A Study of the Prophet Nahum
November 1, 2004

C. R. Oliver

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November 1, 2004

A Study of the Prophet Nahum

Shortly after the division of the tribes into northern and southern kingdoms under the sons of Solomon, Jeroboam to the north and Rehoboam to the south, Ashurnasirpal II grew in power to the northeast in what was the kingdom of Assyria. Because of this nonsensical division in the family of God, judgment lay in wait. The Assyrians in their expansion fought the battle of Qarqar where Israel (the northern kingdom) and Syria (an unholy ally) joined forces with others to defeat the Assyrians. Naturally, the leaders of Assyria[1] took notice, so when Shalmaneser III came to power, he remembered who his enemies were. Chronologically, Elijah had already finished off the prophets of Baal on Mt.Carmel during Ashurnasirpal's reign; Elisha, his successor, anointed Jehu King, during whose reign Syria turned against Israel and took the property west of the Jordan. Quietly, Assyria strengthened itself while Syria was strutting about.

During this time, the Kings of Israel were vacillating between good and evil. The crumbling kingdom made Hoshea its ruler just in time for Assyria's strongest rulers to turn their vengeance toward Samaria. It was payback time. It wasn't a pretty sight.[2] Hoshea ruled nine years as Assyria's vassal during which time he attempted to incorporate Egypt as his ally, a fatal mistake. God already had warned the nation to make no alliances with any foreign body, but long before this, the people had disregarded God's rule. To the south, Ahaz was giving the silver and gold of the temple to pay his tribute. Now, it was time for Assyria to put an end to Hoshea. Samaria fell after a three year siege. All the remaining population that had not starved or killed was deported. They reaped the consequences of pursuing heathen practices, wallowing in idolatry and disobedience to God. Assyria repopulated the land with other conquered people, each with their own religion, thus returning the worship of foreign gods to the land.

A little later, Sennacherib decided to invade Judah and put down the last resistance of the Jews. Traveling through Lachish (southwest of Jerusalem) he arrived at Jerusalem's back door. King Hezekiah, with great passion, asked God to defend Judah and him. Three Assyrian generals allowed pride to drive them to seal their destiny before God - they defied verbally the living God before the people of God.

Although Sennacherib's Prism[3] told a different version of the invasion, one thing was uniform, Hezekiah was not carried away. Isaiah prophesied the defeat of the Assyrians and historically it took place. Judah was never taken away captive by the Assyrians, but suffered defeat years later at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

Enter Nahum. His name means "comforter," and he was a comforter to Judah.

Truly, his message about the final defeat of Assyria was music to the ears of Judah. Prophesying (about 660 B.C) to the capitol city of Nineveh, his message was not one of repentance like Jonah. His message announced the end of their civilization. Nahum did not go to Nineveh according to history, but comforted his people by prophesying and circulating its message in order to encourage them.

Nineveh had sinned away its day of grace; it crossed the line of no return; it had no future. (Individuals and nations can make this tragic mistake even today.) 612 B.C. was the hour God chose to avenge the incredulous arrogance of a nation gone mad. Babylon forever silenced its insidious neighbor.

"God is jealous, and the Lord avenges;
The Lord avenges and is furious,
The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries,
And He reserves wrath for His enemies
Nahum 1:2 NKJV

Three times Nahum presents Yahweh as the avenger of His people against their adversaries[4], the whole spectra of the Godhead coming to confront Judah's enemy. In 2 Kings 19:20-20:1 the event is chronicled.

Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah…

"He (Sennacherib) will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the LORD. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant. That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning, there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king."

"Reserved wrath" was wrath sealed up for the appropriate hour (1:2)!

"If this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold[5] the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority." 2 Peter 2:9-10 NIV

Nahum declared, "The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm." Many interpreters believe a tornado went through the camp of the Assyrians and brought down 185,000 men in one night. Necessarily, Nahum took to task every god of the Assyrians in his declaration of the one true God. The Assyrians were polytheistic and their gods were supposedly in control of war (Asshur) as well as the elements of nature. Because of their boasts, Nahum shot down every one of their major deities by declaring the God of Abraham was in control of their proclaimed domains.[6]

Following this, a rhetorical question was put to his Assyrian pundits, "Who can stand before His indignation (1:6)?" A pedantic[7] answer overflowed followed by another question, "Who can endure the fierceness of His anger," then another, "What do you conspire against the Lord (1:9)?" Three questions from the Godhead to those who considered themselves, the most learned people on earth (the library at Ashurbanipal was the repository of Eastern learning).

Nahum addressed the Ninevites as though Jonah had never been there. Long ago they had forgotten their repentance[8], abandoned their grace and persisted in their idolatry.

He came at them with the force of Almighty God. He lifted up the fierce power of God to a people who understood fierceness. God's people need no fortress but Him, for He knows who trusts Him (1:7). Earth, Wind and Fire are his vehicles.

Nestled in verse 8 was the method the Lord would use, "With an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place and darkness will pursue His enemies."

Logical order causes one to fast forward to chapter two, verse six and following. Here, Nahum spelled out what would occur on the "day of the Lord."

