Nahum 1

1 The name of the prophet Nahum means "comforter," but ironically, his writing is about judgement. He came from a city or region with the name Elkosh, but there were apparently several cities named that, so it is unclear which one Nahum may have come from. Capernaum in Galilee means "village of Nahum," so some commentators suggest that Nahum was born and raised in what, by his time, used to be the northern kingdom of Israel, but he later moved to southern Judah and prophesied from there.

Nahum was written between the fall of Thebes in 663 B.C. and the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. (Nahum 3:8). Jonah had ministered to Nineveh sometime between 780 and 750 B.C., at which time the entire city apparently converted and worshiped God. Later, however, Assyria (of which Nineveh was the capital) turned against the Northern Kingdom of Israel and defeated it in 722 B.C. (2 Kin 17:1-6). They had threatened Judah in 701, but were turned back without a battle (Isa 36-37).

2 Throughout Scripture, God says there are two things about which He is jealous. The first is for the devotion of people. He demands that all worship Him and no other (Exo 34:14). The other thing He is jealous for is the devotion and well being of His chosen people, Israel (Zec 8:2). Assyria had violated both (Nahum 3:4, 2:2, 1:15).

None of this has surprised God, of course. He has already planned history, knowing how various people would behave. From our perspective, it seems that God allows evil to run its course up to certain points and then steps in to punish the wicked and avenge the righteous. This cycle has repeated itself several times throughout history, and many can attest that it happens in their personal lives as well. Some may feel this is arbitrary, but God specifically chooses His moments to maximize His ultimate outcome: to have people choose to have good relationships with Him. Some come to Him when circumstances are good, others turn to Him in desperation when things are bad, some submit to Him after punishment, but most continue to deny Him regardless of the conditions. No matter how God works history, He puts everyone in a position to choose whether to devote themselves to Him. Those who do not choose Him, God considers enemies, and all who deliberately try to thwart His purposes, He considers His adversaries. Those who do not choose God may suffer a portion of His wrath on earth, but all His enemies are certain to experience the full force of it on Judgement Day.

3 God does not usually punish wicked people right away because He is patient. During His patient times, He usually gives the people exhortations and warnings to encourage them to turn to Him. Back then He used prophets like Jonah. Today He uses the Bible and preachers. God will not destroy a nation until it gets to the point where there is no hope that anyone would turn to Him. Only God can determine this, of course, because He is the only one who knows the future. Nineveh had come to that point, and Nahum's message was God's final notification to them.

God makes it clear that His delay in judgement is not due to lack of power. God uses analogies related to natural disasters to describe His power. God sometimes intervened directly, but He often used the armies of nations against those He punished and destroyed. These could be very much like a storm that passes through and destroys everything in its path.

4 God reminds the Assyrians of the power He displayed at the Red Sea and the Jordan River. At the Red Sea, God had rescued Israel and destroyed Egypt with one miracle. He reminds them that He has control of the weather and had previously brought about droughts to punish nations. Bashan had fertile pastures, Carmel had great vineyards, and Lebanon had great forests. God's power could bring drought even to these famously fertile regions if He desired to do so.
5 God has power over the earth, and has used earthquakes to make His presence known (Exo 19:18) and route an army (1 Sam 14:15).
6 God had destroyed people in the past using fire (Gen 19:24,25). An explicit example of Him splitting rocks is not given until New Testament times (Mat 27:51), but it is not hard to imagine that He had split rocks using the earthquakes already mentioned.

These examples demonstrate only a small portion of God's power. Given the extent of it and His destruction of whole groups of wicked people in the past, who would think that they could endure or escape God's wrath?

