Nineveh’s Certain Fall

Part 1 of 2

Nahum 3 continues the theme of the fall and destruction of Nineveh, particularly its certainty. We may divide the chapter into three parts. From verses 1-7, we have a sketch of the sins and humiliation of the city. Then from verses 8-13, we have a comparison of Nineveh with the capital of Egypt, and finally from verses 14-19, we have a picture of its fall despite its strength.

We’ll focus on the first two in this article and cover the third in the next.

A Sketch of the Sins and Humiliation 
of Nineveh (vv. 1-7)

Verse 1, “Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not;”

The chapter begins with a pronouncement of woe or curse upon the city. Woe to Nineveh! And then the verse says four things about the city.

First, it is a bloody or bloodthirsty city. It delighted in shedding the blood of others and relished the opportunity to inflict yet more destruction on others.

Second, it is a whole city full of lies. The text literally reads, “all of it is a lie.” The people used lies and deceit to accomplish their purposes. For years, the Assyrians lied to the nations, promising prosperity but bringing about destruction.

Third, it is a city full of robbery or plunder. The term “robbery” suggests a forced ripping of a person’s possessions from him.

Fourth, verse 1 says that “the prey departeth not.” What this means is that there is no end to this preying on or this victimizing of weaker nations and people.

Next, in verses 2-3, we find a striking and terrifying picture of the military action that takes place at Nineveh and the resulting slaughter of the people there.

At first, only the noise or crack of the whip is heard, then the distant noise or rumble of the chariot wheels. But in a short time, the galloping horses and the bounding chariots appear in sight, and finally the horsemen charging with flashing swords and glittering spears come into focus, and then the slaughter begins.

Verse 3 speaks of a multitude of slain, a great number or a heap of carcasses, and finally, no end of the corpses so that the invaders themselves stumble over these dead bodies. It is remarkable that in just this one verse, three different terms for dead bodies are used. The point is clear – death has come upon and prevailed over the city. As far as the eye can see, dead bodies lie all over the place. Heaps of them piled up high all over.

Now understand that although this destruction came upon Nineveh when the combined forces of the Babylonians and Medes attacked it, nevertheless, it is ultimately the Lord who brought it to pass. And to be more specific, it is the Lord’s Messiah or Anointed One, who accomplishes this work of Judgment.

Listen to what Psalm 110:5-6 says, “The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.”

From the context of that Psalm and from the way the New Testament quotes it, it is clear that this Lord refers to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. And so even in the midst of the destruction and carnage at Nineveh, we are given a picture of Christ and His work.

Dear friends and brethren, understand that the Lord Jesus Christ is not only the gentle saviour of His people, He is also the great and awesome judge of all mankind. He is both the Lamb of God and the lion of the tribe of Judah.

We must never think that Christ is so meek and lowly and gentle, that He will never demonstrate His wrath or anger against anyone. That is simply not true. He has done it before, and He will do it again. All who refuse to submit to His authority and humble themselves before Him will experience the fierceness of His wrath.

Oh do not wait until it is too late. Seek Him even now. Confess your sins, and call upon His name to save you. All who diligently and sincerely seek Him will be saved. 

Verse 4, “Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts.”

The scene shifts from the destruction of the city back to its sins. The Assyrians are guilty of harlotry or whoredom. Like a harlot or prostitute who entices men with her beauty and charm, so the Assyrians entice poorer and weaker nations with their wealth and power.

These weaker nations fall prey to the Assyrians. They look to Assyria for protection and material wealth but eventually find themselves ensnared and destroyed by her.

But not only is Nineveh likened to a harlot, she is also compared to a mistress of witchcrafts. The city is no amateur when it comes to sorcery and superstitious practices and black magic. Instead, she is a master of these things, which God hates and forbids. The Assyrians were very superstition and wholly dedicated to sorcery.

And so by acts of whoredom and witchcraft, nations and families were ensnared by her and eventually destroyed.

But the Lord will deal justly with Nineveh as verses 5-7 say.

“Behold, I am against thee, saith the LORD of hosts; and I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame.

And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazingstock.

And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters for thee?”

Notice how many times the LORD addresses Nineveh in the first person, declaring that He Himself will exercise judgment against her. Behold, look, see, note well – I, Jehovah, am against thee. It is a fearful thing when the Almighty God sets Himself against someone.

Then having declared His opposition to Nineveh, the LORD goes on to declare, in five different ways, His determination to expose the shame and depravity of Nineveh.

He will uncover her skirts before her own face, He will show the nations and kingdoms her nakedness and shame, He will cast abominable or detestable things on her, He will mock her like a fool, and finally, He will present her as a gazingstock or make her a spectacle.

In other words, her depravity will be exposed and made public. People will see her for what she is and not what she appeared to be all this while. International shame and disgrace will replace her beauty and charm.

The result of this public exposure and humiliation is pictured in verse 7. All who see her will flee from her saying, “Nineveh is in ruins. Who will grieve for her?”

The last question of verse 7, “whence shall I seek comforters for thee?” is spoken by the LORD. This is a remarkable statement. So complete is Nineveh’s destruction and so great is her sorrow that even the LORD Himself is unable to find anyone to comfort her.

Now obviously, this is a highly figurative description of Nineveh’s utter devastation. But it does remind us of something very important – that comfort and consolation cannot be found apart from the LORD. If the LORD Himself does not give comfort and consolation, then no one in this world can.

