Nahum 1 - Coming Judgment on Nineveh
A. The character of the God who brings judgment.
1. (1) The burden of Nahum.
The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
a. The burden: In the prophets, a burden is a “heavy” message of weighty importance, heavy in the sense that it produces sorrow or grief.
i. “Massa comes from the verb ‘to lift up’ (nasa), and so it can mean ‘to carry’ or ‘to lift up the voice.’ From the first meaning comes the translation ‘burden,’ or ‘load’; and from the second meaning we get the translation ‘oracle,’ or ‘utterance.’” (Wolf, in his commentary on Isaiah) Grammatically, we may be able to say “oracle,” but since these are heavy oracles, we are justified in calling them burdens.
ii. “Massa not only signifies a burden, but also a thing lifted up, pronounced, or proclaimed; also a message. It is used by the prophets to signify the revelation which they have received from God to deliver to any particular people.” (Clarke)
b. Against Nineveh: The capital of the Assyrian Empire was Nineveh, the city that heard the preaching of Jonah a hundred years before and repented. Nahum will address a city that has slipped back into sin, and is again ripe for judgment.
i. Among other things, the Prophecy of Nahum shows us that God not only deals with individuals as individuals, He also deals with nations as nations. “This is the prophecy which sets forth, more clearly than any other, the truth concerning the wrath of God, in its national application.” (Morgan) Nations will be held to account by God.
ii. Nineveh was an ancient, famous city. It was founded by the first world dictator, Nimrod (Genesis 10:11) “From Nineveh’s walls, temples, palaces, inscriptions, and reliefs, mute yet elaborate witness is given to a city that flourished up to its destruction in 612 b.c. Accordingly, the magnificent buildings, artistic designs, and water-supply projects of Nineveh have resulted in its being likened to ancient Versailles.” (Major Cities of the Biblical World)
c. The book of the vision: This was more than a message communicated to Nahum in words or phrases from God. Because this is a vision, in some way Nahum saw it. When we see the vivid, descriptive way Nahum writes we understand that the book records what he saw in his vision.
i. Isaiah 2:1 says: The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Isaiah saw a word, and in some sense Nahum also did.
d. Nahum the Elkoshite: We don’t know anything else about Nahum or the city of Elkosh. The name Nahum is an abbreviated form of the name Nehemiah, which means “Comfort of Yahweh.” It may be that Elkosh was in the region of Galilee, because the city of Capernaum (Matthew 4:13; Mark 9:33; John 2:12) was named after Nahum (Kephar-Nahum, “City of Nahum”).
i. We don’t know exactly when Nahum gave this prophecy. He mentions the destruction of the Egyptian city No Amon (Thebes) in Nahum 3:8 and Thebes fell to the Assyrians in 663 b.c., so Nahum must have been written after that. Nineveh was destroyed 50 years after No Amon (612 b.c.).
ii. It is likely that Nahum was written during the height of Nineveh’s power. “It was concerned with Nineveh, and was delivered almost certainly when she was at the height of her power.” (Morgan)
2. (2-8) The judgments of a merciful God.
God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; the Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies; the Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked. The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, and dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither, and the flower of Lebanon wilts. The mountains quake before Him, the hills melt, and the earth heaves at His presence, yes, the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him. The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him. But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place, and darkness will pursue His enemies.
a. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: Nahum begins his prophecy by considering the character of the God who brings judgment.
- God is jealous: How can it be said that God is jealous? “God’s jealousy is love in action. He refuses to share the human heart with any rival, not because He is selfish and wants us all for Himself, but because He knows that upon that loyalty to Him depends our very moral life . . . God is not jealous of us: He is jealous for us.” (Redpath in Law and Liberty)
- The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries: Man needs to understand that he can’t fight against God and hope to prevail. Everyone who sets themselves against God will end up receiving His vengeance.
- The Lord is slow to anger: God is far more patient than man. Though there is a time and place where He does display His anger, it doesn’t come quickly or capriciously. “God’s sword of justice is in its scabbard: not rusted in it - it can be easily withdrawn - but held there by that hand that presses it back into its sheath, crying, ‘Sleep, O sword, sleep; for I will have mercy upon sinners, and will forgive their transgressions.’” (Spurgeon)
- And great in power: Knowing God’s power should make us trust in His help (because He is able to help) and to fear His judgment (knowing that He judges with power).
- Will not at all acquit the wicked: God is not like an unjust judge who simply lets the guilty go out of a false sense of compassion. We can’t just figure that God will say, “Let’s let bygones be bygones” when we get to heaven. Sin must be accounted for, because He will not acquit the wicked. Every sin will be paid for - either in hell or at the cross - but God will not acquit the wicked. “Never once has he pardoned an unpunished sin; not in all the years of the Most High, not in all the days of his right hand, has he once blotted out sin without punishment.” (Spurgeon)
- The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm: God’s power is so great that it controls the mightiest forces known to man. A huge whirlwind or storm is nothing to God, because He has His way in them.
- His fury is poured out like fire: When God is resisted long enough and rejected strongly enough, eventually His judgment comes. He is slow to anger, but when it does come His fury is poured out like fire. Understanding this should make man quick to repent and wary of presuming on God’s patience.
