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Chapter 1. Declaration of Judgment on Assyria and Deliverance for God’s People.
‘The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.’
‘The burden of Nineveh’ - prophecy was not easy, it came as a burden on the prophets as they had to speak of dreadful events. They carried the weight of God’s wrath and men’s misdeeds on their shoulder. That is ever the lot of the true people of God. The burden came by way of vision. In this case it concerned the destruction of Nineveh, that great capital city of Assyria, which since the time of Sennacherib had ruled the world. It had been extended and beautified through the suffering and deaths of many thousands of slaves at work on its buildings. It was the consequence of the ruination and devastation of many countries. It was based on a policy of transferring of large numbers of peoples from their homelands to exist in foreign countries which were strange to them, so as to keep them pacified. And it was a result of draining the wealth of the nations.
The prophecy is said to have been specifically written in book form, and to consist of a vision given by God to Nahum the Elkoshite. The name Nahum was fairly common, and is born witness to extensively in North-Western Semitic languages and probably means ‘full of comfort’. The message he brought was one of comfort to the world in the light of what Assyria had been. We do not really know where Elkosh was, but it was probably in Judah.
The Might and Character of God (Nahum 1:2-8 ).
The prophecy begins with an awesome and magnificent picture of the might and character of God.
‘YHWH is a jealous God and avenges. YHWH avenges and is full of wrath. YHWH takes vengeance on his adversaries and reserves wrath for his enemies.’
Before John the Apostle in 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love, he first reminds us of the fact that God is light, and that in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). By this he was indicating that God hates all sin, whether in individuals or in nations. His light shines on it and reveals it for what it is, and reacts to it, for His light is the essence of what He is, wholly moral and pure.
Nor can He bear sin or allow it to go on indefinitely. At some point He must step in, in judgment on it. Those who will not have a change of heart and mind, and will not repent, seeking His mercy, will eventually have to face His anger against wrongdoing and evil.
Nineveh had been given such an opportunity of repentance by Jonah (see the book of Jonah) and had for a time been spared. But their repentance had been mainly on the surface and they had in the end simply multiplied their sins, (although no doubt some few individuals did continue in the way of God), and they now faced the inevitable consequences.
‘YHWH is a jealous God and avenges.’ The jealousy of God reflects His overall concern for His people. He watches over them with a careful and concerned eye. He is deeply interested in their welfare.
It also reflects His concern that all men recognise His glory, that they recognise Him for what He is (Exodus 20:5). He knew the debasing result of their religions, and that it was only when they saw His glory that they could be released from them. So He was concerned that they worship Him as the only God. This was the reason for His ‘jealousy’. He was concerned for those whom He had created, and wanted nothing to spoil their lives.
But His people, whom He watched over as a father over his children, had been badly ill-treated by Assyria, and now God will reward those who have done it. His vengeance and wrath will come on those who have earned it. The same will eventually happen to all who mistreat His people. It had been delayed on Assyria. But at last the time had to come. The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.
‘YHWH avenges and is full of wrath.’ We like to stress God’s love and compassion. And that is gloriously true. But here we have the other side of the picture. He also takes vengeance on those who sin, and that includes those who treat His people badly. And at that point He is full of wrath.
Biblically ‘wrath’ is not strictly anger. It is not that God is filled with feelings of uncontrollable anger. It is that His attitude towards sin is such that, because He is truly pure and holy, He has an aversion to sin, He cannot therefore overlook it. Unless it is dealt with by atonement, He is roused to action against it. His wrath is the moral sensitivity and reaction against sin that results in the determination to remove it.
‘YHWH takes vengeance on his adversaries and reserves wrath for his enemies.’ We are not left in doubt of the seriousness of God’s reaction to sin. It is in the end inevitable because of what He is. However, it is not blind vengeance. It simply results in men reaping what they sow. When men’s hearts are totally set against God no plea will be effective. They are set in their ways. All that is left is for them to receive what is their due.
‘YHWH is slow to anger, and great in power, and will by no means clear the guilty. YHWH has his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.’
‘YHWH is slow to anger and great in power”. The converse to Nahum 1:2 is that He does not act hastily. He does not lose His temper. He is ‘slow to anger’ (Exodus 34:6). His wrath is revealed only when it is fully and finally deserved. Assyria should have remembered how great and powerful He was by the way that He had delivered Jerusalem (Isaiah 36-38). But rather they had thought that they could mock at YHWH. While they had been chosen to be His rod for chastening Israel, they had one too far (Isaiah 10:5 ff).
