Nahum 1

Nahum 1  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Burden of Nineveh, God’s Heavy Sentence Against It
First of all, Nahum brings before us the character of God in remarkably vivid terms, and indeed with a majesty of utterance most suitable to the subject God entrusted to him. “The burden of Nineveh” (vs. 1) means the heavy sentence of God against that famous city, a phrase customary in the prophets. In Isaiah we may remember the burden of Babylon, and of one place after another; that is, a strain of judgment which was therefore called a “burden.” “The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. A God jealous and avenging is Jehovah; Jehovah revengeth, and is furious; Jehovah will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserveth wrath for His enemies. Jehovah is slow to anger” (vss. 1-3). Are we not all of us apt to set these things against one another? But it is not so in truth; for the stronger the feeling of God against that which destroys His own glory, the more worthy is it that He should be slow to act on His indignation, as we should be for quite different reasons. Indeed, slowness to anger is ordinarily the proof of moral greatness, though there are extreme cases where waiting would bespeak want of right feeling. Scripture shows us both the rule and the exceptions. Not that it is of God or even of man that there should be slowness to feel; but to act on feeling is another thing. I am persuaded that the more there is the sense of the presence of God, and of what becomes Him, and consequently of what becomes us who are His children—to have the interest of His kingdom at heart, and also the sense of His honor dear to us, yea, dearer to us than any other consideration—so much the more ought we to cultivate in presence of evil a patient spirit.
Anger May Be so Light That to Want It Would Be a Moral Defect
Yet is it certain that anger in the true and godly sense of abhorrence of evil formed part of the moral nature of our Lord Jesus. There is no greater fallacy of modern times among not a few Christians than the exclusion of holy anger from that which is morally perfect. Our Lord Jesus on one occasion looked round about with anger; on another He used a scourge of small cords with indignation; so also He thundered from time to time at religious hypocrites who stood high in popular estimation. The Christian who does not share such feelings is altogether wanting in what is of God, and also in what becomes a man of God. I grant you that anger is too apt to take a personal shape, and consequently to slide into vindictive as well as wounded feeling. It is not necessary for me to say that there was an entire absence of this in our Lord Jesus. He came to do the will of God; He never did anything but that will—not only what was consistent with it, but only that. But for this very reason He too was slow—not, of course, to form a judgment, but to execute it on man. Indeed, as we know, He refused it absolutely when here below. He could await the due time. God was then displaying His grace, and, as part of His grace, His long-suffering in the midst of evil. And there is nothing finer, nothing more truly of God, than this display of grace in patience.
Jehovah’s Government Righteous
Here, too, it seems a remarkable feature that, even when the prophet proclaims the approaching judgment of God, he takes such particular pains to assert, not only the certainty of His avenging Himself on His adversaries, but His slowness to anger. “Jehovah is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit [the wicked]: Jehovah hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet” (vs. 3). It is clear that the expression “holding pure he will not hold pure” is not at all inconsistent with His justifying the believer in Jesus up to that time without God and ungodly. It was not yet the fit and destined occasion to reveal the grace of God in justifying; but even so there is no acquitting any one as wicked. And this it is important to hold clearly. His not imputing iniquity is a very different thing from acquitting. He never acquits the wicked as such. There is no stronger condemnation of wickedness than when He does not impute iniquity, because the ground of His not imputing iniquity to the believer is that He has not only imputed it, but dealt with it according to His own horror of evil and just judgment of all in the cross of Christ. More manifestly when it is a question, as here, not of His grace but of His righteous government on earth, it always remains true that God does not treat the wicked as innocent.
