The Destruction Of The Destroyer
Part 1 of 2

Much of the book of Nahum, particularly from chapter 2 onwards, contains a graphic description of the fall and destruction of Nineveh and the Assyrian empire.

Nahum’s prophecy of the fall of Nineveh reads like an eyewitness account of the city being attacked and overrun and plundered by the enemy. However, because much of this prophecy is written in very poetic and figurative language, it may not be so easily understood.

 And so what I’ll like to do in this article is to go through chapter 2 verse by verse and explain briefly what it is all about, then in the next article, I’ll point out some important lessons that we can learn from it.  

This chapter may be divided into five parts.

First, in verses 1-2, we have the announcement of the coming siege. Verse 1, “He that dasheth in pieces is come up before thy face: keep the munition, watch the way, make thy loins strong, fortify thy power mightily.”

The “He” refers ultimately to God as Nineveh’s adversary. The earthly ruler who comes up against it is but the instrument of God.

The words “dash in pieces” means to scatter or disperse. This attacker of the Assyrians is one who dashes in pieces and scatters. Just as the Assyrians had been the great scatterer or disperser of nations, so now they will face an adversary who will do to them as they have done with others.

The prophet then calls upon the Ninevites to prepare themselves well for the impending attack. He uses four imperatives or commands: keep, watch, strengthen, and fortify. They are to be alert and to do their uttermost to defend themselves against this very powerful adversary.

Now the reason for this coming attack on them is given in verse 2, “For the LORD hath turned away the excellency of Jacob, as the excellency of Israel: for the emptiers have emptied them out, and marred their vine branches.”

Just as Assyria had emptied out Israel of all its glory and destroyed all their vine branches, so Assyria would suffer a similar fate. The word translated “turned away” could also be translated “restored” or “turned back.” Either the Lord is saying that the time for chastising His people and humbling them from their sins is over, or else He is saying that the time for the restoration of Israel to its glory or eminence has arrived.

But on either interpretation, the Lord is saying that the time of reversal had arrived. The tables will be turned on the Assyrians. They who once destroyed and plundered Israel will now face the same end.

Second, in verses 3-4, we have the approach of the enemy.

Verse 3, “The shield of his mighty men is made red, the valiant men are in scarlet: the chariots shall be with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the fir trees shall be terribly shaken.”

This is a picture of the terrible approaching army of the enemy. It draws near the city of Nineveh not in a disorderly or haphazard fashion but with coordination and strategy.  

The red colour on the shields of the mighty men comes from the blood of those who tried to resist them. The colour of the clothing or uniform of these men is scarlet, which is a brilliant red colour. This signifies a bold confidence that no power would be able to stand before them.

Verse 3 also mentions their chariots appearing as flaming torches. This speaks of how impenetrable and unstoppable they are in clearing and taking out anything in their path.

The fir trees being terribly shaken probably refer to the shaking of the spears and lances which the soldiers are carrying. So great in number are these spears that from afar they look like the shaking of a forest of fir trees.

The day of his preparation or readiness refers to the day of the Lord. Remember that the day of His patience with Nineveh has come to an end and so He now arms His instruments of judgment to the teeth and nothing can prevent their advance.      

Verse 4 reads, “The chariots shall rage in the streets, they shall justle one against another in the broad ways: they shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightnings.”

This continues the description of the advancing army. The chariots are dashing about or storming swiftly through the suburbs and outlying areas of Nineveh. The speed of the chariots is likened to lightning and flaming torches.

All the people in the outlying regions have fled into the city of Nineveh hoping to find safety and refuge there. But as this fearsome army approaches the city, it cuts off all possible escape routes out of it.

The point of these two verses is to convey something of the fear and dread and panic that must have come upon the people in Nineveh as they observed what was coming towards them.

This brings us to the third section in verses 5-6, namely, the futile resistance of the inhabitants.

We read, “He shall recount his worthies: they shall stumble in their walk; they shall make haste to the wall thereof, and the defence shall be prepared. The gates of the rivers shall be opened, and the palace shall be dissolved.”

The scene now changes from the attackers to the defenders of the city. “He shall recount his worthies” refers to the king of the city calling for his worthy or noble soldiers to take up defensive positions. But these soldiers are not at all up to the task. They make haste but they stumble as they go to their place of defence at the wall. And they are too late.

The phrase “the defence shall be prepared” does not refer to the defenders of the city but to the attackers. The attackers have already set up their protective shield or their siege coverings in preparation for the attack. They are ready for anything that the defenders of the city might hurl at them even as they storm the city.

Verse 6 says that the gates of the rivers shall be opened and the palace shall be dissolved. The Assyrians had built dams to control the flow of the river into the city. When the invading army came, they closed the gates, cutting off this water supply to the river. Then when a great amount of water had accumulated at the walls of the dam, they opened its gates resulting in a large mass of water crashing against and destroying the city walls, thus allowing the invading army to enter the city within a relatively short time.

The palace being dissolved alludes to this flooding episode. And so what verse 6 really points to is that entry has been gained into the city. Any resistance offered to the invaders was totally futile.

The fourth section, from verses 7-10, brings us into the city to see what is going on within when the invaders enter it. It gives us a description of the fall and plundering of the city. So the fourth section may be entitled, the city falls and is plundered.

Verse 7, “And Huzzab shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up, and her maids shall lead her as with the voice of doves, tabering upon their breasts.”

