No Return for Nineveh

Posted: September 24, 2015 in Nahum, Route 66

Route 66: Nahum, “No Return for Nineveh”

Some things that are often said are often untrue.  “All roads lead to heaven,” for instance.  Many people believe it, but it’s patently false.  “All religions worship the same God,” again – absolutely untrue.  “Justice delayed = justice denied…”  That one is a bit more politically popular, but this is again untrue, at least in terms of the ultimate justice of God.  Sometimes justice delayed is simply mercy.  After all, no one deserves the mercy of God, and we all deserve justice.  If we received God’s righteous judgment at the very moment we deserved it, none of us would live until adulthood.  God will most certainly judge according to the perfect standard of His righteousness, but we can all be thankful that some of His judgment IS delayed, in that as a result, we are the beneficiaries of His great mercies.  He delayed His judgment long enough for us to come to faith in Christ, and receive His forever forgiveness…and praise God that He did!

With that said, there does come a point when the hammer has to fall.  There comes a time when God no longer delays His judgment, and He pours out His wrath in all of His fury.  Such was the case with the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.  Many people remember Nineveh as the city to which Jonah was sent – a city that repented at the preaching of Jonah (once he finally arrived) – a city that experienced one of the greatest spiritual revivals in history.  All people, from the king to the pauper, humbled themselves before the God of Israel, sought His mercy, and God granted it – much to Jonah’s disappointment and dismay.

Sadly, that revival didn’t last.  It wasn’t long before the Assyrians of Nineveh went back to their old ways, and the very destruction that Jonah wanted to see take place eventually did, and it was the prophet Nahum who saw it in a prophetic vision.  In that sense, Nahum might be thought of as “Jonah, part 2.”  This is the message Jonah wanted to proclaim & see come to pass, but Jonah had lessons of his own to learn in regards to the mercy and grace of God.  The Ninevites experienced that mercy, but they squandered it.  They eventually came to a point that it was too late, and they were doomed to face the judgment of God.

We don’t want to squander our own gifts of mercy!  We don’t want to get to that point of no return.  In short, we don’t want to be Nineveh!

As with many of the prophets, Nahum is named in the very 1st verse.  And again, as with many of the prophets, there is no direct statement that Nahum actually wrote the words of the book, only that the words that are contained are the things he saw.  So in the most technical of senses, the book is anonymous, though for all practical purposes, Nahum is the author.  There’s little reason to believe anyone but him wrote his vision down in the book/scroll, apart from liberal scholars who try to discount the validity of supernatural prophecy.

His name supposedly means “consolation,” which may seem a bit ironic given the message of this book.  After all, his message was anything but a consolation to the Ninevites!  That said, to God’s own people, Nahum’s message of judgment was a great comfort.  Their God was still sovereign over all the nations of the earth, and even their enemies outside the gate would be judged.

As to when the book was written, that’s a bit trickier considering Nahum never lists the kings of Judah under which he served.  For that, we have to go to the text itself, and we see a big clue when Nahum writes of the destruction of a city known as “No Amon,” (3:8) which is not a Hebrew name but an Egyptian one – referring to the ancient city of Thebes. [MAP] Thebes was the wealthy, well-populated capital city of Upper Egypt, and it itself had been ransacked & destroyed by the Assyrians in 663BC.  Nahum uses Thebes as an example as to what would happen to Nineveh, so the prophecy must be dated after the fall of Thebes & prior to the fall of Nineveh – all ranging somewhere within the dates of 663-612BC.

What makes that interesting in regards to a Biblical overview is that the events of Jonah occurred a century earlier, in the range of 782-753BC.  The people of Nineveh had personally experienced the mercies of God, but like so many others, they quickly forgot.  Their children and grandchildren went straight back to their previous sins, and they incurred the judgment that had earlier been proclaimed by the prophet who had been vomited out of a giant fish.

  • How important it is to raise up the next generation in the knowledge of God!  We need to pray for them, invest in them, teach them true Biblical doctrines, and help them stand firm in the faith.  The book of Judges is a sad tale of how each generation fell away from the revival that came before them, and Nahum states the same thing of the Ninevites.  Each generation has the potential of apostasy or revival…we cannot afford to take our children’s faith for granted!

