The focus of the book of Nahum is the downfall of the city of Nineveh. The prophet Nahum delivers a message from God to the people of Nineveh, warning them that their time is up and their judgment is certain. Despite hearing the truth through Jonah and enjoying God's mercy in the past, the next generation of Assyrians returned to their idolatry and sin, leading to their destruction by the Babylonians. Stephen emphasizes the importance of passing on an understanding of the gospel to the next generation and not standing in their way, as well as the truth that while God is patient with unbelievers and desires true repentance, He will not overlook sin.
Winning the Second Generation
The First Great Awakening in America came to New England in 1734. For the next decade, tens of thousands of people came to faith in Christ under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards and others. In fact, in the New England states alone, more than 30,000 people became Christians, and 150 new churches were established.
As wonderful as that season of revival was in early American history, one historian noted that within fifty years, the culture in New England could be categorized as spiritually dead. Historians have suggested several reasons for this decline, including the American Revolution; but what we do know is the sad truth that the impact of the Great Awakening for the most part was limited to one generation.
Earlier in our Wisdom Journey, we saw another Great Awakening take place—the conversion of the city of Nineveh. Following the preaching of the prophet Jonah, the entire city had repented and avoided God’s judgment. But sadly, the next generation of Assyrians returned to their idolatry. In fact, less than sixty years after Jonah’s ministry to them, the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, brutally taking the Israelites into captivity (722 BC).
Now it has been 130 years since Jonah preached in Nineveh, and God has another message for the Ninevites. This time, the message is delivered by the prophet Nahum.
Unlike Jonah, Nahum does not go to Nineveh to invite the people to repent. He is not delivered by a great fish either. But Nahum delivers a message from God, and it is simply this: their time is up. God’s patience has ended, and Nineveh’s judgment is now certain.
As we open this short book of prophecy, it is interesting to me that Nahum begins, not by listing some of the sins of Nineveh, but by listing some of the attributes of God. Verse 2 says, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God [who] takes vengeance on his adversaries.” Verse 3 adds, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.” Simply put, God’s holiness demands that sin be punished, but He gives people plenty of time to repent and turn to Him.
Jonah had said 130 years earlier that the Lord is “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Jonah 4:2). And that truth was confirmed when the people of Nineveh were spared the judgment of God. God is patient, and He is merciful, and He does extend His grace and mercy to those, like the Ninevites, who repented at Jonah’s preaching.
I, for one, am glad God is patient with unbelievers because He was certainly patient with me. Until I was a senior in high school, I did not want anything to do with God, certainly not repentance. Even though I was a missionary kid and I knew the Bible, my heart was entirely rebellious.
I still knew that God is real, and I also knew I deserved His judgment; but still I was not about to surrender to His control. I wanted to run my own life. And then, by the grace and goodness of God, the Lord convicted my heart and made me realize the futility of fighting against the Creator of the universe. He opened my eyes and graciously heard my prayer for salvation.
Now, as Nahum preaches once again to the Ninevites, he describes the power of the Creator over creation, saying, “His way is in the whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (verse 3); “He rebukes the sea and makes it dry” (verse 4); and “The mountains quake before him” (verse 5).
In light of God’s power, Nahum asks in verse 6, “Who can stand before [the Lord’s] indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger?” The prophet is essentially saying, “Don’t you realize the futility of fighting against the Creator of the universe? Don’t you realize that you deserve His judgment?”
But Nineveh is not interested, or afraid, or ashamed. They had heard the truth through Jonah; they had enjoyed God’s mercy in the past; but this next generation could not care less. They were “sinning in spite of revealed knowledge.”
And what is the result going to be? The Lord “will make a complete end of the adversaries. . . . trouble will not rise up a second time” (verses 8-9). That is, their doom is certain.
The nation of Judah will welcome the news of their enemy’s ultimate destruction. But the people of Judah themselves are warned in verse 15 to follow God and “fulfill their vows.”
So here in chapter 1, God Himself—His character—is the emphasis. In chapter 2, the judgment of God on Nineveh is the emphasis.
Nahum is writing about 650 BC. We know from historical accounts that Nineveh was destroyed by the Babylonians some thirty-eight years later (612 BC). Chapter 2 prophesies in poetic form, what happened. Verse 3 describes Nineveh’s enemy:
The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet. The chariots come with flashing metal on the day he musters them; the cypress spears are brandished.
This is a powerful, well-equipped army. The Babylonians’ chariots had sharp blades extending from the sides of the chariot to cut down anybody who stood in their path.
Verse 6 says, “The river gates are opened; the palace melts away.” We also know that a river flowed through Nineveh, and there was a dam on this river just outside the city. When the Babylonian army opened the floodgates, the waters overwhelmed Nineveh, and the king’s palace melted away—it literally disintegrated in the flood. With that, the invaders entered the city and plundered it.
Verse 10 describes the panic in the city: “Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale!” History also records the fulfillment of Nahum’s prophecy that the Lord would “make a complete end” of Nineveh (Nahum 1:9). The city was leveled, and it has never been rebuilt.
Keep in mind, though, that it was not the power and strategy of the Babylonians that brought the downfall of the city. They were not Nineveh’s most fearful enemy; the Lord was. We read in verse 13:
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.
Now again, why was the Lord carrying out this destruction of Nineveh? Chapter 3 gives us the reasons. In verse 1 Nineveh is called the “bloody city,” and the last verse of this chapter speaks of the Assyrians’ “unceasing evil.”
The brutality and cruelty they inflicted on others—for centuries—is now going to fall on them. The Babylonians will spare no one. Verse 3 here in chapter 3 describes the “heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end.”
There are two timeless truths for us today in this little book of prophecy. First, while God is patient with unbelievers and desires true repentance, He is not going to overlook sin. That, of course, is why He sent His Son Jesus into the world. We will either trust in Jesus Christ as the one who paid for our sins, or we will pay for them ourselves eternally.
Second, we need to be diligent to pass on to the next generation an understanding of the gospel. They need to see a genuine demonstration of our walk with God. We cannot guarantee that the next generation will follow Christ, but we can be sure that we do not stand in their way.
We can’t force anyone to believe, including our children, but we can, as individuals, as families, as churches, teach them by our lips and with our lives what it means to walk with God.
 Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries (Zondervan, 1967), 401-2.
 William W. Sweet, The Story of Religion in America (Baker, 1950), 137.
 Paul N. Benware, Survey of the Old Testament, Revised (Moody Press, 1993), 233.
 Charles L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Moody Press, 1990), 194.