Bible Commentary: Nahum 2-3

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Nahum 2-3

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"Woe to the Bloody City!"

"Man the fort!" God sarcastically says to Nineveh in verse 1 of chapter 2—as if they could defend themselves against His judgment. It is not clear who is meant in verse 1 by "he who scatters" or "he that dasheth in pieces" (KJV). It could be a reference to God Himself. The returning Jesus Christ at the end time will dash His enemies in pieces (Revelation 2:26-28). Or it could refer to other forces God brings against Assyria. Indeed, the latter seems to be supported somewhat by Nahum 2:2, as we will see.

The King James Version translators rendered verse 2 to say that God "hath turned away" the excellence of Jacob—perhaps seeing this from the emptied and ruined state of Israel at the end of the verse. Yet many other versions, including the New King James and Jewish Tanakh, translate this to say God "will restore" the excellence of Jacob. In this picture, the emptiers (the Assyrians) have emptied and ruined the Israelites. But God will restore them—and He restores "Jacob" (the rejected, physical Israelites) to be like "Israel" (His chosen covenant people).

Thus, verses 1 and 2 appear to be telling Nineveh to defend itself against a restored Israel. It is fascinating to consider that ancient Nineveh was overthrown by a coalition of Chaldean Babylonians, Medes and Scythians—the latter being Israelites taken into captivity more than a century earlier by the Assyrians (see our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy). This may have been a partial fulfillment of the prophecy. But the ancient Scythians did not represent a truly restored Israel. This would seem to apply more to the latter days. In the future, the European Beast power is going to devastate the countries of modern Israel and empty them of most of their people. But around the time of Christ's return, God will empower a resurgence of His people—and they will be used to help bring down the end-time Beast power, to "break [Babylon] in pieces" (see Jeremiah 51:19-24; compare Isaiah 41:11-16; Micah 4:13; Zechariah 12:6; Zechariah 14:14). Furthermore, consider that spiritual Israel—the Church of God—will be glorified with divine power at this time and will accompany Jesus Christ as He confronts His enemies. Indeed, the dashing to pieces of enemies will be put in their power (see again Revelation 2:26-28).

Verses 3-4 of Nahum 2 are images of warfare—perhaps even modern warfare, as chariots with flaming torches that run like lightning could signify tanks and the like. In verse 3, the phrase "the spears are brandished" is literally "the fir trees shall be terribly shaken" (KJV).

Verse 6 says the gates of the rivers are opened, as mentioned in the previous reading. This would seem to tie back to 1:8, whether it is a literal flood or a flood of armies. In either case, the result is the same: "The palace is dissolved." Historian Will Durant writes: "Sennacherib [who came against Judah in the days of Hezekiah] raised at Nineveh a royal mansion called 'The Incomparable,' surpassing in size all other palaces of antiquity" (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 1: Our Oriental Heritage, 1963 ed., p. 282). Through the reign of Sennacherib's son Esarhaddon, the palace had deteriorated so much that, when the next emperor, Ashurbanipal—the last great ancient Assyrian emperor—came to power, he extravagantly rebuilt it (pp. 282-283). But the great palace was destroyed when Nineveh was invaded. Likewise, in the end time, the palace of the final dictator of the Beast power will be "dissolved."

Nahum 2:7 in the New King James Version begins with the words "It is decreed." But this is an attempt to translate a word of uncertain meaning, Huzzab—often perceived as a name. The immediate mention of "she...and her maidservants" would seem to support this. Huzzab comes from a root meaning "stand"—thus the idea of "establish" or "decree." But some see it as one who "stood by the king"—implying a queen (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on 2:7). This may well be related to the harlot of chapter 3, which is almost certainly to be equated with Babylon the Great, the harlot who sits as queen over the nations (see Isaiah 47; Revelation 17-18), the great ruling false church. She, the great captor, will herself be led away captive.

In Nahum 2:8, Nineveh's soldiers flee away in spite of the efforts of military leaders to rally them. Nineveh possesses enormous wealth from its plunder of other nations and the invaders are urged to take the spoil of victory (verse 9). Amazingly, the city is finally emptied (verse 10). The powerful ravenous beast is itself devoured because God has brought stronger forces against her (verses 10-13). (The symbolism of lions is appropriate for Assyria here, as its ancient emperors often compared themselves to lions in power.)

