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Today’s lesson is from the Old Testament prophecy of Nahum. It is about God’s judgment on the nation of Assryia and its capital city of Nineveh after Assyria wielded its power over God’s people and other nations. By extension, it is about how God sometimes punishes God’s people because God loves them but how that punishment does not last forever.
The following prayer was written by Matt Erikson and posted on his blog, “Renovate”. It can be found at here.
LORD God, King of the earth,
You have created all peoples
and reign over all the nations
that inhabit this earth.
When the nations rage
and put themselves forward as mighty,
You still have the final word,
promising to put all the prideful in their place.
Although tempted to trust in our own strength,
we turn to You, even as the psalmist says,
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God’ (Psalm 20:7).
Teach us to live with trust
in light of the prophet Nahum’s words,
“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7).
All this we pray, through Jesus Christ,
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be all honor and glory, now and forever.
This week's lesson is on Nahum 1:1-3, 6-8, 12-13, 15.
The historical meeting of the book of Nahum is of utmost importance to understanding its message of hope for Judah. Even so, only one historical event is cited in the book’s three chapters — the destruction of Thebes (Nahum 3:8-10)
Ashurbanipal of Assyria (reigned 669 to 633 BC) sacked that Egyptian city in 663. This indicates that the book of Nahum was written sometime after the fall of Thebes but before the predicted fall of Nineveh, a major city of the Assyrian Empire. That fall became reality in 612 BC. Therefore, a date during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, who ruled from 641 to 609, makes the most sense. A date between 625 and 612 is most likely since judgment is predicted for Judah’s enemies, not for Judah itself.
The Assyrians certainly played a role in God’s disciplining of Judah. The Lord allowed its evil King Manasseh, who reigned from 697 to 643 BC, to be exiled by the Assyrians. The Assyrians were renowned for their cruelty. They had a practice of torturing the leaders of captive cities or nations as a warning not to rebel. In Manasseh’s case, the Assyrians put a hook in his nose, bound him with chains, and led him away. While in prison Manasseh turned to God. When he returned to Jerusalem, he led a spiritual revival.
Such a revival did not occur in the northern kingdom of Israel. Neither kings nor people there repented of their evil, so the Lord used the Assyrians’ violence as a tool of punishment. Whereas Judah suffered threats of violence and periodic incursions, Samaria, northern Israel’s capital city, was captured after a three-year siege, in 722 BC. Sargon II’s boast that he led captive over 27,000 people was preserved in Assyrian cuneiform test. This is when Israel as a nation disappeared from he world stage.
Nineveh hit its peak in power as Ashurbanipal’s capital in the mid-seventh century BC, just before its destruction. Following Ashurbanipal’s death, kingdoms that had come under Assyrian control rebelled. Among these were the Babylonians and the Medes. Their armies came together to sack Nineveh in 612 BC. Following this, Babylon displaced Assyria as the major power in the region.
I. Prophecy (1:1)
The scripture begins with a Hebrew word that can be translated as “burden” or as “inspired utterance.” The word is not uncommon in biblical prophecy and often signals a prophecy of impending judgment. That is the case here, and the prophecy does, indeed, refer to a weighty matter concerning Nineveh.
Nahum means “repentings” or “compassion.” This prophet is the only person in the Old Testament with the name Nahum, and he is not the same Nahum that is listed in the genealogy of Jesus in the New Testament. The only thing we know about this prophet is that he was from the town of Elkosh, whose location is debated, although most scholars think it was near Jerusalem in Judah.
Jonah and Nahum are the two prophets who focused on the coming judgment of Nineveh. Unlike Jonah, Nahum was not told to go to Nineveh but to preach in Judah about Nineveh. Also unlike Jonah, Nahum’s prophecy was fulfilled. In Jonah’s case, God chose mercy over judgment when the people repented. Zephaniah, who was a contemporary of Nahum, also named Nineveh in the context of judgment coming to all of Assyria.
