Sometime after 663 B.C., but before 612 B.C.
Like Obadiah, Nahum’s call is specifically to a foreign nation: Assyria, whose capital was Nineveh. This ancient city on the Tigris was the primary capital of the emperor Ashurbanipal, and had been known since before Jonah’s time as a den of treachery. Unlike his predecessor, though, Nahum was able to preach God’s judgment from a distance.
And this is probably best, for Nahum’s opening oracle declares: The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries and keeps wrath for His enemies. After acquainting Assyria with the power of the LORD, the prophet alerts Nineveh of its fate: “No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile."
Remember that Assyria had wiped out the Northern Kingdom of Israel, destroying its capital and scattering its people. Here Nahum steps on a prominent prophetic theme: while the LORD had removed His protection from His people, allowing them to be punished by foreign nations, these nations were nonetheless responsible for the evil they had done. This nuance in the LORD’s character is consistent throughout the prophets, and He feels fully justified in His vengeance, for Nineveh is vile.
In chapters 2 and 3 water is used both as metaphor and as illustration. Nahum foresees the siege that will take Nineveh in 612, how the Medes and Babylonians will surround it, how flood waters will breach the wall, and how it will be left desolate. Like Thebes – the Egyptian capital that Assyria had plundered – Nineveh would not be saved either by water, or by its walls, or by its army.
As you read, remember that it’s unclear how exactly Nineveh was to get this message. It’s possible that this was written mainly for a Jewish audience to be encouraged that Assyria would soon fall. It’s also possible that Assyria had sent an emissary to Judah seeking help against the rising Babylonians and Medes – hence the “worthless counselor” noted in chapter 1 – and this is an intended response. Irrespective of Judah’s alignment with Assyria, her God would have nothing to do with them, for: “There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?”
Our verse for this week is Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
The prophet Nahum. Now let’s read it!
1:1 An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.
The LORD is a jealous and avenging God;
the LORD is avenging and wrathful;
the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries
and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,
and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
he dries up all the rivers;
Bashan and Carmel wither;
the bloom of Lebanon withers.
The mountains quake before him;
the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
the world and all who dwell in it.
Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
The LORD is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
What do you plot against the LORD?
He will make a complete end;
trouble will not rise up a second time.
For they are like entangled thorns,
like drunkards as they drink;
they are consumed like stubble fully dried.
From you came one
who plotted evil against the LORD,
a worthless counselor.
Thus says the LORD,
“Though they are at full strength and many,
they will be cut down and pass away.
Though I have afflicted you,
I will afflict you no more.
And now I will break his yoke from off you
and will burst your bonds apart.”
The LORD has given commandment about you:
“No more shall your name be perpetuated;
from the house of your gods I will cut off
the carved image and the metal image.
I will make your grave, for you are vile.”
Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him
who brings good news,
who publishes peace!
Keep your feasts, O Judah;
fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the worthless pass through you;
he is utterly cut off.