…His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into darkness. (Nahum 1:3-8, N.I.V.)
We know little about the prophet Nahum’s personal life except that he calls himself “the Elkoshite” in the opening words of the book that bears his name. That description probably refers to where he lived, but the location of Elkosh has been lost to history. Because the name “Capernaum” literally means “town of Nahum” or “Nahum’s town,” some scholars identify Elkosh as Capernaum, but that association is as much a leap of logic as a historical fact. As is always the case with God’s prophets, though, it’s the man’s ministry that is historically important, not his personal life.
To figure out the time period in which Nahum did his prophesying, the best we can do is logically deduce our way toward a general half century or so. Since his prophecies describe the Assyrian city of Nineveh as being a great city, and since other historical records tell us that Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612 B.C., he must have prophesied before 612 B.C. Also, in Nahum 3:8-10, he talks about the fall of a city called No Amon. No Amon was the capital of southern Egypt and is better known by the name Thebes. It fell to the Assyrians in 663 B.C. Therefore, Nahum must have lived and prophesied sometime between Assyria’s conquering of Thebes in 663 B.C. and Babylon’s conquering of Assyria in 612 B.C.
That dating means that Nahum did his prophesying to the citizens of Israel’s southern kingdom (called Judah). We know that he didn’t prophesy to Israel’s northern kingdom (called Israel) because by that time that kingdom was no longer in existence. After a twenty-year campaign in which the Assyrians had systematically conquered the northern kingdom bit by bit, they had finally finished off the job by conquering the capital city of Samaria in 722 B.C. As was the Assyrians’ typical way of operating, they had relocated the surviving citizens of the northern kingdom and transplanted them to other Assyrian lands. All this, in point of fact, was what the prophet Jonah had feared would happen when God had chosen to spare Nineveh, Assyria’s great city, rather than destroy it in Jonah’s day. Jonah had made his trip to Nineveh at least 100 years, perhaps as many as 150 years, before Nahum’s time of ministry.
By putting all this together, we see that by Nahum’s day God now had even more justification for dealing harshly with Nineveh. Despite the fact that God had miraculously intervened to keep the Assyrians from conquering Israel’s southern kingdom (Isaiah 37:36-38), He hadn’t forgotten what they had done to the northern kingdom. So, by inspiring Nahum to prophesy Nineveh’s impending doom, God was assuring the citizens of the southern kingdom that they needn’t worry about the threat of Assyria.
Speaking through Nahum, God explained that He was now taking His association with the Assyrians to a whole other level, a darker one. He had spared the citizens of Nineveh during Jonah’s time, and He had even later used the Assyrian army as the vessel through which He had devastatingly judged the sins of the northern kingdom, but now the vessel of judgment would become the judged vessel. As commentator William MacDonald says about this divine irony, “Although God uses pagans to punish His people’s apostasy and sin, the tool itself is also liable to punishment.”
But how could the mighty Assyrian army be defeated? And how could the nation’s most famous city, Nineveh, be taken? Those answers would be found in the indescribable awesomeness of God. According to Nahum, God has His way in the whirlwind and the storm (1:3), and the clouds are merely the dust upon which He walks (1:3). He has the power to dry up rivers and make mountains quake (1:4-5), and no one can withstand His indignation and anger (1:6). These facts led Nahum to confidently conclude that God would be the one to make an end of Nineveh (1:8).
As for the citizens of Israel’s southern kingdom (Judah), all they needed to do was make God their “refuge” (N.I.V., N.L.T.) and “stronghold” (K.J.V., N.K.J.V.) during their time of trouble (1:7). He is, after all, a good God who cares for those who trust in Him (1:7). While this description stands in stark contrast to the depiction of God as a terrifying God of war who pours out His wrath like fire (1:6) and pursues His foes into darkness (1:8), the fact is that any accurate description of God must include both sides of His nature. The same God who can mercilessly destroy the Assyrians can also mercifully spare the citizens of Judah. The same God who can be an overwhelming flood (1:8) can also be a safe refuge (1:7). The deciding factor comes down to who places their trust in Him and who doesn’t.
Perhaps right now, as you are reading this, you find yourself in a troubling situation. The threat of your own personal “Assyrians” hangs over your life like a dark cloud, and it looks for all the world like they are about to bring your kingdom to ruination. What should you do? You should do what Nahum told those citizens of Judah to do: make the Lord your refuge/stronghold in your time of trouble. You see, by turning your situation completely over to God and placing your trust in Him, you are afforded the luxury of watching Him convert your “Assyrians” into the conquered rather than the conquerors. Remember, His strength is immeasurably greater than your strength, and He can do for you what He did for those citizens of Judah if you will place your trust in Him.