Again, the book is about the destruction of Nineveh, which means that this is a specific message given to a specific people at a specific time.  That prophetic message has already been fulfilled, so we might wonder why God bothered having it included in the OT canon.  What purpose does this serve for the NT Christian today?  Let me suggest a few things:

  • It shows us God’s word is true.  There are so many promises we have in the pages of the NT of things yet unfulfilled, that we can perhaps lose faith that they will ever be fulfilled.  Yet when we see the inspired historical record of prophecies that WERE fulfilled, that helps gird up our own faith.  We see the track record of God in the past, and know that He does not change for the future.
  • It shows us God’s sovereignty over the world.  This was a Jewish prophet writing from the heart of the southern kingdom of Judah (a small kingdom at the time, with little influence over the nations of the world, if any at all).  Yet this minor prophet from this minor kingdom wrote a message to the capital city of the most powerful empire on the face of the earth at the time, speaking directly of their coming destruction…and God brought it.  The God of the Bible is not a tiny God leading a tiny group of people – He is the Almighty God who reigns over every nation of the earth (whether they recognize Him or not).
  • It shows us God’s love for His own.  The northern kingdom of Israel was decimated by the Assyrians.  Yes, God had brought them in to do His will, but they engaged in much of their own sin as well.  The Assyrians had come against Judah in addition to Israel.  The Assyrians had engaged in all kinds of sin, and God knew it all.  God loved His people, and He would rise up in their defense.  His people may have had a tiny role in the world at the time, but they were still HIS people – His children.  You don’t pick a fight with their Daddy, but that is what the Ninevites did.  Likewise, God loves US as His children.  He knows the crimes that are committed against Christians all around the world, and He will have His vengeance upon those who commit them.

Nahum is another tiny book among the writings of the minor prophets (the 7th out of 12), and it’s only three chapters long.  Yet there’s a lot that can be said about those three chapters!

  • God the Avenger (1)
  • The Day of Vengeance (2)
  • Vengeance Deserved (3)

It’s never easy to read of God’s judgment, be it upon Jews or Gentiles – but it’s a necessary thing.  Nineveh had used up its time of mercy, and had reached a point of no return.  They had ignored the earlier warnings, and now it was too late.  They were about to face God in battle, and that was a battle they could never win.

God the Avenger (1)
Introduction (1:1)
Again, like many of the prophets, the book of Nahum begins with a brief superscription letting us know the prophet and a bit of background.  In this case, it’s just a very little “bit.”  We’re told specifically which city this burden has been given against (“Nineveh”), and we’re told the name and hometown of the prophet who gave it.  This was a “vision” that Nahum saw, and some of that comes through in Ch. 2 as the reader can almost picture the day of Nineveh’s destruction in our mind’s eye.  It’s not difficult to understand how Nahum literally saw this terrible day of vengeance in a prophetic vision, even while much of the rest of it reads like standard Hebrew prophetic poetry.

Scholars are uncertain of Nahum’s hometown of Elkosh.  Some have thought it close to Gath of the Philistines – others have thought it close to the Dead Sea [MAP].  It makes little difference, except that in one case, Nahum would definitely be of Jewish descent – in the other, there is a possibility he would have belonged to the northern kingdom of Israel/Samaria.  By the time Nahum wrote, Samaria had already fallen to the Assyrian empire, and although most of the northerners had been carried out or bred out, there was a remnant who remained loyal to the true God, some of which even participated in the massive Passover revival instituted by King Josiah (2 Chr 35:18).  Nahum was surely one of the remnant, if he was of the north – there’s no question he was loyal unto God.

As with Jonah, it’s interesting that this man from this tiny barely-independent kingdom (if not outright overthrown kingdom) was writing about a people so far away. [MAP]  The Ninevites were the enemies of his people.  The city of which he wrote was the capital city of the Assyrian empire, one of the most cruel people known in history.  And yet God knew them, and warned them of judgment.  In fact, God even demonstrated mercy to them at one point.  Why write to them again?  Why write to them at all?  After all, who knows if anyone from Nineveh would ever read the words of Nahum & receive the warning of God?

Because it was a witness.  Not only were Nahum’s words a witness against Nineveh (if they ever read it), but it was primarily a witness to God’s own people.  God wanted HIS people to know of His justice.  God wanted HIS people to know of His righteousness, and His sovereignty over the nations.  It was the Jews who needed to read this message of judgment against Nineveh, because they needed to know their God was sovereign and in control.

  • Our God is still sovereign!  He still rules over every nation – even the most pagan ones, the most evil ones, the worst despotic nations on the face of the earth.  God knows them all, sees them all, and will judge them all.  When?  The Great Tribulation and the day of Jesus’ 2nd Coming.  Like the people of Judah, we’ve also been given a book of prophecy concerning God’s vengeance upon the evil nations of the world, especially those who persecute His people.  And just like the Jews with Nahum, we can read the words of Revelation, and know that God’s prophecies are always true.  He has provided a witness to Himself through His Scriptures.

