Notes on the Prophecy of Nahum

Chapter 1
Faith’s Refuge

Search and look,” said the prejudiced Jewish doctors, when summarily disposing of the claims of the Lord Jesus, “for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” We have already seen, in the case of Jonah, that their positive assertion was unsupported by the evidence of Scripture, to which they so coolly appealed. The son of Amittai was unquestionably out of Galilee. There are the best of reasons for believing the same of Nahum. He is called the Elkoshite; that is, a man from Elkosh, or, as it is sometimes written, Elkesi (ver. 1).

It is well known that there was an Assyrian village on the banks of the Tigris by this name; but Jerome states positively, when he retreated to Palestine from the turmoil of an unfriendly world, that he was shown the site of the Galilean Elkosh where Nahum was reported to have been born.

The prophecy of Nahum bears every evidence of having been delivered in the land prior to the death of Sennacherib, and, therefore, at least a century before the destruction of Nineveh, of which it mainly treats. He was in all likelihood contemporary with Isaiah, and uttered his poetic prediction in the reign of Hezekiah. Nahum was therefore, one can scarcely doubt, a Galilean, who came at the call of God from his northern home to speak words of comfort to the trembling people of the south, whose hearts were in fear because of the Assyrian invasion.

The book seems to divide readily into two parts. Chapter 1 presents the Eternal One as the Rock and Stay of those who confide in Him, whatever the danger that threatens. Locally, it was the army of Sennacherib that seemed about to overwhelm them. But God was above all, as was soon made manifest. Chapters 2 and 3 give the destruction of Nineveh, whence the oppressor had come. The description of the siege and breaking up of the guilty city is a masterpiece of dramatic poetry.

It is of interest to note that both the prophets whose Galilean birth we have commented on had to do largely with Nineveh in their ministry. Jonah was used to the repentance of the generation of his day, about one hundred and fifty years ere Nahum declared the final overthrow of the city because its iniquities had reached unto heaven. In that destruction it is easy to see a picture of the future end of the impious Assyrian of the last days, to which attention has frequently been directed in these notes.

Nahum means Consolation; and consolatory indeed are the precious words of cheer which he was inspired to deliver in this first chapter.

Vengeance belongs to God. To the Thessalonian saints Paul writes, “It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you.” He is ever watching over His people; and while He permits many things for their discipline, He will never overlook an indignity done to His redeemed. “He reserveth wrath for his enemies” (ver. 2). Note this: the enemies of His people are His enemies. He makes their cause His own. Faith rests on this, and is thus saved much worry and anxiety. Nature would be alarmed and excited, where faith is calm and quiet. Nature sees the Assyrian armies: faith looks up to the God of battles. The entire 19th and 20th chapters of 2 Kings may be read with profit in this connection, as they describe the actual scenes to which the first part of Nahum’s prophecy refers.

The third verse contains much that is precious for the afflicted soul, as well as a solemn warning for him who hardens himself against discipline. Slow to wrath, and mighty in power, the Lord cannot pass by iniquity. He will not acquit, or hold guiltless, the wicked. Of old, God had declared to Moses that He was “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty” (Exod. 34:5-7). Full of love as He is—yea, though He is love itself—yet He is also light: therefore sin must be judged. This is where the cross comes in. But even for men who have found forgiveness there, God will not tolerate unjudged evil; and if we judge not ourselves, we must be judged by Him; for “when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32). Exod. 34:6 is for the sinner’s warning. Nah. 1:3 is for the saint’s comfort. Yet the principle is the same; for whether in the case of men in general, or of His children in particular, His holy eye passes over nothing till all is judged. But if the whirlwind and the storm seem about to overwhelm, and for the believer the sky seems black with clouds, it is sweet to know that the Lord has His way in all that seems so terrific, and at times so arbitrary. The stormy wind but fulfils His word, and “the clouds are the dust of His feet.” Look up then, dear tried and perplexed soul; for He is just above those heavy clouds of sorrow. As the dust in the distance betrays the approach of the traveler ere the form is seen upon the dry roadway, so the clouds tell of His near presence who knows all thy griefs and comes in love to dry thy tears. At His word the tempest-tossed sea is rebuked and the rivers of woe assuaged, even as of old He dried up the Red Sea and rolled back the waters of Jordan. All creation must own His power, and all elements yield to His authority. None can stand before His indignation nor abide the day of His wrath. Yet He is good, a fortress in the day of trouble, “and He knoweth them that trust in Him” (vers. 4-7).

