The destruction of Nineveh
The message of Nahum, a prophet from Elkosh
When considering the character of God, Nahum’s vision describes both His great patience and His fiery vengeance. Nahum, whose Semitic name means “comforted,” depicts Israel’s God as the Divine Warrior fighting oppressors on Israel’s behalf during a time of international turmoil.
These oracles, likely delivered between the Assyrian conquest of Thebes in 663 B.C. and the Babylonian-Median conquest of Nineveh in 612 B.C., offer hope to the Israelites who have been trampled by the warring empires around them. To them Nahum’s graphic and disturbing details of the violent fall of Assyria are a comforting picture of impending freedom.
For a long time God has used the Assyrians to punish His people and the surrounding nations for their wickedness, but soon they will watch as He remembers His covenant and avenges His own.
About GOD’s Compassion
Against the backdrop of a world filled with unimaginable cruelty, Nahum’s bloody portrayal emphasizes God’s compassion. A God who is just and compassionate cannot simply stand by and ignore the horrors of evil, violence, deceit, and greed.
He must deal with them decisively in order to set the world right and repair its raging injustice; but even as God is intolerant of violence and cruelty (1:2), He is slow to anger (1:3).
Furthermore, the point of God’s judgment is never merely to punish; it is always to bring about repentance and change which will lead to better lives and a better world.
For Nahum the God of Israel is not vindictive; rather, He is jealous for the unswerving devotion and honest worship of all the nations. He desires for people to know Him through His great love and mercy rather than through His mighty wrath.
A Two Way Street For Nineveh
For several generations Nineveh inspired fear among the nations, but her greatness was short-lived. Internal strife and external threats from two of her vassals—the Babylonians and the Medes—resulted in the fall of Asshur in 614 B.C. and eventually Nineveh two years later.
Nineveh must have seemed impregnable to her citizens and her enemies. Her walls were, in places, over 50 feet high—massive by ancient standards—and wide enough for chariots to be driven on top of them. Large towers flanked the city’s colossal gates and offered any guest or potential foe an imposing image of a city that could not be taken.
But together, the Babylonians, Medes, and their allies attacked the city and razed it to the ground; they massacred a large number of Nineveh’s citizens and deported the survivors. In the end the people of Nineveh were treated by their enemies the same way Nineveh had treated her victims.
Nahum’s prophecy ends on a triumphant chord for those who love justice and hate oppression. God will not let it stand.
This divine appearance, often called a theophany, is a vivid portrayal not only of the Lord’s characteristics but also of His activity on behalf of Israel. Descriptions of fantastic weather patterns demonstrate both the mysterious elusiveness and the mighty grandeur of God.
Similar to the story related in Job 38, God visits the afflicted and impoverished through these images, and that impressive power He displays in His storms benefits the oppressed. Despite unspeakable horrors the Assyrians committed against the Israelites, His people still understand that their God is good.
Nahum expresses God’s sentiment against Nineveh, and it is not attractive! The prophet uses graphic images to show how angry God truly is. If showing the nakedness of the Assyrian people to the nations is not demoralizing enough, then the shame of God throwing excrement at His enemies is unmistakable.
The indignity of being stripped naked and covered in filth is the fullest expression of God’s rejection. While these images are disturbing, they are also typical of how powerful enemies, such as the armies of Nineveh, have treated their victims.
Now the table is turned; the victor is now the victim. There is no one to comfort the Assyrian people: they are without a prophet; they are without a poet; they are without hope.