Nahum: A Message of God’s Judgment

Lesson Focus:  This lesson will help you understand God’s judgment and pursue His righteousness.

God Tempers His Judgment with Mercy:  Nahum 1:7-13.

[7]  The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. [8]  But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness. [9]  What do you plot against the LORD? He will make a complete end; trouble will not rise up a second time. [10]  For they are like entangled thorns, like drunkards as they drink; they are consumed like stubble fully dried. [11]  From you came one who plotted evil against the LORD, a worthless counselor. [12]  Thus says the LORD, "Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. [13]  And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart."  [ESV]

[7-11]  There is no stepping back from the reality of God’s retributive justice, but Nahum now views it against a broader background. When the Lord vindicates His name, it is a two-sided operation. He pours out His furious wrath on those who have set themselves against Him, but He also extends His protection and favor to those who are in covenant relationship with Him. Nahum frequently turns swiftly from one subject to another. No sooner has he ended verse 6 by describing how God’s wrath is poured out like fire, he proceeds The Lord is good [7]. The jarring effect of the change emphasizes the contrast that is being made. God’s wrath is one aspect of His character that is almost too awesome to contemplate. Its implications for sinners are so overwhelming that we shrink from it. But there is another attribute of God that His people have to remember so as to have a full orbed appreciation of the God with whom they have to do. Now goodness may be ascribed to the Lord in various ways. For example, it may denote God as implacably opposed to what is morally wrong, and as Himself the standard by which all goodness is determined. As such He stands apart from, and over against, His fallen creation, of whom Paul writes none is righteous, no, not one [Rom. 3:10]. It is this aspect of the Lord’s goodness that we find in Psalm 25:8 where He is described as good and upright, and therefore the One who is supremely qualified to teach sinners the way. God is also good in the sense that He is the source and provider of good things for all His creation. But the benefit the Lord provides is supremely to be found in the realm of salvation. This provides the basis of the exhortation, Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever [Psalm 136:1]. This is His covenant love towards those He has chosen to be His people. It is seen not only in the forgiveness He extends, but also in all His subsequent acts of covenant blessing towards those whose hope is in Him and who seek Him. This goodness is particularly encountered when His people find themselves in adverse circumstances of the most severe sort in life. He is a stronghold in the day of trouble. The word trouble covers both intense turmoil in external circumstances, and inner distress. Then the Lord acts as a stronghold or refuge, an impregnable mountain fortress which, since it cannot be taken by the enemy, provides security for the one who has felt himself about to go down in battle. What is the basis for all this? He knows those who take refuge in him or those who trust in Him. This knowing is not just God’s omniscient knowledge by which He knows all things. It refers to that special covenant knowledge which Amos applied to Israel in 3:2: You only have I known of all the families of the earth. It is that intimate knowledge which flows out of God’s steadfast love for His chosen covenant people. But there are two sides to the Lord’s action. Nahum recognizes this as he says, But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries [8]. Describing judgment in terms of a flood goes back to the days of Noah. Sometimes it conveys the idea of an invading army sweeping through a country [Isaiah 8:7-8], and that may be what is foretold here. Though Nineveh is not named, it is clearly indicated. When Nineveh fell, it was as a result of enemy invasion. But there is also the possibility that Nahum’s reference here is to an actual flood. Later in 2:6 he distinctly mentions the flooding of the city as contributing to its capture. He will pursue his enemies into darkness. The Lord is Himself light, and so brings light to those who enjoy the favor of His presence. Darkness indicates the condition of those from whom His favor is withdrawn. Verse 9 continues the theme of what happens to the Lord’s foes. They had not stumbled into sin against the Lord, but had deliberately embarked on such a policy. All their scheming will, however, be of no avail, for no wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord [Prov. 21:30]. In words recalling the end awaiting Nineveh in verse 8, the Lord’s action on behalf of His people will make a complete end to all their schemes and plotting. Indeed it is implied that the Lord is already acting to bring their schemes to an end for He is the one who frustrates the plans of the peoples [Psalm 33:10]. When Nineveh is struck down by the Lord, no more trouble shall arise from that source to vex the people of God again. Nahum continues in verse 10 with For which indicates the reason why there will be no more trouble from Nineveh. Three terse descriptions that are difficult to translate are presented. First, they are like entangled thorns [10]. The thorns are the prickly and useless bushes of the parched wilderness. Nothing much else could be done with them, but to burn them where they lie. To become entangled with them was to be presented with an immediate problem that prevented attention being given to anything else. The Assyrians are going to be beset with many troubles. They will have so much on their hands that they will not have time to vex other peoples. That is one reason why there will be no more trouble from that source. Second, they will be like drunkards as they drink. Two thoughts seem to lie behind this picture. The first is ease and false sense of security that will characterize the foes of the Lord even when disaster is already threatening them. There is also the idea of their helplessness when they are engulfed by their fate. They have become so stupefied by alcohol that they cannot take action to defend themselves. Third, they are consumed like stubble. The sun soon dried out the stalks left in the ground after harvesting, and they were readily combustible. The burning of stubble is found throughout the Old Testament as an illustration of the Lord’s judgment sweeping out of existence those who are the objects of His wrath. Here the completeness of their downfall is underlined in that they are likened to dry stubble. There will be no difficulty in setting fire to it, and once it is ablaze, there will be no putting it out. From you came one [11] refers to a specific king of Assyria, probably Sennacherib who was the most powerful Assyrian aggressor against Judah. This king is an outstanding example of the behavior described in verse 9 where the foolish plot against the Lord. Here Sennacherib plots evil against the Lord with his insults and blasphemy against the Lord and those who trust in the Lord.

