We know next to nothing about the man Nahum and his personal history.
The name, Nahum, means "comforter."
He was from the town of Alqosh, (Nah 1:1) but we don’t really know where that is.
Some scholars put it in Assyria, others in Capernaum, which are two locations many, many miles apart.
He was a very nationalistic and patriotic Hebrew.
What we really know for sure is that this man wrote his book about 600 years before Christ. His book is about the downfall of Assyria.
Assyria is one of those empires that we come across in the Bible that invaded Israel. The capital city of Assyria was Ninevah. In different parts of the Bible, we encounter Assyria as the threat that MIGHT invade the land. Jonah has to deal with Assyria by going to Ninevah to tell them to repent.
In Nahum, Assyria is about to run its course and come to an end.
So let’s take a look at Nahum:
1 A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
The word Elkoshite means someone living in Elkosh. We have no idea where that was. Some people believe it was the city of Capernaum, which figures prominently in the New Testament because CaperNAUM means Village of Nahum. But other scholars place this town near Ninevah – we don’t really know.
The word that is translated as “prophecy” in the NIV is translated in some versions as “burden.” That is an interesting phrase. “A burden concerning Ninevah.”
In the Old Testament the English word "burden" is translated from the Hebrew word massa.
It is used of a donkey's burden ( Exod 23:5 ).
Another kind of burden is described in Numbers 11:11, 17, where Moses is bearing the burden of the people and the Lord tells him to gather the seventy elders so that "they will help you carry the burden of the people." In that instance, the burden is not physical but psychological and spiritual.
The same Hebrew word is used in reference to a prophetic utterance describing a threat or punishment on a nation or people. Isaiah uses the term in chapters 13 through 23. Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Zechariah all have similar sections. Recent translations have tended to render the word "oracle" instead of "burden." The basic concept seems to be that Israel's sinful actions have caused God to be burdened. Therefore, in righteousness he is compelled to judge them.
This burden of Nahum is emphasized by a five-fold invocation of God’s name.
2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God;
the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.
3 The LORD is slow to anger but great in power;
the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.
Sometimes the words we use to describe God are limited and based on human nature, and such strike us a bit odd.
The Lord is jealous.
We think of jealousy as negative.
Jealousy is used in the Scriptures in both a positive and a negative sense. When jealousy is used as an attribute of God, it is always used in a positive sense. Think of God as being jealous FOR the people, not jealous OF the people. The language is based upon the relationship of husband and wife and is frequently associated with Israel's unfaithfulness to God.
One thing that is very clear in this five fold invocation of God’s name – God is serious and not to be trifled with.
That 3rd verse is haunting
3 The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.
God is slow to anger, but that is not a weakness. That is a strength. Because the Lord is God, he does not act impulsively. But when he does act, beware, he does not leave the guilty unpunished. The sinners are doomed – period. At least in verse 3.
But Nahum moves from that to describe the judgment of God:
5 The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away.
The mountains and hills – those are permanent fixtures. They are not subject to destruction, they last forever – but before God, they will melt away.
6 Who can withstand his indignation?
That is a good question, and as we move from verse six to verse seven, it is nice to see some hope.
7 The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him,
However, in verse 8 we read that when it comes to Nineveh, their time has come to an end.
8 but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh;
What you have up to this point is a description of the power of God. God is able to destroy the people of Assyria and Nineveh. But God does not destroy or punish simply because He can, but because the people have sinned. The Book of Nahum describes the sins of Nineveh.
9 Whatever they plot against the LORD he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time.
Trouble will not come a second time?
Think back to Jonah. Jonah and Nahum are two interesting books.
Jonah focuses on the prophet, Nahum focuses on the prophecy.
Jonah is a disobedient prophet, but Nahum appears to be a very obedient prophet.
Jonah is about the repentance of Nineveh. Nahum comes 50 years later and is about the return of rebellion in Nineveh and the judgment against that nation.
As Nahum says, “trouble will not come a second time.”
10 They will be entangled among thorns and drunk from their wine; they will be consumed like dry stubble. 11 From you, Nineveh, has one come forth who plots evil against the LORD and devises wicked plans.
In the verses that follow Nahum alternates between the destruction of Nineveh and the restoration of Judah to show a contrast.
12 This is what the LORD says:
“Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be destroyed and pass away. Although I have afflicted you, Judah, I will afflict you no more. 13 Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away.”
14 The LORD has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.”
15 Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed.
The one who was on top will be brought down. The one who is on bottom will be restored. This is the way God always operates. The Last will be First and the First will be Last. God humbles those who exalt themselves and exalts those who humble themselves.
Assyria was God’s instrument for destroying the northern kingdom of Israel, but it went to their heads and they attributed success to their own power.
As Nahum begins chapter 2, you really get a good sense of this doom of Nineveh, promise to Judah duality.
1An attacker advances against you, Nineveh. Guard the fortress, watch the road, brace yourselves, marshal all your strength!
