Two whole books of the Bible are directed to Nineveh as the capital of the world wide kingdom of Assyria. The first is Jonah, written more than a hundred years before Nahum. Jonah went to Assyria with a message of pending doom for the city if it doesn’t repent its sinfulness. Surprisingly , even to Jonah, the city, and therefore the nation, does repent and God spares the nation.
Jonah 3:6-9 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
Now Nahum address the nation once again. The revival under Jonah is long past and the nation has returned to its evil former ways. Nahum does not go to the city with a second warning, but he speaks God’s words of judgment on the city and nation. Assyria was the dominant nation in the world then. It invaded Egypt around 740 BC and by 663 BC its rule extended 800 miles down the Nile River to Thebes.
In 722-721 BC during one of its forays into Egypt under Tiglath-Pileser, it invaded and conquered Israel destroying the Northern Kingdom. In 701 BC, Sennacherib, now King of Assyria, intending to defeat Judah, approached the walls and gates of Jerusalem, but God miraculously intervened and Jerusalem was spared. It did become a vassal state, however. Hezekiah, the good king, was gone and his very evil son, Manasseh reigned in his stead.
Nahum is writing his Oracle concerning Nineveh around 660-650 BC, as a message of encouragement to the vassal kingdom of Judah (and to much of the known world). Assyria is soon to fall because she has repudiated Jonah’s message and has assaulted God’s own people, the Israelites.
There is unrest in Assyria at the time. The Medes and the Scythians are pressing the kingdom from the north and west. The older brother of Ashurbanipal, the king, created a force of Elamites and Persians that would finally become the Kingdom of Babylon that would conquer the venerable kingdom of Assyria in 605 BC. It is this downfall that Nahum forecasts in his vision.
Nahum is writing his vision to remind all God’s people that God is not only the God of Israel, but is Lord over all nations and all history. God is good and just, but he will not justify the guilty. He is jealous over his own nation, but is wrathful toward his enemies who reject his rule. “What nation can withstand the God who overcame the primordial chaos?”
Assyria was a kingdom of northern Mesopotamia that became the centre of one of the great empires of the ancient Middle East. It was located in what is now northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. Centered on the Tigris in Upper Mesopotamia (modern northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and the northwestern fringes of Iran), the Assyrians came to rule powerful empires at several times. Making up a substantial part of the greater Mesopotamian "cradle of civilization", which included Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, and Babylonia, Assyria was at the height of technological, scientific and cultural achievements for its time. At its peak, the Assyrian empire stretched from Cyprus and the East Mediterranean to Iran, and from what is now Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus, to the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and eastern Libya.
Assyria was a dependency of Babylonia and later of the Mitanni kingdom during most of the 2nd millennium BC. It emerged as an independent state in the 14th century BC, and in the subsequent period it became a major power in Mesopotamia, Armenia, and sometimes in northern Syria. Assyrian power declined after the death of Tukulti-Ninurta I (c. 1208 BC. It was restored briefly in the 11th century BC by Tiglath-pileser I, but during the following period both Assyria and its rivals were preoccupied with the incursions of the seminomadic Aramaeans. The Assyrian kings began a new period of expansion in the 9th century BC, and from the mid-8th to the late 7th century BC, a series of strong Assyrian kings—among them Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon—united most of the Middle East, from Egypt to the Persian Gulf, under Assyrian rule. The last great Assyrian ruler was Ashurbanipal, but his last years and the period following his death, in 627 BC, are obscure. The state was finally destroyed by a Chaldean-Median coalition in 612–609 BC. Famous for their cruelty and fighting prowess, the Assyrians were also monumental builders, as shown by archaeological sites at Nineveh, Ashur, and Nimrūd.
Centered on the Tigris in Upper Mesopotamia (modern northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and the northwestern fringes of Iran), the Assyrians came to rule powerful empires at several times. Making up a substantial part of the greater Mesopotamian "cradle of civilization", which included Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, and Babylonia, Assyria was at the height of technological, scientific and cultural achievements for its time. At its peak, the Assyrian empire stretched from Cyprus and the East Mediterranean to Iran, and from what is now Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus, to the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and eastern Libya.
Assyria foundered under outside invasions by the Medes, Babylonians and Scythians, and internal dissent over several years. The Battle of Nineveh, 612 BC, was a turning point. Ashur-uballit II would fight on for several more years. His ultimate fate is not known or recorded - he may have been killed at the fall of Harran in 608 BC, in a failed attempt to recapture it the following year, or at Carchemish in 605 BC (where the last major Assyrian resistance appears to have ended); or simply disappeared into obscurity.
1:1 An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.
We do not know very much about Nahum. He comes from the town of Elkosh, but archeologist have yet to find where the town might have been. This is his only writing that we know of.
An oracle is a divine communication or prophesy delivered by a spokesman of a god, in this case Yahweh. The message comes to Nahum via a vision, and specifically a vision of the fate of Nineveh.
