Our reading today is the book of Nahum. Like Jonah many years before, Nahum prophesied to Assyria. Unlike when Jonah prophesied, Assyria would not repent at Nahum’s word, and they were destroyed. Nahum prophesied as Babylon was becoming the dominate world power, and about 30 years before Judah would fall to Babylon. Assyria would fall to Babylon only a few years after Nahum prophesied of their fall.
Nahum begins by describing YHWH using many of His own Self-descriptions (vv. 2-3). He is jealous (Ex 20:5), avenging (Isa 1:24), full of wrath (Isa 9:19), He is slow to anger (Ex 34:6) yet will not clear the guilty (Ex 34:7). Nahum then asserts God’s sovereignty over all of creation (vv. 4-5) and over judgment (v. 6). In verses 7-8, we once again see that God is Savior for those who know Him, but the judge of His enemies. In verse 9, we likely have a reference to Assyria’s attempted attack against Jerusalem (1 Kings 18:8-13). God will make sure it never happens again. The “one who plotted evil” in verse 11 would be Sennacherib.
Though the forces of Assyria are strong, they will be defeated (v. 12). Their hold on the known world was about to end (v. 13). And God will also judge their gods (v. 14) like He did when He defeated Egypt (see Ex 12:12). Then, in verse 15, Nahum refers to the prophecy of Isaiah (see Isa 52:7). He is speaking here to Judah. Whereas Isaiah spoke of how beautiful the feet were of the one who brings good news, peace, and blessedness, and speaks of the reign of God – here Nahum points to God the Savior as the One Who Himself is this bearer of good news. Like in Isaiah, this will have its ultimate fulfillment in Christ.
Jonah prophesied simply: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). Nahum goes into much more detail (note in verse 8 that this is a prophecy against Nineveh). God calls Assyria to ready for war (2:1). Note in verse 2 that God tells Assyria why they are being judged. It is because He is restoring the “majesty” of Israel. The word here for “majesty” is usually translated “pride” (as in Psalm 47:4). God is going to judge Assyria because of what they did to Israel (see 2 Kings 17:6). Assyria are the plunderers of Israel. We see that even though God used Assyria to punish Israel (see 2 Kings 17:7, 18). Assyria was still responsible for what they did even though God sovereignly orchestrated it for His purposes.
God resumes describing the coming destruction of Assyria by describing the coming Babylonian army (vv. 3-4) who will siege Nineveh (v. 5), breach the gates and get to the palace of the king (v. 6), and take Assyria into captivity (v. 7). Nineveh expanded its rule over the world like covering it in water, but those waters will abate, and thought they will try to stop it, they will be powerless to do so (v. 8). And they will be plundered (v. 9) like they plundered Israel (see v. 2). They will be left utterly destroyed (v. 10). God asks: where is your unmatched power (v. 11) that ruled the world (v. 12)? Then God says He will show them Who really has the power. He is against them, and the “powerful” nation will be utterly destroyed (v. 13).
Nahum now pronounces woe on Nineveh in vivid terms. There was no end to their prey (3:1), but now they will be preyed upon. He then describes the invasion of a merciless army (Babylon) in verses 2-3. The body count will be innumerable. This will be for all the sins of Assyria (v. 4). God for a second time declares that He is against them (v. 5). He wants them to know that when this happens, it is from Him. He will reveal their shame to the world, making them an example (vv. 5-6). People will look away in horror, but none will grieve for them (v. 7).
God now points out to Assyria that she is no better than the peoples she took into captivity. God lists nations of northeastern Africa as among those who Assyria conquered (vv. 8-9). Assyria took them into captivity and were ruthless in their attacks (v. 10 – the dashing infants into pieces is metaphorical for mercilessness – see Isa 13:16, Ps 137:9). Assyria will be defeated in like manner. They will hide in their strongholds (v. 11), but even their strongholds will fall like ripe figs from a tree (v. 12). Their mighty warriors are like women and their defenses (gates) as if they were wide open (v. 13).
God then warns Assyria to prepare for a lengthy siege (v. 14 – it would take nearly three years). The reference to the fire devouring many of them refers to the fact that during the Babylonian siege, a great fire broke out that killed many Assyrians (according to the Babylonian Chronicles). God describes the many merchants of Nineveh (it was the center of trade at the time) and the officials as fleeing like insects (vv. 16-17) while the rulers are clueless as to the coming danger (v. 18). And the world will say that Assyria got what she deserved because of her cruelty (v. 19).