What comfort words like these would be to Hezekiah and his people, shut up in Jerusalem, affrighted and taunted by the arrogant Assyrian, polluting the air with his blasphemies against Jehovah!

Little did Rab-shakeh and Sennacherib know with whom the battle was really to be fought. Little could they realize that Jerusalem would flourish long after Nineveh had become a heap of ruins. In accordance with Isa. 10:5 to 19, Nahum foretold in vers. 8 to 10 the very manner in which the imperial city by the Tigris was to be destroyed. Profane history gives its testimony in the record of Ctesias that while a drunken feast was going on, the flood-gates of the city were swept away by a sudden rise of the river, and the palace foundations were thus dissolved. The army of the Babylonians, who had been besieging it for some time, entered by the breach made, and burned it with fire while the inebriated inhabitants sought in vain to escape. See chap. 3:11.

Such should be proud Nineveh’s end. Meantime one had come from thence, a counselor of Belial, imagining evil against the Lord (ver. 11). This is God’s description of haughty Sennacherib, who may well be viewed as a type of the last great Assyrian, so often contemplated in the prophecies.

But all his boasting was in vain: Jehovah had permitted his invasion as a chastisement for the sins of Judah. He had observed the effect. Hezekiah and his princes were humbled before Him. Now God would act for them. Though He had afflicted them, He would do so no more. The Assyrian hosts were blasted by the breath of His mouth, and Sennacherib himself basely murdered a short time afterward, as ver. 14 declared he would be, by the hands of his own sons. See Isa. 37:36-38.

Freed from the danger that had threatened, Judah could keep her feasts in peace, rejoicing in the appointed ministry of cheer sent by Jehovah. His messengers are spoken of in Isa. 52:7 in almost the same language. Possibly Nahum and Isaiah feasted together when the enemy was thus destroyed, and enlargement granted to Judah.

Delivered and exultant, they are called upon to perform their vows, for the host that had but a little before struck terror to their souls would pass through the land no more.

Who can fail to see in all this a wondrous picture of the introduction of millennial blessing when the last coalition against Israel has been overthrown, and the Lord Jesus Himself shall descend with feet beautiful upon the mountains to publish peace that shall no more be disturbed!

Chapter 2
The Destruction Of Nineveh

It is important, in reading the Prophets, to distinguish between those parts which relate primarily to events long since fulfilled, and those which have to do entirely with what is still future. Fulfilled prophecy is a clinching proof of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. That which tells of what is yet to come is “a light shining in a dark place,” enabling the devout reader to put a proper value on all he sees around him.

On the other hand, all prophecy is one connected whole and must be read in view of that to which it all points—the coming day of the Lord. But for many peoples and nations that day has already come. Their course has been run. Their manifold iniquities have been judged; and their civilizations have passed out of existence.

The glory of Nineveh has been for over two and a half millenniums but a memory. That it should be so was predicted by Nahum a century at least ere his words had their awful fulfilment in the Babylonian conquest. This is given in detail in chaps. 2 and 3, a portion of Scripture (and of literature in general) unsurpassed for graphic delineation and poetic fervor.