II. Portrayals (1:2-3, 6-8, 12a)
Unlike human jealousy, God’s jealousy indicates a profound sense of caring and commitment. Sometimes, in fact, the Hebrew word that is translated “jealousy” is translated as “zeal” in other passages. In verse 2, God’s jealousy is more closely linked to God’s protection of God’s people from violence and oppression that often results when hostile nations worship violent and oppressive false gods.
Sennacherib, an Assyrian king who reigned during the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah, learned this the hard way in 701 BC. Sennecharib had captured many cities in Judah, so the Lord struck the Assyrian army, and 185,000 soldiers died in one night (2 Kings 18:13-37; 19:34-36; and Isaiah 36-37).
Have you ever wondered why the Bible describes the Lord as a jealous God? He is protective and passionate. God doesn’t sit passively by. Sin rouses God’s righteous indignation, but not because God hates us. It is because God loves us too much to sit idly by when wickedness threatens our relationship with God.
God is slow to anger, which is why God did not do something earlier to the Assyrians. God waits patiently because God wants everyone to repent; God does not wish for any to perish. But even God’s patience has its limits.
Verse 3 describes God more as a righteous warrior than as a judge. God has all of nature as weapons. God has the whirlwind, the storm, the clouds and plagues to do God’s bidding.
No one can withstand God’s indication and God’s fierce anger — no person, no nation, no power. Not even the strongest or the strongest-willed can resist God. God’s wrath, in Nahum’s description, is like a volcano, spewing fire and breaking apart rocks.
However, all of that is tempered by the fact that God is good. Those who trust God experience God’s goodness in protection from harm.
The Sunday school author points out that Nahum, like other prophets, often uses poetic imagery to describe God’s judgment, but in this case Nahum’s words were literally fulfilled. During the Babylonian siege on Nineveh, an overwhelming flood occurred that damaged the walls of the city and helped to bring about the end of Nineveh. After that, a figurative flood of Babylonians and Medes took the city.
Many ancient cites were captured and destroyed, with new cities being built on top of the ruins. Hoever, Nineveh was never rebuilt. The people of Nineveh foolishly believed that they were secure because of their military strength and political alliances, but that proved to be no match for God’s anger and strength.
III. Promises (1:12b-13, 15)
In the second part of verse 12, God switches from addressing Niveveh and Assyria to addressing Judah. God had used the Assryians to punish Judah for its sin, but God promises an end to that punishment. God would break the yoke of oppression that the Assyrians had placed on Judah.
God’s words of deliverance in verse 15 are similar to those of Isaiah 52:7. For Nahum and for Judah, however, the good news here is that Assyria would fall. That would bring peace to the people.
Nahum commands the people to celebrate their festivals, the ones that had been prescribed in the Law. The implication is that some type of restriction had been placed on them that had hindered the free exercise of worship or, perhaps, that the people had become lax and had abandoned their celebrations on their own. With the destruction of the wicked, however, the people would be free once again to choose devotion to God and the blessings that come with it.
The destruction of Nineveh fulfilled Nahum’s prophecy. The city’s destruction was complete, and so too was the end of Assyria’s dominance. The pending doom of Nineveh was the greatest part of Nahum’s prophecy, but closely related was the word of deliverance for Judah. This comforted a people who had been oppressed by Assyria for decades.
Injustice still exists, and God still intends to act to bring justice and deliver his people. But God sees the global picture, so God’s timetable differs from what we might desire. In his treatment of Assyria, God did not act in haste. At the right time, the nation of Assyria came to an end. It had fulfilled its purpose. God’s justice prevailed. God’s timing is always perfect.
For this reason, we share the love of Jesus, not only at Christmastime but also year-round. The gospel truth about Jesus is the reason we have hope of eternal life. What better news could there be than a future with the Lord in heaven?
God in heaven, help us to shape our lives to show that we truly believe that you are holy, just and loving. Today we especially thank you for giving us your Son. In his name we pray. Amen.
Our benediction this week is from the New Century Version.
Next week's lesson is on Genesis 4:1-15.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.