Chapter 3 recaps the whole scene in a "woe oracle," pronounced over those doomed by God. Nineveh is described as a bloody city, constantly at war, deceitful in foreign policy and plundering her neighbors (verses 1-3). We have seen the like in the Third Reich. Yet that was but a forerunner of the end-time European empire yet to appear on the world scene. But as this prophecy shows, in the end Assyria (ancient and future) will itself be bloodied and plundered.

Verse 4 describes the "seductive harlot, the mistress of sorceries"—again, clearly a reference to end-time Babylon, dominated by the Babylonian mystery religion, as described in Isaiah 47 and Revelation 17-18. Nineveh would in this sense seem to represent the spiritual capital of the coming European empire—Rome—or at least the great religion centered there. In Isaiah 47 God tells this "Lady of Kingdoms" (verse 5) that she will be punished, mentioning "the multitude of your sorceries" and "the great abundance of your enchantments" (verse 9). In Nahum 3:4 she is said to have sold entire nations. This has happened and will happen in a spiritual sense—as this system has given peoples over to the ruler of this world and His evil doctrines for her increased power and wealth. But it has also happened literally, as the Roman bishops of the Middle Ages gave peoples over to various despots to ensure the dominions of the church. There will also be a literal fulfillment when the end-time harlot participates in the selling of conquered peoples prior to Christ's return (Revelation 18:9-13). For her abominations God will cause her to be shamed, defiled and destroyed (Nahum 3:5-7; see Revelation 17:16).

In Nahum 3:8, God refers to No-Amon—the city of Thebes in Egypt. Thebes had itself sat on a great river, the mighty Nile. It had been the seat of many pharaohs and a major center of religious worship and sprawling temples. Her neighbors were allied with her, yet she fell in ignominy to the Assyrians in 663 B.C., her children slaughtered and her mighty ones taken captive (verses 9-10). Here, God announces that Nineveh will fare just as badly before His coming onslaught. Nineveh will be taken as easily as ripe figs are shaken from a tree. The soldiers of Assyria will be as drunken or as women in the coming battle and her fortresses useless (verses 11-13). Her leaders will disappear when the need for them is greatest (verse 17). They will sleep in the dust and be forgotten (verse 18). The peoples who are left will at last rejoice—relieved at the removal of the empire's continual oppression and harsh treatment of them (verse 19). All this surely came to pass in 612 B.C. as a type of what is yet to occur in the last days.

Notice historian Will Durant's account of what happened to ancient Nineveh: "Ashurbanipal died in 626 B.C. Fourteen years later an army of Babylonians under Nabopolassar united with an army of Medes under Cyaxares and a horde of Scythians from the Caucasus, and with amazing ease and swiftness captured the citadels of the north. Nineveh was laid waste as ruthlessly and completely as her kings had once ravaged Susa and Babylon; the city was put to the torch, the population was slaughtered or enslaved, and the palace so recently built by Ashurbanipal was sacked and destroyed. At one blow Assyria disappeared from history. Nothing remained of her except certain tactics and weapons of war, certain voluted capitals of semi-'Ionic' columns, and certain methods of provincial administration that passed down to Persia, Macedon and Rome. The Near East remembered her for a while as a merciless unifier of a dozen lesser states; and the Jews recalled Nineveh vengefully as 'the bloody city, full of lies and robbery.' In a little while all but the mightiest of the Great Kings were forgotten, and all their royal palaces were in ruins under the drifting sands. Two hundred years after its capture, Xenophon's Ten Thousand marched over the mounds that had been Nineveh, and never suspected that these were the site of the ancient metropolis that had ruled half the world. Not a stone remained visible of all the temples with which Assyria's pious warriors had sought to beautify their greatest capital. Even Ashur, the everlasting god, was dead" (pp. 283-284).

Let this serve as a warning to the coming Europe superpower soon to dominate the globe—as the book of Nahum is surely meant to be.