Nahum - the Singer
The book of Nahum is one of the most
beautiful examples of Hebrew poetry in all the Bible. Almost nothing is
known about the prophet. Like most other prophets, he is just a
"voice." But what a beautiful voice it is. This voice is not
crying in the wilderness, rather it is singing. This is his song.
Nineveh will be destroyed. The fall of
Nineveh was so complete that the site of this once most powerful city
seemed to be as erased from the face of the earth as was Sodom and
Gomorrah. For centuries armies marched by or over it oblivious to the
fact that they were treading on the cemetery of a civilization. So
complete was Nahumís prophecy. Godís judgment may be slow in coming,
but when it comes it is sure.
The Assyrians were as ferocious as
wolves. They had preyed upon Israel for hundreds of years. They carried
away the ten Northern tribes into seeming oblivion and, in 701BC, were
at the gates of Jerusalem again. They preyed while Hezekiah prayed. A
cuneiform record known as the Taylor Prism told of Sennacheribís
invasion. "Hezekiah, the Judean, I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal
city, like a bird in a cage." He, of course, never mentioned that
his army met with a terrible fate. Lord Byron, the English poet
immortalized the Destruction of Sennacherib in a poem of that name
Assyria had more than one close call
with divine judgment and had brushed up against oblivion once too often.
In 1842 C. J. Rich, a British merchant, began the search for the ancient
ruins of Nineveh. Three years later A. H. Layard joined in the search
and excavated near Kuyunjik not far from a mound called Nebi-Yunus
(translated Jonah). He discovered the palace of Sennacherib and later
the Imperial library of Ashurbanipal in 1850. That library contained a
collection of 10,000 different documents that provided historians with a
wealth of information about the life and mind set of the Assyrian. One
of the most remarkable finds were the ancient religious myths about
creation and the flood. While there are some similarities, they appear
primeval when compared to the Genesis account.
According to the Assyrian version of
things, two gods, the male fresh water ocean (Apsu) and the female salt
water ocean (Tiamat) mated and produced a number of lesser gods who
fought and could not get along. Apsu became irritated with his noisy
children and decided to kill them. Instead one of his offspring, the god
of wisdom , killed him first. The killing of Apsu produced a violent
storm god named Marduk. Tiamat became alarmed and gave birth to a host
of dragons who would fight Marduk. At a banquet the other gods elected
Marduk their leader (although Ashur, the sun became the favorite of
Nineveh), he killed the dragons and split Tiamat in two (half made the
sea and the other the sky). Tiamatís general was killed and his blood
was mixed with the soil of the newly formed earth and man was made to
serve the gods. Such was the bible of the barbarians. Their fallen
spirits had produced a legend from the broken fragments of a chaotic
Babel that was a sad reflection of their empty hearts.
The Assyrians left a legacy of blood
and sorrow in the world. Huge statues of winged lions with human heads
called cherubs sit in museums like silent tomb stones and witnesses to
their fierceness. The Assyrians were the first true military empire and
they triumphed through a combination psychology, engineering, and
political genius, and military strength. Carved stone reliefs depicting
warriors with long curls betray their vanity. Cuneiform steles are
timeless confessions to their cruelty and unspeakable barbarity. Few
would weep over the fall of Nineveh.
Nahum picked up the story of Jonah
some one hundred and fifty years after a remarkable repentance brought a
reprieve of judgment. Written sometime after the fall of Thebes and
before the fall of Samaria the usual accepted date for Nahum is 650BC.
Various locations have been proposed as his home town yet none can be
authenticated. From a city in Babylon to the New Testament Capernaum
have been suggested. What is known is that Nahumís message explains
what happened to an ancient civilization that disappeared. Had Jonah
given the last word, history would seem to be a puzzle, but thanks to
Nahum we learn the rest of the story.