God’s power over the nations & creation (1:2-5)
Nahum kicks off with a bang, immediately declaring that “God is jealous, and the LORD avenges; the LORD avenges and is furious.” (1:2)  Depending on who you are, those words are either exiting or terrifying.  It all depends on your relationship with God.  If you are certain in your relationship to God through Jesus Christ, this is exhilarating!  These aren’t moral inadequacies in God; these are perfect aspects of His character.  He isn’t jealous as in “petty,” – He is jealous as in “jealous for you.”  Like any father who wants the best for his children, and will quickly rise up in their defense when they are threatened, so our God treats His own children.  He is furious with our enemies, and will avenge the injustices done to His people.

  • With that in mind, think of the eternity that is in store for Satan!  If God was furious with the Ninevites, as ancient enemies of Israel, imagine how furious God must be with the devil who has tried to destroy His special creation from the beginning of history!

As comforting as that may be for the Christian, it is surely terrifying for those who count themselves as enemies of God.  It’s one thing to tick off a random guy on the street; it’s another thing to invoke the anger of the federal government.  The power invested in the government makes all of the difference.  If that’s the case, how much more with the infinitely powerful God?  The Bible declares for the Christian, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31)  Yet the inverse is also true: if God is against us, who can possibly stand?

Even with God’s anger being known, Nahum is quick to point something else out: it didn’t happen overnight. “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; And will not at all acquit the wicked.” (1:3)  Although Jonah is never directly mentioned by name, it’s difficult to see that there is not a bit of reference to him here.  God had shown mercy to the wicked city a century earlier – He had been intensely patient with them.  They were the ones that drove Him to this point, and now He was sure to act.  God is merciful, but He is also righteous/just.  He would show His vengeance to the wicked Assyrians.

Again, this is not a God anyone would want to anger.  He is “great in power,” and shows His power all over the world.  Be it through the “whirlwind and in the storm” (1:3b), or over the various cities and nations such as “Bashan and Carmel…Lebanon” (1:4b) – all the earth is subject to Him and His will.  As Nahum writes, “the mountains quake before Him” (1:5), and His power is immeasurable.

The Undefeatable God (1:6-11)
In light of the power of God, who is able to stand against Him?  That’s the very question Nahum asks in 1:6 – “who can stand…who can endure?”  No one!  None can stand against God.

And again, as terrifying as that may be to the enemies of God, it is a wonderful comfort to those who trust God.  That this was written as a comfort to the Jews is plain: Nahum 1:7–8, "(7) The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him. (8) But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place, And darkness will pursue His enemies." It is the enemies would be defeated by the infinite power of God, but the people of God would find His almighty strength a wonderful comfort & protection.  The LORD YHWH is truly good – and He knows us.  He knows our needs – He knows our desperation.  Those who seek comfort and refuge in Him will find it abundantly.

  • You might need to ask yourself tonight if you know the comfort of the Lord.  Do you know Him as a protective fortress, or a terrifying Judge?  Jesus offers safety and salvation to those who believe upon Him & His sacrifice at the cross by faith.  We are invited to know Him and His goodness personally: “Taste & see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Ps 34:8)

This God (OUR God) is the undefeatable God.  Because He is almighty & our fortress, what good does it do His enemies to “conspire against the LORD” (1:9)?  No one can out-fox God or somehow outthink or outmaneuver Him.  They will be caught up in their own devices, “tangled like thorns” (1:10).  When someone finds themselves an enemy of God, the key is not to continue to fight against Him, but to submit to Him in worship & faith.

God’s proclamation #1 (1:12-14)
Much has been spoken about God, and now God speaks in His own voice through Nahum.  He first addresses His own people of Judah, promising safety.  God had delivered the Jews from the Assyrians before, in an incredible miracle when an angel of God cut down the armies of Sennacherib outside the walls of Jerusalem.  In vss. 12-13, God promises future safety from Assyria, which is 100% historically accurate.  Throughout the rise and fall of the Assyrian empire, Jerusalem & Judah remained one of the few areas of relative independence.  Jerusalem would eventually fall, but to the Babylonians; not the Assyrians.

The second part of God’s pronouncement was directed to the Ninevites.  Although God’s own people would endure, the name of the Ninevites, “shall be perpetuated no longer…I will dig your grave, for you are vile.” (1:14).  Those in Nineveh would be completely cut off – their generations would not endure.  The city would fall in battle, which is exactly what is prophetically described in Ch. 2.

