Nahum 3

maxresdefaultNahum 3

1 Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder—no end to the prey! The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies! And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms. Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. And all who look at you will shrink from you and say, “Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?” Where shall I seek comforters for you? Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her wall? Cush was her strength; Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers. 10 Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity; her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; for her honored men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in chains.11 You also will be drunken; you will go into hiding; you will seek a refuge from the enemy. 12 All your fortresses are like fig trees with first-ripe figs—if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater. 13 Behold, your troops are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars. 14 Draw water for the siege; strengthen your forts; go into the clay; tread the mortar; take hold of the brick mold! 15 There will the fire devour you; the sword will cut you off. It will devour you like the locust. Multiply yourselves like the locust; multiply like the grasshopper! 16 You increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away. 17 Your princes are like grasshoppers, your scribes like clouds of locusts settling on the fences in a day of cold—when the sun rises, they fly away; no one knows where they are. 18 Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them. 19 There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?

Nineveh, the capitol city of the Assyrian empire, would fall to an opposing military coalition in the year 612 BC. In 1815, Lord Byron famously immortalized an earlier defeat of the Assyrians in their 701 BC siege of Jerusalem in his poem, “The Destruction of Sennacherib.” Byron’s description of that event is worthy of consideration when we read in Nahum 3 of Nineveh’s ultimate destruction.

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,

And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;

And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,

When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,

That host with their banners at sunset were seen:

Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,

That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,

And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;

And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,

And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,

But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;

And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,

And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,

With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:

And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,

The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,

And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;

And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,

Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord![1]

Yes, this is an apt description of a shattering destruction! It is a justly famed expression of woe and of defeat. Even so, it pales in comparison to Nahum 3’s description of the demise of the Assyrians.

God brings judgment against workers of evil.

This is a difficult chapter and a painful chapter. Yet it is a profoundly important chapter. It is important because it establishes a critical principal: God will bring judgment against workers of evil.

1 Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder—no end to the prey! The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies! And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms. Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. And all who look at you will shrink from you and say, “Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?” Where shall I seek comforters for you?

This is a chapter rich with irony. We have already seen irony in the book, but it truly comes to the forefront here in chapter 3. Many of the descriptions of the judgment that God will bring against the Assyrians are things that the Assyrians themselves did to others. In doing this, God was saying that the cruelty with which Assyria treated others would be visited back upon their own heads.

For instance, there is irony in verse 3 and its description of “bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies.” Consider:

Assyrian armies inflicted these horrors on conquered enemies. The inscriptions of Ashurnasirpal give the most frightful reports: “I captured many soldiers alive. The rest of them I burnt. I carried off valuable tribute from them. I built a pile of live (men and) heads before his gate. I erected on stakes 700 soldiers before their gate. I razed, destroyed (and) turned into ruin hills the city. I burnt their adolescent boys and girls.” When Sennacherib conquered Babylon, he related, “I left no one. I filled the city squares with their corpses.” Relief sculptures depict Assyrian soldiers bringing the heads of their enemies for secretaries to record. In a treaty in Aramaic, the suzerain threatens to “pile corpse upon corpse” in the vassal’s town, should he prove unfaithful.[2]

How unbelievably merciless and chilling! “Corpse upon corpse,” the treaty threatened. “Heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end,” the Lord promised in return. Consider the implications of this. What would happen to you or to me if we were treated the way we have treated others?

There is more irony to come. For instance, it has been suggested that the line “‘who will grieve for her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?” is an ironic nod to “the Assyrian curse that the dead would have no one to care for their spirit by pouring out libations.”[3]The Assyrians wished annihilation on their enemies to the point where their funerals were unattended. The Lord promises in turn that there will be none to mourn for Assyria!

“Wasted is Nineveh,” the Lord through Nahum cries out in verse 7! And this came to be. A Greek soldier named Xenophon “passed the site of Nineveh less than two hundred years after the city’s fall and heard only the name Mespila, perhaps an ancient name of a suburb!”[4]Unbelievable! A city as powerful as Nineveh, and they were so decimated that all that was remembered of them was one of their suburbs!

