An attacker advances against you, Nineveh. Guard the fortress, watch the road, brace yourselves, marshal all your strength! (Nahum 2:1, N.I.V.)
Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire, was an incredible city. Its origins could be traced back to the legendary leader Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12), and at the peak of its prosperity it was home to 600,000 people. The central part of the city covered an area one mile by two-and-a-half miles, and the entire metropolitan area was over sixty miles in circumference. A sixty-mile-long wall, 100 feet tall, defended the city as did a moat and 1,500 guard towers that were each 200 feet tall.
Assyria’s army was infamous for its cruelty. Assyrian soldiers were known to gouge out eyes, pull out tongues, burn children, leave corpses impaled on stakes, and skin certain captives alive in order to display the skins on tents and walls. Actually, when the Assyrians conquered your city the best you could hope for was to merely be captured and forced to relocate far away to another Assyrian territory.
Speaking through the prophet Nahum, however, God foretold the fall of mighty Nineveh and with it the fall of the Assyrian empire. History informs us that God worked through an alliance army of Babylonians and Medes to bring Nahum’s prophecies to pass. Those prophecies were so detailed that they read like a play-by-play walkthrough of the battle:
- The enemy army makes quick work of the fortified towns surrounding Nineveh. (3:12)
- The enemy army advances upon Nineveh itself. (2:1)
- The enemy army wears scarlet clothing and carries red shields. (2:3)
- The enemy army lays siege to Nineveh. (3:14)
- The Ninevites attempt to store water in order to ride out the siege. (3:14)
- The Ninevites attempt to shore up decaying parts of the city’s wall. (3:14)
- The Ninevites turn to drunkenness to alleviate their fear. (1:10; 3:11)
- The enemy army breaches the gates that are built into Nineveh’s wall. (3:13)
- The enemy army’s soldiers, horses, and chariots roll into the city streets. (2:4; 3:1-3)
- The battle ends relatively quickly, and the plundering begins. (2:8-10)
- The remains of the city are set ablaze. (2:13; 3:15)
- Some Ninevites are able to flee the site and become homeless wanderers. (2:8; 3:18)
How could such a thing happen to a city as well fortified as Nineveh? In the early spring of the year 612 B.C., the Babylonian/Mede army marched up the left bank of the Tigris river and surrounded the city’s walls. That time of year was the rainy season for Nineveh, and unusually heavy rains that year caused the Tigris (in conjunction with two smaller rivers in the same general area) to flood. The flooding caused a two-and-a-half mile stretch of the city’s wall to collapse. This allowed the invading army to enter the city through the breach. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote that the Tigris didn’t just damage the wall but also flooded parts of the city. Perhaps this is what Nahum meant when he prophesied: “Nineveh is like a pool, and its water is draining away…” (2:8, N.I.V.).
Siculus also wrote that Sardanapalus, who was Nineveh’s king at the time of the fall, responded bizarrely to the city’s flooding. According to Siculus, Sardanapalus interpreted the flooding to be the fulfillment of an oracle that had foretold that Nineveh would only fall when the Tigris declared war against it. Surmising that the river was indeed declaring war against Nineveh, Sardanapalus built a huge funeral pyre in the royal precincts of the city and loaded the pyre down with gold and expensive clothes. The pyre featured a chamber in the middle of it, and Sardanapalus shut himself inside that chamber along with his family, concubines, and eunuchs and then burned down the pyre.
Siculus describes the plundering of Nineveh as totaling up to what he calls “a quantity beyond counting.” Here again the words of Nahum’s prophecies ring true as he wrote: “Plunder the silver! Plunder the gold! The supply is endless, the wealth from all its treasures!” (2:9, N.I.V.). How thorough was the plundering of Nineveh, the richest city on earth? It was so thorough that archaeological excavations of Nineveh have never unearthed any gold or silver.
The details of Nahum’s prophecies match up so well with the historical accounts of Nineveh’s fall that liberal scholars have attempted to make the erroneous case that Nahum’s words must have been written after Nineveh’s destruction. Here are a few more of those detailed prophecies:
- Nineveh’s chariots would be burned. (2:13)
- There would be stacks of corpses of Ninevite casualties. (3:3)
- Nineveh would be left in ruins never to be rebuilt. (1:9; 1:14; 3:7)
- Nineveh’s guards would flee in fear for their lives. (3:17)
- Nineveh’s city leaders would be caught unprepared and killed. (3:18)
- Nineveh’s false idols and graven images would be burned. (1:14)
Also, Nahum describes the Assyrian soldiers who were responsible for defending Nineveh as being “women” (Nahum 3:13). Obviously, those soldiers weren’t literal females, but that doesn’t make the prophecy any less accurate. James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary remarks on the verse, points out that secular historians confirm that by this time in Nineveh’s history homosexual effeminacy was running rampant in the city. No doubt this at least partially explains why Nahum has so much to say about the fear and cowardice the attack of the enemy army would produce among the Ninevites (2:10; 3:11-12, 3:17-18).
In closing, what the sudden, unexpected downfall of Nineveh the city and Assyria the nation prove is that God can bring down anyone and anything if He so chooses. If He sets Himself against a nation, a group, an organization, or an individual, no amount of wealth or protection can stop Him from carrying out every last detail of His plan. The vessels through which He accomplishes His plans can vary wildly, but in the end the credit always goes to Him. The prophet Nahum prophesied to his fellow Judeans as a way of promising them that God was going to eliminate the Assyrian threat once and for all, and God made good on that promise. That, of course, is what He does, and there is coming a time when He will also make good on His prophetic promises to subdue all the kingdoms of the world and install Jesus Christ on the planet’s throne to rule and reign for 1,000 years. These prophecies are as sure as Nahum’s regarding Nineveh, and we’d be well advised to believe them and place our trust in the Jesus who will one day reign as fulfillment of them.