Unless you are a very serious Bible student, the book of Nahum is likely one you seldom read because it’s difficult to understand. However, God chose Nahum to write about anger, because God is capable of displaying His anger.
There is no Bible doctrine quite as distasteful to man as that of the anger of God. It’s one doctrine most of us would like to forget. Some people view God as One Who can’t stand the thought of punishing or judging anyone. On the contrary, God is capable of anger and judgment; sinful man must one day stand before Him in silence and trembling.
We know that God is a God of love but He is also a God of justice. It’s important to know what makes God angry and at whom His anger is directed. This prophecy of Nahum is directed against the city of Nineveh, the city God sent Jonah to preach to over 100 years earlier. When Jonah preached in Nineveh, the city truly repented in sackcloth and ashes. God's anger was withheld because everyone from the king down to the lowest citizen turned to God and repented of their sins.
One hundred years later, the people of Nineveh had returned to doing the same things that had brought them the threat of God’s judgment through the prophet Jonah.
Nahum predicted that God was going to destroy Nineveh. It was the largest Assyrian city of that day, situated on the east bank of the Tigris River in what is now modern day Iraq. His prophecy was literally fulfilled but it also applies to a future date and fate of the Assyrians who have persecuted God’s people.
Nahum means "consolation," or "comfort." While the Assyrian army was spread out around the city of Jerusalem, God told Nahum to include a message of consolation to those in Jerusalem. It was also a warning to the army that had come from the city of Ninevah, of the coming fate of their leader and their own city. The Assyrian armies, with their terrible reputation of burning and destroying and killing the children and sparing no one, were right there when Nahum declared to God’s people that God would destroy Nineveh, the capital city of their enemies.
That part of prophecy has been fulfilled, but many of the predictions of the Old Testament prophets look beyond our day to a time when the Lord will come again and enact judgment on those who persecute His people. One of the greatest proofs that the book is from God is that this destruction did occur exactly how it is described here and it was given years before it took place.
The book of Nahum is divided in four sections, each one a description of the anger of God.
Nahum 1, verses 2-6: “God is jealous, and the LORD avenges; the LORD avenges and is furious. The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies; 3. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked. The LORD has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet. 4. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, and dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither, and the flower of Lebanon wilts. 5. The mountains quake before Him, The hills melt, and the earth heaves at His presence, yes, the world and all who dwell in it. 6. Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, And the rocks are thrown down by Him.”
I am glad God is a patient God but when His patience is exhausted, watch out. The prophet gives us that picture here in verse 3.
He had given Ninevah chance after chance to repent. He had sent prophet after prophet after prophet. They did believe one prophet, Jonah, and repented from their evil ways, and God spared their judgment. But they later repented from their repentance. That is the worst thing men can do. After turning from their evil ways they went back to what they promised to forsake and this finally evoked the judgment of a very patient God.
This was no temper tantrum. God was angry. It was a controlled rage. Seven words for wrath or anger describe the anger of God in these six verses: jealous, vengeance, wrath, anger, indignation, fierceness, fury.
The second section, starting with verse 8, brings us another aspect of His anger.
Nahum 1:8-11: “But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place, and darkness will pursue His enemies. 9. Why do you conspire against the LORD? He will make an utter end of it. Affliction will not rise up a second time. 10. For while tangled like thorns, and while drunken like drunkards, they shall be devoured like stubble fully dried. 11. From you comes forth one who plots evil against the LORD, a wicked counselor.”
These verses tell us that the wrath of God, or the anger of God, can be personal, because this is all directed against a single individual. History records that verse 11 is a reference to Sennacherib, the general of the Assyrian armies. “From you comes forth one who plots evil against the LORD, A wicked counselor.”
God's anger was directed against this pagan king who deliberately tried to destroy God’s people after God, in His grace, had previously withheld His anger from this people. Isaiah 37:7. “Surely I will send a sprit upon him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”
The rumor Isaiah referred to caused the Assyrian armies to break off the siege against Jerusalem at that time. They resumed the siege later and Nahum 1:12 refers to the visit of the angel of death when Sennacherib came a second time against Jerusalem. “Thus says the LORD: "Though they are safe, and likewise many, yet in this manner they will be cut down when he passes through.” And, in verse 13, God says, “Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more;..."
