The book of Nahum is a prophecy against the city of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire – the same Nineveh to which Jonah was sent. Upon the preaching of the prophet Jonah, Nineveh repented and God withdrew His threatened wrath. Yet the repentance of Nineveh was temporary, hence the words of Nahum proclaiming God’s coming judgment; a judgment that would not be withdrawn as in the days of Jonah.
Who were these objects of wrath, the Assyrians?
They were a wicked people. A pastor once said that an ancient town, upon hearing that the Assyrians were coming, committed mass suicide, to avoid the awful torture that Assyria was known for. Archaeologists have uncovered bronze reliefs depicting heads impaled on stakes, severed heads hanging from city walls, soldiers holding victims by stumpy arms and legs, with dismembered hands and feet littering the ground. The following quote is from the Assyrian king Sennacherib, a king who is referenced in Scripture:
This quote portrays a disgusting and violent treatment of people captured in war. The Assyrian rulers were ruthless and the people of Assyria were wicked. The common folk may not have mutilated prisoners of war like their military did, yet the whole culture was lifted up in pride, worshipped false gods and filled with wickedness. Hence the words of Nahum to the city of Nineveh:
Historians accept the destruction of Nineveh as fact, although they obviously do not attribute the fall to divine wrath. But for us who understand that the city fell by God’s order, it is worth noting that before its fall, and despite its abominations, blasphemies and cruelties, God through the prophet Jonah gave it a chance to repent. What a great demonstration of the grace of God, that even people like the Assyrians were not outside of the reach of God’s saving hand!
Now the words of Nahum and the fall of Nineveh may seem to be obscure Biblical knowledge, since for us ordinary citizens of a modern society, the unbelieving friends and acquaintances we have are not like the Assyrians and their king Sennacherib. We do not know mighty warriors who gut or castrate their captives, who spill entrails and dismember hands and feet. Yet due to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must be aware of the fact that spiritually speaking, we do know people like Sennacherib. For God judges the heart, and Jesus gave us words regarding the heart of man and God’s judgment of it:
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man. Matthew 15: 18 – 20
There is not one person alive who is innocent of committing verbal murder, and who would avoid the fiery hell, based on the words of Jesus. Therefore, as we think of our unbelieving friends and acquaintances, or even strangers, it may be helpful to view the situation as being analogous to Jonah and Nineveh. We are as Jonah preaching to the citizens of Nineveh. We preach the gospel so that people might believe and repent and be granted life in God, and not have to be subjected to words of wrath on the day of the Lord – such as Nineveh was in the day of Nahum.
As we do this, as we share the gospel of grace with a view of God’s wrath, what helps us deliver this hard message with humility and gentleness is remembering that we too were once like the Assyrians – lost and in darkness and without hope. But the grace of God reached Nineveh in the days of Jonah, it reached us where we were at, and it can reach anyone at any time as God wills, no matter who they are.
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1: 13 – 14