But He is also great in power. His slowness to respond to sin is not because of weakness but because of strength. He is powerful enough to be able to delay judgment until He Himself determines that it is necessary. However, when He does decide to judge, nothing will prevent Him.
Nahum is not a hard hearted prophet. He wants us to be fully aware that what he is about to declare is the consequence of long years of sin and arrogance. God is slow to anger. What He does here is not the norm, except as a consequence of long years of sin.
‘And will by no means clear (clearing He will not clear).’ ‘Guilty’ is put in to make sense. He will by no means clear men unless they are ‘worthy’, that is, unless they make use of the means of mercy and forgiveness and abide by the covenant, which involves obedience to His will. He calls them to account. See Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18. This means that if men are unwilling to receive His offer of mercy then they must face the consequences of their guilt. God will not just overlook it or bypass it. He will not count it as nothing or sweep it under the carpet. In the end He will face them up to it. His very morality demands that sin is punished in one way or another.
‘YHWH has his way in the whirlwind and the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet’ This is a vivid picture of God, striding, as it were, on the pathway of a great storm, surrounded by whirlwinds, causing dust to rise up in the form of swirling clouds. He is seen as Lord over the elements and of disaster. He controls all the most violent elements that affect man’s world.
Notice the mention of YHWH five times. Five is the number of covenant; the number of fingers on the hand that confirms the covenant, the number of statements on each tablet of the covenant, the number whose multiples were constantly used in the tabernacle and the temple and the heavenly temple of Ezekiel. Thus the covenant is in mind. It is as though the hand of God is made bare.
‘He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, and dries up all the rivers. Bashan languishes, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languishes.’
‘He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, He dries up all the rivers.’ He is Lord over the sea which obeys His commands (Psalms 77:16; Psalms 89:9; Psalms 104:7; Job 38:11). When He rebukes it, it becomes dry (Psalms 106:9). Contrary to what many say God is never revealed as struggling with the seas. They always obey His command. To Israel, who were always afraid of the sea, that was a wonder indeed. But the point being made here is that no forces can resist Him. Even the mighty sea does His bidding. It was Jesus’ command of the sea and its fury that made His disciples first say, ‘Of a truth You are the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:33).
All the rivers are subject to His word. The world’s prosperity and fruitfulness, which mainly depends on the rivers, is dependent on His beneficence. Even the fertile places are dependent on His provision, and when it is withdrawn they wither. The drying up of the Jordan for Joshua may be partly in mind here, but only as an example. The point is that man may boast of his success and plenty, but God can dry it up in an instant.
‘Bashan languishes, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languishes.’ Nahum selects the most fruitful areas that he knows of to illustrate his point. They are all dependent on His benefits. And when they are withdrawn, they wither. Bashan was in Transjordan, famous for its oaks, and its abundant sheep and herds (Psalms 22:12; Isaiah 2:13; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 27:5-6; Ezekiel 39:18; Amos 4:1; Micah 7:14). Carmel means ‘fruitful land’. See Jeremiah 50:19; Amos 1:2; Amos 9:3; Micah 7:14. For ‘the flower of Lebanon’ see Psalms 72:16; Song of Solomon 4:11; Hosea 14:5-7. It is admired in the inscriptions of Tuthmosis III of Egypt.
‘The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt. And the earth is upheaved at his presence, yes the world and all who dwell in it.’
So even the mighty mountains quake at His presence, and the hills melt, and the earth is upheaved before Him. This was the kind of language sometimes used by great kings as they advanced to conquer. They claimed that even the mighty mountains recognised their coming. Ashur-nasir-pal II claimed that at his approach “all lands convulse, writhe, and melt as though in a furnace”. For them it was simply arrogance and pride. But for YHWH it is true. He really does make the mountains quake and the hills melt. The language is expanded to take into account that YHWH is unique in power. Possibly partly in mind are the earthquakes familiar in the area. Everything, whether mountain, hill, plain or valley is affected. They all quake before YHWH and the earthquakes are all seen as being the result of His activity.
‘Yes, the world and all who dwell in it.’ No part of the world is outside His sphere of activity, all peoples are under His control. Their destinies are in His hand. They too are upheaved before Him and quake at His presence.
There are clear indications in the narrative that God’s power revealed in the Exodus is in mind, but not as a controlling feature. His ‘jealousy’, His slowness to anger, the storm and the clouds, the rebuking of the sea and the drying up of the river, the quaking of the mountains and the melting of the hills, all remind us of the Exodus narrative (Exodus 19:16-18; Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:6-7; Psalms 106:9). But if so the ideas are greatly expanded on and universalised.