We Are Called to Patient Grace
Now the believer has to imitate the character of God; for we must remember that it is our point as Christians. Anything else becomes self-righteousness. But there is nothing more important than being true to the character of God, who is our Father, whose nature we have now, who has revealed Himself perfectly in Christ. And we find this most beautifully in His servant Paul, who puts patience above all the other signs of an apostle. It is as eminently Christ-like as any quality man-ward. There is nothing that more thoroughly shows superiority to all that Satan can do. It had, of course, also a more trying character in the midst of those who should have known better, as, for instance, among the Corinthians. For they were souls which took the place of serving the Lord and bore His name; but it is exactly to them he says that truly the signs of an apostle were shown by him in all patience. He brings in afterward in their place miracles and extraordinary revelations; but patience takes precedence, and justly so, because it supposes evil and this in power, and nevertheless proves superior to it. How can you deal with a man whom nothing can overthrow, and who, no matter what you do or what he may suffer, cannot be driven from the line of Christ? Now this, I think, is exactly what shone in Paul so very conspicuously. No doubt there were qualities from the Spirit’s operation most blessed and refreshing in Peter, John, Barnabas, and in others, whether apostles or not; but I do not think anyone approached Paul in the draft made upon his patience in circumstances calculated to try to the uttermost, and provoke to the quick. Although Paul had like passions with the rest, still there was such a sense of Christ as made him thus practically more than conqueror.
Jehovah Will Make an Utter End in His Day
So here, in respect of His government of man on earth, Jehovah is revealed in certain qualities; and this is to be heeded, because Jehovah is that special revelation of God which was meant for His people as one who governed them. Even so He was “slow to anger and great in power, and would not at all hold as guiltless. Jehovah hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth. The mountains quake at Him” (vss. 3-5), of course a figure, the word “mountains” being used to indicate the great seats of power on earth. “The mountains quake at Him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at His presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before His indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him” (Nah. 1:5-65The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. 6Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him. (Nahum 1:5‑6)).
But this is not all. “Jehovah is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble.” (vs. 7) Now we come to that which is in relation to the righteous. He is patient even as respects the wicked, whom He will finally judge, but He has given a strong hold. “He knoweth them that trust in Him. But with an overrunning flood He will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue His enemies” (Nah. 1:7-87The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him. 8But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies. (Nahum 1:7‑8)). Then comes a challenge. “What do ye imagine against Jehovah? He will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time” (vs. 9). There may be perhaps an allusion here to a blow which had already fallen on the Assyrian. “Affliction shall not rise up the second time; for while they be folden together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry” (vss. 9-10). But we must bear in mind that the Spirit of prophecy sees and declares things that are not as though they were. I have therefore said “perhaps”; for either way the believer need feel no difficulty. The destruction of Nineveh by Cyaxares and Nabopolassar is generally put B.C. 625; as Nahum is by most considered to have flourished near a century before.
If the Adversaries Pursued the Jewish Victims With Relentless Hatred, God Would Break the Rod That Smote His People
After this comes a direct allusion to the enemy, which draws out this magnificent description. “There is one come out of thee that imagineth evil against Jehovah, a wicked counselor. Thus saith Jehovah; Though they be complete, and ever so many, yet thus shall they be cut down, when he shall pass away” (vss. 11-12). It is thus plain that there are two elements God has combined in these revelations—the judgment on the one hand of what was wrong in His own people, and on the other of merciless adversaries, who knew not the gracious purpose of God to chasten His people. He would not leave them unpunished; but could He permit a full end? Thus, on the one hand the chastening was measured, and its end was according to the goodness of God. On the other hand, God lets the adversary pour out, without scruple or bound, hatred on His people; but He does not merely use their animosity against them for the good of His own people, and for the punishment of their unfaithfulness, but would surely turn on the malignant foe when His purpose was accomplished. For does God sanction implacable hatred of Israel? utter indifference not to pity only but righteousness, nay, contempt and pride against Himself? turning the fact that God permitted them so to ravage the land and people of Israel into a delusion that there was no God at all, or that they had gained an advantage against the true God? Jehovah accordingly would righteously turn round on the adversaries and destroy them, as surely as He had used them in the first instance to deal with what was faulty in Israel. This we may find everywhere in the prophets, and in none more conspicuously than in the use made of the Assyrian. Nahum also looks like the rest to the end.
Thus the first blow was, I suppose, Sennacherib; the second would be not from the threatening of the Assyrian rebuked but the destruction of Nineveh; and the destruction of Nineveh is the type of the final judgment of the great Assyrian in the last days, the king of the north.
