The very first verse of this book informs us that the message will be “The burden against Nineveh” (Nahum 1:1). The major thrust of the book, from beginning to end, is the fall of Nineveh, described as “the bloody city” (3:1). When its destruction arrived, people would exclaim, “Nineveh is laid waste” (3:7).
Historical setting: When Nahum prophesied, the Assyrian Empire was the dominant power in the Middle East. Assyria had destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in B.C. 722/721 and also had attacked Judah on more than one occasion. The people of God counted Assyria as a ruthless enemy.
Nineveh, located on the Tigris River, was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire. The inhabitants of Nineveh repented when another prophet of Jehovah, Jonah, went there to preach (Jonah 3:1-10; Matthew 12:41). That happened well over one hundred years before Nahum’s writing. By the time the Spirit of God guided Nahum to speak of Nineveh’s future, the city’s cup of sin was running over and her destruction was on the horizon.
When exactly did Nahum present his message about Nineveh? Nahum mentions the past overthrow of the Egyptian city of No Amon, which occurred in B.C. 663 (3:8; called “No” in the KJV and known in history as “Thebes”). Thus, Nahum wrote after that event. As we noted, Nahum foretold the destruction of Nineveh, which took place in B.C. 612. So, Nahum’s message came between the two events and dates reference above: he prophesied after the fall of No in B.C. 663 and before the fall of Nineveh in B.C. 612.
Unlike other prophets who declared God’s word in that same general time period, Nahum writes nothing about the internal affairs and corruption of Judah and Jerusalem. Instead, like Jonah before him, he speaks a message that exclusively was against Nineveh.
Nahum was not the only prophet of the Lord who spoke about Nineveh’ coming desolation. Isaiah foretold that devastating event (Isaiah 10:24-27), as did Zephaniah (Zephaniah 2:13-15).
Some key thoughts:
The destruction of Nineveh, “the bloody city” (3:1), is the dominant theme. The name “Nineveh” is found three times in Nahum’s message (1:1; 2:8; 3:7). The unmissable message for Nineveh was, “Behold, I am against you, says the LORD of hosts” (3:5). What was going on in Nineveh that would cause the Creator of the universe to be against it?
Nineveh’s wickedness was continual (3:19). It conspired against the Lord (1:9). It was given over to idolatry (1:14). It was full of lies and robbery (3:1). It was guilty of harlotry and sorcery (3:4).
In view of the above observations, we are reminded by the book of Nahum that no person or nation can stand against Jehovah and win. On the surface, at times it may appear that a person or country is successful in its rebellion against the Lord. Yet, in the end, God will have the final say! Nineveh plotted against the Lord and failed! (1:9,11). When God is against an individual or a collection of people due to their evil, none can stand before Him. It is true: “sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
The Bible’s message about the wickedness of Nineveh makes it plain that, though the Ninevites were Gentiles, they were accountable to God for their actions. They did not live under the law of Moses, but they were guilty of sin, meaning that they transgressed God’s will (1 John 3:4; Romans 4:15). God’s destruction of Nineveh was not simply a matter of Him “getting even.” Rather, it was a matter of Him carrying out His justice against those who deserved to be punished for their ungodliness.
Nahum shows us several aspects of God’s nature. He shows us God’s goodness, saying, “The LORD is good” (1:7). Amen! All that God ever has done has been done with mankind’s best interest in mind. He is slow to anger (1:3) and has no delight in sin or the punishment of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). We recall that at an earlier time God had shown His goodness by sparing the city of Nineveh after the people repented when Jonah preached to them (Jonah 3,4).
Nahum shows us God’s severity, too. “God is jealous” (1:2), meaning that He will not share with anyone the devotion which should be granted to Him alone. He takes vengeance on His enemies and pours out His indignation, anger, and fury (1:2,6). God Himself will “lead the charge” against Nineveh. Read how God said “I will” do it to the city (2:13: 3:5,6).
The prophet further shows us God’s power. Indeed, He is “great in power” (1:3). In part, He demonstrates His power via nature (1:3-5). His power comforts, too, as He is a stronghold in the day of trouble (1:7).
Two other important lessons for us to learn:
Through Nahum, God foretold what would happen to Nineveh, why it would happen, and how such would come about. What amazing knowledge! Truly, “His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5).
Here is a sad reminder from Nineveh’s history: the repentance of one person, one family, or one group of people cannot guarantee future faithfulness. Nineveh repented when Jonah preached to them over 100 years before Nahum’s day. In Nahum’s time, Nineveh once again was a spiritual disaster. Think about that.
— Roger D. Campbell