- The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble: Those who love Him and trust Him see the goodness of God, and find protection in His stronghold - which is the Lord Himself. “Remember that it is only a day; it is not a week, nor a month, and God will not permit the devil to add an extra hour to that day; it is a ‘day of trouble.’ There is an end to all our griefs.” (Spurgeon)
- He knows those who trust in Him: Not only does He know them in the sense of identification, but also in the sense of relationship. Trust implies relationship, and God knows those who trust in Him. “Once more, dear friends, this word ‘know’ here means loving communion . . . God knows us; he knows our prayers and tears, he knows our wishes, he knows that we are not what we want to be, but he knows what we do desire to be. He knows our aspirations, our sighs, our groans, our secret longings, our own chastenings of spirit when we fail; he has entered into it all. He says, ‘Yes, dear child, I know all about you; I have been with you when you thought you were alone. I have read what you could not read, the secrets of your own heart that you could not decipher I have known them all, and I still know them.’” (Spurgeon)
b. How important it is to know that the Lord is good!
- God is good in His very being - it is His very nature to be good
- God is good independently - no one must help Him be good
- God is eternally and unchangeably good
- God is good in each one of His Divine Persons
- God is good in all His acts of grace
- God is good in all His plans and purposes for our life
c. With an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place: Taking into account the character of God, though His slow to anger and good, He cannot forever overlook the sin and rebellion of the Assyrians. Their end in judgment will come like an overflowing flood.
i. The overflowing flood was fulfilled both figuratively and literally. “According to secular accounts, during the final siege of Nineveh by a rebel army of Persians, Medes, Arabians, and Babylonians, unusually heavy rains caused the rivers to flood and to undermine the city’s walls, which then collapsed . . . the invading armies entered the city through this breach in its defenses.” (Boice)
ii. The utter end of its place was also literally fulfilled. “Not only were these people lost from history, even the city was lost until it was discovered by archaeologists, beginning in the 1840’s.” (Boice)
iii. “The author is not expressing some personal feeling of vindication over some hurt by the oppressor, nor even a nationalistic chauvinism that pagan nations must be punished. Rather, Yahweh is applying his universal standard against evil, no matter who is responsible.” (Baker)
B. Nineveh destroyed, Judah delivered.
1. (9-11) The destruction of Nineveh.
What do you conspire against the Lord? He will make an utter end of it. Affliction will not rise up a second time. For while tangled like thorns, and while drunken like drunkards, they shall be devoured like stubble fully dried. From you comes forth one who plots evil against the Lord, a wicked counselor.
a. He will make an utter end of it: Nineveh was ripe for a devastating judgment. This was not a harsh chastening; this was utter destruction to come upon the city. The promise “Affliction will not rise up a second time” sounds encouraging, until we realize that it will not rise up a second time because the judgment will be so severe the first time.
b. They shall be devoured like stubble fully dried: The dry leftover stalks of grass are ready to be devoured by the smallest flame. This is how ripe Nineveh is for judgment, and how complete the fire of judgment will be when it comes.
2. (12-13) The deliverance of Zion.
Thus says the Lord: “Though they are safe, and likewise many, yet in this manner they will be cut down when he passes through. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more; for now I will break off his yoke from you, and burst your bonds apart.”
a. Though they are safe: The enemies of Zion looked mighty; they were safe and many. Yet they will be devastated by the judgment that the Lord promised.
b. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more: God’s people looked weak and afflicted; yet God promises that they will be strengthened and restored. The power of their oppressors will be broken (I will break off his yoke from you).
i. Could not the believer today, who is trapped or oppressed by sin, ask God to break the yoke of sin? It must be done with a complete willingness to walk in the freedom God gives, but only God can break off the power of the things that bind us.
3. (14) The end of the wicked in Assyria.
The Lord has given a command concerning you: “Your name shall be perpetuated no longer. Out of the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the molded image. I will dig your grave, for you are vile.”
a. Your name shall be perpetuated no longer: The city of Nineveh was once instantly recognized as one of the great “power cities” of the world. God promises to bring this wicked city so low that they lose their legacy and name among the nations.
b. I will dig your grave, for you are vile: In this vivid - almost extreme - imagery, God warns Nineveh of its coming judgment and destruction.
4. (15) Blessing in Judah.
Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off.
a. Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! The contrast between the fate of the godly and wicked is nothing but good news to Nahum and the people of God.
i. Isaiah 52:7 uses a similar expression, but Isaiah marvels at the beauty of the feet of him who brings good news. Nahum would certainly agree, because those who bring good tidings have beautiful feet; they partner with God for the salvation of men. The feet speak of activity, motion, and progress, and those who are active and moving in the work of preaching the gospel have beautiful feet.
ii. In Isaiah, the good news is the coming of the Messiah. In Nahum, the good news is the defeat of the enemies of God’s people. Revelation 17 and 18 describe the fall of Babylon, representing the world system and all of its support structure. Revelation 18:9-19 shows how the kings and merchants of the earth mourned the fall of Babylon, but Revelation 18:20 through 19:6 shows how heaven rejoiced over the fall of the world system. What was mourned on earth was applauded in heaven, and the same principle applies in Nahum’s prophecy of Nineveh’s fall.
iii. “Rejoicing is not in this context gleeful gloating at the misfortune of others . . . Rather it is pleasure at the vindication of God and his promises.” (Baker)
b. O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows: Knowing the grace and mercy of God to His people should not make the believer careless in obedience, it should make the believer more careful to obey every word of the Lord.
©2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.