Summary: God had graciously spared Nineveh in Jonah's day. But their repentance did not last. Josiah started a reformation but it did not last either. Judgment awaits those who trample upon the grace of God.
Don’t Trample on God’s Grace: An Overview of the Book of Nahum
We continue our study in the Minor Prophets today by taking a look at the Book of Nahum. We don’t know all that much about the prophet. Nahum identifies himself as an Elkoshite, but scholars have difficulty identifying what “Elkoshite” means. Typically, this type of identification identifies a town or village or perhaps a clan. Some see it as the city of Capernaum which is named after the prophet. Jesus did much of his ministry there. We cannot pinpoint exactly when he prophesied, but Nahum uses the sack of the city of Thebes in Egypt as an example of what was going to happen to Assyria. As this happened in 653 BC, we can surmise that the book was written after this event. The destruction of Nineveh prophesied by Nahum happened in 612 BC. So we can generally ascribe the date of Nahum as being between 653BC and 612BC.
The books of Jonah and Nahum deal with the Assyrian Empire. Jonah dates about a hundred years earlier than Nahum. Even in those days, Assyria was known as a wicked and violent nation. They forced smaller nations around them to submit to them or suffer humiliation and violence. Israel and Judah both were victim of Assyrian aggression. This is why Jonah was so reluctant to preach to Nineveh. He was afraid that if He obeyed the LORD, that the people would repent and the LORD would relent from the destruction of Nineveh. Jonah 4:2 tells us that this is why Jonah fled to Tarshish. He knew that the LORD is gracious, merciful, kind, and would spare Nineveh. The piling on of adjectives by Jonah really shows how gracious God really is. Assyria truly repented at the preaching of Jonah, and the city was spared from destruction in Jonah’s day.
However, the national repentance did not last long. Within a generation, Assyria would invade Israel and take those who survived into exile. It is true that God used Assyria to punish the infidelity of Israel, but they were most cruel in doing so. They would strip the captives naked and put a ring in their noses. Then they attached a rope to the ring and led them away. In another generation, Sennacherib would come against the Kingdom of Judah as well. Were it not for the intercession of Isaiah and Hezekiah to the LORD, they would have suffered the same fate as the Northern Kingdom. God was most gracious at this time to the undeserving Judah. God slew the larger part of the Assyrian army besieging Jerusalem. Sennacherib would then be assassinated upon his return home.
The Assyrians had not only resumed their evil ways, but they trampled upon God’s people. They boasted in their victory over Yahweh. In doing this, they trampled upon the grace that had been previously given by Yahweh. The Book of Nahum was written to prophesy that the LORD was going to destroy Nineveh. This would happen at the hands of the Babylonians.
The Foolishness of Stirring up God’s Wrath (Nahum 1:1-15)
Other than the mention of Nineveh in verse one which serves as an introduction to the book, the first chapter is generic. This is the way the LORD feels about anyone or any nation that stirs up God’s anger. Verse 2 is what is called a chiastic construction. We see this in the words “jealous” and “takes revenge” in the first part of the verse and “takes revenge” and “furious” in the second line. The doubling of the middle element places stress upon the idea that God is about to avenge Himself. This is certain. “Jealousy” in the first line is a state of mind. “Furious” in the second is the acting out of this jealousy. The LORD had been patient. He is slow to anger. But when His anger is kindled, His fury burns hot. Assyria had backslid a long time before. But this did not mean that Assyria stood acquitted. Vengeance was coming, and that soon.
The LORD is sovereign over all the earth. His will will be acted out. No one can stop Him. He is the LORD over the storms and the rivers. The mountains shake, the hills melt, and the earth is set on fire. If the LORD can do this, then all resistance by people is futile. But in this judgment, there is still an olive branch of peace held out. This same LORD is also a stronghold in the day of trouble. He is by nature good. He knows who trust in Him. This is a call to faith. If Nineveh repented even at this time, the LORD would relent. But Nineveh, the capital of Assyria did not repent, this time.
Now the LORD reassures Judah. He calls them to repentance. They are to keep the solemn feasts. This is something that Josiah, the King of Judah did. He did much to restore the true worship of Yahweh in Judah. If Judah would have continued on the path of national repentance, then the LORD would have remained their stronghold against the enemies. Unfortunately, the repentance of Judah did not hold. After Josiah’s death, Judah resumed their wicked ways. Their destruction would come much quicker than that of Nineveh. They would soon go into Babylonian captivity. God had shown the nation grace. But Judah chose to trample upon this grace. They would be no better off than Nineveh in the end. God sent prophets to warn them. He gave them every opportunity to repent. But they would not.