Have you ever heard a sermon out of the book of Nahum? Probably not! Nahum is one of those Minor Prophets skipped over because it is perceived he doesn’t have a relevant word for the twenty-first century. However, the message within Nahum contains a freshness in its meaning in the midst of the oppression, violence and brutality we see today among the nations. His message is clear and plain: vengeance still belongs to the sovereign Lord and blatant disregard for God and violent treatment of others will bring certain judgment. Nahum teaches that God still hates brutality and will not allow any nation to continue in its inhumaneness forever.
Nahum means “consoler” or “comforter.” Nahum refers to himself as an Elkoshite (1:1). The exact location of Elkosh has been debated, either from the place later called Capernaum or a city in southern Judah. A man who had a passion for his people, he was filled with righteous indignation against the inhumanity of Assyria. His words were a comfort to those who had and were suffering under the barbaric cruelty of the Assyrians. The overarching theme of the book is the coming downfall of the Assyrians, truly one of the Jews worst enemies. His message was a consolation to Judah who had watched their brethren in the Northern Kingdom devastated by the Assyrians (722 BC) and who were a menace to them.
In dating Nahum’s pronouncement, it was after the fall of Thebes in Egypt (663 BC), as he writes of it as a past event (3:8-10); and it was before the fall of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, which took place in 612 BC. So taking the middle ground, his pronouncement of loving-justice was about 645 BC.
Some background information about Assyria would prove profitable in revealing why judgment against them was forthcoming. Assyria made its appearance on the world scene in 14th century BC, its territory located in the northern part of present day Iraq. The first capital of Assyria was Assur, being named after its national god. Assur was located some one hundred and fifty miles north of present day Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris River. Nineveh later became their capital. A warring and ruthless people, they sought to crush all who opposed their continual advancements. By the ninth century BC Assyria had become a dominate world force, having as their goal to further expand their territorial empire. As their power grew they began to pose a threat to Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom). The Northern Kingdom, weaken by spiritual declension and weak and corrupt leaders, under the puppet leadership of King Menahem (c749-c737 BC), was forced to pay heavy tribute to Assyria (2 Kings 15:14-22). With the heavy burden of paying tribute to Assyria, Israel decided to revolt. The Assyrians marched into Israel, seizing the capital city of Samaria, and after three years of fighting destroyed the city (722 BC) (2 Kings 18:10). Thousands of Israelites were deported, and according to 2 Kings 18:11, “The king of Assyria did carry away Israel unto Assyria, and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan.” While the Assyrians were a thorn in the side of the Southern Kingdom, they were never able to capture them as they did the Northern Kingdom.
The ruthless Assyrians were feared, despised and hated by the world for their callousness and the inhumane way they treated their captives. A vast amount of Assyrian history, beyond biblical records, has been preserved in ancient inscriptions that give detailed accounts of more than a few of their military encounters and battles. Historical inscriptions describe a people who were barbarically brutal, cruel and bloodthirsty. Assyrian records reveal they would impale their captives, often beheading them and piling their heads in the streets. As well, they would tie their victims down and torturously flay them while alive, their victim’s skins being trophies of triumph. Boys and girls would be burnt alive. They would slowly dismember their captives while alive, until they cried out for death. Men captured in war would have their intestines and private parts ripped out of them. Enemies would be buried alive up to their necks with only their heads exposed, their heads smeared with honey and ants poured on them one can only imagine the horror they experienced. Spikes would be driven through their victim’s cheeks or tongues and paraded through the streets. Their vicious cruelties make Mao Tse-tung, Stalin, Genghis Khan, and Saddam Hussein look like choir boys (For an excellent article on Assyrian brutality see Erika Belibtreu, “Grisly Assyrian Record of Torture and Death,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 17:01, (Jan/Feb 1991), 1-11).
When one looks at the viciousness of the Assyrians one understands why Jonah (8th century BC) did not want to go preach at Nineveh. He wanted God to judge them! However, being persuaded by “ a whale” of an experience, Jonah’s preaching gave the Assyrians a temporary reprieve as they repented. In time, though, they not only fell back into their cruel ways, they actually grew worse. Their time had now run out, and because of their extreme brutality they would experience the judging hand of God upon them. In 612 BC the Assyrians were overthrown by a coalition of Babylonians, Scythians and Medes and became an asterisk on the pages of history.
The message of Nahum is that God’s sovereign, loving-justice will eventually prevail. One may ask, “How can you use love and justice in the same sentence? Are they not two opposing terms?” Quite to the contrary, at the very heart of Nahum’s message is love, for it is God’s love that imposes judgment. If God didn’t bring the judgment of divine justice to bear on unrepentant ungodliness He would not be a Being of love. Love and justice are inseparably interwoven together, as God’s love for humanity and His people arouses His righteous-justice and in time reacts in judgment against those who continually live godlessly and mistreats His people.
God’s justice may seem to us slow in coming, but it is sure in coming. God is both patient and sovereign. While He gives men and nations opportunity to repent, He also warns them if they do not the hammer of judgment will fall. Just because judgment seems to be delayed from our perspective, we can be sure the Providential wheels of justice are turning and moving forward toward reckoning day. And as P.T. Forsyth so eloquently writes, “His justice does not sleep. The bolt of judgement which seems to come so suddenly from heaven, comes really from the heart of a storm which has been gathering long, and when it suddenly bursts forth it does with force…with force that flows forth from His holy-love revealed in the justice and judgment of the Cross” (P.T. Forsyth, “The Slowness of God,” The Expository Times, 11: 1900, 218-222). Amen!