their evils would attract the wrath of God. When that anger came, it crashed upon them with a force so great it destroyed their arrogance and their very lives.
This is a prophecy for our time, too, secondarily applied to our current position, surrounded by liars, cheats and foul-mouthed enemies, who hate the Lord and His people. Their heinous laughs will soon be stopped, and will stick in their throats like throttling stones. They will come to see God acting on behalf of His chosen ones. Wait awhile, for God has already begun to move, cutting His path from Heaven to earth. And when His sword begins its work, it will not cease until His will is done.
© October 2013 (Checked September, 2023)
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH