Background of Nahum
Author and Date
The prophet Nahum was God’s messenger to announce the fall of Nineveh and the complete overthrow of Assyria. Nahum refers to the fall of Thebes as a well-known occurrence (Nahum 3:8–10). The Assyrian king Ashurbanipal conquered Thebes around 664 BC. Nahum also predicts the fall of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, as a future event. Nineveh fell in 612 BC. The book was composed, therefore, between 664 and 612 BC.
Nineveh, the arrogant capital of the Assyrian Empire, will be destroyed.
Purpose, Occasion, and Background
Nahum’s book is a sequel to, and a dramatic contrast with, the book of Jonah. Jonah’s mission to Nineveh was probably sometime in the first half of the eighth century BC (700s). To Jonah’s dismay, the Ninevites listened to his message, repented, and were spared God’s judgment.
This repentance, however, did not last beyond 745 BC, when Nineveh became the leading military power in the Near East. In 722 BC. the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC, marking the end of the Assyrian empire.
1. The Lord is slow to anger and long-suffering, jealous for his own honor and for his people, but he is wrathful and avenging against his enemies. He controls nature, nations, and history. He is just, righteous, good, merciful, gracious, loving, and faithful. He delivers and protects those who trust in him.
2. God had used Assyria to punish unfaithful Israel and Judah. He also brought well-deserved judgment on Assyria, according to his timetable and method.
3. Nineveh fell because it was a godless and idolatrous city, a city of violence, lust, and greed.
4. The Lord of history is a “stronghold” for “those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:7). He can handle all problems in individual lives. He has defeated powers far greater than Assyria. He grants to his own the ultimate defense and deliverance.
I. Introduction (1:1)
II. A Psalm Descriptively Praising the Lord (1:2–8)
III. The Lord’s Coming Judgment on Nineveh and Deliverance of Judah (1:9–15)
IV. Focus on Nineveh: The Lord’s Coming Judgment (2:1–13)
V. Again, Focus on Nineveh: More concerning the Lord’s Coming Judgment (3:1–19)
The Near East at the Time of Nahum
The Global Message of Nahum
Not long after the Assyrian city of Nineveh repented because of Jonah’s preaching, the same city was denounced by Nahum for its godlessness—godlessness which earned God’s righteous wrath. “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies” (Nahum 1:2). Thus opens Nahum’s prophecy, and this is the message of this book of the Bible for the world today. The God of heaven is a God of mercy to the penitent, yet a God of doom to the impenitent. Avoiding the fierce punishment of the Lord is not dependent on ethnicity, class, intelligence, skin color, or family history, but on repentance and faith.
Nahum in Redemptive History
Judgment on Israel
God called a nation out from the rest of the world to be a blessing to the rest of the world. Yet even this chosen nation, called to be a kingdom of priests mediating God’s grace globally (Exodus 19:6), needed grace themselves. They were themselves corrupt. As a result, God sent various godless nations to punish his people. Seven hundred years before Christ he sent the Assyrians.
Hope for Israel
Yet while God had used the Assyrians to punish his own people, this did not mean his covenant with Israel would be undone. God’s gracious intention to bring them a Messiah from the line of David, a true and final king, would not be thwarted. The religious feasts of Judah, which God encouraged them to keep, should have reminded them of this coming king: “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah” (Nahum 1:15).
Judgment for Israel’s Enemies
Not only is redemption promised for God’s own people; judgment is assured for those who will not bow the knee and take refuge in the Lord. All those who cling to their own self-made places of refuge will experience the terrifying flood of divine wrath that is coming at the end of time. No one is exempt from God’s righteous judgment that will overtake those who remain hostile to him.
Hope for All
For all those who take refuge in God and in the Savior he sent, however, all the fiery and terrible punishment that they justly deserve has been placed on another. Jesus Christ took God’s wrath upon himself for the sake of all who would believe in him. Those who are in Christ, the apostle Paul tells us, were crucified with Christ, so that the punishment they deserve is now a past event to be wondered at, not a future event to be feared (Romans 6:1–11; Galatians 2:20). This is good news; this is published peace (see Nahum 1:15).
Universal Themes in Nahum
Nahum’s prophecy resounds with one key theme above all others: the horrifying experience of being judged by God when he is one’s enemy. Listen to the way Nahum describes the punitive action of the Lord:
The mountains quake before him;
the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
the world and all who dwell in it. . . .
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. (Nahum 1:5–6)
The prophet is searching for language that will communicate the awful terror awaiting those who reject God and abuse God’s people. For those who “take refuge in him,” God “is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble” (Nahum 1:7). But for those who stand against the Lord and his people, “with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness” (Nahum 1:8).
God is not a kindly, affable grandfather-like figure to those who mock and oppose him. No corner of the earth will escape his hand of judgment—“all who dwell in it” will come under judgment if they have not taken humble refuge in him (Nahum 1:5).
The Global Message of Nahum for Today
It seems strange at first glance that the prophecy of Nahum, whose name means “comfort,” would include so much denunciation and judgment. Yet as such denunciation is directed against Israel’s oppressors, it is indeed a deep comfort. In Nahum we see that no matter what present circumstances may indicate, the Lord will bring every evil deed under his righteous judgment.
This is profound encouragement for believers today around the globe. Much of the pain involved in being a Christian can never be addressed in a human court of law—gossip, slander, ridicule, scoffing, avoidance. Even if persecution of believers involves actions that are clearly illegal, we cannot always expect justice from the legal system; such systems are operated by those who are themselves fallen and often unjust.
But there remains a divine court of law. And “the Lord will by no means clear the guilty” (Nahum 1:3). No wickedness committed against God’s people, however great or small, escapes the eye of God. His execution of justice will be decisive, overwhelming, and unavoidable. “Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger?” (Nahum 1:6).
Believers worldwide can take heart at Nahum’s prophecy. The Lord is with them. He will bring justice in his own time.