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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Nahum 1

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Verse 1


In the book of Nahum we see how the wrath of God forever puts an end to the power and dominion of the world and the pride of man. But as He judges, He also thinks of those who trust in Him.

Nothing is known about Nahum other than what he says about himself in his book. That is not much. He mentions his name and the place where he comes from. The task he has is to tell Nineveh about the judgment of the LORD.

Not much is known about the dating of his prophecy either. A few data in his prophecy indicate the boundary of time within which it will have been. Nahum mentions in his prophecy the place No-amon and what happened to that place as an example for Nineveh that such will undergo a similar fate (Nahum 3:8-2 Samuel :). The conquest of No-amon took place in ca. 663 BC. Another event is the fall of Nineveh herself, about which Nahum prophesied. That fall took place in 612 BC. So the message of Nahum dates from somewhere between 663 and 612 BC.

Nahum is the second prophet of whom we have a message from the LORD for Nineveh. About a century and a half earlier the prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh, in the time of Jeroboam II – ca. 825-785 BC (2 Kings 14:25). Like Nahum, Jonah had to bring a message of judgment. The response was the massive conversion of the city. But over time, the fire of conversion was extinguished and the city began to live in sin again, in rebellion against God.

There is no room for conversion in the message Nahum has for Nineveh. The city has sunk so much into sin that there is no hope of a new conversion, so that nothing remains but the final judgment. The fact that God spared the city after the preaching of Jonah only increases Sennacherib’s guilt when he acts against the people and the city of the God who so graciously spared Nineveh.

Although the actual subject of the book is the judgment of Nineveh, we also hear words of consolation for God’s people. Nahum means ‘consolation’. The judgment of Nineveh means consolation for God’s people. As they suffer under the domination of this wicked people, they may comfort themselves with the thought that God will not forget them and will break the yoke bar of this enemy.

For us, the encouragement is that we may know that suffering that befalls us, for whatever reason, is in the hand of the Lord. We may also know that He will finally take the suffering away from us in order to do good for us in the end. In the life of the believer it is not evil or suffering that has the last word, but the Lord.

The message of Nahum may be about Nineveh and be for Nineveh, but it is proclaimed in Judah. It is therefore also a message for Judah. Nahum means, as has already been said, ‘consolation’. His message is a message of consolation for God’s people. Nahum’s prophecy of judgment on Nineveh, is for God’s people the consolation of redemption from an oppressive yoke. In this respect, Nahum is a forerunner of Simeon in Jerusalem who looked for the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25), which came in the coming of the Messiah.

Nahum shows how the wrath of God forever puts an end to the power and dominion of the world and the pride of man. But in the midst of the judgment we also find here the testimony of the faithfulness of God (Nahum 1:7). As God exercises vengeance, He thinks of those who trust in Him and wait for Him. This prophecy is about
1. the destruction of Assyria, that will never rise again, and
2. the deliverance of Judah, who will finally be redeemed (Nahum 1:15).

So the book of the prophet Nahum has as a principal subject, the destruction of Nineveh. Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, the great enemy of God’s people and of God. Assyria has been used by God as an instrument to punish His people who have deviated from Him. Assyria has only focused on and pursued its own interests, and are people have also boasted of their own power and have slandered God. God will recompense Nineveh as the representative of Assyria for all the evil they have done (Isaiah 10:5-Psalms :).

The destruction of Nineveh is a good example of how the kingdoms of men seem impregnable, but nevertheless perish through the judgment of God. In the judgment of Nineveh we see the judgment of Assyria and of all the hostile nations. Nineveh represents Assyria and Assyria represents all the hostile nations.