[12-13]  Nahum continues to develop the theme of 1:7-8, that the Lord’s intervention to vindicate His name has two quite different results. The destinies of Nineveh and Judah are juxtaposed throughout this section, with abrupt, unsignalled changes of subject: Judah [1:12-13]; Nineveh [1:14]; Judah [1:15]; Nineveh [2:1]; Judah [2:2]. This is a theme that is found throughout Scripture – the parting of the ways that the Lord effects in His judgment, especially at the last day [Matt. 25:33]. In 1:12 Nahum for the first time presents the direct speech of the Lord. He introduces it with the words, Thus says the Lord. Although this phrase occurs only here in his book, it is frequently used by other prophets to indicate that they were acting as the Lord’s messengers, passing on what He had said to them. The Lord presents Himself as the liberator of His people. His intervention means the downfall of their enemies. Though they are at full strength and many indicates that it does not matter what the power of the enemy is, or how many supporters they can call on to provide them with reinforcements. Their strength will prove inadequate when the Lord moves against them. They will be cut down uses a word that elsewhere refers to the shearing of sheep or the mowing of a meadow. It is a close cropping that awaits Nineveh, which will also pass away. Often when cities were captured, they were not totally destroyed, and many of their inhabitants would remain in them as subjects of the conqueror. Here there is the first intimation that Nineveh’s fate is going to be different: not just capture, but annihilation. Then the Lord brings out the significance of His action for Judah. Though I have afflicted you indicates that there is no denying that the Lord’s fatherly chastisement of them because of their willful disobedience had resulted in their being brought low in suffering and pain. The Assyrian armies had been the Lord’s instrument to bring His erring people to their senses. But now the time to show favor has come, and so He promises I will afflict you no more, that is, on account of their past sins. Now [13] emphasizes that though the promised change is still future, it will not be long in coming. I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart. A yoke was a shaped piece of wood placed across the necks of two oxen, enabling them to work together in pulling a plough or cart. It was also used, as here, to refer to the rigors of political subjugation by a foreign power. Breaking off such a yoke gave freedom to those who were oppressed. Similarly the bonds or shackles, probably of metal, that restrained their movement so that as prisoners and slaves they could not escape, would be done away with.

God Judges Evil Nations:  Nahum 2:8-13.

[8]  Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. "Halt! Halt!" they cry, but none turns back. [9]  Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of the treasure or of the wealth of all  precious things. [10]  Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale! [11]  Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb? [12]  The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh. [13]  Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.  [ESV]