The lesson of Nahum is not that God
will have vengance, but rather that God will be vindicated. It should
never be our desire that our enemies will be destroyed, but only that
God will be glorified. These idol worshipers were an affront to all that
was clean, holy, pure and just. Nahum means "comforter." His
message was like that of a mother singing to a frightened child in a
thunderstorm, "everything is going to be all right." Thebes of
Egypt had just fallen to the armies of Ashurbanipal II and the Assyrians
seemed unstoppable. The prediction that mighty Nineveh would soon be
crushed must be received by faith. All the facts were against such a
thing coming to pass. Yet written as a poem, Nahumís prophecy was a
song of hope.
God, good, faith and hope will be
vindicated. The fall of Nineveh is a precursor to the fall of every evil
kingdom that shall make way for the Kingdom of God. As awful as Assyria
was, the timeless message is that we need only fear Godís wrath. "Who
can stand before his indignation?" (1:6). But unlike the wrath
of man, Nahum qualifies the fierceness of Jehovah with comforting words "the
LORD is good." These words make all the difference. We need not
fear random destruction from the heavens. Yet even if lightning does
strike, we can be assured that God is good. Imagine Ashur or Marduk in
control of time and eternity. Imagine evil on the throne of heaven. Such
is a horrible thought. Those without faith in Jehovah were forever
attempting to appease their gods sacrificing to idols while living in
Nahum is a singer with a glad song.
There is gospel in his music. "Behold upon the mountains the
feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace!"
Paul borrowed this expression from Nahum and Isaiah (Isa. 52:7; Rom.
10:15). "The wicked shall no more pass through thee; he shall be
utterly cut off" 1:15. Sin shall no more have dominion over us.
At the cross Nineveh is fallen. A greater than Jonah is here.
The Second chapter describes the final
moments of the awful city. They who had laid siege to other cities and
caused them to tremble would now find "He that dashes in
pieces" at their own gates. Some commentators make the "He"
(2:1) to be the king of Medo-Babylon. The "He" is
in fact JEHOVAH. Woe to the city who finds God at its gates on judgment
day, and woe to the sinner who has lived as arrogantly as an Assyrian
when God comes calling to settle all accounts.
A prophetís voice is often loud, but
never hysterical. It often brought conviction and rebuke, but the voice
of the shepherd has a soothing and calming effect on the sheep. The
words of Nahum were a condemnation and a comfort at the same time, as is
"To the one we are the savour
of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And
who is sufficient for these things." 2Cor. 2:17.
The prophet was a constant reminder
that there is a God of truth, who loves and cares for his people. The
sight of a policeman elicits a different reaction from a criminal and
the law abiding citizen. Western American cowboys were known to sing to
cattle in order to calm them. Naham wrote a ballad that calmed the
faithful even as enemy armies could be seen marching in the distance.
Chapter three ends with applause "all
that hear the news will clap their hands." Nahumís prediction
was so accurate he must have been taken in the spirit to the Tigris and
the heathen city as John was to heavenly one. The king of Assyria did
indeed die in flames. We also applaud, not only because evil is
trampled, but because God triumphs. God gives us a song.
To Modern Preachers and Teachers
Good teaching and preaching often
involves a storm of emotions, yet there must be a place of calm in the
midst of it all. At the eye of the storm there must be a faith in a God
who is in absolute control of everything.
Paul understood his calling and he
understood the ministry of the preacher. "But he that
prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and
comfort" (1Cor 14:3).
Preachers who use the Word of God
properly build us up. They are not always knocking us down or about.
They call out to us as we run the race. They encourage. But good
preaching and teaching will always offer hope and comfort if we are
willing to conform to the Word and will of God. The word Nahum means
Good teaching quiets any frightened
sheep. Yes, the devil is as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour,
but he never dares snatch the sheep nearest the shepherd. When you can
no longer hear the sound of the shepherdís song, you have wandered too
far from the fold. It is only when we have gone too far that the
Shepherd may need to raise his voice. The words "Adam, where art
thou" brought little comfort to man. It is sin that separates
us for God. Those who stay close find only comfort in the sound of his
voice. Those who are close join in his song.