The Message of Nahum – Part 3

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

The Spanish schooner Amistad sailed for Cuba in 1839, with a shipload of unwilling passengers: 53 slaves recently abducted from Africa. Led by Joseph Cinqué, the captives escaped from their chains, killed the captain and cook, but spared the life of two Spanish navigators who could sail them home. The navigators did not take the captives home, but managed to misdirect them by sailing the Amistad in a generally northward direction. As seen in the Academy Award-nominated movie, also called Amistad, after two months at sea, the U.S. Navy seized the ship off Long Island, New York and towed it to New London, Connecticut. The mutineers were imprisoned in New Haven, Connecticut while the case was investigated.

Spain attempted to pressure U.S. President Martin Van Buren into extraditing the Africans, so they could be tried for murder and piracy. However, the abolitionists were successful in having the case tried in the United States. The prosecution argued that the mutineers were subject to the laws governing conduct between slaves and their masters, but trial testimony determined that slavery was legal in Cuba, but the importation of slaves from Africa was not.

The judge ruled that the Africans were not merchandise; rather, they were victims of kidnapping and had every right to escape their captors however possible. Two years following the original mutiny, the Supreme Court ruled that the Africans had been detained illegally and ordered them free to return to their homeland. Justice prevailed!

Nahum 3 uses passionate and vivid language to reiterate the justice of God’s judgment on Nineveh. The final chapter of Nahum’s prophecy poetically addresses the reasons for the divine verdict: Nineveh was a “bloody city.” Sin was the reason for God’s judgment! The “bloody city” was corporately responsible for atrocities and excesses. Nineveh had sold entire peoples by her harlotries and sorceries (Nah 3:4). Nahum expressed the outraged conscience of humanity. Nineveh’s greatest evil was devising “against the LORD” (Nah 1:9) and plotting “evil against the LORD” (v. 11).

God’s justice would be poetic: “‘I will throw filth on you and make you vile, and set you up as a spectacle” (3:6). What was done in private would be made public. Shamelessness would be disgraced (v. 5). The divine verdict may appear excessive, yet the hyperbole reflects the utter heinousness of Nineveh’s sins.

Frequently, justice is reaping what is sown. Assyria sowed to “the wind” and thus reaped “the whirlwind” (Hos 8:7). God is most certainly gracious and merciful (cf. Nah 1:3, 7). He can make certain that “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting” (Ps 126:5). “‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).

(Nahum 3:1-7) “Woe” is a translation of the Hebrew interjection hoy, which appears 52 times in 48 verses in the Old Testament. In the Hebrew concordance of the King James Version of the Bible, it is rendered as “ah” (seven times), “alas” (two times), “ho” (four times), “o” (three times), and “woe” (thirty-six times). Fifty uses of hoy occur in prophetical books. One usage is with regard to the marriage of Ruth (Ruth 4:1), and another denotes lamenting (1 Kgs 13:30; Isa 17:12). Hoy was used two times to admonish (Isa 18:1; 55:1). The majority of the usages of hoy (as in Nah 3:1) involve negative warnings or threatening announcements of divine judgment.

God acted in judgment against Nineveh for the Assyrians’ sin against Him and humanity. Pride was their fundamental sin against God (cf. Isa 36; Nah 1:11). Nineveh was indeed a “bloody city” (Nah 3:1), and such cruelty and oppression toward other people (vv. 1-4) was also the reason why God was angry and why He acted in judgment. Pride against God is typically manifested in cruelty toward other people. For this reason, Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God unreservedly and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matt 22:37-39). God acts in judgment to punish arrogance and to protect people.

The Lord of hosts (lit. Yahweh Almighty) declared yet again that He was “against” Nineveh (Nah 2:13; 3:5). Nineveh was described as a seductive harlot who enslaved the nations (3:4), and now her own “nakedness” would be exposed to those who were victims of her oppression. Nineveh would be completely disgraced, and the wretchedness of the city would be evident before the nations.

The Assyrians made the people of other nations detestable, and now the Lord would do the same to them (v. 6). The defeat of a nation was a dreadful humiliation in both ancient and modern times. Whereas everyone who saw Nineveh would balk and remark concerning her devastated condition, no one would “grieve” or mourn for her (v. 7); rather, the people would rejoice that Nineveh’s cruelties against them had come to an end (v. 19).