Observe the Good Tidings Published Along With the Destruction of the Assyrian
Though Jehovah had broken down Israel by the enemy for their good, there would be no such trouble more. The passage looking onward to the end: “Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more. For now will I break his yoke from off thee, and will burst thy bonds in sunder. And Jehovah hath given a commandment concerning thee” (vss. 12-14)—now He turns to the Assyrian, and addresses him— “Jehovah hath given a command concerning thee, that no more of thy name be sown. Out of the house of thy gods will I cut off the graven image and the molten image: I will make [it] thy grave; for thou art vile” (vs. 14). I think that “thee” in verse 12 means Israel, and in verse 13 means the Assyrian. Hence Jehovah is represented as addressing each personally in turn.
Then in the last verse, or, as some prefer, forming the beginning of the second chapter, the chapter is wound up by the beautiful words, “Behold upon the mountains the feet of Him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace!” (vs. 15) for the judgment of the Assyrian will be the established peace of Israel, and the proclamation of it everywhere when Jehovah shall have completed His full work in Jerusalem. That is, when the moral work is complete there, He will do His last deed of judgment in principle on the Assyrian, and then will come the reign of peace, of which there is the announcement here.
It would appear that Israelites will go out to the nations with the testimony of the kingdom after the destruction of the Assyrian and their settlement in the land. Thus, the word of Jehovah will spread far and wide, backed by the power which has interfered on behalf of His people so conspicuously. For the knowledge of Jehovah and of His glory is to cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea; and Israel will be the messengers of it among the nations. There will be, I think, a Jewish testimony both before and after they are settled in the land. It appears clear that there will be an active preaching during the period between the rapture of the saints and their appearing with Christ from heaven in glory; but there is ground to believe this will not be given up though its form may change, after the Lord will have come.
One Transition After Christ Translates the Saints and Before the Appearing. The Other, in Which He Will Set the Ten Tribes in Order
For be it observed that there are two great transitions in prophecy, which are apt to be confounded in many minds, and yet must be distinguished in order to have anything like a grasp of the subject. There is a transition after Christ takes saints to meet Him above, before He displays Himself and destroys antichrist; that is between the translation of those destined to heavenly glory, and the manifestation of the Lord and His own before the world. During this time when providential judgments fall on guilty Christendom, the Lord is mainly occupied, as far as the earth is concerned, with preparing a remnant of the Jews, some of whom will be put to death, afterward by grace to be raised up in the first resurrection. Having suffered with Christ, they shall reign together. This is the invariable principle of God. But others who will not suffer thus will be delivered and have a distinguished place of honor in the kingdom on earth. But when the Lord shall have appeared and destroyed the beast with the false prophet, and their adherents Jewish or Gentile, there will be another transition in which Jehovah will have set the ten tribes in due order, as He had done for the two tribes in the first transition, when in fact He will reunite and re-establish the people as a whole. Thus the two transitions have mainly for their object the setting right, first the Jews as such, and next Ephraim, making finally the two sticks one in His hand (Ezek. 37), and the destruction of the Assyrian holds a similar relation to the ten tribes that the destruction of antichrist does to the two. The one is before He shall have appeared; the other is the interval that takes place after He has appeared, but before He establishes the millennial reign of peace, properly so called. There will be the public message given and heard. It will be still a time of proclamation before all is fully accomplished.
But further, in the millennium, I think the Jews specially will go out to the nations with the word of Jehovah (Isa. 2; Mic. 4). No doubt glory will be manifest in the land of Israel, but still there will be a certain testimony, I suppose, for the conversion of the nations (Isa. 66). Of this there would seem to be little doubt. There will be, particularly during the period of the second transition, as well as during the first. The first will have “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:2323And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. (Matthew 4:23)) going out; but there seems to be a further message. “Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows” (vs. 15)—Israel may not be fully gathered— “for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off” (vs. 15). Thus, if all be not yet established in peace as far as the whole people are concerned, the fall of the last Assyrian is the sign of stable peace ensuing. (Compare Mic. 5:55And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men. (Micah 5:5)).
There is another passage which refers to something like the ministry of the heavenly saints. The nations shall walk in the light. “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:22In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)). I have not the slightest doubt that the glorified saints will exercise a beneficent action or ministry of grace over the world in general, although the light of the heavenly state may be more general, perhaps, than this. The leaves of the tree seem to represent special means that the Lord will use for the healthful condition of men on the earth during the millennium; the fruit is, so to speak figuratively, for lips of heavenly taste.