7 God has said He can and will use all kinds of destructive means to punish the wicked. In fact, for the wicked, the worst punishment happens after death. Some people feel that this nullifies God's goodness. Not true. God is good, but He is also just and must punish and do away with those who oppose Him. He displays His goodness by allowing people to repent and come back to Him. For those who do, He promises special protection. Note that this is often applied in a similar manner to punishment. He can and will protect us under some circumstances, but He allows us to endure many trials in this sinful world. The most important thing is that He will protect every believer on Judgement Day. Note that the idea of having a relationship with God is not a New Testament idea. Here God explicitly says that He protects those He knows. Jesus affirms this in Luke 13:24-30.
8 Nineveh, however, had forgotten God and had no inclination to know Him again. God foretold that He would destroy the city as a flood would. According to the Greek historian Ctesias, the Tigris River suddenly destroyed the city gates and the foundation of the palace, allowing the Babylonian army to invade the city. While the primarily instruments were the River and the Babylonian army, God makes it clear that He would be directly involved in overthrowing Nineveh. The implication is that He would continue to be against them even after they died and will ensure that they are forever separated from Him.
9 Assyria had already defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and come against Judah. This latter action God considered a direct affront to Him. He would not allow Assyria to defeat Judah, and would destroy Assyria so completely that they would never be able to "confront" God again.
10 A thorn patch can be a formidable obstacle when one tries to cross it, but if it catches fire, it quickly burns. The Assyrian army appeared strong, but God would quickly destroy them. It would come at a time when they were not expecting it. The historians Ctesias and Diodorus Siculus both record that Nineveh was overtaken during a drunken feast. Between the sudden flood predicted in verse 8 and the compromised physical and mental state of the army, Nineveh was quickly sacked by the Babylonians.
11 The "one" described in this passage is not clear. Several commentators have suggested Sennacherib, who's plots and false counsel are recorded three times in Scripture (2 Ki 18-19, 2 Chr 32:1-23, and Isa 36-37). Since he would have been dead by this time, the assumption would be that the Assyrians did not give up Sennacherib's plan of capturing Jerusalem. The "one" might also have been the current king of Assyria or a chief counselor.
12 God parenthetically addresses Judah assuring them that although Assyria was unanimously against them, they would be cut down like the wool of sheep being shorn.

The affliction spoken of here is specific to Assyria. Judah was in the midst of a downward cycle of sin and repentance. By 586 (approximately 40-100 years from the time of this book), Judah would be defeated and dispersed by the Babylonians. So this verse apparently does not promise a permanent freedom from punishment, only that Assyria would never be a threat again.

13 Although Assyria had not succeeded in defeating Jerusalem, it was likely that Judah was still a subject nation, perhaps still paying the tribute described in 2 Ki 18:14. At the very least, Assyria controlled all of the surrounding territories, and restricted Judah's freedom. God promised to break the yolk of Assyria, which usually means freedom from oppression. Judah was essentially imprisoned in its land, but God would give them freedom from Assyrian rule.
14 God again addressed Nineveh. He declared that the name of the city would not continue. Indeed, the remains of the city are entombed in mounds today. The city was once about 30 miles long with an average of 10 miles wide. The Babylonians completely razed the city, and it was lost to history for about 2500 years. Some questioned whether this city mentioned in the Bible ever really existed until the ruins were discovered in 1847 by Austen Henry Layard. The name of Nineveh was cut off and buried, but God allowed the ruins to be discovered, perhaps, in part, to verify His word to our skeptical modern society and to warn us that His prophecies concerning the end times will likewise come to pass.

Regardless of the country, God frequently sites idol worship as their most detestable practice. While He specifically stated to the Israelites that they should neither have no other god before Him nor worship images, He expects the same from all people. He is the only God, and no object, plant, creature, or person is to be given the divine recognition that He alone deserves. The Medes, who destroyed Nineveh with the Babylonians, were monotheistic and vigorously destroyed any idols that they came across. With their idols destroyed and their temples buried, the religious practices of the Assyrians ceased.

15 Nahum uses a phrase similar to Isa 52:7, written several decades before him. Nahum predicts that the oppression of Assyria will cease, Judah will have peace, and the Mosaic feasts will again be celebrated. The Jews had probably promised God all kinds of things if He would remove the Assyrians. God was about to do so, so Nahum encouraged the people to prepare to fulfill the vows they had made. The wicked one, the king of Assyria, would never enter Jerusalem. He and his people would be destroyed, so there would be no future treats from Assyria either.