A Psalm of Praise for Yahweh
1:2-8 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; Jealous - Joshua 24:19
the LORD is avenging and wrathful;
the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries Vengeance = judgment
and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,
and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
struggle between God and powers of chaos
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
he dries up all the rivers;
Bashan and Carmel wither;
the bloom of Lebanon withers.
The mountains quake before him;
the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
the world and all who dwell in it.
Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
The LORD is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood a flood opened the way into Assyria
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
This section is in the form of a hymn that describes Yahweh. He is a God not to be taken lightly. He can display great wrath, wrath against sin. He is the creator God who has all the forces of the universe in his hands. The evil forces often known as chaos (the sea) have no ultimate powers over him. But he is also a good God and a source of refuge for those who acknowledge him.
This Psalm ends with two rhetorical questions, because the answers are obvious,
Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
A Judgment Oracle against Assyria
1:9-11 What do you plot against the LORD?
He will make a complete end;
trouble will not rise up a second time.
For they are like entangled thorns,
like drunkards as they drink;
they are consumed like stubble fully dried.
From you came one
who plotted evil against the LORD,
a worthless counselor.
This seems to be directed to the ruler of Assyria. At this time it is probably Sennacherib who will soon be assaulting Jerusalem. Review 2 Kings 18-19. He will die at the hands of his sons when he returns to Nineveh.
A Salvation Oracle for Judah
1:12-14 Thus says the LORD,
“Though they are at full strength and many,
they will be cut down and pass away.
Though I have afflicted you,
I will afflict you no more.
And now I will break his yoke from off you
and will burst your bonds apart.”
The LORD has given commandment about you:
“No more shall your name be perpetuated;
from the house of your gods I will cut off
the carved image and the metal image.
I will make your grave, for you are vile.”
The immediate fulfillment of the oracle is found in 2 Kings 18-19, but the final fulfillment will be in 605 BC at the Battle of Carchemish.
2 Kings 18:13, 32-34, In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them…
“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD…
Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
1:15 Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him
who brings good news,
who publishes peace!
Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the worthless pass through you;
he is utterly cut off.
Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The good news, Gospel, is that Yahweh will vindicate his people that suffered under Assyria and restore the glory of Jacob. This process is not complete yet, but is in process through the Messiah and his church.
The Battle of Nineveh
2:1-13 The scatterer has come up against you.
Man the ramparts;
watch the road;
dress for battle;
collect all your strength.
For the LORD is restoring the majesty of Jacob
as the majesty of Israel,
for plunderers have plundered them
and ruined their branches.
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.
The chariots race madly through the streets;
they rush to and fro through the squares;
they gleam like torches;
they dart like lightning.
He remembers his officers;
they stumble as they go,
they hasten to the wall;
the siege tower is set up.
The river gates are opened;
the palace melts away;
its mistress is stripped; she is carried off,
her slave girls lamenting,
moaning like doves
and beating their breasts.
Nineveh is like a pool
whose waters run away.
“Halt! Halt!” they cry,
but none turns back.
Plunder the silver,
plunder the gold!
There is no end of the treasure
or of the wealth of all precious things.
Desolate! Desolation and ruin!
Hearts melt and knees tremble;
anguish is in all loins;
all faces grow pale!
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?
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.
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.
This is a most dramatic battle account in poetry. The battle is still to come, but this is how it will happen. Nineveh is built on the east bank of the Tigris River and the tributary river, Husur, runs through the city. A Greek account of the fall of Nineveh says that a sudden rise in the Hussar River caused a collapse of the walls that allowed the invading armies of Babylonians, Medes and Scythians to enter the city and take it down. (See 1:8)
Yahweh is personally going after Nineveh. She has no hope of avoiding her destruction. God, as usual, uses normal forces to carry out his plans, floods and armies of the nations. Only on rare occasion does he use miraculous means.
Woe to Nineveh
3:1-7 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!
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 picture very much like the siege and defeat of Constantinople by Islam in 1453. The city had been invulnerable from its first days. When Islam appeared around 600 AD it tried many times to conquer the city, but were unable to do so after 800 years of trying. Mohammed himself tried to take the city. Finally Mehmet Chelebi, Sultan and Emperor of the Ottoman Empire, set about to conquer Constantinople. He offered the city truce if it would surrender to his rule. The Christians refused and in 1541 the siege began. It took two full years and the loss of unmeasurable lives to conquer the city-state, but on May 29, 1453 the city fell. The rape of the city as described by Roger Crowley in his book ‘1453’, sounded very similar to the conquest scene in Nahum.
The Analogy of Thebes
3:8-13 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.
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.
You also will be drunken;
you will go into hiding;
you will seek a refuge from the enemy.
All your fortresses are like fig trees
with first-ripe figs—
if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater.
Behold, your troops
are women in your midst.
The gates of your land
are wide open to your enemies;
fire has devoured your bars.
The siege and defeat of Thebes by the Assyrians sounds very much like the judgment that will fall on Nineveh in the days ahead. The Assyrians were famous for their cruelty and fighting prowess. They will eventually pay the price.
