God’s Wrath Against His Enemies
In verse 7 there is an obvious change of tone: “The Lord is good, a
stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.“
Praise God that we are the children of the Creator and not His enemies. I would not want to be on the opposite side, as described by Nahum in verses 2-6. Have you ever stopped to think how wonderful it is that the One whose whirlwind and storm are His way, with clouds underneath His feet, who can dry riverbeds and cause mountains to melt, is our heavenly Father, and we are His children because of Jesus Christ? What a tremendous thing it is going to be to live in eternity, to see Jesus Christ our Savior face to face, and throughout all the ages to come, to have the Creator, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, shower us with all of His abundant goodness and rewards through Jesus Christ. This is the God we love, know, and serve. The same God of whom Nahum speaks, who was going to destroy Nineveh, is our heavenly Father.
Verse 8 provides details of Nineveh’s destined destruction. “But
with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and
darkness shall pursue his enemies.” We know that the city wall of Nineveh was breached by the Babylonian army in 612 B.C., at a time of unusually high tides in the Tigris and Khoser rivers.
Verse 13 might have been especially encouraging to King Josiah.
“For now will I break his yoke from off thee, and will burst thy bonds in sunder.“ Although they had been under Assyrian oppression for many years, God was going to break it loose and tear off their shackles of occupation and tribute payments. Hearing such a prophecy may have encouraged Josiah to begin his reform. After Josiah began his spiritual reforms, Ashurbanipal died, and the Assyrian monarch who followed him, was more of a literary man, a student of history, and a lover of the finer things, rather than being a military opportunist. God used this lack of interest in military affairs as a way for Assyria to go into decline as a world power so that Nineveh could be destroyed by the Babylonians in 612 B.C.
God’s Good News
Verse 15 reads:
Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,
that publisheth peace! 0 Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, per-form
thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he
is utterly cut off.
Good news! There will be peace. Judah can celebrate her feasts and pay her vows. The wicked one is cut off completely. What a note of encouragement this must have been. Yet it was still a prophetic perfect. Nineveh would not be cut off until 612 B.C., but Nahum said that Assyria is cut off completely. In God’s eyes and therefore in the prophet’s eyes, it had already been accomplished.
Description of Destruction
Chapter 2 is the prophetic description of the siege and destruction of Nineveh by the Babylonians. As Nahum writes, we can see what is happening in the city and around the walls. The shields of the mighty men are smeared red with blood. The warriors are dressed in scarlet. The chariots, covered in polished, flashing steel, race madly in the streets. The defenders of the city run to the wall to prepare its defenses. The gates of the river are opened by the invaders and the city is destroyed.
Nineveh was once like a pool of water; an oasis in the desert. But
now, all people flee from it and no one will look back on its destruction. “Plunder the sliver and gold,” Nahum says (vs - 9). There is no limit to the treasure. There is wealth of every kind, and every desirable object. The treasures of Nineveh, Khorsabad, Calah, and Assur, were beyond compare; not only because of the riches which they brought back from their many conquests, but also because of the literary masterpieces which were collected by the Assyrians. The library of Ashurbanipal, which was destroyed, held 100,000 tablets. Among these tablets was the original Chaldean flood epic. It was a storehouse of literary treasure which was obliterated. Only recently have men uncovered Assyrian cities and found some of these ancient tablets which were not destroyed.
Verse 10 describes the sickening fear that gripped the Ninevites
when they contemplated their destruction. Then verse 11 asks, “Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions?” This is another example of the exactness of Nahum’s prophecy. Only a person on the scene at the time would have known the facts in this verse. Recent archaeological discoveries have revealed that in the cities of Nineveh and Asshur, were lions’ dens, built there because the Assyrians loved the sport of lion hunting. They went on expeditions, to capture lions alive and bring them back. They fed them in their dens until the king wanted some sport. Then they would turn a lion loose so the king could hunt the animal from his chariot. Many of the bas-reliefs contain carvings showing the king in his chariot, with his spear in hand, chasing a lion. Nahum had an exact knowledge of the lifestyle of the Assyrian monarchs in the late 7th century B. C.
Causes of Destruction
Chapter 3 describes the causes for the downfall of Nineveh. It is
ironic how very similar this chapter is to the book of Lamentations,
where Jeremiah later laments (586 B.C.) over the destruction of Jerusalem.
The two ravaged cities sound very much alike.
Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery, the prey
departeth not; The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of
the wheels, and of the prancing horses, and of the jumping
The description continues: horses charging; swords flashing; spears
gleaming; many slain; a mass of corpses; countless dead bodies. All this “Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well-favored harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts” (vs. 4).
When it happens everyone will say, “Nineveh is laid waste; “ but no
one win grieve for her. The prophet asks, “Whence shall I seek comforters for thee?”
God goes on to ask (vs. 8). “Art thou better than populous No?” No
refers to No-ammon, which was another name for Thebes. That ancient city was captured by Ashurbanipal in 663 B.C. So, Nahum 3:8 is one of the key verses for dating the book. Nahum lived after 663 and looked back historically to the defeat of Thebes at the hand of Ashurbanipal. And, he lived before 612 because he looked forward to the future defeat of Nineveh.
No-ammon (Thebes) was situated by the Nile River. Ethiopia and
Egypt were her allies. Yet she became an exile, going into captivity at
the hands of the Assyrians. Her young children were dashed to pieces on the stones of every street. They cast lots for her honorable men to see who would take them as prisoners for bounty. All her great men were bound with fetters. Some were ignominiously hanged and then dragged away.
Verse 19 summarizes: “There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is
grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee; for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?” There have been nations and men down through history whose deaths have resulted in handclapping. The Assyrian capitol was not an exception. The world was glad to hear that it was destroyed.
Is it not interesting that God used the same phrase for Nineveh
that He had used for His own people? In Micah 1:9, he said, “Her wound is incurable,“ speaking of Israel because her sins had come to Jerusalem. Like a limb with gangrene there was no saving it. The only solution was radical surgery amputation. When Israel’s wound was incurable she was amputated and discarded. Now Nineveh, in like manner, has an incurable wound. In 612 B.C. Nineveh was amputated by the Babylonians and the Medes.
LXXIX ZEPHANIAH: JUDGMENT AND RESTORATION
Nahum had prophesied prior to the time of Josiah. Zephaniah
tens us in verse 1 that he was a prophet in the days of Josiah. Josiah’s reign lasted from 640 to 609, and Zephaniah’s prophecies probably occurred prior to 623 B.C.
Summary of Contents
Zephaniah’s prophecy is wholly occupied with the subject of judgment, and its central theme is the coming Day of the Lord. He began by announcing a universal judgment on Judah in particular and on the world in general. He described the Day of the Lord as an overwhelming terror in which God’s wrath was going to consume the whole earth. Because Zepaniah’s interest was primarily in His own people in the land of Judah, the first part of his message was directed to them. Then he turned to all the surrounding nations: the Philistines, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Ethiopians (Egyptians), and the Assyrians. His presentation was almost the exact reverse of the presentation of Amos.
When the evil king Manasseh died, he was succeeded by his son
Amon, who reigned for only two years. Amon was so wicked that he
was assassinated by his servants. His son Josiah, who was only eight years old, was placed on the throne of Judah. At that time, the nation was in a sad state; a totally ruinous spiritual condition resulting from the evil influence of Manasseh and Amon.
In II Chronicles 34:3 we learned that as early as his sixteenth year,
Josiah’s heart was turned to the Lord and he began a program of moral and spiritual reforms. No doubt much of his encouragement and motivation, which included tearing down the various altars and high places, came from Zephaniah and perhaps a knowledge of the prophesies of Nahum.
Josiah was the one of whom the man of God spoke in addressing
Jeroboam I at the altar in Bethel where he said, referring to the one who would destroy that altar about three hundred years later, “Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name” (I Kings 13:2). So the king on the throne in the time of Zephaniah, was the fulfillment of the earlier prophecy of the unnamed man of God. Josiah was a good king and he would continue to reform the nation until he was killed in 609 trying to intervene and stop Pharaoh Necho from leading his armies up the Mediterranean coast. At that time, Necho took the whole land of Judah as a protectorate until 605 B.C.
Judgment on Jerusalem
After describing, in detail, all of the evil practices in Jerusalem
upon which His judgment would fall, God said (vs. 12) that He would
search Jerusalem with lamps to flush out and punish “the men that are
settled on their lees. “ They were like stagnant, putrefied wine. And, being stagnant in spirit, they were saying in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.”
God detests a neutral attitude! Remember what He said to the church
at Laodicea? “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16). He is an active God, concerned about His creation. The men described in verse 12 were deists. Deism says: “There may be a God somewhere, but He is so far out there in space, He has no concern at all about His creation; God will not do good or evil.
But God replies, “I will show you whether I am concerned. I will
see to it that your wealth becomes plunder and booty for someone else.“ The word booty was a term used in the pirate days. The pirates would hide the booty they had stolen in their treasure chests. So in the same way, the wealth of Jerusalem would become the booty of someone else. Besides this, their houses would become desolate; they would build but not inhabit them. They would plant vineyards but not drink the wine. Everything they had would become booty for the Babylonians. Zephaniah repeated the theme that the other minor prophets had proclaimed throughout their ministries; viz., everything owned by the inhabitants of Judah would very soon belong to an invading army.
