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As I come to each new book and chapter of the Bible, some folk kid me that I always say it is the greatest book or chapter. Very candidly, I must say that the little Book of Nahum is not the greatest in the Bible, but it is a great book, and it is in the Word of God for a very definite purpose. I dare say that very few people have ever heard a sermon from the little Book of Nahum. This book has received some attention from those who speak “the wild utterances of prophecy mongers,” as Sir Robert Anderson calls them. These sensationalists would have us believe that Nahum prophesied of the automobile when in the second chapter he says that “The chariots shall rage in the streets” (Nah. 2:4). That, of course, has no reference at all to the automobile, as we will see when we come to it.
What we do have in the Book of Nahum is a remarkable prophecy, but one which seems very much out–of–date. To begin with, we know very little about Nahum personally, and he has just one theme: the judgment of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. This is all his prophecy is about, and it has already been fulfilled; so how can this book be meaningful to us today? How can it fit into our common and contemporary culture? Does Nahum have a message for us? The remarkable thing about the Word of God is that no matter where we turn we find a message for us. Some is specifically directed to us, but all of it is for us—that is, it has a message for us.
The writer is Nahum, and his name means “comforter,” but the message that he gives is one of judgment. How in the world can Nahum live up to his name? How can he be a comforter? Well, it is owing to how you look at the judgment. If it is a judgment upon your enemy, one of whom you are afraid, one who dominates you, then judgment can be a comfort to you.
Nahum is identified in the first verse of the book: “The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.” Who is an Elkoshite? Well, there are several possible identifications of the city of Elkosh. (1) There was a city of Elkosh in Assyria, a few miles north of the ruins of Nineveh. Nahum could well have lived there and prophesied to Nineveh, as Daniel did to Babylon later on. Very candidly, I do not think that is true; I believe that the content of the book reveals that Nahum did not go to Nineveh. I do not think he was there, nor was he ever called to go there. (2) Another explanation which is offered is that there was a village by the name of Elkosh in Galilee. Jerome recorded that a guide pointed out to him such a village as the birthplace of Nahum. I had that pointed out to me also when I was over there. However, the first time this was ever pointed out was a thousand years after Nahum lived, making such a view largely traditional. Also, Dr. John Davis gives the meaning for Capernaum as “the village of Nahum.” If Capernaum is a Hebrew word, then this is the evident origin, and we have no reason to believe otherwise. Nahum was either born there, or he lived there as a boy. (3) Also, down in Judah there was a place called Elkosh. Elkosh seems to have been a common name. We have certain place names in this country of which you will find one in practically every state. You will find a city of the same name in California, in Texas, and then maybe way up in Connecticut. Evidently, Elkosh was a common name like that.
It is the belief of many that what actually happened was that Nahum was born up in the northern kingdom of Israel—which would explain his great attachment to the northern kingdom—but that he later moved down to Elkosh, a place in the south of Judah. He probably went down there as a lad and was raised in the southern kingdom.
The man who wrote this prophecy evidently knew something about Sennacherib’s attack upon Jerusalem. It seems to be an eyewitness account that is given in the first chapter. When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invaded Judah during the reign of Hezekiah, Nahum was probably an eyewitness. This would mean that Nahum was a contemporary of both Isaiah and Micah, and this is the belief of some Bible expositors. I personally have not decided on any definite date at all. There are many dates which have been assigned to this book and this prophet. Dates are suggested anywhere from 720 B.C. to 636 B.C. by conservative scholars. It seems reasonable to locate Nahum about one hundred years after Jonah. He probably lived during the reign of Hezekiah and saw the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel, and he was greatly moved by that, of course.
Nahum sounds the death knell of Nineveh. He pronounces judgment by the total destruction of Assyria, Nineveh being the capital of that nation. Nahum maintains that God is just in His judgment of this nation.
Actually, I like to study the little Books of Jonah and Nahum together because it was between 100 and 150 years before Nahum appeared on the scene that Jonah went to Nineveh with a message from God. When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and to bring a message there, a remarkable thing happened—the entire city turned to God—100 percent. Frankly, there has never been anything quite like it in the history of the world. We simply do not seem to have anything else that could compare to an entire city, 100 percent, turning to God. How far–reaching it was in the nation I do not know, but certainly Nineveh, as the capital city, had a tremendous effect upon the nation, and there was a great turning to God in that day.
