Nahum had a word from God for the Ninevites—their end was written and it would come to pass. The prophet gave vivid and specific details of the mighty battle to come which would prove the undoing of an enemy so fearsome and seemingly indomitable that all lived in dread of them. Yet the Lord, who raises up whole empires and brings them back down, had judged Assyria after giving them numerous opportunities to repent of their rapacious violence. Their time would now come.
The holy wrath of God would indeed stand against those who opposed the Lord, who rejected the word of the Lord come to them through prophets as well as the people of God.
After a two-year siege, Nineveh was overcome in 612 BC through the combined efforts of the Medes, the Chaldeans (NeoBabylonians) and the Scythians.
Nahum, likened to the lion, symbol of Judah, would now explain why God’s judgment against Nineveh was both righteous and just.
Nineveh’s Doom Deserved
Good writing appeals to all five of the senses, and Nahum employed his gift well, giving his readers the sights, sounds, and smells of the siege, in his second and third oracles.
The litany of Assyria’s war crimes were legion.
The crack of whip and rumble of wheel,Nahum 3:1-2 (NRSV)
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies!
- The most serious were their failure to repent and acknowledge YHWH as the one true and living God, Creator and Sovereign Lord of the cosmos.
- They replaced the worship of God with their own gods in the northern territory of Israel, once the people were deported.
- To insure swift subjugation, the Assyrians had become masters at torture and terror. So cruel and terrible were their acts of violence, whole cities would come out to surrender rather than suffer the consequences.
Practice of Dark Arts
Because of the countless debaucheries of the prostitute,Nahum 3:4-5 (NRSV)
gracefully alluring, mistress of sorcery,
who enslaves nations through her debaucheries,
and peoples through her sorcery,
I am against you,
says the Lord of hosts,
In antiquity, and documented on up to this day in several religions, when people danced to their gods, prophesied, told fortunes, and went into trances, they would take mind-altering drugs. In the ancient near east, the poppy was used as a source of opium at least six thousand years ago, and the idol of a Minoan goddess, circa 1,300 BC was discovered wearing what appears to be a crown of poppies. Accounts of sorcery and witchcraft in the Bible, in both the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian testament, infers the use of drugs.
Assyrian Capture of Thebes
In 663 BC, Assyria accomplished what had been thought impossible—Nineveh’s armies conquered No Amon, now called Thebes, Egypt. With the Nile to protect it, and its massive ramparts and sentinel towers thought impregnable, Thebes seemed untouchable. Having walls one hundred feet high, protected by one hundred gates, according to the Greek historian Homer, Thebes was considered one of the most famous cities of the ancient world. Assyria burnt it to the ground.
King Ashurbanipal stormed through, plundered the city, and engraved his feat with jubilation on tablets that are now housed in the British Museum. Considered their greatest triumph, the defeat of Thebes sent ripples of terror throughout the world.
Are you better than ThebesNahum 3:8 (NRSV)
that sat by the Nile,
with water around her,
her rampart a sea,
water her wall?
One by one, Nahum listed the nations iconic of power and might—Ethiopia, Egypt, Put, and Libya, all allied with Thebes, all come to the aid of that great city, and all led away by the Assyrians in captivity.
Nineveh also had seemingly impenetrable fortifications of one-hundred-foot-high walls so thick three chariots could race abreast across the top. There were one thousand, five hundred citadels, each two hundred feet high. And Nineveh had one of the oldest aqueducts and water systems on the planet. They were well-acquainted with the strategies of war and their empire had no end of nations who would send their troops in battle.
Yet, according to the Lord, they would be no better than Thebes. They too would be led away in fetters.
Details of Destruction
You also will be drunken,Nahum 3:11 (NRSV)
you will go into hiding;
you will seek
a refuge from the enemy.
The account of Assyria’s downfall eerily echoes Nahum’s oracle—for it was in the dead of night, and they were still in a drunken stupor from a night of premature revelry.
All your fortresses are like fig treesNahum 3:12 (NRSV)
with first-ripe figs—
if shaken they fall
into the mouth of the eater.
Excavations have revealed that Nineveh was actually a metropolis of four cities that stretched out for sixty miles, and yet every border fortress fell like a ripe fig into the ravenous mouth of the enemy.
Look at your troops:Nahum 3:13 (NRSV)
they are women in your midst.
The gates of your land
are wide open to your foes;
fire has devoured the bars of your gates.
They had put all their hope into their armaments, their military strength and acumen, and in their seemingly perfectly protected fortifications. Yet, piece by piece, the Assyrian war machine was dismantled, having proved futile against the instruments of God’s judgement.
Nahum described the difficulty of the long, two-year siege, having to draw water in fear, forming brick after brick to add to their barricade, only to have it all washed away, erupt in flames, dissolve before the sword.
From Legion . . . To Little
With a vivid depiction of locust swarms, Nahum portrayed the Assyrians as multiplying beyond numbering,
Multiply yourselves like the locust,Nahum 3:15-17 (NRSV)
multiply like the grasshopper!
You increased your merchants
more than the stars of the heavens.
The locust sheds its skin and flies away.
Your guards are like grasshoppers,
your scribes like swarms of locusts
settling on the fences
on a cold day—
And it was all true! Archaeologists have found magnificent temples and palaces at Nineveh, exquisite and sophisticated art, evidence of opulence, of fabulous wealth. One archaeologist, Austin Layard, discovered a library of twenty-two thousand inscribed clay tablets, the library of Nineveh’s final king, Ashurbanipal.
How could such an immense, impressive, prosperous, powerful empire be toppled?
God has given the answer through the prophet Isaiah, a passage Nahum would have known well.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his handIsaiah 40:12-15 (NRSV)
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
or as his counselor has instructed him?
Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as dust on the scales;
see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
And like fine dust blown from the palm of the hand, that great multitude, living in a sixty-mile wide expanse, became no more.
when the sun rises, they fly away;Nahum 3:17 (NRSV)
no one knows where they have gone.
The destruction of Nineveh would be so complete that for thousands of years people would think tales of the city were fables, myth and legend.
God’s Wrath in Full Measure
There is no assuaging your hurt,Nahum 3:19 (NRSV)
your wound is mortal.
All who hear the news about you
clap their hands over you.
For who has ever escaped
your endless cruelty?
Evil will be judged: As I finish reading Nahum, a principle of truth comes to mind: evil does not go unjudged. God’s wrath is the cleansing agent that will one day rid the entire cosmos of evil. To the people living in Judah, to the nations of the ancient near east, Nahum’s prophecy came as an encouragement that God would not let the Assyrian cruelties and barbarities go unchecked. God’s mercy had given Nineveh significant opportunities to repent. God’s justice would not permit their evil to continue unjudged.
Nahum’s prophecy remains an encouragement to you and me today. God will expunge evil around us and within us—either by the cleansing of repentance, or the cleansing of judgement.
The Assyrian siege of Lachish, British Museum | By Shadsluiter – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69204310