‘Who can stand before His indignation, and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken asunder by him.’
‘Who can stand before His indignation?’ The answer is, no one, not even mighty Assyria. When God finally determines to deal with sin no one can stop Him. And one day all men will have to face Him. But for now, watch out Assyria! His anger is pictured as being like the lightning that strikes the earth and breaks rocks asunder. Alternately there may be in mind the powerful activity of a volcano, pouring its fiery lava on the earth, and cracking the rocks with its heat.
‘YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and he knows those who put their trust in him.’
‘YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble.’ But while YHWH is fearsome to those who incur His anger by their constant sinfulness, and by their attacks on His people, He is good to those who trust in Him, those who are in covenant relationship with Him and seek honestly to fulfil their part in the covenant. Indeed when the day of trouble comes He is their stronghold, as Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem had discovered when Jerusalem was besieged by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18-19).
The idea here is that YHWH is essentially good, and His purposes are good. Indeed He only acts as He does because He is good. He acts on behalf of the weak and helpless against their oppressors.
‘He knows those who put their trust in him.’ This means more than knowing in our sense of the word. It means that He has entered into a relationship with them, and therefore acts towards them as protector (Psalms 1:6; John 10:14; John 10:27; 1 Corinthians 8:3. It can have a reverse effect - Amos 3:2).
‘But with an overrunning flood he will make a full end of its place, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.’
Yet although He is essentially good and compassionate He must also deal fully with sin. By its nature it is unavoidable. Let sin totally gain control and the world will be in torment. The overrunning flood almost certainly meant to Nahum a flood of soldiers (Daniel 9:26; Daniel 11:2; Isaiah 8:7-8; Jeremiah 46:7-9), swarming down on Nineveh and making a full end of it, following that up by pursuing the defeated enemy as they fled into the darkness. Babylon and the Medes, along with the Scythians, were in fact determined to make a full end of Assyria once and for all. They had suffered too much at their hands.
But ‘into darkness’ may also have a deeper significance. Men feared darkness (Isaiah 8:22; Joel 2:2; Amos 5:20; Zephaniah 1:15). It spoke of the unknown. In it they would be swallowed up by they knew not what, even possibly the darkness of death (Jeremiah 13:16). Their worst nightmares will be realised. Jesus said that ultimately all those who set themselves against God will go into the outer darkness (Matthew 22:13). And the same darkness awaits those who reject God today, as for those Assyrians long ago.
But as often happens in prophecy his words were truer than he knew, for the city finally fell because of breaches made in the defences by the flooding of the river that passed through Nineveh.
‘He will make a full end of its place.’ The huge city was plundered and then burned and left to fall into a desolate heap. Two hundred years later, when Xenophon saw it, it was an unrecognisable mass of debris. And eventually its whereabouts became totally forgotten.
God’s Purpose Towards Nineveh (Nahum 1:9-13 a).
God purposes to destroy Nineveh once and for all.
‘What do you imagine against YHWH? He will make a full end. Affliction will not rise up the second time.’
‘What do you imagine against YHWH?’ The question may mean, what chance did they think they had to prevent YHWH carrying out His purpose? What sort of defence did they think that they could put up? Alternately it may be asking what plans they had against God’s people, followed by the assurance that they would not be able to afflict Judah a second time. Either way their efforts would be futile.
‘Affliction will not rise up the second time.’ This was because there would be no second chance. Their destruction would be once for all. For Nineveh it was a final judgment.
‘For though they are like tangled thorns, and are drenched as it were in their drink, they will be devoured utterly as stubble.’
As tangled thorns are tough to penetrate, so Assyria no doubt thought that their city too would be difficult to penetrate, because of the strong defences of the city and their own fighting capabilities. But they had forgotten YHWH. ‘And are drenched as it were in their drink.’ This may be a reminder that when men had to face battle they prepared themselves by heavy drinking, or it may be a sarcastic reference to the fact that they were drinking heavily, especially in the face of such troubles, raising the vivid picture of them as tangled thorns well doused to make them difficult to burn. But it would not save them. They will burn well in the flames lighted by the victorious enemy, (but really to be seen as the work of YHWH), just as stubble was totally burned up in the fields.