The question naturally arises: How did it work out? Did it last? Did this nation become a godly nation? And the answer is no—they didn’t. In time the revival wore off. In time they went back to their paganism. In time they became as brutal as they had been before. This nation had had a message from God, but now here comes Nahum with another message. I do not think that Nahum actually went to Nineveh. I believe that this man lived in the southern kingdom of Israel, and I don’t think he left there. But if God sent Jonah to Nineveh, why did He not send Nahum? Well, God’s methods vary. God certainly is immutable—He never changes—but He does change His methods at times. He sent Jonah to Nineveh because Nineveh was a great, wicked city, but they were totally ignorant of God. When the message was brought, the city turned to God, all the way from the king on the throne to the peasant in the hovel. As a result, God spared the city. Now 100 to 150 years have gone by, and the city has relapsed and returned back to its old way. Why doesn’t Nahum go? Because they have already had the light, and they’ve rejected it.
The Lord Jesus spoke about light that is rejected. He said, “… If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). How can light be darkness in anyone? Light that is darkness is the rejection of the Word of God. There are more Bibles in this country of ours than any other book; it is the best–selling, but least read, book. Assyria was a nation that had had light, but what was the net result? “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”
Assyria had had light—God had sent a message to them—and for awhile they turned and served the living and true God. It was a revival in the common sense of the term. It was wonderful, but it didn’t last. Isn’t that really the history of revivals? At the same time that France had a revolution, England had a revival under the Wesleys and Whitefield. There was a great turning to God, but how did England make out? Well, look at her today. At that time they were a first–rate nation. They were number one among the great nations of the world, but they are not number one today. They aren’t number two; they aren’t even number three. They are way down on the list today. What happened? They departed from the living and true God.
The first time I visited England, I asked my guide to take me to the cemetery across from Wesley’s church where Wesley is buried. The guide had difficulty. He and the driver talked it over, looked at the city map, and finally wound their way through the streets of London until we arrived at the place. The guide said to me, “This is the first time I’ve ever brought anyone here. I think I will put it on our route and will bring people here when we take tours. I didn’t know it was here.” England had forgotten John Wesley. They had forgotten the great revival that took place under him. As a result, she has sunk down to a very low level for a nation which has had such a tremendous history. Those of us who had ancestors in the British Isles—whether in England, Wales, Scotland, or Ireland—have to bow our heads today in shame. We feel like weeping when we think of the greatness of that nation and how at one time they listened to the voice of God. How like Nineveh! When Nineveh was no longer listening, Nahum said, “I’m not going over there. I’m not going to waste my time because there is no point in it. They have passed the point of no return.”
And has this nation of mine come to that place today? This little book has a message for us, my friend. Quite a few years ago I cut out this little clipping which reads:
A United States Senator has stated that the average life of the great civilizations of the world has been about 200 years. He goes on to say that these civilizations have progressed (if that’s the right word) through the following stages:
from bondage to spiritual faith
from spiritual faith to courage
from courage to liberty
from liberty to abundance
from abundance to selfishness
from selfishness to complacency
from complacency to apathy
from apathy back to bondage
The Senator points out the interesting fact that the United States of America will be 200 years old in 12 years. Which of the above stages do you think we’re in? How much longer is our civilization going to last?
This nation has now passed its two–hundredth anniversary. Think about this for just a moment. Where are we today? Are we a nation of abundance? Yes, but the Lord is beginning to cut us short. “From abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency”—is that a picture of us today? “From complacency to apathy”—there is an apathetic condition in our nation today. The next step, according to the senator, is “from apathy back to bondage.”
This is the picture that is given of Nineveh, and this is the message of Nahum. A great world power, Assyria, with Nineveh as its capital, had a message from God. They turned to God and served God for a period of time. I do not know how long they served Him, but after 100 to 150 years had gone by, they were right back where they were before. Now God is going to judge them. The question arises: Is He right in doing it? Nahum will say that He is not only right in doing it, but that He is also good when He does it. Some folk think the Book of Nahum should be called “Ho hum”! However, Nahum is a thrilling book to study because it reveals the other side of the attributes of God. God is love, but God is also holy and righteous and good. And God still moves in the lives of nations; therefore, this book speaks right into where we are today.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 30: Nahum & Habakkuk. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)