“He that dasheth in pieces,” the leader of the Chaldean hosts, is seen, in vision, coming up against Nineveh, proudly resting in her glory on the banks of the Tigris. Founded by Nimrod, as was also the rival Euphratean city Babylon, the one sets forth the world in its grandeur and independence of God; the other, the religious world, the home of superstition and traditionary ritual. Necessarily the former must fall before the rising power of the latter, even as, centuries later, paganism had to succumb to an unholy, pseudo-Christianity, which seemed more fully to meet the need of man in his hopeless depravity. Yet it often becomes a question to the thoughtful student, Which was worse, the world without God, or the world with a perverted idea of God, wrapped in the darkness of medieval superstition and ignorance of the Scriptures of truth?

Let Nineveh attempt to defend herself as she may, no power can avail to avert the richly-deserved judgment (ver. 1). She had herself been the instrument used to punish the excellency of Jacob; but now, since they had been punished, the heathen should not escape. It is the principle enunciated in 1 Pet. 4:17, 18 — judgment begins at the house of God. What then of those who know Him not? If He will pass over nothing because committed by His own, how solemn the day when the wicked have to answer for all their lawlessness! If the powers of evil are permitted to mar the branches of the vine of Jehovah’s planting, who shall prevent the destruction of the wild trees of the wood? (ver. 2).

The terrific character of the final assault on Nineveh is vividly described in vers. 3 to 5. As this passage has often been applied most fancifully, I quote it in full, in order that it may stand out clearly in its true connection. “The shield of his mighty men is made red, the valiant men are in scarlet; the chariots shall be with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the fir trees shall be terribly shaken. The chariots shall rage in the streets, they shall jostle one against another in the broad ways; they shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightnings.”

It is a striking portrayal of the wild disorder that necessarily prevailed when the Babylonian hordes and their Median allies poured into the doomed city. What is there here to suggest the strange and forced interpretation often put upon so plain a passage? Were it not so common a view, who could believe that sober men would attempt to see in words like these references to railroads, electric cars, and automobiles! Yet sermons have been preached and books written in which such mechanical devices are declared td be the fulfilment of this portion of Nahum’s prophecy.24 It is an instance of the careless way in which men read Scripture; for, clearly, “the day of his preparation” was the day of Nineveh’s destruction; and the “chariots with flaming torches,” running “like the lightnings,” were the war-carriages of the victorious Babylonians.

Against such a terrific onslaught the king of Nineveh tried in vain to rally his worthies. Drunken, as a result of their unholy feasts, they stumbled in their walk as they hastened to the wall, only to find it was too late now to attempt a defence (ver. 5). The rise of the river opened the already weakened sluice-gates; the floods crumbled the foundations of the palace, and made hope of resistance vain (ver. 6).

Diodorus Siculus describes the end of the siege in the following language: “There was an old prophecy that Nineveh should not be taken till the river became an enemy to the city. And in the third year of the siege, the river being swollen with continual rains, overflowed every part of the city, and broke down the wall for twenty furlongs; then the king, thinking that the oracle was fulfilled, and the river become an enemy to the city, built a large funeral pile in the palace, and collecting together all his wealth and his concubines and eunuchs, burnt himself and the palace with them all; and the enemy entered at the breach that the waters had made and took the city.”

Thus with violence was Nineveh’s pride abased and “Huzzab” (“the established”) led away captive. She had proudly thought herself established to abide forever, but her end had come because she exalted herself against the Lord (ver. 7).

Vers. 8 to 13 are too plain to require comment. In language unmistakable they describe the desolation following the complete overthrow of what had been the world’s most glorious city. So exactly were the words fulnlled, that for ages the very site of Nineveh was lost, till, in the last century, Layard and Rawlinson made excavations and discoveries that brought to light the ruins of a metropolis so vast that none could longer doubt the declarations of Jonah and Nahum in regard to its splendor and magnificence, and its destruction when in the very zenith of its glory.

It may be well to remark that the lion of vers. 11, 12 is the king; and the lions and lionesses his household who perished with him amid the flames of his palace.

