AGAINST NINEVEH Nahum 1–3
“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on His foes and maintains His wrath against His enemies” (Nahum 1:2).Any view of God that does not take into account His wrath is a distorted view. But rightly understood, even the doctrine of the wrath of God is a comfort to His saints.
God’s wrath takes the form of a judicial judgment of sinners (1:1–14) that exempts His own (v. 15). The destruction of Nineveh (2:1–3:17), proud capital of wicked Assyria, demonstrates God’s judicial vengeance (vv. 18–19).
Understanding the Text
“The Lord takes vengeance on His foes” Nahum 1:1–8. When we think about the wrath of God, or divine vengeance, it’s helpful to remember that vengeance is directed against God’s foes. Nahum described God as “slow to anger,” but reminds us that He will “not leave the guilty unpunished.” God’s wrath, or vengeance, is linked with a judicial act. It is the right thing for God to punish the wicked. In fact, it is just as right for Him to punish the wicked as it is for Him to care “for those who trust in Him.” Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that vengeance somehow goes against God’s character. As Nahum said, “The Lord is good” (v. 7). Yet “goodness” not only stands in contrast with evil, it stands against evil! If God were not willing to take vengeance on the wicked, and to treat them as objects of His wrath, God would not be good. “One . . . who plots evil against the Lord” Nahum 1:9–15. The Ninevite who plotted evil against the Lord and counseled “wickedness” is identified in Nahum 3:18 as “the king of Assyria.” It is likely that the specific reference is to Sennacherib, the most aggressive of Assyrian conquerors, who according to Assyrian records devastated some 47 fortified cities in Judah in 701B.C An important principle is alluded to in this passage. God had used Assyria to afflict Judah (1:12). But the Assyrians remained responsible for their motives and actions. Assyria did not attack Judah as a conscious response to the known will of God. In fact, the Assyrian attack was evidence of plotting evil against God! We see that clearly in the ridicule directed against the Lord by the Assyrian field commander who called for Jerusalem’s surrender (see Isa. 36). The principle this illustrates is: God can and does use the evil acts of wicked men to accomplish His own purposes. But God does not cause the wicked to do evil. Thus the wicked remain responsible for the evil they do. So God declared through His prophet, “The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh. . . . I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.” This is to be the fate of all who plot and do evil (see DEVOTIONAL). “The river gates are thrown open” Nahum 2:1–3:1. The rest of the Book of Nahum is given over to four different descriptions of the fall of Nineveh. Undoubtedly the most significant is the description of the opening of river gates and subsequent flooding and fire in the city. Nineveh was situated on three rivers, with a canal system that directed waters to its different districts. Once the suburbs of Nineveh were taken, these canal gates (as bab-nari, “gate of the river” may indicate) could be thrown open, and the city defenses flooded. As the walls of the palace collapsed, enemy soldiers swarmed into the city and plundered it. What a destiny for the capital of an empire that had pillaged the world. All the treasures that had been assembled were taken. “She is pillaged, plundered, stripped!” (2:10) and all those who had struck terror into helpless victims were rendered helpless themselves. “Hearts melt, knees give way, bodies tremble, every face grows pale” (v. 10). God was against Nineveh. In His wrath He had decreed her destruction and, therefore, her destruction was sure. Woe, then, “to the city of blood” (3:1). ” ‘I am against you,’ declares the Lord” Nahum 3:2–17. Three additional descriptions of Nineveh’s fall are contained in these verses (vv. 2–7, 8–11, 12–17). Together they are intended to drive home the horror of that day, and to portray as graphically as possible the implications of the wrath of God. There is no vision of mercy here. Only visions of death and blood. These are awesome images that bring home the reality of the wrath of God. Images that help us see that “God’s vengeance” is no abstract theological concept, but a terror that hangs over the head of the wicked, whether they are aware of it or not. “Who has not felt your endless cruelty?” Nahum 3:18–19 Again the prophet reminds us that the vengeance described in his book was decreed as a judicial act. All that came to the Assyrians was what they had earned by their own acts. The wrath of God is never capricious. Never a careless outbreak of anger. God, the Judge, has determined a punishment that is just.
Leaving the Guilty Unpunished(Nahum 1)
Seeing God as the God of vengeance, who is filled with wrath, is more than a little disquieting. But it’s important if we are to have an adequate concept of God, and if we are to deal appropriately with crime in our society. That’s what’s so impressive about this first chapter of Nahum. The prophet said, without qualification, “The Lord is good” (v. 7). But at the same time said, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on His foes” (v. 2). What puts Nahum’s vision of God in perspective is the fact of saying, “The Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished” (v. 3). Reading it, we realize that the wrath of God, and the vengeance of God, are judicial concepts. God the good must and will stand against evil. God the good must and will punish the guilty. This is a lesson our society desperately needs to learn. Criminals should be charged and punished, not to “rehabilitate” them, or even to “get them off the streets.” Crime should be punished because a state, like God, must take the side of what is righteous and good. And when a person does evil, it is good for society, as it is good for God, to take vengeance. It’s true that expressions of God’s wrath never go astray, as human expressions of judicial wrath may and all too often do. Yet the principle is clear. Human beings are responsible for the wicked deeds they do. And it is right that those who do evil suffer punishment for their crimes.
Save your sympathy for the victim, not the criminal.