The Day of the Lord
In Zephaniah 1: 14, the prophet repeated what other minor prophets,
especially Joel, had talked about regarding the Day of the Lord. He
pointed out that it was near and coming very quickly. He said that it will be a day of wrath, trouble, distress, destruction, desolation, darkness, gloom, clouds. He went on to describe, eschatologiclly, what is going to happen in the future time during the battle of Armageddon. It will have a similarity to the soon-coming invasion of the Babylonians against Judah, but it will be a day that will bring distress on all men. Sin will have caused God to pour out the blood of men like dust and their flesh like horses’ dung.
We know that in the battle of Armageddon blood will run so deep
that it will splatter up on the horses’ bridles. This is not vain imagining
or hyperbole. In 70 A.D., when Titus invaded Jerusalem, we know from the historical records that the blood was so deep that as it ran through the streets and gutters, it smothered the fires which had been fit to burn the houses. It is going to be even worse when the armies of the earth gather themselves against each other and then turn to battle the descending Christ.
Verse 18 confirms the fact that nothing a man does is going to
help him in that day. It is impossible to buy God’s mercy with silver and gold. Throughout the history of the Old Testament, kings had been able to pay off the Assyrian and Babylonian monarchs with their silver and gold and keep them, temporarily, from invading their land. But when the Day of the Lord comes, silver and gold will not suffice.
Returning to the immediate future, Zephaniah said in 2:3: “Seek ye
the Lord, all ye meek of the earth.“ Those who supported Josiah in his
efforts at reform responded to this. They were the ones who backed
him as he sought to bring the nation back from the idol worship established by his father and grandfather. They were the ones who carried out God’s ordinances and His justice. They sought righteousness and humility. They quickly responded to the message of Zephaniah 2:3. Verse 4 begins the prediction of judgment on all the nations of the world. Gaza will be abandon d, including Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron.
Throughout chapter 2, Zephaniah, under the inspiration of the Holy
Spirit, called down God’s judgment on those nations that had oppressed His people during the previous centuries.
Condemnation of Leaders
At the beginning of chapter 3, Zephaniah directed his prophecy and
judgment against Jerusalem, calling her a tyrannical city. His scathing rebuke in verses 3 and 4, identified four categories of leaders: the princes, the judges, the prophets, the priests. The princes were like roaring lions.
We think of the New Testament comparison between Satan and a roaring lion: how he stalks and seeks whom he may devour. The judges were like wolves at evening. They starved during the day and at night, under the protection of darkness, like wolves they stealthily walked around and crouched to attack the poultry in the barns. The prophets were reckless and treacherous men. He was referring here to the professional prophets, the “yes men. “
The priests had even profaned the sanctuary. In the southern kingdom they had brought in those things which encouraged and allowed the people to worship Baal in the temple of Jehovah. It was these evil things that Josiah would soon be successful in purging from the land.
An Eschatological Theme
Verse 8 picks up again with the eschatological theme. God says,
“My determination is to gather the nations.“ Compare this with Ezekiel
38:9. Then, Zephaniah 3:9 says, “For then will I turn to the people a Pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord,” and verse 13, “The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity.” Think of Micah 4:4, where God talks about the time when Israel will be restored, and where God described the time of Israel’s restoration. So, Zephaniah says in 3:14: “Sing, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, 0 daughter of Jerusalem.“ Why? “The Lord is in the midst of thee” (vs. 15).
The final verse of the book of Zephaniah summarizes the
eschatological overtones when he says, At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord.
This is similar to the earlier promise in Micah 7:10: “Mine enemy shall see it, and shame shall cover her which said unto me, Where is the Lord thy God?” So, with an eschatological promise of future return and restoration, Zephaniah terminated his prophetic message to the inhabitants of
LXXX HABAKKUK AND THE WAYS OF GOD
Habakkuk prophesied prior to 605 B.C., which was the date of the
first invasion on Jerusalem by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. We know that his ministry occurred after the fall of Nineveh in 612, because Assyria is not in the picture and the Chaldeans seem to be just rising to power as indicated in 1:5-6. This evidence gives us the date parameters of 612 to 605 B.C.
However, we can narrow it down even more because we know that
from 612 to 609, Josiah was still on the throne and his reforms in the land were still in effect. However, following his death at Megiddo in 609, at the hands of Pharaoh Necho, Jehoahaz ascended the throne and was replaced almost immediately by Jehoiakim who ruled from 609 to 597. We also know that Jehoiakim was a wicked king. The spiritual conditions described in verses 2-4 could not really have applied to the time of Josiah, but do fit very well with what would have taken place during the reign of Jehoiakim. So, I believe we can assume that Habakkuk prophesied between 609 and 605 B.C.