Are you seeking for comfort and encouragement and consolation in the midst of the harsh realities of life? Please understand that you won’t find it as long as you remain in the city of Nineveh and are living in sin and rebellion against God. Come out of that city of destruction. Come out and then the Lord Himself will be your comforter and consoler. He will be a Father to you and you will be His dear children.

This theme of the certain fall of Nineveh continues in the second part of the chapter from verses 8-13 where a comparison is made between Nineveh and the Capital of Egypt.

A Comparison of Nineveh with 
the Capital of Egypt (vv. 8-13)

Verse 8 reads, “Art thou better than populous No, that was situate among the rivers, that had the waters round about it, whose rampart was the sea, and her wall was from the sea?”

The word translated “populous” is literally the word Amon. The city of populous No or literally No-Amon also commonly known as Thebes was a very important city in ancient Egypt. In fact, we could even think of Thebes as the capital city of Egypt in those days.

So this second part of the chapter begins with a question to the people of Nineveh – are you better than Thebes? Obviously, the answer is No! Nineveh was no better than this other major rival city.

Verse 8 goes on to describe its natural defences. The mighty river Nile, which was about half a mile wide at that point, along with canals and channels from the Nile surrounded most of Thebes, and was an important aspect of the city’s strong defence system. These waterways served as a year-round buffer and a natural outer wall for the city. Now Nineveh too had some protection from the river Euphrates but that protection pales in comparison to what the Egyptians at Thebes had.

Then beyond her natural defences, Thebes was also surrounded by warlike nations that were her allies and blood-relatives. Verse 9, “Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was infinite; Put and Lubim were thy helpers.”

Ethiopia or Cush was the nation located in the southern Nile valley. In 2 Kings 19:9, we read about them coming out to oppose Sennacherib when he was invading Palestine, so the Assyrians themselves would have experienced firsthand the strength of the Cushite army.

Next, Egypt in verse 9 refers to the military aid that came from the northern parts of Egypt. Then there was Put and Lubim, which probably refers to the Libyans located West of Egypt.

So all around Thebes were nations that were powerful and willing to come to the aid of the capital city of Egypt. The word “infinite” in verse 9 simply means “no end” and probably refers to the endless number of troops available to Thebes.

Now compared to them, Nineveh did not enjoy such a favourable position. Nineveh was not surrounded by nations and people who were so able and willing to come to her defence in time of crisis or need. Nineveh was inferior to Thebes both as to its natural defences and its surrounding allies. 

Verse 10, “Yet was she carried away, she went into captivity: her young children also were dashed in pieces at the top of all the streets: and they cast lots for her honourable men, and all her great men were bound in chains.”

Despite the strength and resources of the Egyptian capital, she fell. Not only did she experience defeat, she went into captivity or exile. This is significant because for almost a thousand five hundred years, Thebes had been firmly established as an ancient city and was well known to the people of the ancient world. It is said that at one point in its history, she was the largest city in the world with a population of about 80000.

But she was eventually defeated and uprooted and driven thousands of kilometres away to live as strangers in a strange land. Both young and old suffered in this devastating defeat.

Verse 10 says that the young children were dashed into pieces at the head of all the streets. The cruel and inhumane conquerors of Thebes crushed these little ones against the stones and buildings of the city in public places in full view of everyone. All over the city, the invaders murdered their children.

The verse goes on to say that the aged and honourable men were treated as slaves. Lots were cast to determine who would obtain which slave. The leading men of the city were bound in chains and led away into exile. Regardless of their social status or wealth or skill, they were all treated as slaves and subjected to the same cruel treatment.

When did the fall and destruction and exile of Thebes take place? It took place around the year 664 BC. And who was the powerful and cruel conqueror of Thebes? None other than the Assyrians themselves.

Led by their determined king, Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian army drove deep into Egyptian territory to conquer Thebes and that campaign proved to be one of the military wonders of the ancient world. It is no wonder that all the nations in the ancient near east were terrified of the Assyrians.   

So the mightiest of cities had fallen. The point was that Nineveh, which was weaker than Thebes in many ways, should expect the same.

The rest of this second section from verses 11-13 describe Nineveh’s fall. Just as surely as Thebes fell, so Nineveh would fall. The horrors and atrocities that came upon Thebes, which were well known to the Assyrians since they were there, would likewise fall upon Nineveh.

Five images that characterise the helplessness of Nineveh are mentioned in these three verses. First, Nineveh shall be drunken and she shall be hid or hidden away. She will have no hope of defending herself against her enemies, and for many years, even the site of Nineveh was hidden in obscurity.

Second, Nineveh shall seek strength or shelter because of the enemy. The image is that of a prey that is desperately searching for some hole or shelter to escape from the approaching predator.

Third, the strongholds or fortifications of Nineveh are likened to fig trees with ripened figs. One does not need to exert a lot of energy in order to enjoy the fruits. The slightest shaking of the tree will send the fruits falling down and into the mouth of the eater. Similarly, the enemies of Nineveh would not need to do very much in order to bring down the strongholds of Nineveh and enjoy its fruits.

Fourth, the inhabitants of Nineveh are likened to women, who are generally weaker than men and are not trained to fight as soldiers.

Fifth, Nineveh shall be like a besieged city whose gates have been flung wide open allowing free access to their enemies into the city. The fire shall devour or consume those heavy horizontal bars that seal the gates so that the gates cannot be securely shut.   

Let’s summarise this second section. Nineveh is compared to Thebes and is found to be inferior both in terms of natural defences and supporting allies. If Thebes could fall, then Nineveh should expect the same.

In an ironic twist of fate, the victory of the Assyrians over the Egyptians was but a harbinger and forerunner of their own final defeat. 

—Linus Chua