When God is against you there is no survival. The author of Hebrews warns that it is a “dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31). The prophet Nahum warns the people of Nineveh that this is their dreadful reality. They are about to swept away. The judgement of Nineveh serves, however, as an encouragement to the oppressed people of God. We too can take hope that when justice seems to be lost, God will one day make all right.
The lengthy, detailed, somewhat startling depiction of Nineveh’s impeding doom is intentionally worded to demonstrate God’s retribution for Assyria’s wickedness. So the verses start with the language of “the scatterer” (v. 1) Assyria was well-known for their tactic of dispersing the people whom they enslaved. They would send them off all over their Empire in order to keep them in greater subjugation, making communication and ethnic rootedness more complicated – if not impossible. But now they will be scattered themselves. In addition, God notes that they are being punished in part for their plundering of Israel (v. 2). The reparations involve, plundering of Assyria by another invader (v. 9). What they had previously done to nations and peoples they will now be forced to experience.
The declaration of judgment is all predictive prophecy. It is describing a scene that is still several years away from realization. Yet, the prophet describes it as if it is present tense. It is a reality that will come. God has spoken! So, he warns Nineveh to prepare themselves. “Get ready.”
Man the ramparts;
watch the road;
dress for battle;
collect all your strength. (v. 1)
The whole chapter vacillates back and forth between describing the invading army and all its threatening power – they have shields covered in blood and powerful weaponry (v. 3); they have speeding chariots, so fast they look like passing lights (v. 4) – and then reverting back to the people of Nineveh who stumble in panic (v. 5), and who tremble in fear (v. 10). The interplay between the two groups shows the seriousness of the forthcoming judgment.
The text describes God’s use of means to judge the wicked and unrepentant. As God had previously used Assyria to judge Israel, now He was going to use another nation to judge Assyria. Their own wickedness is not excused. Ultimately, however, the text climaxes in noting that the judgment is from God and not from man. God is the one who is bringing about their desolation. So, verse 13 reads:
Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.
Here it is God who is the actor. It’s not the mighty men, armies, or chariots who will devour. It is the Lord. Our God is a God of justice who will ultimately act to make all things right. This is the vital message of both warning and encouragement that readers need to take away from the text.
On the one hand the prophecy is a warning to Nineveh. This is what is coming. It is a warning to all nations who would oppose God and submit themselves to wickedness. Yet, it is also an encouragement and comfort to Israel. It is a gracious reminder that evil will not always win; God will enact justice.
There are many who wrestle with the evil in our world, or perhaps more personally – the evil done to them. We are prone to cry out like the prophet Jeremiah, “Why do the wicked prosper” (Jer. 12:1). God has a gracious and startling reminder for us, though. When the world looks like it is at its darkest point, light breaks forth from it. The cross is the greatest evidence of this. For when darkness covered the land (Mark 15:33), at the moment of greatest sorrow in the history of the world, when the greatest evil was being committed, Christ was dying to save sinners and to condemn evil.
His cross is the evidence that even in the most terrible moments God is up to something. And either sinners and evildoers will be saved by Christ’s payment for their sin, or they will suffer the wrath of God personally. Our God is a God of justice and the cross is the reminder that there are two ways to find that justice satisfied: either repent and turn to God, or face His wrath head on.