Chapter 3
Beyond Healing

Of Nineveh’s doom we have been reading. The last chapter continues the subject, and tells us that doom is irretrievable. But it does more. Its first four verses give us Jehovah’s terrible indictment, and show us why unsparing judgment had to fall upon it.

A city of blood, full of lies and robbery! Such is the divine description. All its glory was stained by the iniquity of its people (ver. 1). In cruel warfare and sanguinary carnage its haughty inhabitants delighted. The sight of armies rushing together in battle was their joy.25 Therefore others should exult over them when they fell beneath the power of their victorious enemies (vers. 2, 3). Uncleanness abounded; the filthiness of the flesh and spirit, prostitution and sorcery, were openly carried on, and linked with the worship of their demon-gods (ver. 4). Therefore was Jehovah’s face against them, and He had determined to make them a gazing-stock and a warning to all who should follow their pernicious ways (vers. 5, 6).

It was but a little before that their great king, Sargon, is reputed to have destroyed No Amon (called in the A. V. “populous No”), and carried her people into captivity. But Nineveh was equally guilty, and must herself become a prey. In that day the surrounding nations would take up a taunt against her, crying, “Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her?” Her course had left her friendless and alone in the day of the Lord’s anger. Imperious and vindictive, she sought only her own agrandizement, and in no sense the welfare of subject cities and provinces. So she must learn that “righteousness [alone] exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). No human power can long exist that persistently practises and encourages corruption and violence. The Most High rules in the kingdoms of men whether they own Him or not; and He puts down one people and exalts another at His own pleasure, taking into account all of their ways (vers. 7-10).

The 11th verse seems again to refer to the last drunken orgy, to which, history tells us, the whole city was given up on the night of its awful fall.

Unable in anywise to resist the invading hordes, the very strongholds poured forth their inebriated hosts for destruction like a fig tree casting her first ripe figs into the eater’s mouth when shaken (vers. 12, 13). Thus her ruin was complete in the day when the fire devoured her palaces (vers. 14, 15).

Eaten up as green leaves are destroyed by the locusts, so was Nineveh’s splendor to have an end. And if any might apply the locust-figure to the Assyrians themselves, they had become but as an insect host benumbed by cold, unable to pursue their prey, and who, when warmed by the rays of the sun, flee away, “and their place is not known where they are” (vers. 16, 17).

So should perish Saracus, grandson of the famous Esar-haddon, Assyria’s last king, together with all his nobles and his people; for the God whom he knew not, nor cared to know, had solemnly declared, “There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit (or, report) of these shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?” (vers. 18, 19).

Nineveh has fallen to rise no more forever. Her mighty men have passed off the scene, together with all their guilt and sins, never more to be numbered among the living till that day

“When the sun is old, and the stars are cold,
And the leaves of the judgment-book unfold.”

But in the crisis of the last days a fierce and unholy power will occupy the land once dominated by Huzzab on the Tigris (chap. 2:7), who will have the traits and bitter hatred of God and His people once characteristic of Assyria, and, appearing in Asshur’s spirit and power, will be emphatically denominated “The Assyrian,” or “the king of the north,” whose final doom is prefigured in Nahum’s prophecy of the fall of Nineveh of old.

Thus this book has for us a double value; letting us know how completely inspired prophecy has been fulfilled in the past, and in this way assuring our hearts as to the literal carrying out of all God has caused to be spoken by His divinely-inspired seers. May it be ours to “eat the book” till our whole being is pervaded with its truth, that thus we may walk as strangers and pilgrims through a scene over which the Most High has written the awful word TEKEL! (Dan. 5:27).

24 I have even known prophetic lecturers to wax eloquent over “The valiant men are in scarlet;” applying the verse to the red-jerseyed soldiers of the Salvation Army!

25 Nineveh seems to have been inbred with the spirit of its founder, Nimrod, the Cushite, “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Gen. 10:8, 9), taking pleasure in the wanton chase of nations for prey.—[Ed.