Summary of the Occasion
Habakkuk was faced with what he believed to be an ethical dilemma.
In the first chapter, he was concerned over the rampant sin and
iniquity which was going on unchecked in the land of Judah. He wondered why God did not do something about the sin and corruption
which was not being punished or judged. (At least seemed not to be.)
God then informed Habakkuk that He planned to punish the iniquity of
Judah very soon and that the instrument He would use was going to be the Chaldeans, a ruthless, aggressive, violent nation.
This bit of information only increased Habakkuk’s dilemma. He
was completely perplexed, because he could not reconcile the problem of how God, in His righteousness and holiness, could use such a wicked instrument as the Chaldeans to chasten His chosen people Judah. He recognized that Judah deserved punishment, but how could God use the Chaldeans who were even more wicked than Judah?
The prophet presented his problem to the Lord and then said, in
effect, “I am going to sit in a high tower and wait for You to answer me. When the answer came, Habakkuk learned that God deals with men through the principle that “The just shall live by his faith.“ The proud and wicked would perish. Evil, by its very nature is self-destructive, but the righteous individual shall live in his faithfulness.
Like the Assyrians described in Isaiah 10:5ff, the Chaldeans, in
their blind arrogance and pride, were completely unmindful of the fact
that they were the chastening rod of God to be used against His sinful
nation, and that because of their own ruthlessness, and failure to acknowledge God, they too were doomed to destruction.
God’s reply to Habakkuk implied that the righteous, godly, man
exercises a continuous and abiding confident trust in God even in the
face of all adversity and trial, and in every circumstance of life. To
Habakkuk, this meant that the just lived in faithfulness both in a time of spiritual declension, such as he was currently experiencing in Judah, and in a time of national calamity which he was commissioned to prophesy.
Habbakuk Questions and God Replies
Beginning in chapter 1, Habakkuk looked around and said, “How
long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!” There was violence in Jerusalem.
The law was being ignored. Justice was not upheld and the wicked
surrounded the righteous. When justice was attempted, it was twisted
and perverted. This sounds like much of what is occurring in our world today.
In verse 5 God spoke out, saying, “I will work a work in your days,
which ye will not believe, though it be told you.“ Then in verse 6, “I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.“ Their horses were swifter than leopards. They were dreaded and feared. They were a violent people, moving like a giant horde across the ground and collecting captives like sand. They mocked at kings and laughed at fortresses.
They had no problem overcoming walls but swept in like the
wind and then passed on leaving the city like a field after a swarm of
In the balance of chapter 1, Habakkuk presented his ethical and
moral dilemma to the Lord and then said he would build a little tower
or guard post and keep watch until God spoke to him.
The Lord’s answer began with a command (vss. 2-3):
Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run
that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at
the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it,
because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
He was speaking of the invasion of the Babylonians. Then in verse
4, God instructed, “The just shall live by his faith.”
It was from this obscure passage in Habakkuk that the Apostle
Paul developed the theme in the New Testament, in Romans 1:17,
Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38. These three books are, in effect, commentaries on Habakkuk’s text.
Woe to the Chaldeans
Beginning in 2:6, God assured Habakkuk that He would also later
judge the Chaldeans. He described their destruction with five woes.
Verses 6-8 contain the first woe because of their plunder, their blood,
and their violence. Verses 9-11 contain the second woe because of their greed, pride, and cruelty. Verses 12-14 contain the third woe because of their bloodshed and iniquity. Verses 15-17 contain the fourth woe because of their debauchery of others and the wholesale devastation which they inflicted on every nation. Verses 18-20 contain the fifth woe because of their idolatry. Verse 18 asks: “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it?” How foolish it is for a man to think he can carve something out of wood and then worship it. (cf. Isa. 44:12-19).
I recall reading a story written by a missionary. As he was walking
through the African jungle, he came upon a native carving something
from a large tree trunk. Stopping to engage in conversation he asked,
“What are you carving?” The answer was, “Maybe bedpost; maybe god.”
In other words, depending on how it turns out, he would either use it at home for furniture, or worship it as his god. This is the kind of foolish-ness Habakkuk referred to. The Chaldeans collected gods from everywhere and even worshiped the gods from nations they defeated. Verse 19 says,
Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake, to the dumb stone,
Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.
What a contrast is contained in verse 20: “The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him.“ There is only one God in all creation and He is the living Lord of heaven who had chosen to make His dwelling among His people in the land of Judah.