[8-13]  In 2:3-13 Nahum resumes his prophecy of the downfall of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire. Notice has now been given of the approaching forces against Nineveh [2:1]. They have arrived at the capital city and are vividly described in 2:3-4. 2:5-6 tells of the fall of the city, and 2:7-10 deals with the aftermath of its collapse. In 2:11-12 there is an extended comparison made between Nineveh and a lion, which leads into the significant, interpretative pronouncement, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts [2:13]. It is the Lord’s opposition to the city that is being outworked in her capture by enemy forces. Pool refers to part of an irrigation system. When its wall is holed, it can no longer contain water. Opinions differ as to whether the water flowing out of the pool represents the riches of Nineveh, or its population, leaving the city. The last half of verse 8 seems to favor the view that the waters represent the people of Nineveh. The city has been so devastated that they only think to escape from it. Perhaps this represented a reaction to an old superstition that the city would only fall when the river became its enemy, as was now the case. We then hear another set of cries in the confusion of the fallen city. It is the voice of the invader shouting, Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of the treasure or of the wealth of all precious things [9]. Assyria had looted the lands it had defeated. Those who became tributary states were forced to pay heavy taxes, as Israel and Judah had often found out to their cost. The wealth had flowed back to Assyria, and particularly to the capital, which became the richest city in the east. Now it has fallen, and is being subjected to the same treatment it had shown to others. Desolate! Desolation and ruin! [10]. This renders a very effective play by Nahum on three similarly sounding words in Hebrew to reinforce the totality of the devastation of the city. The inhabitants of the city are shattered and demoralized by what has happen to them. Fear and bewilderment grip all. The prophet emphasizes the helplessness of Nineveh by using a mocking analogy in verse 11. The lion is described in the Old Testament as mighty among the beasts. The violence of wicked men is often likened to the lion’s savage attacks. The comparison also fitted the Assyrians because their kings compared themselves to lions in their terrible power. Lions featured prominently in the artwork on many Assyrian buildings. Once they had been able to behave like the lions, going about with no opposition. There had been no reason for them to fear, but now the situation has changed. Even their place of security has been destroyed. The emphasis in verse 12 is on the killing of the prey by which the lion more than adequately provided for its own. That was how Assyria too had behaved. It was not just a matter of gathering wealth into her capital, but doing so by violence and cruelty. This section then draws to a conclusion by looking beyond the human actors on the stage of history to the ultimate and controlling reality, the Lord and His opposition to Assyria’s raping and pillaging. Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts [13]. There can be no greater threat uttered against the city than the Lord’s opposition to it. Lord of hosts refers to God as the One who is in control of all the powers that are. He who has at His behest whatever forces exist in the universe has declared Himself the enemy of Nineveh, and that is why this total destruction is going to ensue. No matter what power man may think he has, no matter what preparations he has gone to great trouble to make – if the Lord of hosts declares Himself against him, it is all futile and doomed to collapse. The two themes of the section, the invading army and the analogy to lions, are brought together in verse 13. It is the Lord Himself who is active in the affairs of man. A true understanding of history requires that we look beyond second causes to God Himself, who causes their finest weaponry to be burned. The young lions is a poetic designation for Nineveh’s soldiers. I will cut off your prey from the earth continues the picture of 2:12. It implies no prey is left because the predator himself has been removed. The voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard. At one level this spells out the end of the empire. The heralds would have carried the royal proclamations to the most distant parts of the realm. Nineveh’s commands would have been made known, and also the demands for tribute. But that is now all over. The rule of Assyria is broken. There is also an implicit contrast with 1:15, where the messengers of Judah had brought her good news. This reminds us once more of the contrasting destinies of the people of God and of their adversaries. Nineveh was a rich, powerful, and magnificent city, which arrogantly said, I am, and there is no one else [Zeph. 2:15]. But her prosperity was not founded on righteousness. Therefore the Lord of hosts declares that He is against them and divine justice makes it inevitable that disaster will come on those who have such a sentence pronounced against them. The sack of Nineveh represents the defeat of evil, as the Lord punishes Assyria, renowned for its cruelty, for the atrocities it had perpetrated.

God Judges Sinful Leaders:  Nahum 3:18-19.

[18]  Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them. [19]  There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?  [ESV]

[18-19]  In these concluding verses of his prophecy Nahum, as the Lord’s spokesman, focuses on the internal weakness of Nineveh, and how it will contribute to her downfall. He uses a number of themes to make clear what is going to happen to her. She is the consumed city. He uses the illustration of a plague of locusts in four different ways [15-17]. His message is not just that Nineveh will be overthrown by outside forces, but that the strong, cruel, harsh might of imperial Assyria is going to be the victim of its own internal depravity. Neither military might nor economic dominance will be able to avert the catastrophe. As the enemy encircles them, the people of Nineveh will become demoralized. The army and bureaucracy of Nineveh will act in self-interest, just as they have done all along. When danger approaches the capital, they will find it suits them to move away. Many of the administrators seem in fact to have moved to Haran in the closing stages of the capture of Nineveh. The strength of the enemy was not the only factor contributing to her downfall; the lack of commitment in the army and bureaucracy was significant also. Nahum turns in verse 18 to address the king of Assyria, and as he does so, he traces even higher up in society the complacency and corruption that had set in Nineveh. Shepherd was a term used throughout the Ancient Near East to describe one who had the responsibility for ruling and governing a nation. Nahum here deftly ties together their previous easy-going attitudes and the fate that came upon them in consequence. They had whiled away their time in ease, neglectful of their duties, and so their slumber and rest has turned into their last sleep, from which they will not awaken. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them. It would have been the duty of the nobility to give a lead in bringing the people together, but they have been killed, and the people dispersed without effective leadership to organize them. Your wound is grievous. The wound is that of the king, but it refers to the devastation that has come upon his land, and especially his capital. He has lost control, and the situation cannot be recovered. Nineveh lay in the dust, never to recover, its very location uncertain for centuries. No doubt, many of Assyria’s subject people did gloat over their misfortune at the hands of the Babylonians (clap their hands). They had suffered so much from the Assyrians that there would inevitably be rejoicing at their downfall. But the rejoicing of the people of God will not be tainted by gloating. The focus of their joy is in the fact that the overthrow of evil vindicates the righteousness of God, and the removal of their enemies fulfills the promise of protection and deliverance He has given to them. Their faith in Him has been justified.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         How does God care for His people? [see Psalm 25:4-6; 46:1; 59:16; Rom. 8:32; 2 Cor. 3:5;12:9]. In verses 9 and 13, what happens when human strategies conflict with Gods’ plan? [see Psalm 2:1; 21:11; Prov. 21:30; Isaiah 8:10; Luke 12:16-21].  

2.         In these verses what do we learn about God’s goodness, His mercy, His judgment, and His sovereignty?

3.         Think about how God’s dealing with Nineveh in these verses is a precursor of how He will eventually deal with all the wicked.


Nahum, Tremper Longman III, Baker.

Nahum, John Mackay, Christian Focus.

Nahum, O. Palmer Robertson, Eerdmans.

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