The gospel of God (1:15)
Again, from the standpoint of the Jews, this is excitingly good news!  God has promised freedom from the Assyrians, and His sure judgment upon deadly enemies.  It’s no wonder they rejoiced!  Nahum 1:15, "(15) 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."  Nahum seems to quote Isaiah 52:7 (or at least be familiar with his writings), and what Isaiah wrote about the coming reign of Messiah, Nahum could write about the deliverance of Judah from Assyria.  Each instance is about the wonderful news of the delivering power of God, and each instance is wonderful!

  • Do we remember how good the good news is?  When we tell the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are telling the story of how God came to earth, defeated death and sin, and makes the offer for anyone to be forgiven and saved – to be brought into a right relationship with God.  That is GOOD news!  It’s wonderful!  Do you remember how overjoyed you were when you first came to faith in the Lord Jesus?  You were so happy for the person who shared it with you.  Now…go be that person for others.  Tell someone else of the deliverance that Jesus offers – how they too can be free from sin & death, and how they can know that they have been made a child of God.  They will declare your feet to be beautiful!  Romans 10:14–15, "(14) How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (15) And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”"

The Day of Vengeance (2)
God’s arrival & purpose (2:1-2)
Nahum had written of God’s intent to judge Nineveh, and now (prophetically speaking) the day had arrived.  Nahum in his vision sees that God came to the gates of Nineveh, and God had come fully prepared for war & destruction.  The Ninevites were told to be ready & watch out! (2:1)

Why had God arrived?  He had come on behalf of His own people, in order to “restore the excellence of Jacob,” (2:2).  The nation had been ransacked by the Assyrians, and God was going to set things right again.

Question: Obviously the Ninevites were overthrown & eventually even the whole Assyrian empire crumbled & was assimilated by the Babylonians.  But throughout all of that time, Samaria remained Samaria.  Historically speaking, it would be tough to describe the excellence of Israel being restored.  Even the southern kingdom of Judah was returned to their land, but nothing similar could be said of the north.  Was Nahum wrong on this point?  No.  He just wrote of a restoration that has not yet happened.  It is only in modern times that we see the people of Israel more or less fully restored to their land, but even now this still is awaiting a future fulfillment.  Ultimately, it would seem Nahum is looking much further into the future: the Millennial Kingdom.

  • How can we be sure this will yet be fulfilled?  Because everything else in Nahum was fulfilled to the letter!

Nineveh’s destruction (2:3-12)
The fall of Nineveh is graphically described here.  We see the red shields of the enemy (2:3) – whether dyed, or stained with blood we do not know.  We see the chariots, torches & spears (2:3-4) – everyone rallying towards battle & conquest.  The Ninevites panic as they rush to their defenses, but it’s too little, too late.  The people are “led away captive” (2:7), and the city’s “spoil of silver…gold” (2:9) is all taken.  The city is “empty, desolate, and waste” (2:10) as it is burned by Nabopolassar and the Babylonian army.  What had been a strong city, compared to “lions” (2:11) has now been conquered, the lion itself “killed for his lioness” (2:12), and made impotent.

God’s proclamation #2 (2:13)
What had been pictured is now directly proclaimed: “Behold, I am against you,” says the LORD of hosts…” (2:13).  Can there be a more terrifying proclamation?  For Almighty God to declare Himself against someone…?  The very thought causes us to shudder!  This is YHWH of the heavenly armies, “Lord Sabaoth His name,” in the phrasing of Martin Luther’s famous hymn.  Our very existence hinges upon the will of God.  Who can fight against Him, and if He fights against you, how much worse?

For Nineveh, God declared them to be cut off.  He would destroy them, and they would not be able to rise again.  They had run out of time & opportunity, and now they would face the full onslaught of the wrath of God.

  • This is one reason it is so important for us to share the gospel NOW.  This life is the only opportunity people have a chance to receive of the forgiveness of Jesus.  It is said that 150,000 people die every minute, but whatever the actual figure is, the vast majority of those people die without Christ.  They have reached their point of no-return, and they have nothing left to face other than the judgment of God.  Surely compassion ought to compel us to go tell them the good news!  Not everyone will be saved, but some will…and praise God for that “some”!

Vengeance Deserved (3)
Crimes & destruction (3:1-4)
So the day of battle has already been seen, and now a song of woe rises up about the city.  This isn’t so much Nineveh (or its supporters) crying over its condition, as the nations of the world will later do with the Tribulation Babylon (Rev 18).  This is a song from those looking on the outside in.  Nahum is simply stating the fact that Nineveh will face immense destruction, and that they face many woes.

