Two of God’s prophets were commissioned to address the Assyrian capital of Nineveh directly. Jonah was sent to proclaim a message of judgment and to provoke repentance (approx. 760 BC). God would then employ the Assyrians to judge Israel for her sins, resulting in the eventual destruction of the northern kingdom in 721 BC. Approximately 100-150 years later, Nahum proclaimed “the burden against Nineveh” (1:1). Unlike the former prophet, Nahum’s message was not to provoke repentance. Nineveh had returned to her old ways, and so the prophet pronounced judgment upon them. There are two details which help us know the timing of the book; the prophet mentions the destruction of the Egyptian city No Amon (3:8, better known as Thebes) which took place in 663 BC, and Nahum foretold Nineveh’s fall, which happened in 612 BC. Thus, the book was written sometime between these two dates.
Among the sins which Jonah warned Nineveh to turn from was violence (Jonah 3:8). In Nahum’s condemnation of the city, he states, “Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs. … there is a multitude of slain, a great number of bodies, countless corpses—they stumble over the corpses…” (Nahum 3:1, 3).
At the beginning of the book the prophet reminds his reader of God’s patience and justice. We read, “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked…” (1:3). God had shown patience with Nineveh, and had previously forgiven them when they repented at the message of Jonah, but since that time they continued to slip further and further into wickedness. Now it was time for judgment to be executed.
This serves as a great warning for us—God is patient, but may we not try His patience, for a time of judgment will come.
Not only does Nahum’s prophecy serve notice to Nineveh about their eminent destruction, but it was given to provide hope and comfort for God’s people, for Judah. The Assyrians defeated and destroyed Israel in the north, which was God’s plan, but they continued to make campaigns into the south, into Judah. Nahum characterizes such as Nineveh conspiring against the LORD (1:9, 11). God promised the people of Judah, “…I will break off his yoke from you…” (1:13). This serves as a message for God’s people of all generations—the LORD is watchful, He sees the oppression of His people at the hand of the wicked, and He will not allow such to continue perpetually. He will render judgment against the enemies of His people.
Nineveh would fall to the Babylonians. Chapter 2 describes the fall and plundering of the city. Babylonian soldiers breached through Nineveh’s defenses, and then chariots charged through the city streets setting it on fire. Many people fled from the city, others were led away captive. Finally, the Babylonians took away the spoil of sliver, gold—seemingly endless treasures.
The book ends with the king of Assyria alone—his commanders and generals have all fled away, they are nowhere to be seen (3:17). His advisors and nobles were dead, his people were scattered on the mountains (3:18). There he lay, severely injured with no one to help him, and all who heard news of his demise would rejoice, for his wicked and violent reign was over (3:19).
Our next book summary will be on Habakkuk…