Nahum is just three chapters, and it has one theme: The Assyrians and their capital, Nineveh, will be destroyed for their sin and what they have done to God’s people. It starts with these words: “A prophecy concerning Nineveh.” It’s not going to go well with the Assyrians or their capital. And here is a description of God that most modern people, Christian or not, don’t want to think about:
2 The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The Lord takes vengeance on his foes
and vents his wrath against his enemies.
3 The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.
Nahum may have been thinking about the Assyrians when he said this, but this applies to every human being who has ever existed. We are all guilty, so we must all be punished. If it wasn’t for the vicarious nature of Christ’s atonement, we’d all have to be punished for our own sin, but Jesus took that punishment. Everything, as Jesus said of the Old Testament, points to him and the glory of the gospel.
As for Nineveh and the Assyrians, The Lord promises “they will be completely destroyed.” Yet in the middle of this bad news for Neneveh, Nahum adds these words:
7 The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
But not to his enemies. This contrast of a good and loving God, and a God of wrath and judgment is one most human beings refuse to accept. Since they don’t think they’re all that bad, why would God be angry with them. But by nature, we always underestimate our sin; the Bible won’t allow it. Jesus said when speaking about the good gifts God wants to give those who love him in Matthew 7, he says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children . . .” We, evil? Yes, every single one of us. Ontologically, in our being, our very nature is evil. And evil must be judged by a holy God.
In a sense that’s what God is communicating through Nahum. It isn’t just that the Assyrians are especially evil, though they were. Or that Nineveh will be destroyed, which is was. Of course his little book is about this, but like all of the Old Testament it is about much more, it is about Christ! I know this is redundant for anyone who happens across this humble little blog, but God is redundant because we need redundancy! Such is the power and deception of the nature of sin, and our immersion in it, in a fallen world among fallen people. We always tend to justify ourselves, to downplay our guilt, to consider God to be not too terribly unlike us, to emphasize his love to the exclusion of his holiness. If we read the Old Testament, I mean really read it, this will not be a problem.
The last two chapter are a hauntingly beautiful poetic recitation of the destruction to come upon Nineveh. The city was the largest in the world for 50 years in the 600s BC, and you can imagine it’s leaders thinking they would always be so. Not long after Nahum wrote, the city was completely destroyed by its enemies (sovereignly ordained of God), and it to this days is ruins in Northern Iraq. It’s sins judged and paid for.