Nahum had two tasks. The first was to issue God’s judgment of wrath against Nineveh (a judgment that would not be repealed); the second was to speak of Israel’s comfort. Matthew Henry thinks the prophecy was given to soothe the ten tribes after they were captured by the Assyrians. He also believes (as is highly probable) that though we only know of this book from Nahum, he likely prophesied many more words of God to the people that we know nothing of.
In this chapter (possibly written some years after the first chapter) Nahum describes the coming fall of Nineveh because they continued to defy God. Though brief, the image we have of the attack is graphic, reinforcing the earlier idea of ferocious street-to-street and house-to-house fighting. The queen, he said, would be captured and the city’s people would flee. The enormous riches of the greatest city on earth would be taken by Nebuchadnezzar, who would bring proud boasts to nothing.
Before all this, the tribes of Israel would suffer. But, God does not leave them bereft of all joy, for He applies words of love to them. They would, after all, know safety. In our own day we are faced with vicious, godless enemies. We WILL know consternation for a while. Then, the Lord will remember us as we turn back to Him for help. After which, the enemies, though many, will be dissipated quickly.
- “He that dasheth in pieces is come up before thy face: keep the munition, watch the way, make thy loins strong, fortify thy power mightily.
- “For the LORD hath turned away the excellency of Jacob, as the excellency of Israel: for the emptiers have emptied them out, and marred their vine branches.”
The prophecy continues – Nineveh will suddenly see the terror to come, because the invading armies are surrounding the walls. Nebuchadnezzar, known for his obliteration of those he attacked, was now ready to bring the city to an abrupt and inglorious end. He is now “up before thy face”, or, right before you.
God is almost mocking, for He tells the people of Nineveh to stock up on their war machines and weapons, and to build their siege-works or ramparts (munitions) high, keep watch day and night, and bring in reinforcements. Yet, He knows it will avail them nothing; when God judges, nothing can stop what is to happen.
God then says He has “turned away the excellency of Jacob”. That is, he will put right the way the people of Jacob, who were more excellent, were treated by the Assyrians. They tried to destroy what was Jacob’s, and what was Israel’s; they took what belonged to them and ruined their vineyards. The ‘emptiers’ were men who ravaged cities, burned everything, and stole what they could.
Some might think that when Israel grew cold in their love for God, that God would, in turn, grow cold towards them and ignore them. This is never the case. God will often judge His people, sometimes toughly, but He will never remove them from His love or promises. Once we belong to Him, nothing, not even His anger, can cause us to lose our salvation. It is secure, because God says it is.
- “The shield of his mighty men is made red, the valiant men are in scarlet: the chariots shall be with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the fir trees shall be terribly shaken.
- The chariots shall rage in the streets, they shall justle one against another in the broad ways: they shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightnings.”
The shields of the enemy would be coloured red, and the soldiers carrying them will be dressed in expensive scarlet tunics (scarlet, tala’ means to be clad in scarlet). This is not figurative but literal, for ‘red’ is ’adam, here meaning red or to shine red. Chariots would enter from the plain, to rumble through the streets, carrying lit torches, to burn down dwellings.
The ‘fir trees’* could be the mighty men* of Nineveh, grown soft on their riches and notion that they ruled the known world... they will tremble and shake with fear. The iron chariots will be driven at breakneck speed through the city, so numerous that each machine will bump against others in the wider streets and plazas. They will be so swift they will streak along like lightning, destroying as they go.
(*Flaming torches, refer to torches made of iron containing fire. The ‘fir trees’, though secondarily meaning mighty men of the city, primarily refer to lances made of fir-tree wood. ‘Chariots’ can refer to men on horses or fighting camels, as well as to chariots – thus, the meaning is, that the streets would be filled with raging soldiers, as ‘justle’ implies, filled with blood-lust).
- “He shall recount his worthies: they shall stumble in their walk; they shall make haste to the wall thereof, and the defence shall be prepared.
- The gates of the rivers shall be opened, and the palace shall be dissolved.
- And Huzzab shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up, and her maids shall lead her as with the voice of doves, tabering upon their breasts.”
Nebuchadnezzer had mighty men as commanders. they will stagger as they rush headlong. They will breach the gates, allowing their men to rush in as a river. They will make for the royal palace (or/and the temple), which will be ‘dissolved’, muwg: it will ‘melt’ or ‘soften’ under intense bombardment and assault. It was burnt to the ground, once its many riches were taken as spoils of war.
The queen, Huzzab, would be captured and led away, her maid-servants going before her, crying out in low tones and beating their chests in fear and grief. Oh how the mighty have fallen! And it will happen to modern enemies of God, very soon.
- “But Nineveh is of old like a pool of water: yet they shall flee away. Stand, stand, shall they cry; but none shall look back.
- Take ye the spoil of silver, take the spoil of gold: for there is none end of the store and glory out of all the pleasant furniture.
- She is empty, and void, and waste: and the heart melteth, and the knees smite together, and much pain is in all loins, and the faces of them all gather blackness.”
Nineveh was once full of people, so numerous as to be like a large pool of inhabitants. But, the enemy came with such force and violence, the citizens tried to escape without fighting... the plentiful pool was dried up! Even as the commanders of Nineveh ordered them to make a stand, they fled in fear, not bothering to look over their shoulders.
As they ran, the enemy soldiers took everything of value: as God said, there was so much, there was ‘no end’ to it all. And so the Assyrians destroyed the city, took its wealth, killed many and took the rest as slaves. The city became waste and the once proud people of Nineveh became paupers, their hearts shaking with fear (‘knees smite together’) and grief. They were so afraid they experienced pain in all their joints and in their bellies, making them feel weak. And as they tried to run, their faces were made black by the raging fires and soot all around them.
- “Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feedingplace of the young lions, where the lion, even the old lion, walked, and the lion's whelp, and none made them afraid?
- The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for his lionesses, and filled his holes with prey, and his dens with ravin (animal parts torn by the lions).
- Behold, I am against thee, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will burn her chariots in the smoke, and the sword shall devour thy young lions: and I will cut off thy prey from the earth, and the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard.”
The men of Nineveh knew their fair share of gluttony and pride, violence and abuse of others. Now, the lions were made low and the young lions were refused their food. Once they stood firm, as if nothing could touch them. Then, in a few days, everything they held dear was removed and ruined. They were no longer like lions, but were reduced to being curs of the desert unable to steal for a living.
Then came the dreaded words, “Behold I am against thee”. God would not protect them; they had ignored His demands and now they would suffer. These same words have been uttered throughout history, as people reject God’s commands and live as they wish; inevitably, they all fell and were ruined.
In the West today the same words echo through chill halls of cold stone, as our enemies are sent against us for a season, by a God Whose anger has finally arrived on our doorstep... we invited our own disasters by our sins. The city and power of Nineveh was utterly devastated, and were as if they had never existed. Let us learn from this awful prophecy and repent now, before God reaches down to earth with His wrath against our enemies. In this prophecy there is a soothing promise for the people of God, so long as they obey.
“Behold, I am against thee”! Do you really want to hear that judgment in your ears, as your legs turn to water? Repent now.
© October 2013 (Checked October 2023)
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH