Nahum 1:12–3:19 God Against Assyria. The Consolation of Jonah
Key Notes: Four prophetic oracles against Ninevah, principal city of Assyria. A name for ourselves? God with us.In verse 1, Nahum introduced himself. In the next ten verses he recited a victory psalm praising God for His jealousy for the good of His people, his sense of justice, and His wrath toward evil. Jonah had previously gone to Ninevah (Assyria) with a warning of God's wrath, and the people repented. Now it appears that another generation has risen that has returned to paganism and this time judgment will be carried out.
Nahum ends his introductory passage in verse speaking of “a wicked counselor,” referring plainly to Assyria. After he finishes, he closes his book (3:19) asking a rhetorical question about that nation:
“For upon whom has not your wickedness passed through continually?”
It is to suggest that Assyria is wicked from top to bottom. Its brutality in war is indesctibable; every abuse of the human body imaginable was carried out as policy and pleasure for its rulers. Its indictment is reminiscent of God’s judgment of the earth before the flood. And everything else we find in Nahum's book confirms this.
"Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen.6:5)
Verse 12 announces the beginning of Nahum's prophecy against Nineveh using the traditional formula, “Thus says the Lord!” He proclaims four oracles containing some common elements.
First Oracle against Assyria. 1:12–15
Each oracle ends with a “Behold!” proclamation. The first proclaims that Judah’s worship will no longer be hindered by Assyria’s influence. Assyria “will be cut down,” they and their idols will be “cut off”. Their “name shall be perpetuated no longer”.
Making a Name for Oneself.
Ashurbanipal (the Assyrian king who reigned during the astonishing conquest of Thebes) placed a curse in his annals on anyone who removed his name, invoking the eleven most powerful gods in the Assyrian pantheon to deal with such vandals. Not unlike people of our own day, the prideful Assyrians were intent on leaving an indelible mark upon world history. This has been the human impulse from the beginning of time.
Take for example the Tower of Babel: "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." (Gen.11:4)
In contrast, to those whom God calls, He gives new names, thereby assigning new significance to their lives according to His purpose.
"No longer shall your name be called Abram; but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you a father of a multitude of nations." (Gen.17:5)
The Man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the Man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” (Gen.27:27–32)
"So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter)." Jn.1:44
Assyria is "vile". 1:14 The Hebrew word (“qalal” translated vile) literally means “light.” “Kabod” (usually translated glory) is literally the word “heavy.” Being glorious is carrying weight, being substantial. The opposite, being light, having no enduring value. Vain. Inconsequential. This ultimate insult to proud and mighty Assyria. Compared to the glory, the weightiness of God, they are trivial.
1:15 "Behold on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace."
Second Oracle against Assyria. 2:1–13
The first two verses call Assyria to battle—yet it will be futile. An army in red is coming to destroy them. Ezekiel 23:14 associates the color red (vermilion) with the Babylonian army.
2:6 mentions again (see notes on 1:8) that the city will be demolished by flood, confirmed by historical reports. Whether this flood was natural or man-made, or both, is not clear. The oracle ends with a metaphor, identifying Assyria as a lion, a national symbol for Assyria. But Nahum flips the imagery on its head: the lion will be devoured, and will have no prey left to feed on.
Once again the oracle ends with God's word: “Behold!” “I am against you!”
Third Oracle against Assyria. 3:1–6
A "woe" oracle is common in prophetic literature and in Jesus’ confrontations with the religious leaders of his day as well. Woe oracles contain an accusation and a sentence.
Nahum accuses Assyria of being dishonest and thieving, of being vicious and war-mongering. He draws another metaphor for Assyria—a harlot that seduces nations and families. It seduces nations through the making and breaking of treaties including one with Israel (see II Chron. 28:16–21) and breaking families through its pagan worship.
Its punishment will be the common punishment of a harlot—public disgrace. She will be exposed and defaced before the entire world. This oracle concludes with the same “Behold ” statement as the previous one: Behold I am against you. This is awesome, but in its historical context it is even more frightening, for it is the direct opposite of a promise God often made to Israel: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble." 1:7
"Devise a plan but it will be thwarted; state a proposal, but it will not stand, for God is with us." Isa.8:10
Fourth Oracle against Assyria. 3:8–13
Nahum reminds Assyria that Thebes (No-Amon) thought itself invincible because of its resources and geographical advantages. Yet Assyria surely remembers that Thebes fell into their hands. Yet now they trust that these similar resources make them unassailable. It is arrogance.
He now uses the metaphor of food and drink, quickly and easily consumed.
The concluding “behold” is an ancient jeer—“your army is full of girls!”
Nahum ends with another mocking call to arms (as in oracle 2). As in oracle 2, he employs a metaphor that implies strength, and then cleverly turns it into a picture of weakness. This time he likens Assyria’s army to locusts. (see Joel 1–2). Normally, this is a striking image of an army’s ability to decimate their opponent, but Nahum observes that locusts are fleeting. “They come, they eat, and they leave.” Assyria has devastated Israel. But that’s in the past. They will now be fleeing.
The last two verses are a funeral dirge for Assyria’s mighty men. Nahum is already proclaiming the death of Assyria. He gives Judah (and us) confidence that God is with those who live to glorify His name, thus assuring final victory over all that is evil in our world.
Notes by Greg Meyer, revised.