Of course, it’s not as if Nineveh is an innocent victim.  This was a just punishment that was due for their crimes.  They were a “bloody city…full of lies and robbery” (3:1) – they engaged in idolatrous “harlotries” (3:4), something that could definitely be said of a city that had once fully sought the mercy of the God of Israel.  They had brought death and torture to many other cities around the Middle East, and now it was coming back to them.  Now Nineveh would have so many dead bodies on the ground that people would “stumble over the corpses” (3:3).

God against Nineveh (3:5-7)
Once again, God declares how He as the “LORD of hosts” is “against” Nineveh (3:5).  He describes how He would humiliate the city, make them “vile” (3:6), and cause other nations to see their destruction as a terrible witness.  (If by this point, it isn’t clear that we don’t want to be on the wrong side of the Lord, it’s difficult to know what else needs to be said!)

The example of Thebes (3:8-13)
Starting in vs. 8, the Egyptian city Thebes is mentioned, labeled here by its Egyptian name of “No Amon.”  Thebes is the example held up by God to Nineveh as to what will in turn happen to them.  The Assyrians themselves had once conquered Thebes, which was seen as an incredible victory – especially as it took place so far away from Nineveh. [MAP]  Nineveh (somewhat understandably) took much pride in their victory, but they needed to know that if they did it to others, it could be done to them.  Were they any “better than No Amon/Thebes” (3:8)?  Thebes had been heavily fortified & had allies (“Ethiopia and Egypt” 3:9), yet they were still conquered in battle.  Likewise, the Ninevites would endure the same thing.  They would also “seek refuge from the enemy” (3:11), and they would see how “fire shall devour the bars” of their gates (3:13).

Although we are not Nineveh (thankfully!), there’s still a lesson we can learn from this.  What has happened to others can happen to us.  We ought to be very careful in how we respond to someone else who has fallen into sin & experienced the consequences of it.  We need to be careful to avoid pride, falsely believing that we could never fall.  Even the most spiritual among us can still be tempted and fall into sin. (Gal 6:1) Take heed of the lessons others have learned, and stay humble!

Prepare yourselves for destruction (3:14-19)
Finally, God (through Nahum) calls Nineveh to get ready.  Man up, and prepare for war!  They were to prepare themselves for the destruction that was sure to come.  They were to get their armies ready & their city fortified.  At the moment, they weren’t ready – their leaders (their shepherds) were slumbering (3:18), being totally unprepared. 

BTW – this proved to be an incredibly accurate prophecy.  The fire did indeed “devour” them (3:15), as the king of Nineveh perished in his own palace after fire had been set to it.  How bad was the destruction of Nineveh?  So much so that it was never rebuilt, and as some scholars note, it was completely covered by sand in the span of a few centuries.  It wasn’t until the 18th century that the potential site of the city was discovered, and things weren’t really known for what they were until the 19th century when ruins of a palace were found in 1842.  With that in mind, read the last words of Nahum: Nahum 3:19, "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?"  How incredibly true this was!  They had no healing, and people rejoiced when Nineveh perished, with the knowledge that it would never be seen again.

So did Nahum bring bad news or good news?  Both!  The bad news for Nineveh WAS the good news for the Jews.  Nineveh had an opportunity to receive of the mercy of God, and they enjoyed it for a time, but they turned away.  They went back to the evil to which they were accustomed, and they were guilty of atrocities not only upon Israel, but other nations of the world.  They missed out on their chance to live in the mercies of God, and instead secured for themselves the judgment of God.

But that itself is the good news for the Jews.  They could be assured of their deliverance from the Assyrians.  They could know how God knew them & cared for them. God loves His people enough to avenge them, which is exactly what the Jews witnessed when Nineveh fell.

The character of God never changes, so these things are no less true today.  God is still the LORD of hosts, and He not only gives salvation to His people, but He promises to avenge them.  Where justice fails in this world, the justice of God prevails in eternity.  There is not a single crime committed against a Christian – not a single act of persecution or inflicted suffering – not one thing of which God is not aware, and God will not judge.  Every act of evil will be accounted for by the LORD of hosts.  The One who has His face shine upon us, sets it sternly against the face of our enemy.

Again, that is wonderfully good news…as long as you know you belong to God as one of His children.  Those who have believed upon Jesus Christ for salvation have solid assurance that the judgment for our sins was placed on Christ.  Those who have resisted or denied Jesus, or have walked through the motions of religion while having no sincere faith – they have no such assurance.  In fact, they have the opposite.  They will have to one day face the LORD of hosts themselves, and be held to account.  God is perfect, and His judgment is a perfect judgment.  There is not a single sin that will not be answered. 

The question is: will you answer for it, or will Jesus answer on your behalf? 

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