Isaiah 36 and 37 tell the story of how the Assyrian armies surrounded the city of Jerusalem and taunted King Hezekiah. They told him they were going to take the city and that there was nothing that could stand against them. King Hezekiah spread these messages out before the Lord and asked God to save the city. Isaiah 37:36 tells us that at the time of the second siege the angel of death slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. That’s referred to here in verses 12-13: “Thus says the LORD: "Though they are safe, and likewise many, yet in this manner they will be cut down when he passes through. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more; 13. for now I will break off his yoke from you, and your bonds apart."
As a result of this, the remainder of the Assyrian armies went home and Jerusalem was saved.
Verse 14 was literally fulfilled in the murder of Sennacherib. “The LORD has given a command concerning you: "Your name shall be perpetuated no longer. Out of the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the molded image. I will dig your grave, for you are vile." When the angel went through the camp the Assyrian general was spared, and he returned to Nineveh. After returning from this engagement with Israel, he was worshipping his false gods in the temple and he was murdered by his own two sons who then took the crown for themselves. This fulfilled the prophecy of years before when the prophet Nahum wrote that God would deal with this man in his own temple, in the house of his gods, and make his grave there. God's anger struck him down.
In verse 15 you have the joyful shout that went up from Jerusalem when the news came of Sennacherib's death: “Behold, on the mountains the feet of Him Who brings good tidings, Who proclaims peace! O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off.”
God's wrath can be directed against a person. People say that “God is a God of love. How can He possibly punish anybody?” God is a God of love, but He is also a God of justice, and God's justice demands that He punish wrong doing. To deny this is to call God a liar. One can’t deny that God is a God of justice when we have this man singled out to bear the wrath of God because he was responsible for the persecution of God’s people.
Chapter 2 reveals still another aspect of God's anger: He is thorough. This is directed to the city of Nineveh and He says, in Nahum 2:1, “He who scatters has come up before your face. Man the fort! watch the road! Strengthen your flanks! Fortify your power mightily! Gird your loins; collect all your strength.”
This portrays the cry of a watchman looking out and seeing the armies of the Babylonians coming up to destroy the city of Nineveh. History tells us that the combined armies of Cyaxares and Nabopolasser, the father of Nebuchadnezzar, came up against Nineveh and this army is called the "Scatterer." And this is the way the account of the battle of the city of Ninevah begins. Verses 3-5: “The shields of his mighty men are made red, the valiant men are in scarlet. The chariots come with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the spears are brandished. 4. The chariots rage in the streets, they jostle one another in the broad roads; they seem like torches, they run like lightning. 5. He remembers his nobles; they stumble in their walk; they make haste to her walls, and the defense is prepared.”
This fourth verse sounds like it is describing the interstate today. It’s a description of the battle that raged in the streets of Nineveh when the Babylonians came up against it. “The chariots rage in the streets, they jostle one another in the broad roads; they seem like torches, they run like lightning.”
In verse 6 you have the exact prophecy of the manner in which the city of Nineveh would be taken: “The gates of the rivers are opened, and the palace is dissolved.”
Here is the account of how the city of Nineveh fell as recorded in secular history. "In the third year of the siege, the river overflowed every part of the city and broke down the wall for twenty furlongs. The enemy entered at the breach and took the city.” In other words, they came in through the river gates. That is exactly what Nahum had predicted years before. “The river gates are opened, the palace is dissolved.” (Nahum 2:6) That is how thoroughly God's anger works when it moves in judgment. Nothing escapes God’s grasp. We are creatures in His universe and there is no place to hide. We deal with a God who tells us over and over again that if we reject His grace, we will face His judgment.
Starting with chapter 2, verse 11, God is speaking to the city of Nineveh. We have just read how He portrays the overthrow of the city, and now He says, in verses 11-13: “Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion walked, the lioness and lion's cub, and no one made them afraid? 12. The lion tore in pieces enough for his cubs, killed for his lionesses, filled his caves with prey, And his dens with flesh.” 13. “Behold, I am against you," says the LORD of hosts, "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 be heard no more.”