It is true: God will bring judgment against workers of evil. But the fact that he promises this on a national stage should not lead us to think that individuals are exempt. Individuals can also receive the wrath of God when they act wickedly and cruelly toward others. Be it a nation or a household, God sees how we treat others. May we pause and tremble before that fact!

God brings judgment against the haughty and arrogant.

Nahum 3 also references the haughtiness and arrogance of Assyria.

Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her wall?

Were Assyria to have answered this rhetorical and indicting question, they would have answered with a resounding “Yes! We are!” Clearly Assyria saw themselves as greater than everybody and anybody. But mighty Thebes had great reason to assume she would never fall.

Cush was her strength; Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers.

Yes, Thebes had great reason to boast and great reason to feel secure, at least from any human perspective. But what became of mighty Thebes?

10 Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity; her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; for her honored men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in chains. 11 You also will be drunken; you will go into hiding; you will seek a refuge from the enemy. 12 All your fortresses are like fig trees with first-ripe figs—if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater. 13 Behold, your troops are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars.

Yes, the mighty can fall, and, eventually, they will. Compared to other earthly powers the strongest might convince itself that it will never fall, but compared to the Lord on High, the “fortresses” of the mighty “are like trees with first-ripe figs—if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater.” No matter how mighty and strong the gates of the earthly powers might be, when God so wills it they “are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars.”

God brings judgment against the haughty and arrogant. “Pride,” the famous saying goes, “goes before a fall.” Mighty Assyria will melt before the awesome power of a justly angered God. This too should be a jolt of perspective for us. This too should silence our boasting and humble us in our pride.

The greatest efforts, skills,  and minds of man are unable to stem the tide of God’s judgment once it falls.

Furthermore, were the earthly powers to know that God’s judgment was about to rain down on them, there is nothing they could do to stop it anyway.

14 Draw water for the siege; strengthen your forts; go into the clay; tread the mortar; take hold of the brick mold! 15 There will the fire devour you; the sword will cut you off. It will devour you like the locust. Multiply yourselves like the locust; multiply like the grasshopper! 16 You increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away. 17 Your princes are like grasshoppers, your scribes like clouds of locusts settling on the fences in a day of cold—when the sun rises, they fly away; no one knows where they are. 18 Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them. 19 There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?

These verses address essentially every aspect of Assyrian’s might and power.

  • the might of its city (“water…forts…clay…mortar…brick mold!”)
  • its population (“multiply yourselves like the locust”)
  • its economy (“You increased your merchants”)
  • its leaders (“Your princes”)
  • its intelligentsia (“Your scribes”)
  • its protectors (“Your shepherds are asleep”)
  • its wealthy and powerful (“your nobles”)

Literally every aspect of Assyrian stability, security, wealth, and power would be decimated before the wrath of God. And the nations will rejoice at the calamity of Assyria: “All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you.”

Such is the power of Almighty God! Such is His wrath against the evil powers of the earth who trod over the poor and the weak.

See and tremble!

Hear and quake!

For we are all Assyria.We all have sinned. We all have turned against God and embraced wickedness.

Yes, look and fear! But then look again: for this same just and justly angered God is the God who sends His Son, Jesus, to lay down His life to save a rebellious and stubborn and haughty people. Look there and see the cross! See the love of God!

See and weep for joy!

See and rejoice!

For Christ has come and Christ has died and Christ has risen…for you! For me! For all of us! For whosever will come!

The God who brings Assyria low is the God who sent His own Son lowly. The God who rains down fire on the wicked is the God who calls the wicked to repent, to come, and to be saved from judgment.

Behold our God of justice.

Behold our God of love.

Behold our God who calls us to come in out of the storm.

 

[1]https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43827/the-destruction-of-sennacherib

[2]Alan R. Millard, “Nahum.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 159.

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

[4]Millard, 159.

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