Nahum is known for his prophecy about the city of Nineveh. Jonah had been the first prophet to try to help Nineveh. Nineveh was a major city in the empire of Assyria. Unfortunately, its reputation was based on its cruelty. There was no love lost either between the Israelites and Nineveh. The city’s king, Sennacherib, laid siege to Jerusalem in 701 BC (2 Kings 18:13-19:37, Isaiah 36-37). The popular 1960s television crime drama Dragnet began every episode with the words, “This is the city.” The idea of a city has often embodied both the best and worst of humanity. Big cities offer morally contradictive lifestyles. While they often are places of excitement, there is also more of the threat of danger. The Bible notes that the first murderer, Cain, is also the builder of the first city (Genesis 4:17)1A possible reflection of the antiurban bias in Genesis, “The Five Books of Moses”, author Robert Alter, ISBN 0-393-01955-1, 2004.. Nineveh was this type of big city.
Jonah’s message results in the people of Nineveh repenting. The people begin to understand that they should fear God and He spares this great city. Around 100 to 150 years later is where we see Nahum. Although the city of Nineveh had repented, their Godly behavior and fear of the Lord did not last for long. A few generations of people had passed and those in Nineveh were back to their old ways again. This will be one of the things we can learn from Nahum, the importance of passing God on to future generations! To understand Nahum, first, we must understand the people living in Nineveh.
The Assyrians were very powerful during this period and were busy conquering other regions, including Israel. When Nahum issued his prophecy of Nineveh’s doom, there was no hint of its coming destruction. The city was strong, self-confident, and recognized for its splendor by the surrounding nations. Because of its natural defenses, protected by both sides of the Nile River, and surrounded by moats, canals, and water channels, those who occupied Nineveh felt safe from invading armies. Yet most had forgotten that Nineveh had fallen to the Assyrians under Ashurbanipal in 663 BC. Under Assyria’s control, Nineveh had become a corrupt city of blood. Assyria’s cruelty is amply documented through archeology. Assyrian kings boasted of their cruelty. The worst kinds of torture took place for anyone imprisoned there. God considered them cruel and sinful.
Nineveh was also full of temples to other Gods. Their wealth came from the treasures taken from their enemies. Nahum has a vision of the destruction of the city of Nineveh. God then sends him to deliver a message to them, that soon they will face their downfall because of the evil that they have brought to God’s people and other nations around them. Even though Nineveh seems like a power that would last forever, they eventually fall. The prophet Nahum prophesied the destruction of the city because of their people’s evilness. Nahum’s predictions for Nineveh’s destruction came to pass when the Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians sacked the city in 612 BC. It was the largest city in the world for approximately fifty years until its destruction. Nineveh’s walls had been breached by flood waters, allowing their attackers to enter the city. The city’s ruin was ultimately a product of God’s divine wrath.
(Nahum 1:8–10)2NIV New International Version Translations – ‘’but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness. Whatever they plot against the Lord he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time. They will be entangled among thorns and drunk from their wine; they will be consumed like dry stubble.”
It is interesting to note that Nahum defines further exactly what God considered their worst sins, demanding His judgment. Nahum is listing the murder, inhumane torture of people, the illicit gains taken from others, and that victims of Nineveh’s culture were everywhere. We have a God that cares about His creation!
(Nahum 3:1) – “Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!”
Nineveh was destroyed because its people and leaders practiced the crimes of religious prostitution and witchcraft. Nahum said, “all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.” (Nahum 3:4). In a further humiliation, God said, “’I am against you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame. I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.’” (Nahum 3:5-6). Assyria would parade its captives through the city, sometimes nude, while people pelted them with stones and garbage. Thus, God gave Nineveh the same treatment they gave those they had captured in the past. God would treat them like a naked harlot, fastened to stocks in the public square, and pelted with human excrement. Assyria was disgraced and degraded before the world in the worst kind of humiliation.
Nahum also accused Nineveh as full of “lies and plunder” (Nahum 3:1). Assyria deliberately deceived other nations. They would enter binding treaties that they had no intention of keeping. Once the Assyrians gained the confidence of another nation, they would break their treaty and demand payments from its leaders. Nahum provided a detailed description of Nineveh’s collapse as the Medo-Babylonian coalition attacked the city. In reading Nahum 2-3 the battle is already in progress. As the machinery of war rolls through Nineveh, we are told of the sound of whips cracking, wheels clattering on the stone pavement, horses galloping through the city, and chariots speeding through the streets. The sun’s reflection off the swords and spears strikes terror in the Ninevites as they try in vain to flee. Their slaughter was imminent. The invading army and the people of Nineveh stumble over the thousands of dead that fill the streets during the battle.
Nahum prophecies that Nineveh’s wealth will disappear: “You have increased the number of your merchants till they are more numerous than the stars in the sky, but like locusts, they strip the land and then fly away.” (Nahum 3:16). Nineveh’s traders and merchants were many, like the stars of heaven. Their wealth was enriched by worldwide conquest and trade. Nahum simply prophecies that their wealth would vanish like locusts stripping an area of its vegetation and then quickly flying away.
(Nahum 3:18-19) – “King of Assyria, your shepherd’s slumber; your nobles lie down to rest. Your people are scattered in the mountains with no one to gather them. Nothing can heal you; your wound is fatal. All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?”
Nineveh’s leaders would die in the war. Disloyal warriors would run away in the conflict. Nineveh’s people would be scattered and never restored to their land. Their destruction would be a delight to the world. This story is sobering. The city thought itself strong, self-confident and recognized for its splendor by the surrounding nations. No matter what the people did to help their city, whether it was getting water to drink, repairing the city walls, or even increasing the army, nothing saved them. They had gotten rich by plundering others. Their leaders demanded tributes from other nations for “protection.“ Assyria prostituted her values to gain wealth and power.
Judgment cannot be escaped in this world! Judgment comes because of the character of God. He is in control of both nature and the nations. He used the Babylonians to bring His judgment on the Assyrians. He also used a flood to help the Babylonians. Our hope, however, is that God is just. Punishments, when administered by God are always well deserved. There is a well-quoted set of transitions that most nations move through. Our nation’s journey is no exception:
People begin in bondage, and transition to faith, from faith, comes courage, leading them to be free. It is the freedom that brings abundance, but too often, selfishness follows. Selfishness then breeds complacency which is quickly followed by apathy. Unfortunately, it is the apathy that again spawns bondage. Where is our nation today on this historic circular journey?
- There are similarities between Nineveh to our nation today – What are they?
- Ideas to Explore: Who are the victims of our society? Are our leaders treating their enemies with cruelty? How do we treat other nations?
- What other nations do you see that are like Nineveh?
- Ideas to Explore: Do you think that God will forget about those nations? Can God use any one of those cruel nations as a judgment and punishment against another nation?
- How long does a nation typically last?
- Ideas to Explore: History says about 250 years. What is your guess on our own country?
- The worst stage for a country to be in is one of apathy-What would the signs be for a country in the “apathy” stage?
- Ideas to Explore: Working populous is diminishing, voting percentages are low, number of regulations removing freedoms growing, your ideas?
- Do you see signs of the stage of bondage in our nation?
- Ideas to Explore: Entitlements, debt, crime, fear of crime, loss of parental rights of children?
- 1A possible reflection of the antiurban bias in Genesis, “The Five Books of Moses”, author Robert Alter, ISBN 0-393-01955-1, 2004.
- 2NIV New International Version Translations