‘There is one gone forth from you who imagines evil against YHWH, who counsels wickedness. Thus says YHWH, “Though they are in full strength, and likewise many, even so will they be cut down, and he will pass away.” ’
These words seem to be addressed to Judah. This would suggest that a plotter had gone to see the Assyrians in order to betray Judah, (and thus YHWH), advising wickedness, that is an attack on Judah, not realising that Assyria’s condition would soon be untenable.
But he would be unsuccessful. As indeed Assyria had once before come against Jerusalem in full strength and had been struck down, so it would happen again, but this time even before they came. And the plotter himself would also be slain or have to disappear.
Some, however, see this as referring to Sennacherib, speaking of the past as though it were in the present. He came out thinking evil against Judah, and even challenging Yahweh direct (2 Kings 18:22; 2 Kings 18:33-35), and he advised his generals to evil deeds.
Then God turns to Judah and reminds them that although those evil men came in full strength and indeed were many (2 Kings 18:17), they were struck down (2 Kings 19:35). And in the end Sennacherib passed away (2 Kings 10:37).
Either way the final point is that all men’s plans will finally come to nothing. The story is told of a great man who planned great things. He brought great turmoil on the world, and when challenged by God, cried, ‘And who are you?’ And when his world collapsed and he lay in his coffin, God quietly bent down and asked, ‘and who are you?’ And closed the lid.
YHWH Turns To His People And Promises That This Will Be An End Of Their Affliction By Assyria While At The Same Time Warning Assyria That He Will Make An End Of Them (Nahum 1:12-13 )
“Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And now I will break his yoke from off you, and will burst your bonds in sunder.”
Whatever the situation was YHWH now promises His people that He will not afflict them through Assyria (‘the rod of His anger’- Isaiah 10:5) any more. Rather He will destroy Assyria’s power so that their yoke might be removed. Judah will no longer be like beast’s of burden fastened to the plough. They will no longer be bound, enchained slaves. They would be free from their bonds.
‘And YHWH has given commandment concerning you, that no more of your name be sown. “I will cut off the graven image and the molten image out of your house of your gods. I will make your grave, for you are vile.” ’
Nahum now speaks again to Nineveh. YHWH is about to destroy their name and reputation. They will no longer be able to spread it by their activities. No one will talk about them any more. They will be a thing of the past. And, most importantly, they would no more have children to carry on their name, something seen as the greatest of tragedies for anyone in those days. Their gods in whom they had boasted would be violently removed from their temples.
‘I will make your grave, for you are vile.’ This may be said to Nineveh, or it may be said to the multitude of displaced gods. It is saying either that glorious Nineveh is in reality vile, or that their vaunted gods were vile. Both would in fact perish because of their vileness. They would be dead and forgotten.
The Glad News Is Brought To God’s People (Nahum 1:15 )
In words similar to Isaiah 52:7, Nahum declares the end of Nineveh. A messenger is on the way with the good news of peace. Judah can now worship freely because Assyria will trouble her no more. (Perhaps had Josiah not tried to interfere in things and thereby lost his life (2 Kings 23:29) such conditions might have continued a good while longer. The prophets rarely approved of interfering in things which were not strictly Judah’s concern).
‘Behold on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace. Keep your feasts, O Judah, perform your vows. For the worthless will no more pass through you. He is utterly cut off.’
A messenger is seen as on his way. He will soon be there with the good news, promising peace from the activities of Assyria, because Nineveh is destroyed. Judah will now be able to worship in the purity of their religion, not being forced to have the gods of Assyria in their temple, nor to make Assyrian religion central to their worship. These words are a direct reference to Isaiah 52:7.
“Keep your feasts, O Judah. Perform your vows”. The one who stood in the way of the keeping of their feasts and the fulfilling of their vows to YHWH is about to be removed totally. They can now return to the unadulterated worship of YHWH.
‘For the worthless will no more pass through you. He is utterly cut off.’ Literally ‘the thing of worthlessness (or Belial)’. He who took them away from God. But now he is utterly cut off. There is therefore now no restraint on true worship.
So Nahum’s exultancy is based on the fact that wickedness has been dealt with, and that God’s people are now free to worship in purity. He announces it as though it had already happened.
The importance to us of this chapter is that it first reminds us of the greatness of God, and the reality of His judgment, and yet of His mercy to those who call on Him. All is under His control and we respond or fail to respond to Him for good or ill. It reminds us that He is the protector of His people and will in the end punish those who use them ill, or behave ill, however great they may think they are. Before Him all are minute. The point that come out is that although at times things may be difficult, we can always be sure that in the end we will see on the mountains the feet of those who bring the good news of deliverance.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Nahum 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter