the Minor Prophets


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 Nahum’s prophecy. God’s 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 Sennacherib’s 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 around 1800.

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). Tiamat’s 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 Nahum’s 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, Nahum’s 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 God’s 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 darkness.

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 prophet’s 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 the Gospel.

"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." Nahum’s 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 "comfort."

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 shepherd’s 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.