Division of the book

The book can be divided into three parts, corresponding to the three chapters it contains:

A. The Judgement of Nineveh (or Assyria) and the Restoration of Israel (Nahum 1).
1. Introduction (Nahum 1:1)
2. The features of the LORD (Nahum 1:2-7)
3. The final verdict on Assyria (Nahum 1:8-14)
4. The good news (Nahum 1:15)

B. Detailed report on the imminent destruction of Nineveh (Nahum 2).
1. Siege and capture of the city (Nahum 2:1-7)
2. The plunder (Nahum 2:8-10)
3. The mess (Nahum 2:11-13)

C. The causes of the judgment (Nahum 3).
1. Greed and abominations (Nahum 3:1-3)
2. Depravity and idolatry (Nahum 3:4-7)
3. Comparison with Egypt; example of No-Amon (Nahum 3:8-10)
4. The irreparable mess (Nahum 3:11-10)

The Burden of Nineveh

The subject of this book, its contents, is “the oracle (better: burden) of Nineveh”, that is, a word from God imposed on the prophet as a burden. The word ‘burden’ comes from ‘lifting’, ‘carrying’. The burden is the threatening saying about Nineveh. The name of the city is mentioned in this verse and also in Nahum 2 and Nahum 3 (Nahum 2:8; Nahum 3:7). Assyria, of which it is the capital and representative, is mentioned in Nahum 3 (Nahum 3:18).

Nineveh means ‘residence’. That meaning tells us that there are people living there who have their place of residence on earth. They have built up their entire existence on earth, with no place for God. We see them in the people who in the book of Revelation are always referred to as people “who dwell on the earth”. They are people who have their home on earth and for whom no other life exists. This is in contrast to the believers, who know that their home is not on earth, but in heaven (Philippians 3:20). They are aliens and strangers on earth (1 Peter 2:11).

Then it is said how this burden is communicated and by whom. The burden is communicated in a book. What is written down in the book is the vision in which the burden is communicated. Nahum is the man to whom the vision of what is going to happen to Nineveh has been given by the LORD and who has written it down. It seems that Nahum did not reveal his prophecy orally. “The book of the vision” is, in other words, a ‘prophetic writing’.

Finally, the name of the prophet and the name of the place where he comes from follow as a conclusion of the introduction. The prophet is called Nahum, which, as said, means consolation. It is not known where Elkosh, the place where Nahum comes from, was located.

Verse 2

The LORD Is an Avenger

Against the devastating power of Assyria that oppresses God’s people so much, Nahum first places the majesty and omnipotence of God. He does this to encourage God’s people. This is also always the way for us when we face insurmountable difficulties. We should not compare our difficulties with our strength but with our omnipotent God. Nahum does not call for armed rebellion, guerrilla warfare or political efforts, but to look up to God, the LORD. In the light of Who God is, Nahum sees what will happen to Nineveh, to evil.

God is in the first place jealous, in which the thought of a burning zeal is present. It’s about a feeling of hurt right and a strong desire to fulfill justice. God has an exclusive right to the obedience of His people (Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 5:9). This right is established in the covenant He made with His people. With this He also commits Himself to His people. Whoever, therefore, disadvantages His people, will also have to deal with Him in His jealousy. He then avenges Himself in wrath.

God is jealous of His people. He is like a jealous man who will protect his wife from any intrusion from strangers. This jealousy is not related to the aspect of her unfaithfulness, but about what others threaten to do to her. He cannot bear strangers chastising his people. To the enemies of His people He is an Avenger.

He is the LORD. Thus He is mentioned three times in this verse. That name reminds us that God has a relationship with His people. He will stand up for His people against “His adversaries” and “His enemies”, which are the Assyrians. We see here how the opponents and enemies of His people are His opponents and His enemies. Nahum has in mind the devastation that the Assyrians caused in 722 BC, when they took away the ten tribes, while he now sees their invasion in Judah.

The source of God’s envy is His great love for His people. Three times Nahum speaks about the fact that the LORD is an Avenger. This emphasizes a certain aspect of God, that in His divine power He will avenge the evil that is done to His people. Vengeance belongs to God (2 Thessalonians 1:6-Judges :; Romans 12:19). It is the starting point for this whole prophecy. Everything that follows is rooted in this revelation of righteousness and burning zeal of the LORD for the benefit of His people.

