Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book of Nahum or not, but it’s a rather difficult read. I’m not saying he uses big words or anything, but it’s hard to find any real message in Nahum that one can learn from. The book of Nahum is a prophecy about the coming destruction of Nineveh, and that’s pretty much all it reads as too. Most prophets talk about repentance or justice, but Nahum just talks about Nineveh getting leveled. It just so happened though that God gave me the key to unlocking this short book when I was setting up my Bible read through. You see, after reading Nahum, I read Psalm 127 by Solomon, and he helped me understand the message we can get from Nahum.
To get a feel for Nahum, let’s check 2:1-2,
An attacker advances against you, Nineveh.
Guard the fortresses,
Watch the road, brace yourselves,
Marshal all your strength!
The Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob
Like the splendor of Israel,
Though destroyers have laid them waste
And have ruined their vines.
Notice that God tells Nineveh to get ready, but then promises to restore Israel, which for all intents and purposes is an enemy to Nineveh. So it’s like saying “Hey, get ready, because I’m going to punch you in the face and then give that guy an ice cream cone.” And that’s pretty much the summary of Nahum right there. While reading the three chapters of this I kept praying, “What’s the point, Lord? You did the same thing in Obadiah in one chapter (and with more sense) as this book is doing in three non-stop-promise-of-destruction chapters.” Little did I know that God had set things up for me so that I’d read the key to unlock it after finishing. And I also did not know that the Holy Spirit was waiting to explain all of it.
And so I read something like,
The river gates are thrown open
And the palace collapses.
It is decreed that the city
Be exiled and carried away.
Its slave girls moan like doves
And beat upon their breasts (Nahum 2:6-7).
After reading though I don’t really know what to do with it. God said that the city is marked for destruction. There’s no redemption plan, no “but if you repent” clause or anything, not even a reason given for the destruction. Just: “I’m gonna destroy Nineveh and it’s gonna suck for everyone there.” Enter Solomon in all of his wisdom. We read in Psalms 127:1,
Unless the Lord builds the house,
Its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
The watchmen stand guard in vain.
So when we ask, “Why is Nineveh doomed to destruction?” The answer is because they built the city without God and then continued to run it without God. Solomon tells us that anything that is made without God will eventually fall. Therefore, when Nahum tells us that it is decreed that the city will be exiled, this isn’t a new promise of God, but rather an established fact. Nineveh was built without God; therefore its end is inevitable.
Ok, let’s try this with some more of the prophecy against Nineveh,
Plunder the silver!
Plunder the gold!
The supply is endless,
The wealth from all its treasures!
She is pillaged, plundered, stripped!
Hearts melt, knees give way,
Bodies tremble, every face grows pale.
Where now is the lion’s den,
The place where they fed their young,
Where the lion and lioness went,
And the cubs, with nothing to fear?
The lion killed enough for his cubs
And strangled the prey for his mate,
Filling his lairs with the kill
And his dens with the prey (Nahum 2:9-12).
Seriously, what is this? Nineveh is going to be plundered, sure, but then we move from money to lions. Well, keep note that the lions are doing their job, they kill for their family. So what Nahum is talking about are the workers of Nineveh, those who were working hard all day to fill up their houses with riches. What does Solomon have to say about this? Psalms 127:2 says, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat- for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Solomon explains this passage by reminding us that if we’re working without the Lord in our hearts, then we’ll be working for nothing, since without God, toil is in vain. Therefore, all that work the lion put into building up his household was pointless since the Lord will plunder all of Nineveh. Jesus actually talks about this in his teachings as well. In Luke 12 there is a parable about a rich man. He works and ends up with a bumper crop of food, in fact, more than he can handle. Now instead of using his food to help others, he decides to store up all he has and live off of it (which I think a lot of people hope to do even today). To that we read,
But God said to him, “You fool! This very night you life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God (Luke 12:20-21).
Jesus agrees with Solomon that any toil done without the Lord is in vain. So, when we read Nahum we can understand that one of the reasons for its destruction is that the people were selfish and self-seeking. Therefore not only have they lived without God, but they are worshiping the idols of man and money.
Now here comes a really harsh passage. Scripture records,
Are you better than Thebes,
Situated on the Nile, with water around her?
The river was her defense,
The waters her wall.
Cush and Egypt were her boundless strength;
Put and Libya were among her allies.
Yet she was taken captive and went into exile.
Her infants were dashed to pieces
At the head of every street.
Lots were cast for her nobles,
And all her great men were put in chains (Nahum 3:8-10).
In this God tries to talk around it a little, but Nahum mentions that while older men were sold into slavery, the babies were brutally murdered in other godless nations (and therefore it will happen in Nineveh too). Why in the world do we need to know about this? Well, this one is a bit more of a stretch, but check out the ending to Psalm 127,
Sons are a heritage from the Lord,
Children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
Are sons born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
Whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
When they contend with their enemies at the gate (Psalms 127:3-5).
In this, Solomon tells us that children are a gift from God. He also goes on to note that for the righteous, the Lord will protect one’s children. However, since Nineveh is marked for destruction and is in fact soon to face it, the Lord reminds them that he is the one who gives life, and should he choose, he can take it away- even in kinda graphic ways.
I know this isn’t the most uplifting message, but then again, Nahum isn’t the most uplifting book of the Bible. But I want you to keep something in mind: God is good. In fact, Nahum (despite his prophecy) agrees. He writes,
The Lord is good,
A refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
But with an overwhelming flood
He will make an end of Nineveh;
He will pursue his foes into darkness (Nahum 1:7-8).
Before you complain that Nahum ruined a perfectly good highlight-able line with another prophecy of destruction, keep in mind where he’s coming from, which is in the next verse, “Whatever they plot against the Lord he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time” (Nahum 1:9). Nineveh was an enemy to Israel, and so God was taking vengeance for his people (remember how he promised to restore Israel in the first passage). Nineveh was a city built on sin, filled with sin, and conceiving even more evil. God (through Nahum) didn’t give them a chance to change- but you aren’t Nineveh. Nineveh never knew of Jesus, and they were overturned long before the sacrificial death of Christ on a cross. Jesus died for you to make you pure and to give you the forgiveness you need. It doesn’t matter who you are, how evil you’ve been, what you’ve done or any of that. For it is written,
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant (Colossians 1:21-23).
And you can take Paul’s word for it, because before Christ came into his life, he persecuted Christians to their deaths. Yet, just like you can be, Paul was saved by the grace of our risen Lord and Savior. Salvation and forgiveness is so easy if you really want it. Paul tells us in Romans 10:9-13,
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
Trust in the Lord Jesus, know that God is good. Nineveh’s time may have run out, but now is your time!