The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; The Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies; The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, And will not at all acquit the wicked… (Nahum 1:1-3, N.K.J.V.)
We can only wonder what the prophet Jonah would have thought about the prophet’s Nahum word of doom to the Assyrian city of Nineveh. More than a century before Nahum did his prophesying, God had sent Jonah to Nineveh to proclaim that God would overthrow the city in forty days due to the city’s wickedness (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-4). Jonah hadn’t minded declaring that message because the Assyrians were well known for their idolatry, arrogance, and excessive cruelties in warfare. But a strange thing had happened when Jonah had declared that prophecy of impending judgment: the Ninevites had believed God, proclaimed a total fast throughout the city, clothed themselves with sackcloth (the traditional clothing worn by mourners), and repented (Jonah 3:5).
And how had God responded to all of that? He had relented from destroying the city (Jonah 3:10). That, in turn, had infuriated Jonah (Jonah 4:1). He had even vented to God, saying, “Isn’t this what I told you would happen before I came to this city? I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (Jonah 4:2). As a matter of fact, Jonah had gotten so ticked off about the whole situation that he had actually asked God to kill him if He wasn’t going to kill the Ninevites (Jonah 4:3). God hadn’t take Jonah up on that offer, but the book of Jonah had concluded with Jonah still mad at God and God trying to reason with him. Mind you that all this had only come after God had been forced to enroll Jonah in “whale seminary” to even get him to make the trip to Nineveh.
Now let’s fast forward a century or more to the time of the prophet Nahum. The king of Nineveh who had overseen that time of repentance and mourning has long since passed off the throne, and every last one of those Ninevites who had seen their city spared now lie in graves. The mighty Assyrian empire is at the pinnacle of its power and geographical sprawl, and the idolatry, arrogance, and excessive cruelties in warfare for which the Ninevites were infamous in Jonah’s day have been reinstituted. The Ninevites think they are invulnerable behind the 150 foot wide moat and 100 foot high walls that surround their city, and all seems well. What they don’t know, though, is that God again has them in His crosshairs, and this time there will be no 12th hour stay of execution.
In the opening passages from Nahum’s prophecies, we hear the early warning alarms of God’s intentions. Nahum begins by bluntly stating that what follows is the record of “the burden against Nineveh” (1:1, N.K.J.V.). That leaves no doubt who is God is gunning for. Next, Nahum uses the phrase “the Lord avenges” not once but twice, and then he uses the word “vengeance” for good measure (1:2, N.K.J.V.). Talk about opening up hot!
Nahum then offers the justification for God’s destruction of Nineveh by explaining that God is furious, will take vengeance on His adversaries. and reserves wrath for His enemies (1:2). As Nahum puts it, God is slow to anger but His merciful patience should never be taken to mean that He acquits the wicked (1:3). He might need a century to get mad enough to deal with a Nineveh, but His anger will eventually reach a level that compels Him to act in judgment.
My personal opinion is that Jonah would have said a hearty, “Amen” after hearing or reading the opening words from Nahum’s book. After all, Nahum gets to preach the message that Jonah had wanted to preach. I can just hear Jonah saying, “Well it’s about time, Lord, that you brought those wicked people down.”
The lesson for us here is that God really does pour out His vengeance upon His enemies. He’s certainly in no rush to do it, and sometimes His delay in doing it can drive His own victimized people nuts, but He does always get around to settling His accounts. As He says time and time again in scripture (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30), “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.”
Notice that He doesn’t say, “I might repay.” No, He says, “I will repay.” The citizens of Nineveh were going to learn that lesson the hard way, but they certainly wouldn’t be the last people to ever learn it. The fact is, some people are learning it right now and others are about to learn it in the very near future. Needless to say, we would all be well advised to make sure that we aren’t the ones on the receiving end of it. In other words, if you are living in a Nineveh situation right now, you’d best get out of there before the judgment falls.