Because the enemies of His people are His enemies, He makes it His own matter to deal with the enemies. Among the nations there is not the thought that God will avenge all the injustice done to His people, all their mistreatment. For them, the God of Israel does not exist, or they see Him as a local god. But they will have to deal with Him in a way that they will have to acknowledge His majesty.

Verse 3

The Guilty Is Punished

The fact that the LORD is an Avenger does not mean that He is quick to wrath, for He is “slow to anger” (cf. Numbers 14:18). He admonishes us in His Word that we must be “slow to anger” (James 1:19; cf. Ecclesiastes 7:9). Would He then be quick to anger? He demonstrated that He is patient over a century ago, when He sent His prophet Jonah to this city of Nineveh to judge the city (John 3:10; John 4:2). He gives people time to repent. In the days of Jonah this was a period of forty days. If the next generations of Nineveh forget God and become more and more wicked, God will have patience for more than a century.

His patience is not a weak indulgence, but results from the power of His love and mercy (2 Peter 3:9). He never loses His patience. That is a happy knowledge for those who know Him. But His patience does come to an end. That is a serious thought for those who mock Him. His reluctance to wrath does not mean that He lacks strength and therefore He must let the guilty one go unpunished. He is powerful in His goodness. He is also of great power in judgment. He always uses His power at the right time, in the right way and in the right form (Numbers 14:17).

In His power He will not let the guilty party go unpunished, but will judge him. We see a revelation of His power “in whirlwind and storm”. In it we see not only His power but also the suddenness of His action. In His performance He is accompanied by whirlwind and storm. They serve Him in the exercise of His judgment (cf. Isaiah 29:6). “He bruises … with a tempest” (Job 9:17; Isaiah 29:6; Psalms 83:15).

Nahum adds another aspect to His majesty and that is that the clouds are “the dust beneath His feet”. Just as man walks on the dust and the dust blows up where he walks, so the LORD walks on the clouds that guide Him where He goes. Thus God’s majesty and exaltation are drawn here. This happens in a way that we are reminded of the revelation of God at Sinai when He gave the law.

At the same time, this illustration of God’s majesty and exaltation offers consolation to anyone in whose life clouds cover the sun. God is above the clouds of sorrow. He walks on them, He moves on them to accomplish His work, although the clouds sometimes hide how His way is and that it is His way. His footsteps are sometimes not perceivable or discernable by man. Nevertheless, faith may trust that His footsteps go in the direction of blessing.

When we see clouds in our lives, He is not far away. A cloud is great and elevated for us, but to God it is nothing more than a dusty substance. Our difficulties and fears are not great for Him. With a movement of the hand He could remove them. We can trust in Him that He controls them, even if He doesn’t immediately wipe them away.

Verse 4

Drought and Withering

The description of the power of the LORD is extended with the picture of the desperation of nature. His command, “He rebukes”, is sufficient to change the course of nature (cf. Isaiah 50:2). We see drought, causing sources of water to disappear, resulting in the withering of fertile areas. In the past He dried up the Red Sea and Jordan (Isaiah 51:10; Psalms 106:9; Psalms 114:3-Deuteronomy :; Isaiah 42:15) and so He can do similar with any sea and river. That is how vulnerable everything is for Him. The Lord Jesus – He is Yahweh – also showed His power over the sea (Matthew 8:26).

The LORD can take away the lush growth and wealth of areas known for it such as Bashan, Carmel and Lebanon (Isaiah 33:9). If the glory of nature shrinks for Him, how much more than the pride of man.