2 The LORD will restore the splendor of Jacob like the splendor of Israel, though destroyers have laid them waste and have ruined their vines.
3 The shields of the soldiers are red; the warriors are clad in scarlet. The metal on the chariots flashes on the day they are made ready; the spears of juniper are brandished.
Nahum describe the enemy army approaching with their red (copper) shields and red uniforms. This was a picture of the bloodshed that was coming. The reference to the torches and lightning flashes probably refer to the light flashing off the enemy chariots, the soldiers' armor and their swords.
5 Nineveh summons her picked troops, yet they stumble on their way. They dash to the city wall; the protective shield is put in place. 6 The river gates are thrown open and the palace collapses.
So, everyone is posed for battle, but it is to no avail, Nineveh can't stand before God's wrath. The Babylonians, Medes and Scythians are God's instrument and God opens the way for them.
9 Plunder the silver! Plunder the gold! The supply is endless, the wealth from all its treasures! 10 She is pillaged, plundered, stripped!
The wealth taken in all her conquests is now taken from her. According to the historian Diodorus Siculus, there was so much loot that the enemy didn't pursue the fleeing army. The soldiers started grabbing everything they could.
11 Where now is the lions’ den, the place where they fed their young, where the lion and lioness went, and the cubs, with nothing to fear? 12 The lion killed enough for his cubs and strangled the prey for his mate, filling his lairs with the kill and his dens with the prey.
The Assyrians had a fascination with lions. There are several reliefs that have been found which show the kings hunting lions. It was important that a king demonstrate his prowess as a hunter because if he could rule the animal kingdom, then he would be a better ruler over the people. We might laugh at that, but we elect military leaders and athletes to congress.
Ashurbanapal – the leader of the Assyrians during better times – is seen on an ancient Assyrian work of art. He is on a lion hunt and offering the lions to his god.
The lion has climbed into the chariot and the king kills the lion with a knife. It looks like he has been tamed a bit with an arrow through the head.
What do you do after a hard day of hunting lions? Ashurbanapal offers them to his god. The Assyrians prided themselves on being better than the king of beasts.
Assyria is compared to a lion because this lion fetish and because of her fierce conquests. Because Nineveh was the capitol of Assyria it is called the lion's den. And thus it now makes sense why Nahum would ask “where is the lion's den.”
While chapter 2 has Nahum telling the HOW of Nineveh’s doom, in Chapter 3, Nahum steps back once more to explain the WHY of Nineveh’s doom.
Assyria's conquests were bloody and brutal. Her philosophy was that you got rich by plundering others. They exacted tribute from other nations for “protection.” You've seen this in movies where the mafia goon comes into the place of business and asks the owner if he wants protection so people don't throw fire bombs through the window.
Nineveh’s judgment is deserved because of its character. In the Ancient Near East, they would make a spectacle of the prostitute by exposing her and then kill her.
8 Are you better than Thebes, situated on the Nile, with water around her? The river was her defense, the waters her wall.
Nahum reminds them of their former conquest and destruction of Thebes or No-amon for two reasons. The first reason is to point out their cruelty and further justification for their coming judgment. The main reason is to point out that just as Thebes was unable to repel the attackers, Nineveh would be unable to repel their attackers.
Thebes was supposedly undefeatable because it was surrounded on all sides by the Nile river and a canal. The Ninevites would have thought, “So are we.”
Thebes had great defenses. So did Nineveh.
Egypt had vassal nations as allies. So did Assyria.
Ninevah would have known all this -- because Assyria was the one who defeated Thebes. And now it is Assyria’s turn.
11 You too will become drunk; you will go into hiding
Interesting prophecy - Nineveh became a lost city and was hidden until its re-discovery in 1842.
Nahum is a short book, and it comes to an end with these discouraging words.
18 King of Assyria, your shepherds slumber; your nobles lie down to rest. Your people are scattered on the mountains with no one to gather them. 19 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?
This judgment is coming because of the character of God.
This means we need to look at situations in the light of who God is. The book reveals quite a lot about the character of God:
(1) The Lord is Sovereign - He is in control of both nature and the nations. In history we see that God used the Babylonians to bring his judgment on the Assyrians. He also used a flood to help the Babylonians.
(2) God is Just - Assyria's judgment was well deserved. Although God used them to destroy Israel, Assyria became arrogant and attributed their success to their own power. God did not approve of that. God also dealt with the Assyrians appropriate to the way in which they had dealt with other nations. Many of the same atrocities they committed on others were committed on them. As the old saying goes, 'what goes around comes around.'
(3) God protects his people - Although God used Assyria to discipline Israel, he would take notice of those who were faithful.
Nahum is a message of condemnation for those who disobey God BUT it is a message of comfort to those who trust and obey Him.
Assyria compromised her values to gain wealth and power, so God took her down. That is something we struggle with today.