You usually only hear about Jonah, but there’s a second book in the Bible that’s concerned with the destruction of Nineveh. Since Nineveh repented after Jonah’s warning, its destruction was held off about 150 years — until 612 B.C. According to my study Bible, Nahum probably wrote his prophecy around 620 B.C., and this time Nineveh’s destruction really was just around the corner. The city’s repentance hadn’t translated into continued faithfulness through the generations, and the people’s return to wickedness meant it was time to fulfill the prophecy of destruction made originally though Jonah.
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. (Nah. 1:1-3)
Studying a book wholly concerned with a fulfilled prophecy might seem like time that could better be spent elsewhere, but while reading through Nahum I realized it actually has quite a bit to teach us about who God is and how He works.
When God Gets Angry
In the first verses of Nahum, God is called “slow to anger” in the midst of a passage describing His wrath and vengeance. It might seem odd, but actually God’s fury at this time is an example of His being “slow to anger.”
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him (Ps. 103:8-11)
David’s Psalm is talking about God’s dealings with His own special people, but this is also what happened with Nineveh. Though the city was populated with unbelievers who oppressed God’s people, He held back His judgement when the city repented. He was “slow to anger” for 150 years, but this time there was no repentance and justice demanded a reckoning for sin.
Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts, “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 be heard no more.” Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs. (Nah. 2:13-3:1)
In Jonah, we weren’t given a list of Nineveh’s transgressions, but we have one here in chapter three: Lies, robbery (v. 1), warfare and slaughter (v.2-3), harlotry, witchcraft, the selling of nations and families (v. 4), and general “shame” (v. 5).
Your injury has no healing, your wound is severe. All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you, for upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually? (Nah. 3:19)
It’s one thing to commit sins that hurt you, but wickedness that spreads out and injures or enslaves other people is something God will not tolerate. He is slow to anger, but this sort of thing does make Him angry and will be removed. When the wound is incurable, it must be cut out to prevent further infection.
Hope For The Repentant
Even in the midst of prophecies about destruction and the outpouring of God’s wrath there is still, as always, hope.
Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him. The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him. (Nah. 1:6-7)
Even in troubles that come as part of God’s just vengeance, He is still a stronghold for those who trust in Him. In fact, getting close to God is the only safe place to be as the world draws nearer and nearer to judgement for its evils.
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:25-29)
Though the events described in Nahum took place long before Christ was even born, there are parallels for Christians today. Just as Nineveh was destroyed, the world we now live in will be shaken and removed at Christ’s second coming. Whether that happens in our lifetimes or not, our responsibility now is to listen to God and actively draw near to Him as we strive to serve Him “acceptably.”
O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off. (Nah. 1:15)