The Book of Nahum

Tucked away among the Minor Prophets is the relatively unknown book of Nahum. Why is it in the Bible and what message does the prophet Nahum have for us today?

The Hebrew name “Nahum” means “comfort” or “consolation.” The theme of the prophecy is the fate and destruction of Nineveh, the one-time capital city of the mighty Assyrian empire, which had destroyed Israel and taken many inhabitants of the land captive (722 B.C.).

The message was proclaimed to Judah (Nahum 1:15) and not to the 10 tribes of Israel who were already in captivity. Nahum’s announcement was a “comfort” and a “consolation” to the inhabitants of Judah, as it predicted the downfall of Assyria, a savage and cruel enemy of Israel and Judah.

The burden of Nineveh

While the book of Jonah records Nineveh’s reprieve, Nahum predicts its destruction. Assyria was the archenemy of Israel and Judah. It was used by God to punish the inhabitants of Israel who had turned to idol worship and other evil practices.

Notice how Halley’s Bible Handbook introduces the book of Nahum: “Two of the Prophets had to do with Nineveh: Jonah, about 785 B.C., and Nahum, about 630 B.C.; about 150 years apart. Jonah’s was a message of Mercy; Nahum’s, a message of Doom. Together they illustrate God’s way of dealing with nations: prolonging the day of grace, in the end visiting punishment for sins” (p. 368).

Nahum shows that despite the unjust and lawless nature of a nation, God is slow to anger (1:3), but He will not always delay His intervention and punishment. God had judged Israel and Judah for their appalling wickedness, and now He was to judge the Assyrians. Assyria had reached the zenith of its power, and its downfall probably appeared impossible to many.

Nineveh, that great city

Nineveh, at the time Nahum predicted its downfall, was at the heart of a vast, powerful empire—the commercial center of the world. However, its wealth was not the result of trade alone, but also came through the practice of deceit and the plundering of neighboring nations. As Nahum writes: “Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery” (3:1).

Nineveh’s heinous methods are likened to a pride of ravaging lions tearing apart their prey. As Nahum puts it, Nineveh was a lion who “filled his caves with prey, and his dens with flesh” (2:12). God made clear this was certainly not the way nations should gather wealth!

Many Bible commentaries give a description of how mighty the city was.

Halley’s Bible Handbook provides this information: “The term Nineveh refers to a whole complex of associated villages served by one great irrigation system, and protected by the one network of fortifications based on the river defenses. … Greater Nineveh was about 30 miles long and about 10 miles wide. … It was protected by 5 walls and 3 moats (canals) built by the forced labor of unnumbered thousands of foreign captives. … The inner city of Nineveh proper, about 3 miles long, and 1½ miles wide, built at the junction of the Tigris and Khoser rivers, was protected by walls 100 feet high, and broad enough at the top to hold 4 chariots driven abreast, 8 miles in circuit. At the height of Nineveh’s power, on the eve of its sudden overthrow, Nahum appeared with this prophecy” (p. 369).

The fall of Nineveh

Within the space of about 20 years of Nahum’s prophecy, an army of Babylonians and Medes closed in on the city and besieged it. The prediction was that a sudden rise in the level of the Tigris River would cause a breach in the walls (2:6) and that the invading armies would sweep into the city, plundering and destroying it.

Nahum, in vivid and dramatic detail, describes the battle scenes and subsequent destruction (2:1-4; 3:1-7). Heaps of human bodies would be piled up in the streets (3:3), including children dashed to pieces (3:10). Survivors would be led away into captivity (verse 10).

This all came to pass exactly as Nahum had predicted.

Nahum further predicts that the city would not rise again to prominence (3:19), and apparently that it would be difficult to locate (3:11). And, indeed, for many years the existence of Nineveh was uncertain, even regarded as a myth.

Yet all along the city lay buried under layers of earth until the 1800s when archaeologists uncovered the ruins. Today archaeologists are able to confirm with certainty that Nineveh existed, proving the authenticity of the city Jonah and Nahum were told to prophesy against.

Outline of Nahum

Following is a suggested outline of the book of Nahum:

Chapter 1: God’s judgment on Nineveh.

  1. God’s supremacy and power (verses 1-7).
  2. Judgment pronounced (verses 8-15).

Chapter 2: Siege and capture of Nineveh.

  1. Siege and capture described (verses 1-8).
  2. The city plundered (verses 9-13).

Chapter 3: Utter ruin of the city.