Ctesias' report:

The swelling of the river and the opening made by it may have given rise to the traditional account of Ctesias…the siege ( by Nebuchadnezzar) was ended by an entrance afforded to the enemy through some bursting in of the river.

Diodorus Siculus' Report:

En d' auto logion paradedomenon ek progonown, etc.-(Greek)

"There was a prophecy received from their forefathers that Nineveh should not be taken till the river first became an enemy to the city. It happened in the third year of the siege, that the Euphrates (query, Tigris) being swollen with continued rains, overflowed part of the city, and threw down twenty stadia of the wall. The king then imagining that the oracle was accomplished, and that the river was now manifestly become an enemy to the city, casting aside all hope of safety, and lest he should fall into the hands of the enemy, built a large funeral pyre in the palace, and having collected all his gold and silver and royal vestments, together with his concubines and eunuchs, placed himself with them in a little apartment built in the pyre; burnt them, himself, and the palace together. When the death of the king (Sardanapalus) was announced by certain deserters, the enemy entered in by the breach which the waters had made, and took the city."[9]

(Although historical verification adds credence to non-believers, it serves to strengthen the faith of believers as well.)

An interesting word appeared next in Nahum's original text; it was Huzzab[10]: "It is decreed (2:7)." Nahum placed this word strategically as a seal from God. (Often Scripture will abruptly put powerful information in a stream of verses in order to show a seal on the message.) The palace at Nineveh might be mighty and strong, the walls thick and powerful, the armies fierce and loyal, but God decreed their fall and defeat! His seal of destiny will always come to pass. Palaces burn, walls crumble and people flee, "Halt, Halt! They cry; but no one turns back." (2:8) God's "I am against you," in two passages took precedence over every other consideration (2:13).

Nahum described Nineveh and its inhabitants with one phrase: "You are vile," (1:14) Incorporated in that assessment was judgment of person and nation for the Ninevites were totally vile.

Vileness is encapsulating. It closes around a person, community or nation. It brings with it the combined multiple filth of all who are citizens of the community (3:6).

God declared that He would seal them in vileness.

"I will cast abominable filth upon you, Make you vile[11] and make you a spectacle[12]."

Loathsome, detestable, abhorrent, polluted mixture hurled in disgust on person and habitation in order to make the vile more so is the thought here. Inculcated in this passage is the wholesale exposure of a killing disease known as vileness. Every Ninevite already had it. It saturated everything they said or did. No one was apart from its taint; therefore, everyone stood equally condemned with no discrimination as to person, rank or station.

Described in catalogued form, Nahum vindicated God's wrath to be poured out on those deserving the full cup.

  • Tangled Thorns 1:10 Strength garnered through complicity
  • Drunken Drunkard 1:10 Inebriated constantly (addicts)
  • Dried Stubble 1:10 As in wood, hay, stubble
  • Wicked counselor 1:11 Beliel's Counselor
  • Bloody city 3:1 full of murder, where unwary victims never depart
  • Full of Lies and Robbery 3:1 Falsity and theft constantly plague
  • Ceaselessly running to and fro 3:2b-3 having no time to stop--even for death
  • Harlotries of the seductive harlot 3:4 deceit and sexual promiscuity
  • Mistress of sorceries 3:4 Enchantress of drug addiction and illusion (Those who have no problem selling nations and families for gain)
  • Citizenry who practice exposure: abortion by killing the new born 3:10
  • Citizenry weak and compromising: 3:13
  • ┬ĚNever ceasing wickedness: 3:19 endless trail of misanthropy

Cocoons were never more closely knit than was the population of Nineveh. Vileness saturated every individual, for what one had not done, the other had and both vindicated the other's behavior. Guilt by association, death by proximity characterized the hour.

Nahum's prophesy was not spoken by a gleeful seer with a smile of contempt but like God Himself, from a heavenly prospective. Nineveh was already laid waste morally, socially and spiritually (3:7); it only took the invasion of Babylon to finish it physically and economically. Inwardly corrupted, its ship of state floated like a neglected hull, whose rusted frame could not sustain the least pressure. Ready to sink into the waters of oblivion, it hung to its mooring waiting the storm.

"She (the nation) is empty, desolate, and waste!
The heart melts and the knees shake;
Much pain is in every side
And all their faces are drained of color…
Nineveh is laid waste…
Your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs
Your captains are like great grasshoppers,
Your shepherds slumber

Here is the picture of a defeated nation, rotten from the inside, though outwardly the Warrior Conqueror of the ancient world.[13] "Your name shall be perpetuated no longer (1:14)" This was God's edict, His oracle that cancels all others.

Whether the above descriptions are applied to nations or the Universal Church, its principle remains--the God who was against Nineveh will similarly manifest Himself against all wickedness. What He did at No Amon, Put and Lubim, Ethiopia and Egypt, He will do again. (3:8, 9, and 10)[14],[15]

Through the mouth of His prophets, whether Isaiah or Nahum, His word is consistent and true. His intentions remain the same; He will avenge the wicked who seek to harm His people. He will redeem His flock.

"The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble
He knows those who trust in Him
" 1:7

"Affliction will not rise up a second time" 1:9

"Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more, for now I will break off his yoke from you, and burst your bonds apart " 1:13

"Behold on the mountains the feet of him who brings good
Tidings, who proclaims peace
O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows
For the wicked one shall no more pass through you;
He is utterly cut off
" 1:15

"The Lord will restore the excellence of Jacob
Like the excellence of Israel,
For the emptiers
[17] have emptied them out
and ruined their vine branches.
" 2:2

Nineveh once repented, and then repeated their sin. This has been the habituation of the modern church and its people. For this, Nineveh received a judgment that was a wound unto death. "Your injury has no healing; your wound is severe (3:19)." Yet, when the news was broadcast, the whole world celebrated. Globally, everyone had been affected by Assyria's treachery.[18]

Many scholars even since early days have believed that Nahum's prophesy was reflective of the end time, a time when God will step in and rescue His people with a definitive blow.

Jerome: The prophecy belongs to the close of the world and the comfort of the saints therein, so that whatsoever they see in the world, they may hold cheap, as passing away and perishing and prepare themselves for the Day of Judgment, when the Lord shall be the Avenger of the true Assyrian."[19]

Evidence of God's hand in sealing a nation into judgment was further seen in His sending Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians who conquered the Assyrians.

History is sealed, judgment is sealed and to participate in sealed judgment a person or nation has only to join in league with those under it and who have not the "seal of God."


[1] OT: 804 Assyria: (Ashshur), the second son of Shem; also his descendants and the country occupied by them (i.e. Assyria) also a lineage trace from Noah will reveal five sons: Elem, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud Aram (Abraham's line).

[2] The Assyrians were notorious for their savagery in warfare. They burned and looted cities and showed little mercy to their captives. Assyrian soldiers were known for torturing children, blinding warriors, chopping off hands, impaling victims on stakes, and beheading their enemies (very similar to the twenty-first century where fear grows over such tactics in the same region.) (Ref., pages 1046-7, NKJV Nelson notes.)

[3] Sennacherib's Prism is a hexagonal clay tablet inscribed with the details of eight campaigns. In Sennacherib's Addendum, the account as he described the war with Hezekiah was different than the Biblical account.

[4] OT:6862 adversary: tsar (tsar); or tsar (tsawr); from OT:6887; narrow; (as a noun) a tight place

Op cit: Strong, Biblesoft.

[5] To hold: to seal them up--NT:5083 tereo (tay-reh'-o); from teros (a watch; perhaps akin to NT:2334); to guard (from loss or injury, properly, by keeping the eye on. Translated Reserve: to prevent escaping. to hold in custody.

[6] See Addendum on the gods of Assyria

[7] like a school master

[8] Repentance-lite is the fare of the twenty-first century as well.

[9] From Adam Clarke's Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1996 by Biblesoft

[10] Maurer makes it not a proper name, and translates, 'It is established,' or 'determined' (cf. Gen 41:32, "The thing is established by God;" Dan 6:12, "The thing is true"). (From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)

[11] OT: 5034 Vile: nabel (naw-bale'); a primitive root; to wilt; generally, to fall away, fail, faint; figuratively, to be foolish or (morally) wicked; causatively, to despise, disgrace: KJV - disgrace, dishounour, lightly esteem, fade (away, -ing), fall (down, -ling, off), do foolishly, come to nought, X surely, make vile, wither.

The same allusion as Daniel's Tekel: weightless (good for nothing, worthless).

(Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)

[12] OT: 7210 spectacle: ro'iy (ro-ee'); from OT: 7200; sight, whether abstractly (vision) or concretely (a spectacle): KJV - gazingstock, look to, (that) see (-th). Ibid: Biblesoft

[13] Regardless of the past fierceness of any nation, vileness as the major proponent of its people will cause its demise.

[14] Nah 3:8-10

Sargon the king of Assyria conquered No-amon, the residence of the Pharaohs at that time, and, as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 20:3-4), carried the prisoners of Egypt and Ethiopia into exile.

(From Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1996 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)

[15] Nah 3:9 No-amon was much better off than Nineveh, for while the latter had alienated her neighboring nations, the former had formed powerful alliances. The Egyptian capital could depend on a supply of strong Ethiopians on her southern border, as well as on the help of the whole land of Egypt. The aid was so large that the prophet terms it infinite. Put and Lubim. In both the Vulgate and the Septuagint versions Put is rendered Libya. However, Put is distinguished from Libya in this passage. Present consensus equates Put with Punt, the present Somaliland in Africa. The Lubim spoken of here are the Libyans (with their capital at Cyrene) of North Africa. (From The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1962 by Moody Press)

[16] Romans 10:15

[17]"Emptiers" are operatives today; they loot the people of God of their spiritual and material heritage.

[18] Unfortunately the Roman Church has sealed itself to similar judgment; its history is vileness.

[19] From Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft.

Until Next month,

Dr. Cosby R. Oliver, PhD.


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