Nahum 3 - Nineveh, the Wicked City
A. The sin within Nineveh.
1. (1-4) The violence and immorality in Nineveh.
Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs. The noise of a whip and the noise of rattling wheels, of galloping horses, of clattering chariots! Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear. There is a multitude of slain, a great number of bodies, countless corpses; they stumble over the corpses; because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot, the mistress of sorceries, who sells nations through her harlotries, and families through her sorceries.
a. Woe to the bloody city! In his prophetic vision, Nahum takes a tour of the city of Nineveh and observes how ripe it is for judgment. He sees it is a busy city, full of the noise of a whip and the noise of rattling wheels, of galloping horses, of clattering chariots. Yet it is busy with violence, deception, and idolatry.
i. Not only where the rulers of Assyria terribly cruel, they boasted of the cruelty on monuments that exist in museums to this day. Boice quotes some of the choice boasts from various monuments:
- “I cut off their heads and formed them into pillars”
- “Bubo, son of Buba, I flayed in the city of Arbela and I spread his skin upon the city wall”
- “I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins”
- “Many within the border of my own land I flayed, and spread their skins upon the walls”
- “I cut off the limbs of the officers, the royal officers who had rebelled”
- “3,000 captives I burned with fire”
- “Their corpses I formed into pillars”
- “From son I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from other I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes”
- “I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, I bound their heads to posts round about the city”
b. Who sells the nations through her harlotries: It was bad enough that Nineveh indulged in this sin for herself; it was worse that she led the nations into violence, deception, and idolatry. For this, the judgment of God was coming.
i. “Thousands of tablets uncovered in the Mesopotamian valley show abysmal superstition. Hundreds of sorcery incantations have been brought to light.” (Maier, cited in Boice)
2. (5-7) The wicked city is humbled.
“Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts; “I will lift your skirts over your face, I will show the nations your nakedness, and the kingdoms your shame. I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle. It shall come to pass that all who look upon you will flee from you, and say, ‘Nineveh is laid waste! Who will bemoan her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?”
a. I am against you: Nahum repeats this phrase, first mentioned in Nahum 2:13. In the first mention, the emphasis was on the military defeat of Nineveh. Now, the emphasis is on the humbling of city.
i. This reminds us the principle of 1 Peter 5:5: Be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Nineveh walked in pride, and as a result had the Lord against them. How much better to be humble and receive the grace of God!
b. I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle: The strength of the word of the Lord almost surprises us here. He will take the idols of Nineveh (abominable filth, the Hebrew word shiqquts often translated “abomination”) and throw them back in their face.
c. Make you vile: The idea behind the Hebrew word for vile (nabel) is that something is made weak, foolish, and contemptible. Nineveh walked high in their pride, but will certainly be brought low - with no one to comfort them (Where shall I seek comforters for you?).
i. Again, this was literally fulfilled The ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote of the destruction of Nineveh: “So great was the multitude of the slain that the flowing stream, mingled with their blood, changed its color for a considerable distance . . . They plundered the spoil of the city, a quantity beyond counting.” (Boice)
ii. Adam Clarke, writing before the discovery of the ruins in Nineveh in 1840, quotes an author commenting on the disappearance of the city: “What probability was there that the capital city of a great kingdom, a city which was sixty miles in compass, a city which contained so many thousand inhabitants, a city which had walls a hundred feet high . . . And yet so totally was it destroyed that the place is hardly known where it was situated . . . Great as it was formerly, so little of it is remaining, that authors are not agreed even about its situation.”
B. Nineveh is ripe for judgment.
1. (8-11) Because of the way God judged other cities, Nineveh is ripe.
Are you better than No Amon that was situated by the River, that had the waters around her, whose rampart was the sea, whose wall was the sea? Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was boundless; Put and Lubim were your helpers. Yet she was carried away, she went into captivity; her young children also were dashed to pieces at the head of every street; they cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains. You also will be drunk; you will be hidden; you also will seek refuge from the enemy.
a. Are you better than No Amon: No Amon is the Hebrew name for the Egyptian city of Thebes. Thebes was another wealthy, mighty city that was destroyed completely. The Assyrians in Nineveh knew this well, because it was their armies that destroyed Thebes. Nahum says, “Remember what you did to No Amon? The same is coming on you.”
b. You also: We are like the Ninevites. We see empires and nations judged in our own day and in history, just like the Assyrians saw Thebes destroyed. Yet we, like the Ninevites, somehow think that we will be spared, despite our sinful arrogance and rebellion.
2. (12-15) Because of her own weakness, Nineveh is ripe.
All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs: If they are shaken, they fall into the mouth of the eater. Surely, your people in your midst are women! The gates of your land are wide open for your enemies; fire shall devour the bars of your gates. Draw your water for the siege! Fortify your strongholds! Go into the clay and tread the mortar! Make strong the brick kiln! There the fire will devour you, the sword will cut you off; it will eat you up like a locust. Make yourself many; like the locust! Make yourself many; like the swarming locusts!
a. Your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs: As easily as ripe fruit falls from a shaken tree, so will the strongholds of Nineveh fall before the judgment of God. We often have our strongholds of sin and pride that we put great confidence in, but they are ready to be shaken and fall to the ground.
b. Fire shall devour the bars of your gates: Archaeologists document the burning of Nineveh. “The excavators of Nineveh have remarked on the large deposits of ash, which are evidence of a gigantic conflagration.” (Boice)
c. Draw your water for the siege: Nahum practically mocks the people of Nineveh, cheering them on to do the best they can in light of the coming judgment. They can prepare as many provisions and people they please, but it will all come to nothing against the judgment of God.
3. (16-19) Because her leaders are weak, Nineveh is ripe.
You have multiplied your merchants more than the stars of heaven. The locust plunders and flies away. Your commanders are like swarming locusts, and your generals like great grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges on a cold day; when the sun rises they flee away, and the place where they are is not known. Your shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria; your nobles rest in the dust. Your people are scattered on the mountains, and no one gathers them. Your injury has no healing, your wound is severe. All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you, for upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually?
a. Merchants . . . commanders . . . generals . . . shepherds . . . nobles: Each of these classes of leaders were numerous in Nineveh, but they all would be ineffective and come to nothing in the day of judgment. Despite their numbers, still your people are scattered on the mountains, and no one gathers them. The sinful and rebellious leadership of Nineveh will be powerless against the judgment of God.
b. All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you: Nahum ends his prophecy with a view of the righteous and their triumph over the unrighteous. This is something that the people of God need to be often reminded of, because it often goes against present appearances.
i. Because Nineveh was so known - even renowned - for its violence and cruelty, no wonder Nahum sees the nations applauding when the city is judged and destroyed.
ii. In Psalm 73, Asaph dealt with this same problem. It seemed to him that the wicked constantly prospered and lived at ease. It troubled him so much that he doubted his own walk with God, Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. (Psalm 73:17-19)
iii. For Nahum, Asaph, and for us today, we take comfort in knowing that the judgments of the Lord are faithful and true. We don’t need to envy the unrighteous or seek vengeance against them ourselves. Nahum and Asaph each show us that God is more than able to take care of them and us, each according to His promise.
©2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.