Profiles of the Bible: Nahum
Civilian casualties of untold number. Burning and collapsing buildings. Violence in the streets. Cities under siege. It sounds like the headlines describing the events in Syria and Iraq. But the irony is that these are some of the descriptions of the destruction thousands of years ago in the ancient city of Nineveh.
Many see the book of Nahum as a parallel book or a “sequel” to the book of Jonah. In that book, God sent a prophet named Jonah to go and preach a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were known for ruthlessness and subjugation of other nations. The book of Jonah actually records the people repenting and humbling themselves at Jonah’s message. However, the repentance was apparently short-lived because less than a hundred years later, Nahum predicts Nineveh’s destruction due to its acts of sin.
Nahum was a prophet who lived in Judea in the 7th century BCE. The prophet’s name means “comfort”. But Nahum’s message of comfort is different than one would expect. It’s a comfort that God brings when injustice and evil are vanquished. The Assyrian Empire had subjugated neighboring nations and regularly threatened Judah. Indeed, it was the Assyrians that invaded Israel’s northern tribes and exiled the people. One Assyrian king named Sennecharib attempted to destroy Jerusalem but failed. Nahum was prophesying to the people of Judah and the people of Nineveh. Nahum’s prophesy of Nineveh’s destruction happened while Assyrian power was still at its height.
Chapter one of Nahum describes who God is and the reason why God was bringing destruction to Nineveh. Chapters 2 and 3 describe the warfare and destruction of the city in graphic language. There is poetic language of battles and devastation. The city is burned and its inhabitants flee for their lives.
Many moderns today find such descriptions of death and destruction as disturbing. After all, doesn’t Jesus call us to love our neighbors and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44)? How is it that the Bible describes rejoicing at the destruction of Israel’s enemies? Here are some thoughts worth considering as we think through Nahum.
- There really is evil in the world. There are places where grave and serious injustices have occurred and continue to occur. This past week in Syria, fighter planes attacked and destroyed convoys that were bringing food and aid to trapped refugees. The people who were killed were aid workers whose responsibility was to drive trucks to deliver aid. So far no one has claimed responsibility. One challenge is if we read too much of the news we can become numb. Whether it is bombing of families in cities or bullying of a child in the playground, it is a righteous response when we see injustice to be appropriately upset and angry.
- God is good and hates sin. God by nature is good. Because he is good, he opposes sin. The Bible tells us that he will bring all actions to account. As we read about God’s power to destroy, we must be humble and not to presume that God owes us something. Because God is good, He hates sin. The challenge for us however, is to recognize that God actually does not give us what we deserve. He actually gives us what we don’t deserve: mercy.
- God has given us a chance through the work of Christ to repent. When we read about how God’s wrath manifests itself, let us remember that that wrath is what Christ absorbed upon himself at the cross. At this time in the History of Redemption, God has given us a chance to come to him and repent. He not only desires to remove our sin and guilt, but also desires to make us one with himself. This opportunity however will not last forever. One day he will return and make all things right.
There is another comfort that we find in the book of Nahum. Although there are very little direct words of comfort in the text, we can see that the cause of nations and kings are ultimately in the hands of God. The Bible reveals that God is working in history for His people and His own glory. We are not like a boat adrift in stormy waters in the middle of the ocean. Rather we are in the hands of our loving Heavenly Father who is working all things for our good.