It seems that everyone knows the story of Jonah. He disobeyed God’s call, was swallowed by a whale, and then preached to Nineveh and they repented. The story of Nineveh doesn’t end with Jonah, though. Nahum gives us the rest of the story about Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. Nahum prophesied approximately 150 years after Jonah preached to Nineveh. Although Nineveh had repented under Jonah’s preaching, they had become very powerful and very wicked by the time of Nahum. The Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC and had been oppressing the southern kingdom of Judah. God graciously gave them the opportunity to repent through the preaching of Jonah, but their repentance was short-lived and it is now time for judgment.
In chapter one, God declares His judgment on Assyria. It is important to understand that the term “Nineveh” is used to refer to the entire Assyrian nation since Nineveh is the capital city. Why must God judge Assyria? The same reason He judges any nation or people; God is righteous. We know that God is willing to judge the Assyrians because of His jealous and avenging nature (vs. 2). Verse 3-5 illustrate God’s awesome power and tell us that He is capable of judging the Assyrians. Not only is God willing and able, but God is also ready to judge the Assyrians because Nahum states that His wrath is about to be poured out (vs. 6). In all this, however, God gives Judah reason to rejoice because He is about to punish one of her greatest enemies (vs. 15).
In chapter two, God describes His coming judgment on Assyria. The nation would fall in 612 B.C. under the army of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, but Nahum foretells the event in vivid detail (vs. 1-7). Nineveh was situated near the Tigris River and two other smaller rivers and there were dams built to minimize seasonal flooding. Verse 6 suggests that the Babylonians opened these dams to flood the city and destroy the walls. Verses 8-10 foretell the plundering of Nineveh. Assyria had plundered many other nations, but now the Babylonians would loot the city of Nineveh. Verses 11-13 predict the total desolation of Nineveh. Assyria is about to receive the same destruction they have caused to others; an example of the principle Jesus would teach centuries later, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:2).
Chapter three shows us why Assyria deserved judgment from God. Assyria was a cruel nation that profited from the massacre of other nations (vs. 1-3) and was characterized by moral and spiritual depravity (vs. 4-7). Pagan idolatry and immorality were rampant in Assyria. God then declares that Nineveh will be like Thebes (or No-Amon), a fortified Egyptian city that Assyria had captured (vs. 8-10). If God could allow the Assyrians to capture Thebes, He can cause the Babylonians to destroy Nineveh. Verse 19 states that all that hear of Assyria’s destruction shall “clap their hands” for joy when they hear of the righteous judgment of God.
The book of Nahum bears a message of condemnation for those who disobey God and a message of consolation for those who obey Him. God must judge the wicked because of His righteousness, because of human wickedness, and for the relief of the afflicted. It was in this type of situation that Abraham rhetorically asked, “Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). We can be comforted knowing that the righteousness of God will not permit tyranny and oppression forever. Assyria is just one historical example of God’s judgment on a wicked nation. Eventually, God will bring true justice to every wicked empire, nation, city, and individual.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 2, 2013.