(Nahum 3:8-19) Nineveh was similar to the once-great city of Thebes (or No-amon), the magnificent capital of Upper (southern) Egypt, whose fall was predicted by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jer 46:25; Ezek 30:14-16). The Assyrians conquered Thebes in 661 BC, and Nahum’s prophecy is dated to 650 BC. Therefore, a little more than a decade had transpired since what was thought to be an invincible city was destroyed. Nineveh would be foolish to believe they could not experience a similar fate (Nah 3:8).

A noteworthy contrast between Thebes and Nineveh is that the former had several allies (v. 9). Thebes ruled over “Ethiopia” (Cush), while the latter controlled Lower “Egypt” at the time of the destruction of Thebes. “Put” was south of Egypt, and “Lubim” (Libya) was to the west. Allies surrounded Thebes for many miles; yet even her security was not guaranteed, for she “became an exile” and “went into captivity” (v. 10).

Thebes had everything in her favor, yet in 661 BC, the city fell to the forces of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. The Assyrian soldiers were merciless and slaughtered “small children . . . at the head of every street.” Lots were cast for the “honorable men” of Thebes, who were auctioned as slaves, “bound with fetters,” and marched into exile (v. 10). The wrath of God is inseparable from His love, which is why Nineveh must be destroyed for her pride and cruelty.

No hope remained for Nineveh if mighty Thebes had already fallen so dramatically. Nahum concluded that Nineveh would lose all self-control, like a “drunk,” and thus would be unable to defend themselves. Many people hid themselves from the Assyrians; yet when Nineveh fell, the people would “search for a refuge from the enemy” (v. 11). Nineveh disappeared from history!

“The disappearance of the Assyrian people will always remain an unique and striking phenomenon in ancient history. Other, similar, kingdoms and empires have indeed passed away, but the people have lived on. Recent discoveries have, it is true, shown that poverty-stricken communities perpetuated the old Assyrian names at various places, for instance on the ruined site of Ashur, for many centuries, but the essential truth remains the same. A nation which had existed two thousand years and had ruled a wide area, lost its independent character.”1

Just as “ripe fruit” drops easily from shaken trees, so also would the fortifications of Nineveh fall (v. 12). Nineveh’s enemies would easily capture the city when the defenses became weak (v. 13), nor would they be of any use since the attack arises from God’s judgment (vv. 14-15a). The city’s ruin would be like the “creeping” and “swarming” of a “locust” invasion (vv. 15b-16). Assyria’s “guardsmen” resembled locusts that vanish in the hot sun (v. 17).

Nahum’s prophecy concludes with a final satirical poem, which describes the city’s leaders as “sleeping” (v. 18). Without leadership, the “people are scattered” and the nation suffers from an incurable wound (v. 19a). Those who suffered from Nineveh’s tyranny would rejoice over her demise (v. 19b). God will humble any people or nation who is deceived into thinking that sin will go unpunished. Doom and gloom is pronounced for those opposed to the Lord and His people, whom He loves and who receive great comfort and hope in the assurance that their God will deliver them by removing their oppressor.

The doctrines of God’s love and His wrath are not incompatible. God must punish evil, because He is holy and loving. He is merciful and willing to forgive those who turn to Him in faith and repentance, just as years earlier God spared those in Nineveh who heeded the message of Jonah. As a righteous judge, the Lord cannot let sin go unpunished; and, as a loving God, the Lord will defend His people from individuals and nations that seek their harm (which, of course involves judgment).

Nahum’s prophecy concludes with the people being “scattered on the mountains” with “no one to regather them.” This is a reminder of Jesus’ description of oppressed people in His time, who “were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). Although the prophet Nahum did not prophesy the coming of the Messiah, he certainly does prove the need for Him. Praise the Lord for the joyous time in the future, when Messiah (Christ) will appear and rid the earth of all oppression and sin!

1 J. B. Bury, S. A. Cook, and F. E. Adcock, eds., The Cambridge Ancient History, 12 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1925) 3:130.

Midnight Call - 06/2021

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