Verse 5

Mountains, Hills, Earth, People

Even the fixed, powerful parts of creation, “the mountains”, do not remain unmoved, but “quake because of Him” when He touches them with a finger. “The hills” dissolve, indicating an intense heat caused by the LORD, possibly by volcanic eruptions (Psalms 97:3-Deuteronomy :; Micah 1:3-Numbers :). These are the accompanying phenomena when He comes to earth (Zechariah 14:3-Deuteronomy :; Zechariah 14:10). There will be geographical changes, not through evolution, but suddenly, at the coming of Christ.

When Christ comes, the earth will upheave by His presence and tremble (Revelation 16:17-Psalms :). The majesty of God will fill the world and all people, all that lives, with awe. No part of the world is outside the sphere in which He works, here in judgment. All people are under His control.

Verse 6

No One Can Resist the LORD

Nahum uses different expressions to describe the impressiveness of God’s performance in judgment. He speaks of “indignation”, “anger”, “wrath”. After the description of the power of God, the questions can be asked: “Who can stand before His indignation” and: “Who can endure His burning anger” when it rages. The answer is: no one, not even the mighty Nineveh.

If God can thus impress all nature and all people with Who He is, then it is also clear that no man can resist the wrath of the LORD (Joel 2:11; Jeremiah 10:10; Malachi 3:2; Revelation 6:17). Even less will one be able to rise up when the wrath of the LORD has gone over him like fire. Nothing can withstand His power (Deuteronomy 4:24; 1 Kings 19:11; Jeremiah 23:29). He exalts Himself here against the opponents of His people and in favor of His people.

That the rocks are broken up by Him is reminiscent of what happened when God judged His Son for the sins of all who believe in Him. When Christ died, it happened that “the earth shook and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51). Whoever rejects Christ’s sacrifice will face this mighty God himself.

Verse 7

The LORD Is Good

The detailed description of the power of judgment of the LORD is intended to ensure Israel’s safety with Him when the Assyrians invade the land. After the description of the majesty of God in the face of the enemies of His people, Nahum here suddenly speaks of the goodness of the LORD for His people. That He is good will sound as a song of praise in the realm of peace (Psalms 107:1).

His goodness – which is as real as His power to judge – shows that He is for His own “a stronghold in the day of trouble”. This is a general truth, which is not limited to a certain time in history. Hezekiah has experienced this and countless before and after him.

You can know about a stronghold, but you must also take refuge there (Psalms 46:1; Jeremiah 16:19). Only those who trust Him do so. He is their refuge where they feel safe and secure against danger. He knows those who do. Knowing His own means that He cares about their fate and helps them because of the intimate relationship that exists (cf. Exodus 2:25; Genesis 18:19; Amos 3:2; John 10:14).

Verse 8

The Portion of the Enemies

Again Nahum suddenly changes his subject. The portion of His enemies is totally different from His goodness to His own in the previous verse. These two sides of God’s actions are called by Paul “the kindness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22).

God also proves His goodness in the revelation of His wrath. The criminal court works the extermination of the evil ones in favor of those who fear Him, who trust in Him. The result for them is liberation from the anguish into which they have fallen through the evil of the world.

Nineveh will literally come to an end by a flood of the Tigris. Through this flood, the LORD will overwhelm the city and open it to the armies of the Medes and the Babylonians, whom He uses as a “flood” to bring judgment on Nineveh (cf. Isaiah 8:7-Ruth :). They represent the “darkness” that haunts the Assyrians and will overtake and overwhelm them. They cannot escape the darkness. The end of God’s enemies is the darkness of hell, eternal being without God.

Verse 9

The Judgment Is Final

The prophet speaks these words to the Assyrians, but they are meant to reassure the God-fearing part of God’s people, who fear a new invasion by the Assyrians. Nahum reassures them with the statement that the LORD knows not only their hostile manifestations, but also their sinful deliberations preceding them. What the nations conceive is judged by the LORD as “a vain thing” (Psalms 2:1; Acts 4:25-Ezekiel :).

