Nahum 3

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James Montgomery Boice points out in his commentaries that what is mourned on earth is applauded in heaven. He says this in reference to Revelation 18 where the fall of Babylon takes place. In Revelation 18 the fall of the Babylon is not about the actual city of Babylon, but it represents all the cities of men that have been built and established in opposition to God. Revelation 18 has three sections that all begin with the words “Woe to the great city.” Then after the declaration of the fall and destruction of the cities of men, Revelation 19 is filled with the applause of heaven. This is what Boice means when he says that what is mourned on earth is applauded in heaven. He says, “on earth the fall of Babylon is judged an unmitigated tragedy. In heaven it is cause for rejoicing before God.”
The same is true here for Ninevah. The destruction of Ninevah is cause for mourning amongst the Assyrians, but it is cause for rejoicing for Judah and Israel.
Nahum 3:1-4
Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder— no end to the prey! The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end— they stumble over the bodies! And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms.
These first few verses are the listing of the sins of Ninevah. They were rightfully known as the city of blood.
On a monument commemorating the first eighteen years of his reign, Ashurnasirpal II (885–860 b.c.) declared: “Great number of them in the land of Kirhi I slew … 260 of their fighting men I cut down with the sword. I cut off their heads, and I formed them into pillars.… Bubo, son of Buba, I flayed in the city of Arbela and I spread his skin upon the city wall.
“I flayed all the chief men [in the city of Suru] who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, and others I bound to stakes round about the pillar; many within the border of my own land I flayed, and I spread their skins upon the walls; and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled. Ahiababa I took to Nineveh, I flayed him, I spread his skin upon the wall of Nineveh.
“600 of their [the people in the city of Hulai] warriors I put to the sword; 3,000 captives I burned with fire; I did not leave a single one among them alive to serve as a hostage.… Their corpses I formed into pillars; their young men and maidens I burned in the fire.…
“3,000 of their [the people in the city of Tela] warriors I put to the sword.… Many captives from among them I burned with fire. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts (tree trunks) round about the city.”2
2 Maier, The Book of Nahum, 291. Maier has taken the material from Daniel D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 142ff. James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 381–382.
Not only was the city known for its horrendous bloodshed, the people were known for their lies and deceit.
They were also rich because of their oppression. They had not established their wealth, they stole their wealth. God is now promising to take from Ninevah in the same way that they have taken from others.
Ninevah is also being condemned for her witchcraft in verse 4. Archaeologists have confirmed that the people of Nineveh practiced witchcraft. Maier reports: “Thousands of tablets uncovered in the Mesopotamian valley show abysmal superstition. Hundreds of sorcery incantations have been brought to light. Astrology flourished widely as a means of foretelling the future. For the Assyrians the world was filled with omens to be found in moths, swallows, pigs, scorpions, wild oxen, sparrows, doves, cows, rats, crows, worms, dogs, hens, grasshoppers, lambs, sheep, foxes, fish, snakes, jackals. Amulets of stones, plants, bones, and insects were worn to ward off evil spirits.”3
3 Maier, The Book of Nahum, 303.
James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 382.
God consistently refers to the practice of false religion as prostitution. He does this because He has commanded that no other god is to be worshipped other than Him. This is the pattern that our marriages are based off of. We are to have one spouse and we are not to be intimate with anyone else. The act of worshipping another god is an act of adultery against God. We are called to be faithful to Him and to Him alone. The practice of witchcraft rather than the worship of the one true God was the basis for this judgement.
God is always just in His judgements and by naming out their sins He is justifying their condemnation and judgment. (Which is His declaration in the next verses)
Nahum 3:5-7
Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. And all who look at you will shrink from you and say, “Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?” Where shall I seek comforters for you?
God is against them because of their sin, and He has committed to exposing their sin and shame while doing to them worse than they have done to others.
There will be no one to mourn or miss the people of Ninevah.
