(356) December 22: Nahum 1-3 & Revelation 13

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider how God’s judgement is expressed.

To ponder:
We don’t know where Nahum lived when he prophesied. But we do know he spoke against Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, and some time before Assyria’s fall (1v1).
            He begins declaring God is a jealous God – presumably jealous for his name and reputation in the light of Assyrian pride and idolatry. He therefore maintains wrath against his foes because his justice demands the guilty are not left unpunished. Nevertheless, he is slow to anger, and so reluctant to act in this way (1v2-3) - as so clearly seen in sparing Nineveh on a previous occasion after Jonah’s preaching. What follows is a vivid portrayal of his awesome power seen in storms, the drying up of seas and rivers (as during the Exodus), the fading of blossom, and earthquakes in which all tremble. The point is that none can withstand God’s anger, finally pictured like volcanic activity and fire (1v4-6). These sort of images are often used in this way. The theological assumption is that these natural phenomena do not occur but by God’s determination, and so they do truly portray his power which must be all the greater to be able to do such things. When we witness such things we should therefore tremble in the knowledge of God too.
            1v7-8 clarify that God’s power can also be a refuge, for those who trust in him. This is the right response to any consideration of his might and wrath. He is good and so will care for those who look to him. By contrast, he will overwhelm and pursue those in Nineveh, bringing whatever they plot against him to an end. 1v10-11 portrays their distress as one they are unable to escape, in which they stagger and fall like a drunk (a common image of those who drain the wine of God’s wrath), and are consumed like stubble (fire denoting God’s holy anger). The one who plots against the LORD in counselling wickedness is probably Sennacherib (2 Kgs 18).
            In 1v12-15 God states that despite Nineveh’s many allies, she will pass away, and despite his affliction of Judah, that affliction will therefore end as he breaks the Assyrian yoke from Judah’s neck. So God declares he has commanded that Nineveh have no descendents, that he will destroy her means of idolatry, and that Judah can celebrate her festivals and fulfil her vows as the good news of this destruction will come across the mountains. It is news of peace because it means Assyria will never invade Judah again. It is for this same reason that the final judgement is good news: It rids the world of all evil, oppression and threat.
            In the light of all this, Nineveh is called to prepare herself for “an attacker,” with a note that this will mean Jacob’s splendour being restored despite her being laid waste by Assyria (2v1-2). This is God’s prime purpose in what Nahum predicts. What follows is probably a description of the attacker’s soldiers looking splendid in their finery, and dashing around like lightening in Nineveh’s streets (2v3-4). The attacker then summons his troops to take the palace. They stumble because of the speed with which they advance. The stages in taking the palace are then described, noting that it collapses and a decree is given to exile those in the city, with even slave girls moaning – showing that this is an even worse fate than their prior slavery. Nineveh is therefore plundered, which is likened to water draining away. And its people tremble – no doubt in terror and shock (2v5-10). Concluding this section, God asks “where now” is the city, likening it to a lion’s den where the lion (king) killed prey (the nations) to feed his cubs (the Ninevites) who were able to live without fear. Through Nahum the Lord declares he is against Nineveh, and so will burn up its chariots and devour these cubs, so they can no longer prey on the earth or send their messengers who would demand tribute or surrender from the nations (2v11-13). No matter how great the powers of the earth, they cannot resist God’s anger. And he will judge those who prey on others.
            The “woe” of chapter 3 is against the city for its violence, lies and plunder in war, that has left piles of casualties. This destruction of others is said to stem from her wanton lust and prostitution. As elsewhere this probably refers to her unfaithfulness to the true God and, in context, her lust for the goods of the nations (Is 23v17). Her sorcery is probably mentioned as it was through seeking guidance by witchcraft that she chose to do as she did (3v1-4). In response, God states he will metaphorically show Nineveh’s nakedness (ie. humiliate and disgrace her) and pelt her with filth (ie. treat her contemptuously). She will be so ruined that people flee from her like those staying away from outcasts. None will mourn her, and none will comfort her (3v5-7). It’s a portrayal of the absolute ruin that finds fulfilment in the final punishment of the wicked. Then, the world in general will be condemned for these same things (Rev 18-19).
            Here God asks if Nineveh is better than Thebes with her defences, strength and allies, but who was exiled, with infants killed and nobles enslaved. The point is that these things won’t save her either. So he declares Nineveh will also become drunk (see above) and hide from the enemy. And this will happen easily: Her fortresses will give up those they defend like a shaken tree dropping fruit into the mouth of the eater. Her troops are pictured as weak like women (!) and her gates wide open because they’ve been burnt. Here God calls the city to therefore draw water and repair the defences, yet promises they will be destroyed anyway, as he also calls her enemy to multiply like grasshoppers or locusts in order to consume the Ninevites (3v8-15). In what follows the same metaphor is used differently. In the light of this attack, Nineveh’s merchants are also like locusts who strip the land and then fly away, implying they will flee from the enemy. Likewise, her guards and officials fly off as the sun (ie. enemy) appears (3v16-17). In these different ways Ninevah is stripped like fields are by locusts. The king of Assyria is now addressed. His nobles (shepherds) are portrayed as resting (probably meaning dead) and so unable to re-gather the scattered people. The book therefore ends stating that nothing can heal Assyria’s wound, and all who hear of the empire’s fall will clap with joy as everyone has felt its cruelty (3v18-19).
            What’s striking, is that this oracle is not against Assyria simply for oppressing Judah, but for cruelty throughout the world. It reminds us that God in judgement may cause the sudden fall of nations that commit great evil today. But also, that all evil will one day be accounted for, to the joy of those who have been oppressed (Rev 19v1-2)
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for judging those who so cruelly oppress others. Pray that he would remove those who are tyrants in the world today.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Nahum, click here.

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