Nahum 2

skeleton_assyriaNahum 2

1 The scatterer has come up against you. Man the ramparts; watch the road; dress for battle; collect all your strength. 2 For the Lord is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches. 3 The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet. The chariots come with flashing metal on the day he musters them; the cypress spears are brandished. 4 The chariots race madly through the streets; they rush to and fro through the squares; they gleam like torches; they dart like lightning. 5 He remembers his officers; they stumble as they go, they hasten to the wall; the siege tower is set up. 6 The river gates are opened; the palace melts away; 7 its mistress is stripped; she is carried off, her slave girls lamenting, moaning like doves and beating their breasts. 8 Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. “Halt! Halt!” they cry, but none turns back. 9 Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of the treasure or of the wealth of all precious things. 10 Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale! 11 Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb? 12 The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh. 13 Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.

In 1963-64, Bob Dylan wrote his song, “Seven Curses.” It is a song about a powerful judge who uses the occasion of a father’s crime to commit a crime against the man’s daughter. He promises the daughter that her father (who had stolen a horse) will be set free if he, the judge, can have her. She agrees only to discover the next day that the judge had her father killed anyway. As a result, she curses the judge with seven curses.

Old Reilly stole a stallion
But they caught him and they brought him back
And they laid him down on the jailhouse ground
With an iron chain around his neck
Old Reilly’s daughter got a message
That her father was goin’ to hang
She rode by night and came by morning
With gold and silver in her hand
When the judge he saw Reilly’s daughter
His old eyes deepened in his head
Sayin’, “Gold will never free your father
The price, my dear, is you instead”
“Oh I’m as good as dead,” cried Reilly
“It’s only you that he does crave
And my skin will surely crawl if he touches you at all
Get on your horse and ride away”
“Oh father you will surely die
If I don’t take the chance to try
And pay the price and not take your advice
For that reason I will have to stay”
The gallows shadows shook the evening
In the night a hound dog bayed
In the night the grounds were groanin’
In the night the price was paid
The next mornin’ she had awoken
To know that the judge had never spoken
She saw that hangin’ branch a-bendin’
She saw her father’s body broken
These be seven curses on a judge so cruel:
That one doctor will not save him
That two healers will not heal him
That three eyes will not see him
That four ears will not hear him
That five walls will not hide him
That six diggers will not bury him
And that seven deaths shall never kill him[1]

Dylan knew well that seven is a number of completion. His point is clear enough: when the powerful commit atrocities against the weak they are utterly and completely cursed. Sooner or later, justice will come even to the powerful. The girl’s seven curses against the wicked judge bring to mind God’s oracle of judgement against Nineveh, an oracle spelled out in devastating detail in Nahum 2. Edward Dalglish sees “the charged atmosphere” of the destruction of Nineveh as “reflected in the staccato utterances, the multiplied word pictures hastily changing from theme to theme, and the stark realism of the portrayal” of Nahum 2.[2]He is right. This is a devastating picture of complete woe and judgment against Assyria and Nineveh, its capitol.

The Lord promises restoration for His beleaguered children.

First, however, we find a beautiful picture of hope for Judah!

1 The scatterer has come up against you. Man the ramparts; watch the road; dress for battle; collect all your strength. 2 For the Lord is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches.

Surrounded by words of judgment, we find yet again words of hope, words of deliverance, words of restoration. The Lord says that He “is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel.” Furthermore, He is restoring this majesty against those who have “plundered them and ruined their branches.” This last image is one that vividly depicts the extent of Assyria’s oppression of Judah. Allan Millard has observed that “destroying fruit trees was a severe action in war, as Sargon of Assyria said when he devastated an unruly region, ‘I cut down its extensive vines and so brought its drinking to an end.’”[3]In other words, Assyria was effectively attempting to eradicate Judah’s future as a free and prosperous people.

Against such cruelty, God promises instead that Judah will flourish and prosper, that their “majesty” will be restored. It is a beautiful picture: reality is not simply what we can see. It is more so what God is doing behind what we can see. Judah did not look like much and Assyria looked like everything, certainly in terms of wealth and power. But God was at work, and when God is at work the majesty of downtrodden Judah soon eclipses the fool’s-gold majesty of mighty Assyria!

Remember that in your moments of despair! Remember that when the enemies of God in the world seem to prosper without consequence! Remember that when you are unable to see any hope! God is restoring the majesty of Jacob!

The Lord promises destruction for His children’s persecutor.

He is restoring the majesty of Jacob and He is bringing mighty Assyria low! The remainder of Nahum 2 is a sobering look at the awesome judgment of God.