Nahum 3:8-13
Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her wall? Cush was her strength; Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers. 10 Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity; her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; for her honored men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in chains. 11 You also will be drunken; you will go into hiding; you will seek a refuge from the enemy. 12 All your fortresses are like fig trees with first-ripe figs— if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater. 13 Behold, your troops are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars.
Thebes was a city that appears in history at about the same time as the Assyrian empire. Thebes was large and powerful for hundreds of years, much like the Assyrian city of Ninevah. Thebes was strengthened by its natural defenses like Ninevah. Thebes had strong allies like Ninevah, and yet Thebes fell.
And the reason the Assyrians were familiar with the fall of Thebes is because it happened at their hands. They were the ones in the 600’s BC who conquered and destroyed it.
God is declaring that the destruction they brought on Thebes and others is coming to for the city of Ninevah.
This is true for all cities and empires of the world. Every kingdom sees itself as strong in its time, but there is a time coming where all the kingdoms of earth will be destroyed and receive the judgement that is due its since and offenses to the Lord.
The only kingdom that will escape the judgment of God is the one that belongs to the Lord. And the kingdom that belongs to the Lord is not a nation with borders and earthly rulers. The kingdom of God is a people, a priesthood, and it only has one King- Jesus.
Nahum 3:14-19
14 Draw water for the siege; strengthen your forts; go into the clay; tread the mortar; take hold of the brick mold! 15 There will the fire devour you; the sword will cut you off. It will devour you like the locust. Multiply yourselves like the locust; multiply like the grasshopper! 16 You increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away. 17 Your princes are like grasshoppers, your scribes like clouds of locusts settling on the fences in a day of cold— when the sun rises, they fly away; no one knows where they are. 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?
Even though the reign and power of Ninevah has existed for a long time, it’s destruction is coming fast and will not take long. But, this is how it always is, and it will be no different for them. One day they are powerful and mighty, the next they have been conquered and are destroyed.
The army will fall, the merchants will fail, and the leaders will run and disappear. The main sources of strength for the people of Ninevah will quake in the face of the Lord’s judgment and destruction.
These words from Nahum to the people of Judah are a source of comfort. The fulfillment of these promises strengthens our faith and shores up our confidence in the Lord and His promise of salvation. Martin Luther points out that the judgment of God and the promise of redemption for Judah was a source of consolation that we can benefit from. He said, “These consolations ought also to fill us all with courage in any need, so that we may have confidence and trust absolutely that the Lord will not allow foes of God’s Word to prevail against us. You see, He had promised Judah freedom and a safe kingdom from which Christ was to be born. He stood by His promises. He did make them superior to all their foes, which the prophet has very clearly shown here in the case of the very powerful and wealthy realm of the Assyrians. In the same way, may we also have no doubts that He will be near us in every need, physical or spiritual. Indeed, our God is still the same One who redeemed Judah, who said that a hair of our head would not fall without His will.”5 5 Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 18, Lectures on the Minor Prophets: I, 135.
James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 386.
Closing Thoughts:
1. God saves through judgment, and we glorify Him for His salvation.
There will be a day of judgment and our sins will be named There is a day of consequence for the sins we have committed. Every sin that has every been committed will be judged and given its just consequence. The sins of those who have had faith in the promise of God through Jesus Christ will be saved from the just consequence of their sin. Jesus has take the wrath of God, the punishment that their sin deserves, so that they may pass through the judgment of God and into eternal life. Much like Noah and his descendants passed through the waters of God’s judgment, all who are in Christ will be carried through the judgment of God in Christ.
2. You can be saved from your sins, no matter how bad or burdensome they seem
God sent Jonah, another prophet to Ninevah, to call them to repentance. And when they did He received it and forgave them. He can do this for you too. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
3. We are called to be firm in our faith and faithful to the end.
Boice points out in his study of this passage that even though Jonah went to Ninevah, Ninveah eventually turned back to their old ways. God doesn’t call us to make a momentary decision, God calls us to make a lifetime surrender and to be transformed by faith in Him.
Like Peter says in 2 Peter 1:10 (ESV)”10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Matthew 10:22 (ESV), 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
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