Tales of the Nevi'im - Nahum
The Tales of the Nevi’im are the Stories of the Prophets. In Hebrew navi (nah-vee') means prophet and the plural, prophets, is nevi'im (neh-vee-eem'). Israel had many prophets, some of whom we know from the Old Testament, others are lost to us in history. Many of Israel's prophets spoke to the people but didn't write anything down, likely because their message was meant for a specific people and time. Others proclaimed a message meant to instruct us as well. God spoke his word through these men for all people for all times, and we read them today as the books of the prophets in our Bibles. This series will explore their stories and message.
The Story of Nahum
As we have seen in the stories of Amos, Hosea, and Micah, the Assyrian empire dominated the 8th century BC, either directly or indirectly. All the nations in the Middle East came under their control, including the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. There was no lack of political and military maneuvering in the region (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) and, unfortunately for the northern kingdom of Israel, they paid the price for their failed maneuvers. During the kingship of Hoshea, in 722 BC, the Assyrians invaded and destroyed Israel and its capital, Samaria. The Assyrian monarch deported a large number of Israelites and imported conquered people from other lands.
The southern kingdom of Judah escaped the wrath of the Assyrians in 722, but not long after found themselves in a similar predicament. In 701 BC, the Assyrian king Sennacherib invaded Judah. He began to destroy the cities one-by-one, marching toward Jerusalem.
The Assyrians were known for their brutality and cruelty. Beheadings, impaling prisoners, and flaying the skin from prisoners while they suffered were common practices used to intimidate their foes. As Sennacherib marched toward Jerusalem, one of the last Israelite fortresses he conquered was a town called Lachish. Carvings from the palace of Sennacherib, in ancient Nineveh, depict some of the cruelty imposed on the survivors of Lachish.
Inevitably, Sennacherib’s forces reached Jerusalem and surrounded it. Hezekiah was king of Judah at that time, and the prophet Isaiah was preaching in Jerusalem. Hezekiah realized that force of arms could not save Jerusalem. Consulting Isaiah and committing to praying, he and the people placed their trust in God. The book of Isaiah, chapters 36 and 37, tells this remarkable story. Isaiah relayed God’s words to Hezekiah, “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city declares the Lord” (Isaiah 37:33-34). God’s word was true! The next morning as they awoke, the scripture says “a hundred and eighty-five thousand” Assyrian soldiers were dead! Just as the Lord said, they packed up and left, returning the way they came.
After returning to Nineveh, Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons while he was worshipping the idol Nisroch. Assyria would go on to dominate the Middle East for several more decades but was never able to conquer Jerusalem. Finally, in 612 BC, the brutal Assyrian empire fell to conquering Medes and Babylonian armies.
In the midst of Assyrian dominance, the prophet Nahum brings one of the harshest words of judgment in the Bible. Having witnessed the brutality of Assyria and remembering the conquest of Israel and the devastation of Judah, God spells out the doom of Nineveh.
Repeating a familiar refrain, like most of the minor prophets, we know very little about Nahum as an individual. It’s as though the men did nothing to distract from their mission to speak the word of God clearly and boldly to their generation. In Hebrew, Nahum means ‘comfort.’ Indeed, the short book’s words of judgment must have been comforting to Israel to know that God was sovereign and justice would be delivered to their oppressors.
The book opens with a majestic view of God and the inevitability of his justice, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” (1:3) Knowing that Assyria placed its confidence in its might and numbers, Nahum boldly predicts that “Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away.” (1:12) What a great reminder that true strength is not found in the might of our arms or our talents or capabilities, but in the approval of the Lord.
Nahum’s message to Assyria is direct and uncompromising:
“The Lord has given commandment about you: ‘No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile.’” (1:14)
“Desolate! Desolate and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble…
Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions [soldiers]. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.” (2:10, 13)
“There will the fire devour you, the sword will cut you off, It will devour you like the locust.”(3:15)
“There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?” (3:19)
God says that not only will Assyria be destroyed, but all her victims will clap with joy. There is no other memorial for those who dream of power and delight in oppression.
Lessons and Themes
Despite what it may seem, God is more powerful than the forces of evil. Assyria seemed like an overwhelming power, one whose dominance would never end. Today, there are powers like Assyria – both physical and spiritual powers of oppression. Sometimes it seems to us like they truly rule the world. The story of Assyria and the message of Nahum assure us that God will judge and destroy the forces of evil. In fact, not only will God judge nations and men, but we have seen his victory over sin and death itself in Jesus Christ!
God cares about righteousness and justice; He will not let evil go unpunished. One of the great struggles for many people today is the problem of evil. Even those who do not believe in God must admit history gives overwhelming evidence that evil lurks in the heart of humanity, awaiting its chance to emerge. In every generation, in one form or another, we see the effects of fallen humanity. Without God, there is no answer to evil. For those who trust in God, the question is not if God will make things right, but when. We too sometimes struggle with God’s purpose and timing, as did Israel. But Nahum is one of the many comforting reminders that our God will preserve us and vindicate us.
The judgment of God delivered through Nahum foreshadows the ministry of Jesus. The Jews of Jesus’ time wanted a king to deliver them from Roman oppression. Someone who would raise an army and throw off the oppressive yoke of Rome. They thought Jesus might be that deliverer. Indeed, he was a savior, but from a far more cruel and implacable enemy. In Colossians 2:13-15 the apostle Paul says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses, and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him [Jesus], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities [evil, Satan] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them [by the cross].” And in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” Jesus pronounced a fierce judgment, not just over the ‘Assyrias’ of the world, but over sin itself!
Questions for Further Reflection/Discussion:
As you read the judgment of Nahum, do you see a conflict between this “God of judgment and justice” and the New Testament “God of love” who gave his son that all who trust in him might be saved? (Try this thought experiment: Imagine a God who judged evil and delivered justice but did not love, or a God who loved but was incapable or unwilling to deal with evil.)
The northern kingdom of Israel relied on its strength of arms and political connections to withstand Assyria. Judah realized its helplessness and relied on God. Both of them suffered loss, but only one survived through history (until this day in fact!) What lessons can we take from their experiences?
After the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus wept. Many think he wept not just for Lazarus but for all of us – that we should be captive to sin and live in fear of death and eternal separation. Although we are not used to reading the Old Testament passages in this way, try reading Nahum 2:13 and 3:19, for example, as though God is talking to Satan. How does this change your perspective on Jesus’ death and resurrection? Does this connection make more sense of the Old Testament for you? How?
Terry Feix is the Executive Pastor at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City and a regular writer at So We Speak. Follow him @TerryFeix on Twitter.
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