The word “Huzzab” could refer to the name of the queen of Nineveh. If so, then this verse speaks of the queen of Nineveh being taken away captive into exile and her maids moaning sorrowfully as they follow her. Nineveh will surely fall and all her people including her leaders will be taken captive. They will smite upon their breast with great sorrow and depart their beloved city with a sense of great hopelessness.  

Verse 8, “But Nineveh is of old like a pool of water: yet they shall flee away. Stand, stand, shall they cry; but none shall look back.”

Nineveh was a place of watered parks and orchards. It was a beautiful and flourishing place from ancient times. But now, its magnificent pool of water has drained away. And its inhabitants flee from it.

“Stand! Wait!” someone cries, “Don’t leave,” but the people do not pay attention to this call. Panic has taken over them. They flee in any and every direction. The city has fallen. The rout is complete. 

Next, we see the city being plundered. Verses 9, “Take ye the spoil of silver, take the spoil of gold: for there is none end of the store and glory out of all the pleasant furniture.”

The Assyrian Empire was a very wealthy one because over the centuries, it had robbed and plundered many nations and forced them to pay regular tribute. There is historical and archaeological evidence for their massive accumulation of wealth and treasures by the Assyrian kings.

And so verse 9 says that there is no end of the treasure and of all the precious items. But now that the city has fallen, there is no stopping the invading army from totally spoiling and plundering it. They take the gold and the silver and everything that is of value. Nothing is left.

Verse 10 records the reaction of the people of Nineveh to all this devastation and lost. “She is empty, and void, and waste: and the heart melteth, and the knees smite together, and much pain is in all loins, and the faces of them all gather blackness.”

The words empty, void, and waste are all similar sounding in Hebrew. Each successive word is slightly longer than the previous one so that there is this rhythmic buildup which reinforces the point that the prophet is making. Desolation, devastation and utter ruin.

This causes the heart to melt, the knees to smite together and the loins to be in much pain, which speaks of great fear, of loss of courage, and of paralysis of both body and soul. These ones who were once very courageous and bold and fierce have now been reduced to a weak and fainthearted and powerless people. The last part of verse 10 says, “and the faces of them all gather blackness.” The people are depressed and sorrowful as a result of viewing the devastated environment all around them.

Finally, the fifth section of our text from verses 11-13, gives us a summary of the fall of Nineveh under the imagery of a lion’s den.

Verses 11-12 read, “Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion, even the old lion, walked, and the lion's whelp, and none made them afraid? The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for his lionesses, and filled his holes with prey, and his dens with ravin.”

Clearly the lion imagery is very prominent in these two verses. There is a reference to it in verse 13 as well. This analogy of lions is very appropriate for the Assyrians. The kings of Assyria often spoke of themselves as lions who were brave and cruel. Nineveh is thus likened to the lion’s den or sanctuary – the resting and dwelling place for the proud and conquering Assyrian people.

Verse 12 describes the brutality of the lion. It tears or shreds its victim into pieces without regard for the feeling of its victim. It totally ignores the cries of terror and agony coming from his prey. Then having killed it and eaten his share, the lion then drags the carcass back to his den where all his bloodthirsty brood may carry on feasting on the dead animals flesh.

The annals of history testify to the great cruelty and brutality of the Assyrians towards their victims. Torture and inhumanity of the worst sort characterised them. And for over 200 years, the Assyrians ravaged the various peoples of the ancient near east just like how lions ravaged their prey.

Verse 11 speaks of the den as a place of rest and refuge and safety for the lions, where they may move about freely and without fear of any danger. That’s what the phrase “and none made them afraid” speaks of.

But the question at the beginning of verse 11 indicates the end and the doom of the den. “Where is the dwelling place of the lions and the feeding place of the young lions…?” Obviously, the answer is that it is no more.

Nineveh, the once untouchable and inviolable sanctuary of the Assyrian, is now gone. The den has been cleared out and destroyed. The lions have no place of safety and rest to return to. The era of the powerful but cruel Assyrian lion has come to an end.       

This brings us to the last verse of the chapter.

Verse 13, “Behold, I am against thee, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will burn her chariots in the smoke, and the sword shall devour thy young lions: and I will cut off thy prey from the earth, and the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard.”

Thus far, the prophet Nahum has been describing the fall of Nineveh, but now at the end of the chapter, the LORD God Himself steps forward and speaks directly to Nineveh.

The LORD of hosts is the One who is ultimately responsible for bringing down the mighty city and the mighty empire of the Assyrians. The Babylonians and the Medes were but His instruments of vengeance and judgment.

Behold, see, look! I the mighty Lord, the God of heaven and earth, and the leader of the armies of heaven, I am against thee…

And what would the Lord of hosts do to this cruel nation? Verse 13 says, “I will burn her chariots in the smoke...” These chariots that once oppressed and terrified and conquered many weaker nations will now be consumed by the Lord’s fire.

“…and the sword shall devour thy young lions…” The young lions represent the princes and the next generation of the Assyrians. These will be wiped out or literally in the Hebrew, they shall be eaten or consumed by the sword of the Lord.  

“and I will cut off thy prey from the earth…” What this verse means is that Nineveh would no longer be able to find any prey. Gone are the days when it can prey on those who are weak and vulnerable. Nineveh itself will ultimately fall prey to a greater nation.

So here are the five sections of this chapter again: the announcement of the coming siege, the approach of the enemy, the futile resistance of the inhabitants, the fall and plunder of the city, and a summary of the fall of Nineveh under the imagery of a lion’s den.

—Linus Chua