What they devise is in their opinions directed against Judah, but in fact it is directed against the LORD. Therefore they will not be able to carry out anything of all their inventions, for the LORD himself will make a destructive end to this enemy (Proverbs 21:30). As additional encouragement He tells His people that they will not get into trouble again. The first distress is mentioned in Nahum 1:7. His judgment of Nineveh is final, with no possibility of this hostile power coming upon them again (cf. Isaiah 37:23-Joel :).

“The distress” is an expression that connects the events of the days of the judgment of Nineveh with the time of the great tribulation in the end time (Matthew 24:21) which is called “a time of distress for Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7). Here the gaze is shifted from the historical destruction of Nineveh to the days immediately preceding the appearance of Christ. Christ will then personally exterminate the Assyrians or the king of the north on His return to earth (Daniel 11:45). There will be no second distress for Israel after the first attack and destruction by the Assyrians.

Verse 10

Nineveh Will Be Fully Consumed

The Assyrians are represented as intertwined or tangled thorns (2 Samuel 23:6). This indicates both their worthless character that only inflicts harm and suffering on others (Micah 7:4) and their deserved destruction. The same picture of worthlessness is that of the drunkard who has no awareness of what he is doing.

The picture of the intertwined thorns says that even though they protect themselves so well that they look like an impenetrable thorn bush, they are not a problem for the fire of judgment, but rather food for it. The picture of the drunkard says that, even though they are still so wet through excessive alcohol consumption, they are to the judgment of God like dry stubble which is completely consumed by His judgment.

Both pictures also depict their helplessness. He who is stuck in interwoven thorns, is unable to defend himself. He who goes his way like a drunkard is an easy prey because he has surrendered himself to revelry and drunkenness. The LORD will throw them into the fire, against Whom they have no strength to resist. They are completely consumed, nothing is left of them.

Verse 11

A Wicked Counselor

“From you”, that is from Nineveh, an evil individual has emerged. It is someone from whom rebellion emanates, someone “who plotted evil against the LORD”. This enemy is further characterized as “a wicked counselor”, literally a man of Belial or a worthless one. Thus he is a clear picture of satan (2 Corinthians 6:15).

The person who is meant is “the king of Assyria” (Nahum 3:18). It seems that this is Sennacherib, the mighty, cruel attacker who came from Nineveh to attack Judah. The devastations he inflicts are cruel and extensive (2 Kings 18:13; 2 Kings 19:8). He is the one who plots evil plans against the LORD. In the speech recorded from him, he exposes the mind that this world power has always had against what is God’s (2 Kings 18:19-Song of Solomon :; Isaiah 36:14-Proverbs :). The enemy behind this enemy, Satan, always wants to destroy everything that belongs to God, be it Israel or the church.

This ruler who “has gone forth” from the mighty Nineveh does form a great contrast with Him from Whom it is prophesied that He will “go forth” from the humble Bethlehem-Ephrathah, which is the Messiah (Micah 5:2). “His goings forth are from long ago,

From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). Nineveh will fall through Him and He will establish His throne for eternity (Luke 1:33). He who has gone forth from Nineveh will be humiliated. He Who has gone forth from Bethlehem-Ephrathah will be exalted. He will have a Name that is above all name. To Him every knee will bow.

Verse 12

Humiliation of the Assyrians

This verse begins with “thus saith the LORD”, words used by the messenger as an introduction to a message from the LORD. Assyria is at the moment when Nahum prophesies at the height of his power. But even though they have prosperity and their number is impressive (2 Chronicles 32:7), they will not succeed in overcoming the people of God. Just as Assyria is a razor for others (Isaiah 7:20), even so it will be cut off itself. In one night an angel kills 185,000 soldiers (2 Kings 19:35-Zephaniah :; Isaiah 37:37-Malachi :).

