Nahum: Excuse No Evil
Long ago, the strength and power of a nation was centered in its capital. When that fell, the nation no longer figured as a ruling power on earth. We have had two examples of this kind already. The fall of Damascus in 734 B.C. ended the Syrian empire. And the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. closed the history of the kingdom of Israel. Now we are about to note the fall of three other great cities, which materially affected the history of the Jewish people. First, the fall of Nineveh in 607 B.C. overthrew the great Assyrian empire; second, the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., ending the kingdom of Judah; and, third, the fall of Babylon before Cyrus in 538 B.C., which destroyed the Babylonian empire, and released the Jewish remnant which returned to Judea. Of this remnant the Lord was born. Put these dates on the blackboard, and mark opposite the first three the names of the prophets who lived about that time and referred to these events. These five dates furnish the great landmarks in the history of the Jews after the conquest of the land. Around them all other events can be readily grouped. The sins of Israel led to its ruin, which was consummated by the rise of Assyria. The sins of Judah effected its downfall, which again was brought about by the rise of Babylon. And finally the destruction of Babylon was necessary to liberate the remnant. All events were under the guidance of Providence.
In the prophet Nahum, we have the prediction of the fall of Nineveh. The event took place, as already noted, in 607 B.C. The prophecy must therefore have been written before that date. Nahum also refers to the destruction of No, otherwise called No-ammon or Thebes, in Egypt. (Nahum 3:8-10) This took place in 664 B.C. Therefore, this prophecy must have been written between the years 664 and 607 B.C. During that period, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jehoahaz, and Jehoiakim successively occupied the throne of Judah. This would make the prophet contemporaneous with Zephaniah (Zeph. 1:1), and Jeremiah (Jer. 1:3), and doubtless also Habakkuk.
The last prophet we studied was Micah, who lived in the days of Hezekiah, down to or about the year 700 B.C. We have thus an apparent break in the time of the prophets from 700 to about 600 B.C. It is only a break, however, as far as written prophecy was concerned. The Lord continued to send prophets to Judah. (See 2 Kings 21:10.) His voice never ceased to sound in Jerusalem while needed.
That great city, Nineveh, was described when treating of the prophet Jonah. Nahum depicts the terrible cruelties of the Assyrians, which have brought upon them the just vengeance of God. The first chapter speaks of the necessity of judgment upon the wicked as a justification of God's righteousness. The second and third chapters describe vividly the siege and downfall of the city. The last verse of the book exults over the fall of the tyrant. As she treated others, so shall she be treated. The destruction of the great city was complete, so complete that the site of it remained unknown for centuries.
To understand the general meaning of this prophecy, we need to go back to the origin of the city of Nineveh. It is to be found in Gen. 10. (See A. 1130 and on.) Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. From Ham came Cush. "Cush begat Nimrod...And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel...in the land of Shinar. And out of that land went forth Ashur [Assyria], and built Nineveh...the same is a great city." Noah signifies the Ancient or Spiritual Church. Ham represents "external worship in that church corrupted." Cush or Ethiopia signifies the "interior knowledge of the Word, applied to confirm false principles." Nimrod signifies "those who have made internal worship external." Babel in the land of Shinar signifies "that kind of worship, of which the externals appear holy, while the internals are profane." Ashur coming forth therefrom signifies "that they who maintained external worship began to reason about the internals of worship" - thus false reasonings which confirm profane worship. And Nineveh signifies "the false of doctrinals" - the great system of reasonings that supports and excuses profane worship. The derivation of Nineveh is thus traced to Ham. The source of false reasonings that countenance righteous living only as an expediency is to be traced to corrupt internal worship, the worship of self and of the world. External worship includes the whole sphere of conduct, business and social life as well as that which is strictly called worship, attendance at church, etc. In the proportion then that a person "is influenced by self-love and the love of the world, there is less of life and sanctity in his worship. In proportion as his selfish and worldly love is filled with hatred toward his neighbor, there is profanity in his worship. In proportion as his hatred is filled with malice, there is more profaneness in his worship. And in proportion as his malice is filled with deceit, there is in his worship still more profanity." (A. 1182) The system of reasoning which excuses this profane worship, and which grows slowly as the feelings of enmity and hatred develop, is what is signified by Nineveh. This whole system must perish.
How early the child learns the expediency of being good outwardly, but inwardly of a contrary nature, or rebellious! And how rapidly this habit takes possession of us so that we are able to maintain an outward appearance of goodness, and yet cherish all kinds of uncharitable feelings in our hearts. The specious reasonings that excuse this kind of life are worked up gradually into a perfect system, behind which we entrench ourselves secure from the attacks of the world. How cruel to the individual are these false reasonings, permitting the indulgence of murderous feelings that destroy the love of others in a most brutal fashion. As they have dealt by the good in us, so shall they be dealt by. They shall receive no mercy. We shall exult over their utter destruction. (Nahum 3: 19) This is the note of triumph with which this prophecy closes. It is not a promise of the restoration of Judah or Israel; yet, the restitution of the spiritual self is involved in this expression of rejoicing at the destruction of the wicked. A song of peace also closes the proem to the prophecy. (Nahum 1:15) And the name of the prophet bespeaks the happy state of the soul after the conflict. Nahum means comfort or consolation, and Elkosh means probably afflicted of God. The struggle to rid self of the exceedingly troublesome bitter thoughts about others whom we dislike is a sore one. But when we have dislodged them from our hearts, and got rid of them forever through the grace of the Lord, we rejoice in the happier thoughts which are given to us in their place. "All that bear the fruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually." In the letter, this breathes a spirit of resentful exultation. No angel could feel thus. The internal sense is therefore different from that of the letter. It means simply that when we think upon the dreadful nature of false reasonings, seeking to excuse and encourage feelings of hatred, we rejoice that the Lord has delivered us from their baneful influence. It is heartfelt thankfulness that "the wicked shall no more pass through thee: he is utterly cut off." (Nahum 1:15)