3 The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet. The chariots come with flashing metal on the day he musters them; the cypress spears are brandished. 4 The chariots race madly through the streets; they rush to and fro through the squares; they gleam like torches; they dart like lightning. 5 He remembers his officers; they stumble as they go, they hasten to the wall; the siege tower is set up. 6 The river gates are opened; the palace melts away; 7 its mistress is stripped; she is carried off, her slave girls lamenting, moaning like doves and beating their breasts.

Here we have a picture of internal confusion due to the visitation of God’s judgment on Nineveh. “The chariots race madly through the streets.” There is disorder and a breakdown of structure, cohesion, and order inside of terrified Nineveh. Perhaps the most jarring and shocking statement is “the palace melts away.” The IVP Bible Background Commentary offers a helpful look at the grandeur and opulence of the royal palace of Nineveh.

The “palace without rival,” or the “Southwest Palace” as it is known today, was built by Sennacherib between 703 and 691 and consists of a huge complex of interconnected rooms and courts (estimated at 1635 by 786 feet, an area large enough to fit twenty-five football fields). Those areas closest to the throne room were decorated with carved limestone facades, massive statuary (winged bulls and fish-scaled giants), and intricate reliefs of military campaigns, while the outer courts, with their more utilitarian functions, were devoid of elaborate design or statues. The palace has been excavated over a period of 120 years, starting in the 1850s by A.H. Layard, and is still not completely uncovered. Its layout was dictated by the preexisting Ishtar temple and ziggurat on the highest point of Kuyunjik and by the Khosr and Tigris Rivers to the southeast and west.[4]

Twenty-five football fields! 1635 by 786 feet! What awesome splendor! What power! What wealth! What glory! And what happens to it? It “melts away” before the heat of God’s wrath! The glory of man cannot stand before the fury of God’s just judgment. The account of woe continues unabated:

8 Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. “Halt! Halt!” they cry, but none turns back. 9 Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of the treasure or of the wealth of all precious things.

“Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. ‘Halt! Halt!’ they cry…” This image spoke powerfully to an agrarian people. The people shout madly for the receding waters to stop their retreat. How can a people survive without water? All they are left with is their wealth, but what good is that? It now exists only to be plundered by Nineveh’s enemies. Verse 10 lapses into outright despair.

10 Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale! 11 Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb? 12 The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh. 13 Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.

These reference to “the lion,” “his cubs,” and “his lionesses” are intriguing and telling, as the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary explains:

From the earliest times, Mesopotamian ideology portrayed the king killing a lion, which was a threat to domestic animals and herds. A stone boulder from Uruk, carved about 3000 B.C., shows one man spearing a lion and another shooting one with an arrow. From their dress they are generally believed to be kings or leaders. The design on the Assyrian royal seal shows the king dispatching a lion in hand-to-hand combat, and reliefs from Ashurbanipal’s palace present the same scene as the climax of an artificially contrived lion hunt. The danger to the king implied by the dying lion’s claws indicates that this was a formulaic scene. Assyrian kings such as Ashurnasirpal (c.883-59) boasted, “I am a lion,” in attacking their enemies.

            The lioness is associated with the goddess Ishtar (Astarte) across the ancient Near East, and Ishtar was the major goddess of the Assyrians, so Nahum may allude to her powerlessness here. The prophet views Assyria as a once dominant, preying lion, now no more than a corpse.[5]

The image of lions falling beneath the Lord’s sword therefore has a number of applications. It would seem to be a statement, first, about the end of Assyria’s line of kings, who were accustomed to applying the image of the lion to themselves. It would also appear to apply to the wealthy and powerful of Assyria, the lion’s cubs who were provided for by their master. Theologically, it speaks of Assyria’s goddess, Ishtar being exposed for what she is: nothing.

“Where is the lion’s den” is therefore an amazing proclamation of the superiority of God’s power over the haughty Assyrians. They are not secure in their den, nor is their goddess secure in her temples. The walls and ramparts and embattlements of Nineveh are as nothing before strength of our great God!

Take heart, church, take heart! Our God reigns! There is no foe that He cannot and will not conquer. In time, He will make all things right and justice will prevail. Do not despair! Do not ascribe to the powers of the world a stature that they do not and cannot have. They are not taller than God. They are not stronger than God.

The majesty of Jacob is being restored and the walls of Nineveh are beginning to quake!

Our God reigns!

 

[1]https://www.bobdylan.com/songs/seven-curses/

[2]Edward Dalglish, “Nahum.” Broadman Bible Commentary.(Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1972), 241.

[3]Alan R. Millard, “Nahum.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 156.

[4]John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p.790.

[5]Millard, 157.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *