Summary: God tells Israel He is killing the lion (Assyria) before He does it, so the people understand that this is not a lucky fluke. This is God, revealing his power and love for them.
I'm not sure of the best way to describe our passage for today, Nahum 2. You could call it sarcastic, or mocking. You could call it a taunt. This chapter has the kind of bite you only find in people who have been badly hurt or offended by someone, and who anticipate getting to gloat over them when disaster strikes.
Imagine that your spouse leaves you for someone else, and then gets cheated on. Or your boss fires you, and then gets fired. You may not let yourself voice the thoughts in your head... but the thoughts are right there.
And it's for this reason that lots of Christians struggle with Nahum. They think that Nahum represents a less advanced ("evolved") form of religion. They think Jesus' words about loving your enemies, and praying for those who persecute you, are at odds with Nahum.
Now, there are certainly psalms, where we have to wrestle with these questions. But Nahum, even though it's sarcastic, and mocking, and a taunt, is also something else-- Nahum tells us that these are Yahweh's own words.
And that should make us reconsider how we read it. Nahum is Scripture. It is, directly, God's word.
The chapter begins, in verse 2, with Nahum sarcastically addressing Ninevah. He calls the city to ready itself for the defense of the city. Someone is coming up against them, and now is the time to prepare:
(2:1) A scatterer has come up against you!
Guard the fortification!
Watch the road!
Make strong the loins!
Strengthen a great strength!
My wife babysits a two year old during the day, and he LOVES legos. But he is a scatterer at heart. He will tear apart the houses my children work hard to build, and doesn't stop until they are in pieces. When the scatterer comes against you, you need to ready yourself.
And we maybe smile about this, because we are talking about kids and legos. But imagine being Ninevah. You've worked hard to become THE world's superpower. You are wealthy, and strong. You're determined to keep what you have. If you heard Nahum's words, and take them seriously... you'd heed his call here. Now is the time to prepare-- both from a military perspective, and from a mental/emotional perspective. It's time to psych yourself up for what's about to come.
In verse 2, Nahum explains why the scatterer is coming:
(2) For Yahweh shall restore the pride/majesty of Jacob, as the pride/majesty of Israel.
For ravagers have ravaged them,
while their vine shoots they have ruined.
The scatterer is coming against Ninevah, why? "Because Yahweh is working to restore the pride of Jacob, as the pride of Israel."
What does this line mean?
There was a time when "Israel" was a single, undivided kingdom. Under King David, and King Solomon, the nation was prosperous, and powerful. Regionally, at least, it was a force to be reckoned with. Right now, by contrast, the kingdom has been reduced to just "Jacob." And "Jacob" has had a rough time of it-- the nation has been ravaged. "Jacob" looks more like a country after we've attacked it-- Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan.
In the last line of verse 2, we read this: "While their vine shoots they have ruined."
"Vine shoots" are the new growth on a vine. You can tell if a plant is doing well, not by how big it is, but by how well it's growing. Vine shoots are evidence of health, and prosperity, and expansion.
Ninevah has left Jacob without hope-- without any prospect for something good.
But God is going to fix that.
Starting in verse 3, Nahum gives a picture of the scatterer. He describes the assault, and siege, and capture of Ninevah. But this is not a dry historical account. It's poetic-- it's more like a series of pictures, being shown to you quickly, one after another. And you have to struggle to keep up-- it all happens really fast (which is maybe partly the point?).
Rather than break these verses down slowly, and help you make sense of it, I'll leave explanations for the footnotes (which didn't carry over to this website, sorry), and let you just get the force of it as a whole:
(3) The small shield of his warriors is dyed red.
Mighty men are clothed in crimson,
as the fire of steel, the chariots [are/shall be] on the day he appoints /prepares,
while the horses quiver.
(4) Through the streets they will act/drive like madmen;
The chariots will rush to and fro in the open places;
their appearance is like torches;
like lightning they dart.
(5) He (=the scatterer) remembers his nobles/officers;
they stumble in their marching;
they rush to her wall,
and the protective screen is put in place.
(6) The gates of the rivers have been opened,