Nahum the prophet

While like Jonah the prophet (see here) Nahum preached judgement against Nineveh, the centre of the Assyrian Empire at the time (circa 650BC), there are notable differences between the two.

Many will be aware of the story of Jonah, if only because of the whale, but few will be aware of Nahum, although his tomb (still identifiable) sited near the city of Mosul in Northern Iraq, not far from ancient Nineveh (now an architectural ruin that began to be unearthed in the nineteenth century), is still intact and Nahum is still revered by many. But like Jonah, Nahum preached God’s message of judgement against Nineveh (100 – 150 years later) but, unlike with Jonah, what had been threatened came to pass. Just as with Hosea and Amos, contemporaries of Jonah, there were contrasting emphasis on God’s judgment and God’s mercy in their stories, that also is the case when comparing Jonah with Nahum, although all four recognized both aspects of God’s character.

Chapter 1 speaks of God’s character and anger against wicked nations, specifically Assyria and its capital Nineveh. Like much prophetic writing Nahum reveals God’s heart in beautiful poetry, starting each line with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It begins by reminding readers “the Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath” but also “the Lord is slow to anger but great in power” (something Jonah realized and which partly explained his reluctance to go to Nineveh) and “the Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him”. Nahum, while a neglected book of the Bible, is unsurpassed in its insights on the nature and character of God, who despite His patience and mercy will not be thwarted and He will punish with severe finality wrongdoers, of which Assyria is one of many that God can and will judge, as is set out here, as well as proclaim peace to His special people, Judah, assuring them the wicked, namely Nineveh, will no more invade and will be destroyed.

Chapter 2 declares that Nineveh will indeed fall, and sets out in remarkable detail how this is going to happen, as if he was watching the drama as it unfolded, down the detail of the clothes worn by the Babylon invaders, the methods they used to breach a great city with its formidable yet in this case useless resources that they had thought was impregnable, but which was to be utterly destroyed, never to be rebuilt and the aftermath of what had happened. While it had taken time to come to pass, with many notable events as indicated in the above timeline since Jonah’s preaching, it will happen soon. God had seen Nineveh’s wickedness and this was comeuppance indeed. God looked on with pity Assyria’s victims, reminding his special people that they were still special.

Chapter 3 is where God explains the reasons for his judgement against Nineveh. It is as if He is rejoicing over its demise and if not God, its victims certainly are. They have fallen as low as could be, never to rise again and lacking the ability without anyone to help them. This is a cause for rejoicing among the nations, given their pride and pretentions and many resources, which turns out to be of no help at all. It seems there were two major complaints against Assyria. They were unspeakably cruel and the cruelties were of the worst kind (v1,19). They were economic exploiters and, to use a modern term, asset strippers (v19) and when that happens it is the poor and weak who suffer. The name Nahum means comfort. In a strange way this prophecy, soon to be fulfilled, brought comfort to some, notably God’s chosen people and Nineveh’s victims, but not to Nineveh, who had tested God’s patience as far as it could be and this despite invitations and opportunities to repent e.g. under Jonah.

Here are suggested responses to questions posed in the meme:

What similarities and differences between Jonah and Nahum? Both were sent to Nineveh to preach judgment but with different outcomes. While both had a deep and balanced understanding of God’s character, it seems Jonah (the book at least) emphasized His mercy, Nahum emphasized His justice.

What are God’s complaints against Nineveh? They were cruel and proud, contemptuous and exploiting of others, and despite being given chance to repent, persisted in their wickedness.

What do we learn about God’s character? We learn He is patient, good, longsuffering etc. but He is also a God of justice who will carry out what He says and no-one can withstand him.

Why was this prophecy good news for Judah and others? Their great enemy has fallen, never to arise again, and for Judah at least cause for hope. As for contempt, roles can now be reversed.

What assurance can we take on how God deals with evil empires? History is full of evil empires but all will have their comeuppance and while there are such today, and it while may be a cause of great anxiety, we must recognize God does have the final say and all will receive their just desserts.

What lessons can be drawn for us today? Much is revealed about the nature of God (discussed above) and many attributes, and especially His sovereignty in a chaotic and unjust world. We are again reminded God deals with nations as well as individuals.

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