In Nahum chapter 3, the prophet catalogs Assyria’s sins. She is cruel, unprincipled, immoral, and dedicated to one thing: increasing profits for her merchants whose number rivals the stars of the sky. But her end is assured: “Nothing can heal your wound,” God says: “your injury is fatal.” No one will mourn her passing: “Everyone who hears the news about you claps his hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?”
Less than fifty years after Nahum, Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, and the empire itself, fell under the onslaught of the Babylonians, Medes, and the Scythians (612 B.C.). Jack Lewis writes: “The destruction was so complete that when Xenophon and his 10,000 Greeks passed by the site 200 years later, they gave no indication of knowing that the capital had existed.”
All nations, including our own, exist by permission and design of God and no nation, indifferent to the will of God, exists for long. If Nahum teaches us anything, it is that those nations playing fast and loose with His rules of justice, fairness, compassion and ethics, will come to a short, certain, and devastating and ignominious end.
Jonah tells the story of the prophet who preached to the Assyrians, telling them to turn from their wicked and cruel ways. He was a successful preacher. The Assyrians repented. But it didn’t last. Old Testament scholar Jack Lewis writes of the Assyrian nation: “Assyria . . . was a nation largely geared for aggressive war. Its atrocities were proverbial as the records and art left by its kings make quite clear. . . Its victims lay prone under its tyranny . . . Nineveh saw men and nations as tools to be exploited to gratify the lust of conquest and commercialism. Assyria existed to render no service to mankind.”
Assyria attacked and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel less than fifty years after the time of Jonah. The southern kingdom of Judah also felt her cruelty at the hands of Assyrian kings Sargon II and Sennacherib (721 – 681 B.C.). Hezekiah foolishly tried to make a stand against Assyria and, had it not been for God’s intervention, would have lost his kingdom. The chutzpah of the kings of Assyria is most clearly heard in these words of an Assyrian field commander to the besieged people of Judah: “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he shall not be able to deliver you from [my] hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us; this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. . . Do not listen to Hezekiah . . Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? . . . Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”
At this point, God had enough. The Lord struck 185 thousand Assyrian soldiers dead in one night, and about this time, the prophet Nahum appeared on the scene to announce to Judah Assyria’s end. “Trouble,” the prophet assured them, at least from Assyria, “will not come a second time” (1:9).
Nahum proclaims the absolute sovereignty of God: “He makes all the rivers run dry. . . The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it” (1:5). Though He is slow to anger, a refuge in times of trouble and cares for all who trust in Him, you don’t want to make him angry. “Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him (1:6-7).
Nahum writes about the coming end of Assyria. Whereas Jonah went and preached to the Assyrians, the message of Nahum is for the Jews. Their cruel oppressor, Assyria, is doomed before the Lord. “I will prepare your grave,” God says, “for you are vile” (1:14). “‘I am against you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘I will burn up your chariots in smoke, and the sword will devour your young lions’ [or princes – mt]. ‘I will leave you no prey on the earth. The voices of your messengers will no longer be heard.’” (2:13).
Back in the stone age, when I was learning to play chess, my teachers taught me to say “check” when my opponent’s king was in danger, and “check your queen” when my opponent’s queen was in danger. I was even taught to say “guard your queen” in French.
Imagine my surprise upon learning, after too many chess matches to count, that such is considered rude; tantamount to shouting Boom Shakalaka Boom and doing a victory dance. Very poor conduct indeed.
In Nahum 2, God doesn’t just announce “guard your queen.” He just says “checkmate” before the battle even starts. As the chapter opens, God says to Assyria, “get ready for battle.” In verses 3-5, however, it is difficult to know who He’s describing. Is it the advancing army against Assyria, or is it the army of Assyria herself? Probably it is the Assyrian army. Great though it was, facing the onslaught of Babylon, she panicked, and was ruined. The decree of the Lord is for Assyria’s utter destruction. Though her symbol might be a lion, the real lion was the Lord. Assyria did not acknowledge the Lord as God. But it didn’t matter. God was, and remains, sovereign in the affairs of mankind.