  1. Her cruelty, harlotry and witchcraft (demonic worship) (verses 1-7).
  2. Perpetual desolation predicted (verses 8-19).

An end-time warning

Most people are interested in the future. People in general want to know whether world leaders will find peace or if our modern weapons of mass destruction will wipe all life from the earth. Jesus Christ predicted that humanity would self-destruct if He did not intervene in the affairs of mankind (Matthew 24:22).

Can we really be confident that the United Nations or some other power will have the capability to bring about world peace and prosperity? The Bible states that humanity does not know the way to peace and that without God’s help we cannot succeed (Isaiah 59:8-10).

Yet the Bible is a book of hope for the future when the “Prince of Peace” will secure lasting peace among all peoples and nations (Isaiah 9:6-7). Nahum also predicted a time of peace beyond this troubled world.

Nahum’s prophecy for our time and future

Below are scriptures in Nahum that refer to end-time events:

Nahum 1:12 refers to a time when God says His people will no longer be afflicted, and enemies will not be allowed to pass through their land. This cannot be said of the Jewish people during the 2,600 years that have elapsed since the destruction of Nineveh.

Nahum 1:15: “Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace!” This verse is similar to Isaiah 52:7, which in context is pointing forward to the time when the Kingdom of God will be established on the earth.

The phrase “good tidings” in the verse quoted above has the same meaning as the words “gospel” or “good news.” The gospel of the Kingdom of God was the message Christ preached wherever He went. “And Jesus went about all Galilee … preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23).

Repentance and belief in the gospel message go hand in hand (Mark 1:14-15). When Christ’s disciples, on whom the Church of God was founded, were sent out, they were commanded to preach the gospel or good tidings about the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-2). The gospel was an integral part of the message Christ preached.

Unfortunately, few understand the wonderful message contained in the gospel. It is an announcement of a future government Christ will set up on the earth (Revelation 11:15), when people of all nations will enjoy an abundant life, prosperity and lasting peace.

What you sow you shall reap

God will not allow rampant and unrestrained wickedness to prosper and increase indefinitely. Even though God is good and “a stronghold in the day of trouble” (Nahum 1:7), He will act against those who reject Him and who refuse to respond to His warning messages (1:6-10). It is inappropriate and unfair to expect God’s continual blessings while showing a stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge Him in the way we govern ourselves and conduct our daily lives.

This principle has a New Testament application in James 1:15: “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (emphasis added throughout).

This is a great lesson. When sin in a nation becomes so prevalent and widespread (“full-grown”), God will step in and intervene.

One reference work explains it as follows: “In a sense Nineveh’s doom epitomizes the fate of all nations. … Military might does not preclude obligations of righteousness and justice. The crumbling rubble of the arrogant city is a grim reminder that only those nations who rely on the God who is the source of true peace will see ‘on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace’ (1:15)” (William LaSor, David Hubbard and Frederic Bush, Old Testament Survey, 1982, p. 449).

God speaks to us

God spoke through many prophets to proclaim His complete message. Through the prophet Isaiah God speaks to mankind with pleading and supplication: “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts; a people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face … who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am holier than you!’” (Isaiah 65:2-3, 5).

Is this a depiction of modern Western people who claim allegiance to God, but when it comes to matters of obedience to biblical laws and principles lean to their own understanding (Proverbs 3:1, 5-6)? In the process, they cut themselves off from the truths about life and the purpose of life outlined in the Word of God.

Humanity does not understand God’s overwhelming desire for all people to experience radiant happiness and hope for a prosperous, stable future. Fortunately, the Bible outlines a plan to bring about a time when mankind will want to live the way that leads to peace, happiness, abundance and joyful well-being.

A promise and hope for the future

In a world beset by increasing warfare, strife, unhappiness, sorrow, hunger and many other disasters and calamities, it is vital that we keep the hope vested in the gospel message burning forever brightly in our minds.

When Christ was brought before Pilate, He was asked if He was a king. Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world” (John 18:37). However, Christ made it clear that “My kingdom is not of this world” (verse 36).

No, Christ’s Kingdom is not a part of this present world or society.

The sure and reliable hope of true Christians is that they can have a part in the future Kingdom of God (Daniel 2:44). And for the people of God, there is this promise: “But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (Daniel 7:18).

Is there any greater hope or expectation to which we can look forward?

For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.

About the Author

André van Belkum

Andre van Belkum

Andre van Belkum currently serves as the pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Previously he pastored congregations in southern Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

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