The Assyrian lion was the symbol of the Assyrians, just as the bear is the symbol of Russia and the lion of England.
God was taunting them about the coming overthrow of the city. Until the last century you could have stood in the middle of this wilderness, never knowing that this was the site of a great and ancient city. Archaeologists have begun to unearth the remains of this city but for centuries it was lost, buried under the sands of the desert.
Chapter three shows just how irresistible the anger of God is. In verse 4, God gives the reasons for Nineveh's destruction: “Because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot, the mistress of sorceries, who sells nations through her harlotries, and families through her sorceries.” This is a reference to the witchcraft and the temple prostitution that was practiced in Nineveh.
God would not put up with this. Verses 5-7: “Behold, I am against you," says the LORD of hosts; "I will lift your skirts over your face, I will show the nations your nakedness, and the kingdoms your shame. 6. I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle. 7. It shall come to pass that all who look upon you will flee from you, and say, 'Nineveh is laid waste! Who will bemoan her? 'Where shall I seek comforters for you?”
Now, in verse 8 through 10, God reminds Nineveh of what had happened earlier to the Egyptian city of Thebes located on the Nile River when the Assyrians destroyed it. Verses 8-10: “Are you better than No Amon (Thebes) that was situated by the river, that had the waters around her, whose rampart was the sea, whose wall was the sea? 9. Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was boundless; Put and Lubim were your helpers. 10. yet she was carried away, she went into captivity; her young children also were dashed to pieces at the head of every street; they cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains;”
God controls history and when He decides to move against a nation, a city, or an individual who has rejected Him, there is no escape. Verses 14-15: “Draw your water for the siege! Fortify your strongholds! Go into the clay and tread the mortar! Make strong the brick kiln! 15. There the fire will devour you, the sword will cut you off; it will eat you up like a locust. Make yourself many - like the locust! Make yourself many - like the swarming locusts!”
The anger of God is pictured here. Throughout scripture we are warned to “Flee from the wrath to come.” Ironically, here He urged the city to fortify itself and He would prove His power.
God abhors the sin of pride. When a nation or a person considers themselves able to handle their own affairs and run their own life, that nation or person is doomed. When God shows mercy but that man or nation remains impenitent, then comes the wrath of God.
This is the message of Nahum to our own hearts. It applies to us both as a nation and as individuals. Nahum’s word brought comfort to a nation that was threatened by godless forces and we have a somewhat similar situation facing us and our nation today. The interesting thing is that in the Bible the Assyrians were not only the people who were actual enemies of Israel, but they were also a picture of a people yet to come who would threaten the peace of the earth and would play an important part on the stage of world history in the last days. For more on this, compare Ezekiel 38 and 39 with this prophecy of Nahum.
You notice in Nahum 2:13, God says, “Behold, I am against you, says the Lord of hosts.” And in Nahum 3:5, God says, “Behold, I am against you, says the Lord of hosts.” Ezekiel opens his great prophecy against the king of the north with these very words: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech.” Ezekiel 38:3 We can take comfort in the fact that God's judgment and destruction will come only on those nations who oppose Him and His people.
There is an individual application as well. Those who think that God is only a God of love and never of wrath can learn from Nahum that a God who is never angry would be a God who couldn’t love. God's wrath comes from his love. It is because God loves that he is angry. Doesn’t something or someone who threatens or injures someone you love make you angry? We all love ourselves. When somebody injures us we get angry with them because we love ourselves. If someone injures our child our wrath really is kindled. If it isn’t, there is something wrong with us. If someone injures one of God’s children, He gets angry.
It certainly is true that God loves the sinner but hates his sin, but that is only part of the story. The Bible tells us that if a man loves his sin and holds on to it at all costs, refusing the grace of God, then he becomes identified with his sin. And eventually the wrath of God against that sin is directed against the sinner. The Bible declares that we become identified with what we cling to.
Is there a way to escape the anger of God?
No one who turns to God for salvation
will ever experience His wrath.
The Lord Jesus said, in John 5:24,
"He who hears My word
and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life;
and does not come into judgment,
but has passed from death to life."
Nahum also tells us, in Nahum 1:7:
“The LORD is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
and He knows those who trust in Him.”