The Ancient Egyptians originally knew Thebes as Wo'se or Wase. A wase was was the scepter of the pharaohs, a long staff with an animal's head and a forked base. From the end of the New Kingdom, Thebes was known in Egyptian as Niwt-'Imn, the "City of Amun". Amun was the chief of the Theban Triad of gods whose other members were Mut and Khonsu. This name of Thebes appears in the Bible as the "Nōʼ ʼĀmôn" (נא אמון) of the Book of Nahum and also as the "No" (נא) mentioned in Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
Thebes is the Latinized form of the Greek Thebai, the hellenized form of the Demotic Egyptian Ta-pe, from earlier Ta Opet. This was the local name not for the city itself but for the Karnak temple complex on the northern east bank of the city. As early as Homer's Iliad, the Greeks distinguished the Egyptian Thebes as Thebes of the Hundred Gates (Θῆβαι ἑκατόμπυλοι, Thēbai hekatómpyloi) or Hundred-Gated Thebes, as opposed to the "Thebes of the Seven Gates" (Θῆβαι ἑπτάπυλοι, Thēbai heptapyloi) in Boeotia, Greece.
In the interpretatio graeca, Amun was rendered as Zeus Ammon. The name was therefore translated into Greek as Diospolis, "City of Zeus". To distinguish it from the numerous other cities by this name, it was known as the Great Diospolis (Διόσπολις Μεγάλη, Dióspolis Megálē; Latin: Diospolis Magna). The Greek names came into wider use after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great, when the country came to be ruled by the Macedonian Ptolemaic dynasty.
Thebes was located along the banks of the Nile River in the middle part of Upper Egypt about 800 km from the Delta. It was built largely on the alluvial plains of the Nile Valley which follows a great bend of the Nile. As a natural consequence, the city was laid in a northeast-southwest axis parallel to the contemporary river channel. Thebes had an area of 93 km2 (36 sq mi) which included parts of the Theban Hills in the west that culminates at the sacred 420-meter (1,378-foot) al-Qurn. In the east lies the mountainous Eastern Desert with its wadis draining into the valley. Significant of these wadis is Wadi Hammamat near Thebes. It was used as an overland trade route going to the Red Sea coast.
According to George Modelski, Thebes had about 40,000 inhabitants in 2000 BC (compared to 60,000 in Memphis, the largest city of the world at the time). By 1800 BC, the population of Memphis was down to about 30,000, making Thebes the largest city in Egypt at the time. Historian Ian Morris estimated that by 1500 BC, Thebes may have grown to be the largest city in the world, with a population of about 75,000, a position which it held until about 900 BC, when it was surpassed by Nimrud in Assyria.
The archaeological remains of Thebes offer a striking testimony to Egyptian civilization at its height. The Greek poet Homer extolled the wealth of Thebes in the Iliad, Book 9 (c. 8th Century BC): "... in Egyptian Thebes the heaps of precious ingots gleam, the hundred-gated Thebes."
In 667 BC, attacked by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal's army, Taharqa abandoned Lower Egypt and fled to Thebes. After his death three years later his nephew (or cousin) Tantamani seized Thebes, invaded Lower Egypt and laid siege to Memphis, but abandoned his attempts to conquer the country in 663 BC and retreated southwards. The Assyrians pursued him and took Thebes, whose name was added to a long list of cities plundered and destroyed by the Assyrians, as Ashurbanipal wrote:
"This city, the whole of it, I conquered it with the help of Ashur and Ishtar. Silver, gold, precious stones, all the wealth of the palace, rich cloth, precious linen, great horses, supervising men and women, two obelisks of splendid electrum, weighing 2,500 talents, the doors of temples I tore from their bases and carried them off to Assyria. With this weighty booty I left Thebes. Against Egypt and Kush I have lifted my spear and shown my power. With full hands I have returned to Nineveh, in good health."
Thebes never regained its former political significance, but it remained an important religious centre. Assyrians installed Psamtik I (664-610 BC), who ascended to Thebes in 656 BC and brought about the adoption of his own daughter, Nitocris I, as heiress to God's Wife of Amun there. In 525 BC, Persian Cambyses II invaded Egypt and became pharaoh, subordinating the kingdom as a satrapy to the greater Achaemenid Empire.
Nineveh Unable to Withstand the Assault
3:14-17 Draw water for the siege;
strengthen your forts;
go into the clay;
tread the mortar;
take hold of the brick mold!
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!
You increased your merchants
more than the stars of the heavens.
The locust spreads its wings and flies away.
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.
All the efforts of the Ninevites will come to naught. Their defenses will fail. The end has come. The city will fall on 612 BC, and the remaining army will be defeated at the Battle of Carchemish, just north of the Euphrates river, in northeastern Syria today.
All Nations Will Rejoice over the Defeat of Assyria
3:18-19 Your shepherds are asleep,
O king of Assyria;
your nobles slumber.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
with none to gather them.
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?
None will mourn the fall of Assyria. This marks the end of the nation. Babylon will become the next world empire, followed by Greece and then Rome. We are still the remnant of the Roman Empire, which became the Christian Empire of western civilization.