This is what the Lord says: “Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be cut off and pass away. Although I have afflicted you, O Judah, I will afflict you no more. Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away.” The Lord has given a command concerning Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the carved images and cast idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.” (Nahum 1:12-14, N.I.V.)
The citizens of Judah, Israel’s southern kingdom, lived with the threat of an Assyrian invasion for more than twenty years after the Assyrians conquered Israel’s northern kingdom in 722 B.C.. That threat finally became a reality in 701 B.C. when the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib led his troops into Judah. According to Sennacherib’s personal account, his soldiers leveled 46 of Judah’s walled cities (in addition to other smaller cities) and took hundreds of Jews captive as prisoners of war. The Bible more or less confirms this account in 2 Kings 18:13. Sennacherib then turned his sights toward Jerusalem, Judah’s capital city. Judah’s king at that time was Hezekiah, and the land’s most famous prophet was Isaiah.
After Sennacherib’s troops laid siege to Jerusalem, he demanded that Hezekiah pay tribute money to him. Initially, Hezekiah paid the exorbitant sum of money (2 Kings 18:14-16), but later he sent some of his royal staff to Isaiah to seek guidance (2 Kings 19:1-4). Speaking for God, Isaiah assured Hezekiah that Sennacherib and his army would not conquer Jerusalem or even enter the city (2 Kings 19:5-7,20-34).
That same night God delivered on that promise as the Angel of the Lord moved throughout the Assyrian army and killed 185,000 soldiers (Isaiah 37:36-37; 2 Kings 19:35-36; 2 Chronicles 32:20-23). The devastating (to say nothing of bizarre) slaughter prompted Sennacherib to tuck his tail between his legs and get back to his home city of Nineveh as quickly as he could. So ended that particular Assyrian threat against Judah.
As seemingly climatic as that ending was, though, it did not put a permanent stop to Judah’s Assyrian problem. Just a few years later, after Hezekiah’s son Manasseh ascended to Judah’s throne, the Assyrians again marched into Judah. They took Manasseh as a prisoner of war, put a hook in his nose, bound him in shackles, and led him away to Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:10-11). While in Babylon, which was then under Assyrian control, Manasseh repented of the great sins that had caused God to allow his capture, and God then orchestrated events to enable him to return to Jerusalem and reclaim his throne (2 Chronicles 33:12-13).
The point in all of this history is that Assyria, with its capital city of Nineveh, was a constant threat to the people of Judah. God, however, had plans to at long last deal with the Assyrians once and for all. Speaking through Nahum, He promised Judah’s citizens that He was going to cut off the Assyrians and cause them to pass away (1:12). In doing this He would break the Assyrian yoke from off the neck of Judah (1:13). Assyria’s national demise would be symbolized by the destruction of Nineveh.
The citizens of Judah had no way of knowing it when Nahum was doing his prophesying, but in 612 B.C. God would use an alliance between the Babylonians and the Medes to bring a mighty army against Nineveh, lay siege to it, conquer it, and thus deal a fatal blow to the Assyrian empire. Yes, Nahum’s prophecies about the Nineveh’s defeat did come to pass, and following that defeat the Assyrians never again threatened Judah.
Perhaps you’ve heard that the names of Bible characters usually mean much more than names do today. With this in mind, what does the name “Nahum” mean? It means “comfort” or “consolation.” Accordingly, we shouldn’t be surprised that Nahum’s prophesying against Nineveh was meant to comfort and console the people of Judah. This explains Nahum 1:15, which says:
Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed. (N.I.V.)
As I sat down to write this post, I thought about how many people there are who have long been oppressed by some type of overbearing enemies. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, these afflicted people have had to kowtow to ungodly people who have bullied them, intimidated them, and scared them into submission. If you are such a victim, please know that the book of Nahum has a personal word of application for you.
And what is that word? It is this: The same God who once broke the Assyrian yoke from off the necks of the people of Judah stands ready to interject Himself into your situation. He knows when injustice is taking place, how long it has been taking place, who the guilty parties are, and what He wants to do about it all. So, if you have been crying out to Him for some time now, asking Him to bring you out from under the shadow of some wicked person or group, just hang in there. Hear the words of J. Vernon McGee as I use them for the close of this post. He hit the nail on the head when he said:
The writer is Nahum, and his name means “comforter,” but the message that he gives is one of judgment. How in the world can Nahum live up to his name? How can he be a comforter? Well, it is owing to how you look at the judgment. If it is a judgment upon your enemy, one of whom you are afraid, one who dominates you, then judgment can be a comfort to you.