3:16 – The Rest of the Story – The Human Condition 3: Nahum

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition (Current location of study)
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
  • Our Response

You increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away. (Nahum 3:16)

So far in an examination of the human condition as viewed through the 3:16s of the Bible we’ve seen that all humans are sinners (from Ecclesiastes) and that all people will stand before God’s judgment someday in one of two groups – those who are in the family of God and those who are not (from Habakkuk). Today we’re going to look at the tendency of humanity to scoff at the coming judgment of God as revealed in Nahum.

Nahum was likely written before Habakkuk, but it deals with a similar topic. Just as God told Habakkuk that he was raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to overthrow Assyria, so He warns Nahum of Assyria’s impending doom. Nahum’s prophecy opens with the words “An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. (Nahum 1:1)”

Nineveh was the capital city (seat of government) for the Assyrian empire. It was spoken of in the book of Jonah as well (which will not be included in this 3:16 study because Jonah 3 doesn’t have sixteen verses). However, Jonah was written even earlier than Habakkuk and Nahum and predates the Assyrian overthrow of Israel. In Jonah’s story, Jonah was sent by God to Nineveh to call them to repentance and they repented! It wasn’t until the next generation that they overthrew Israel.

Now, returning to Nahum, the book begins with a brief song of praise to God identifying Him as “a jealous and avenging God” but also “slow to anger and great in power.” Nahum also reflects the same distinctions between the two groups I discussed in my Habakkuk study last week (Nahum 1:6-8).

Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
The LORD is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.

Notice the distinction of groups, just as in Habakkuk.

  • God’s judgment is inevitable
  • He knows who belongs to Him
  • He will put an end to his enemies

The rest of the book (1:10 to 3:19) talks about the coming judgment of God on Nineveh, and on all of Assyria. Here are some statements made in those passages. Text in [brackets] are my clarifications or comments.

  • Thus says the LORD, “Though they [the Assyrians] are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you [Judah], I will afflict you no more. And now I will break his [the Assyrians] yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.” (Nahum 1:12-13)
  • Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away [a coming mass exodus of people under attack]. “Halt! Halt!” they cry, but none turns back [leaders will unsuccessfully try to stem the retreat]. (Nahum 2:8)
  • Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard. (Nahum 2:13)
  • Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her wall? Cush was her strength; Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers. Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity; her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; for her honored men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in chains. (Nahum 3:8-10) [The people of Nineveh thought no one could destroy their city. Yet they themselves had destroyed the Egyptian city of Thebes, which was also considered indestructible. Nahum reminded the Ninevites of this and warned them that it was now their turn to see their great city destroyed.]

That last reference especially reveals something significant about the people of Nineveh. They were responsible for the overthrow of Thebes (Egypt) around 664 B.C. Nineveh (Assyria) would be itself overthrown about 50 years later. Their final downfall came fairly quickly as Babylon rose to power in a only a matter of a few years. Assyria had been a dominant power in the region and had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. Even though they were responsible for the overthrow of Thebes, God (through) Nahum is asking them why they should think they are invincible.

The Near East at the Time of Nahum
Map from the online ESV study Bible at esv.org

This brings us to Nahum 3:16.

You increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away. (Nahum 3:16)

As I stated earlier, Nineveh had repented during Jonah’s prophetic work in the 790s or so, B.C. Jonah 3:7-9 says, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” However, within a generation, they had forgotten that repentance and had risen to regional domination. They abandoned their stance of repentance and returned to their violent ways and their worship of idols.

I don’t know if Nahum’s message was heard in Nineveh, because it was written specifically for the encouragement of Judah. However, Nahum 3:16 indicates that Nineveh “increased [their] merchants more than the stars of the heavens” as if nothing bad were going to happen. They were confident in their power and domination, but God immediately likens this false sense of security to locusts. He says, “The locust spreads its wings and flies away.” Locusts in the middle east are associated with destruction. Large swarms (like the stars of heaven, if you will) will descend on a region and completely devour all vegetation. When nothing is left, they leave. The prosperity Nineveh feels will disappear just as fast. The merchants will vanish and destruction will remain in their place.

The application of this passage to the human condition is this: God has decreed that he will bring the entire world under judgment for sin. Our tendency as humans is to be complacent about this judgment and assume that we are immune. Nahum, even though his message was more specifically addressed to Assyria and Judah, spoke a global message in verses 1:5-6 – “The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.

Don’t be complacent about God’s coming judgment. God brought global judgment on the world in the days of Noah (Genesis 6-9). Jesus said, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” That day is closer today than it has ever been before, and I believe it is imminent!

See you next week as we look at Revelation 3:16!

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