In the end time, the Assyrians will appear once more on the world stage and then as a disciplinary rod for the great mass of the apostate Jews under the Antichrist. They will succeed in conquering and destroying Jerusalem. That means the end of the government of the antichrist. After that the Assyrians will move on to Egypt. When they hear rumors from the north and the east, they will return to Jerusalem. They will have a large army and think they are prosperous, but suddenly they will be “cut off and pass away” by the appearance of the LORD (Daniel 11:40-Romans :).

Then suddenly Nahum changes the subject again. The statement “I have afflicted you” refers to Israel and looks back on the long and painful oppression of Israel by Assyria. God comforts them with the promise that after defeating the Assyrians He will afflict them no longer. Here again we see God’s judgment of the enemy and blessing for His people who will both find their full fulfillment in the end time.

Verse 13

The Yoke Bar Will Be Broken

The LORD further says to Judah that he will break the yoke bar of Assyria, under which they have sighed, from upon them (cf. Leviticus 26:13; Jeremiah 27:2; Jeremiah 28:10; Ezekiel 34:27). The yoke bar is the tax to be paid (2 Kings 18:14; cf. Isaiah 10:27). God wants to free us from every yoke bar by which we are held in bondage and are not free to serve Him.

Verse 14

The End of Nineveh

After the word about breaking the yoke bar for Judah, Nahum addresses the king of Assyria again. The LORD has not only spoken to him, but “issued a command”. By His command the name of the king of Assyria will not be perpetuated. That means that his dynasty will come to an end. He will have no descendants, no successors (cf. Isaiah 14:4; Isaiah 14:20-:).

His religion will also be destroyed. Assyrian kings claim to rule by the favor and authority of their gods. Because their authority is based on that, God will put an end to all this false homage. He will wipe out the idols completely. He will do so in “the house of your god” which proves once again the utter worthlessness of an idol. A god who allows himself to be exterminated from his own house is a worthless god.

God even prepares the grave of the king of Assyria because he is despicable, completely contrary to what he thinks of himself (cf. 1 Samuel 2:30). Here the LORD predicts the national extermination of Assyria. The temple of his idols where he bowed down to his idols becomes the place of his death. There he is murdered by his sons (2 Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38).

“You are contemptible” can also be represented with: “You are too light. In God’s scales he has been found too light (cf. Daniel 5:27). This is the end of Nineveh. It looks forward to the end of the world, above which God also writes: ‘Found too light.’ We should be well aware of that. Thus we have the prophetic word like a lamp. If we ‘eat’ this word so that it runs through our whole lives, we will go through the world like pilgrims and strangers.

Verse 15

The Good News for Judah

Nahum turns to Judah again. While the king of Assyria and his gods are buried (Nahum 1:14), the religion of Judah revives. The decline and the end of the enemy are a fact. The fall of Nineveh takes place a few decades after the prophecy of Nahum. Beyond that, this fall reflects the extermination of the Assyrians in the future. The good that is proclaimed has to do with the coming of the Messiah Who exterminated the enemy. His coming is a good message, a message that peace has come (cf. Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15).

In response to the good news, the call to celebration sounds. The people will be able to go to the temple again to celebrate the feasts. The promises that were undoubtedly made during the occupation for liberation can be fulfilled. There need be no fear of disturbing the peace and joy. The reason is that Sennacherib, that “wicked one”, will not come back. This is impossible, because “he is cut off completely”, there is nothing left of him.

As has already been said, its full fulfillment will take place in the end time. When the Messiah appears in power and glory, He will destroy the Assyrian army on the mountains of Israel (Daniel 11:45). That news will be brought to Jerusalem by messengers. It is at the same time the announcement of the realm of peace in which the feasts of the LORD will be celebrated again.

God announces joy, while the immediate cause for the joy is not yet there. It happens more often in Scripture that the full results of God’s actions are celebrated from the moment He begins those actions and therefore they are not (yet) completed (Luke 2:13-2 Chronicles :; Revelation 11:15-Esther :; Revelation 12:10).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Nahum 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/nahum-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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