The prophet’s name means ‘He comforted, took pity.’ Although, like Jonah, Nahum mentioned the infamous city of Nineveh, his prophetic ministry was later than Jonah’s by about one hundred and fifty years. Nineveh’s repentance was short lived (cf. Jon 3-4); after revival during Jonah’s ministry, the Assyrian empire—whose capital city was the notorious Nineveh—became strong and began to intimidate and oppress Judah. About one hundred years before Nahum’s prophecy, King Ahaz of Judah cowered before the mighty Assyrians and began to pay tribute to their king, Tiglath-pileser (cf. 2 Kgs 16.1-9). His successor, Shalmaneser, captured Israel in 722 B.C. (cf. 2 Kgs 17.6). It may be best to date Nahum’s prophecy sometime between the Assyrian captivity of Israel, and the Babylonian captivity of Judah. During this time of Assyrian and then Babylonian dominance, the LORD sent Nahum to comfort His flock in Judah and Jerusalem by reminding them that He is the just ruler of nations. God’s justice upon Israel’s enemies was yet unseen, but not unknown. A day would come when God would settle accounts against those whom He had used to discipline His people (cf. Is 10.7-16; 14.24-27; 36.1-20). Obadiah, prophesying after the Fall of Jerusalem, may have taken up Nahum’s theme.
Nahum’s word of comfort unfolds under two headings:
- The LORD was angry with the city of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire (ch 1). The prophet encouraged those in Judah by reminding them of the character of their God: “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is fierce in wrath. The LORD takes vengeance against His foes; He is furious with His enemies. The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will never leave the guilty unpunished” (1.2-3a); “The LORD is good, a stronghold in a day of distress; He cares for those who take refuge in Him. But He will completely destroy Nineveh” (1.7-8a). According to Nahum, Nineveh’s oppression of Judah had offended the LORD to the point of enticing Him to destroy the Ninevites; while the LORD used foreign nations to warn His people of the consequences of their idolatrous ways, those nations risked the danger of likewise being destroyed if they did not humble themselves before the LORD (cf. Is 10.7-16). Judah could thus rejoice in the word of the LORD through the prophet:
“Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no longer. For I will now break off his yoke from you and tear off your shackles…Look to the mountains—the feet of one bringing good news and proclaiming peace! Celebrate your festivals, Judah; fulfill your vows. For the wicked one will never again march through you; he will be entirely wiped out” (1.12b-13, 15)
- The LORD would take revenge on Nineveh for oppressing Judah (chs 2-3). Nineveh was no insignificant city (cf. Jon 4.11). Yet, Nahum prophesied that even if they summoned all of their strength (cf. 2.1)—evidenced by shields, warriors, chariots, and the beauty that accords cultural prominence—the LORD said: “I will make your chariots go up in smoke and the sword will devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the sound of your messengers will never be heard again” (2.13). Nahum further comforted Judah with the message that Nineveh, the city of prostitution, “the attractive mistress of sorcery, who betrays nations by her prostitution and clans by her witchcraft” (3.4), would soon be ashamed when the LORD lifted her skirts and displayed her nakedness to the nations (3.5). Her devastation would be so bad that only women would be left to fight, and the city gates would be flung open with no one to guard from invaders (3.13). The LORD’s messenger boldly addressed the Assyrian king:
“Your shepherds slumber; your officers sleep. Your people are scattered across the mountains with no one to gather them together. There is no remedy for your injury; your wound is severe. All who hear the news about you will clap their hands because of you, for who has not experienced your constant cruelty?” (3.18-19)
The theology of Nahum’s prophecy is schematic for the storyline of Scripture; God’s justice—expressed in Christ’s first and second comings—serves to both comfort those in Christ, and exact vengeance upon those opposed to Him. In Christ God has revealed the means by which He will both condemn those who oppose the gospel, and provide victory for those who submit to it; the guilt of the former and the hope of the latter are both advanced because God has come near in His Son. Nahum’s prophecy of the destruction of Nineveh (3.1-7) may have been in the Apostle John’s mind when he wrote of the destruction of Babylon/Rome. Nahum detailed God’s wrath against Nineveh because the Assyrians had so threatened Judah; John described the judgment of Babylon/Rome because of what that nation had done to “the witnesses to Jesus” (Rev 17.6):
“I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names, having seven heads and 10 horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She had a gold cup in her hand filled with everything vile and with the impurities of her prostitution. On her forehead a cryptic name was written: ‘Babylon the great the mother of prostitutes and of the vile things of the earth.’ Then I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus” (Rev 17.3-6a)
In the grid of the New Testament, submission and obedience to the gospel of Jesus is the only way to escape God’s wrath; Israelite nationality won’t suffice. In Nahum 1.15 the prophet announced the word of the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, and exhorted Judah to “Look to the mountains—the feet of one bringing good news and proclaiming peace!” The Apostle Paul took up Nahum’s prophecy, applying it to the new situation in Christ. While many Jews of his day had heard the announcement of good news from the prophets, like Nahum, they failed to recognize that it had arrived in Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 10.15). Paul thus employed Nahum’s word pejoratively; Israel had received the message, “But all did not obey the gospel” (Rom 10.16).
*For a complete list of references, please see scripturestoryline.com