Lecture 21: Isaiah, Micah, and Nahum
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: Isaiah, Micah, & Nahum
I. Late Eighth Century Prophets
We now focus even more closely on the prophets that we began to talk about with this reference to Isaiah. We are looking tonight at some late eight century prophets: Isaiah, Micah, and Nahum. There is some possibility that Nahum would not have easily belong in this group. Often times you will have reference made to the eighth century prophets as mainly four: Isaiah and Micah preaching in the south and Hosea and Amos preaching in the north. Jonah is also an eighth century prophet, although not everybody would agree with that assessment, but the evidence for it is good. Likewise, Nahum appears to be preaching right close to this time period as well and is worthy of inclusion.
A. Who is the issue?
1. Assyria is the big issue because God is employing the Assyrians to fulfill the covenant curse that predicts He would give His people to their enemies if they were not faithful.
2. Also, of course, the sinful north and south are described regularly, indicted, and condemned.
3. Many corrupt institutions are involved including the kingship. It is pretty rare in Old Testament history that the nation could go bad if the kings were trying to keep it good. Usually the king has much control over the general direction of things and is also, by definition, the leader of the religion. The king is the commander and chief of the clergy; that is the way it works in the Old Testament. It is pretty hard to miss that the nation will go as the kingship goes.
B. What are we dealing with?
1. We are dealing with the office of prophet. These prophets were treated much the same way that we treat diplomats today. You cannot arrest them, you cannot imprison them, you cannot kill them; they have a diplomatic immunity. A prophet was regarded as a representative from heaven and should be given free speech and allowed to say what he wanted to say; he was supposed to be protected. It was not always so. When you see Elijah running from Jezebel, the queen of the north, that is because Jezebel is not an Israelite woman. She was a Phoenician woman. She was from Tyre, a Phoenician city, and did not hold that the prophets had a prophetic immunity and was willing to kill prophets accordingly.
2. The prophet is also a divine council reporter. 1 Kings 22 is a perfect example of that. The prophet regards himself as someone God allowed to be in on the divine council, God’s heavenly planning sessions, as it were. The place where God speaks with angels and instructs them to do his will. This is presented in a somewhat stylized way and perhaps very simplified for our purposes compared to the complexity and glory that may be involved in the actual heavenly scene.
3. What the prophet often does is indicate, “I’ve seen the future plan for I’ve been there. I’ve heard God give these instructions and I’m the one He has sent in this case.” The prophet also views himself as a messenger. We talked about that last time. He is saying what God has said.
4. We have not talked about much about the prophet as intercessor but you can see this in Moses, the paradigm prophet, the original model for them all. You can also see it in a prophet like Amos who prays for Israel. You can see it in Isaiah who is trying to help the people to understand what God wants them to know so that God’s wrath will not come upon them.
5. The prophets are preachers to the world. God is not just instructing His people, He is speaking about everybody and speaking to everybody who counts. Most of the time these prophecies delivered to foreign nations were heard only by people in Judah or Israel. It is not because God did not have a point to make about other nations. It is just that that was where people were willing to listen at that time to what He had to say.
Then it is important to appreciate that there were plenty of prophets. David had prophets like Gad and Nathan and so on, various prophets you read about at various times in historical books.
6. But now this era of classical prophecy from 760 to 460 BC includes writing. There is a deep desire to preserve what they said. The writing prophets are those who God is inspiring, not just for their own generation but obviously for all time. God is building a Scripture and through them he is helping people to understand how to live and how to think in times of great change, times of great threat, times of great danger, times of uncertainty, times of transition and so on. A lot of the prophetical materials are helpful to people in that very way.
C. Where is it all located?
It is located both in Judah and northern Israel. But, as time goes on, increasingly it is more only in Judah because there is not much to northern Israel after 722 BC. It is a memory, but it is not in actuality a nation anymore.
These prophets that we are looking at tonight are preaching around the time of the fall of Samaria. That is the big event for Isaiah, Micah, and Nahum. It is not the only event but it is the biggest single thing.
E. Why are they preaching?
1. They are called to preach because there has been this long history of breaking God’s covenant; a long, long history.
2. Yahweh has been treated increasingly as just a national God. No longer an omnipotent God, just that national God. They have pigeonholed him now. They have got their personal gods and their clan gods; He is still their national God, but He is only that.
3. The prophets are preaching about God’s justice and judgment; a great deal about His righteousness and what righteousness is and how that is inviolable. You cannot disobey and insult God forever without His eventually doing something about it.
4. They are obviously teaching against idolatry. Almost all the prophets attack idolatry in some way or another because it was a constant temptation for the Israelites. They are concerned as well about social injustice. Why? Because what God wants is not merely that each individual to be a nice person; rather, He wants the society as a whole, all of His people, to reflect His values. If you have somebody for his own personal prophet or power misusing or abusing somebody else, that wrecks it for God, as it were. It ruins what He had in mind. It sabotages, it pollutes His purposes in having a people. We are to accomplish His will. We are to do His will on earth as it is in heaven. Social injustice is a terrible thing.
As you may know, in the history of Christianity, often there has been an emphasis on one extreme or the other without proper balance. Some people have pushed social injustice as the problem for a people and not said anything about personal morality. “Do whatever you want personally as long as the society provides proper economic and legal fairness and opportunity.” That is one extreme. The other extreme says, “Who cares what the society is like, just be individually clean and pure and live an upright life.” Both are improper extremes. There should be a balance between caring about social justice so that the whole corporate entity reflects God’s glory and caring about yourself so that you as an individual are upright and moral, as you have in Isaiah, Micah, and Nahum. Even in sins that might involve no one else, just personally, you want your thoughts and actions to be pure and noble. The balance is found there. There is a special emphasis on social justice in these prophets but plenty on personal morality as well.
One thing that was happening is this—class divisions were developing. As you can see in some of the commentaries, an economic shift was behind this. There was increasing urbanization in ancient Israel. Cities like Jerusalem and Samaria began to grow very large. There was greater wealth and greater economic opportunity there. Many people were getting off the farms and coming into the city. The minute that happens they no longer have a means to care for themselves and they are almost totally dependent on somebody else. If the people they are dependent upon are manipulative enough, they can begin to exploit them and make them work hard for not much money. So when you take people away from their access to productivity, the land, you put them at a certain kind of risk. If good people are everywhere, the risk is eliminated, but if people are evil then the risk of exploitation is enormous. One sees Isaiah, Micah, Amos, Hosea, and Nahum preaching against that kind of exploitation, the class divisions, and the rich people that grew up. One example of this is from Isaiah 5.
It was not proper for anybody to ever gain more land than his proper share. When you had a chance to buy land as in the Book of Ruth chapter 4, you bought it only from a relative; it could only be within a family and next of kin had the only right. Well, of course, that is the law. If the law is broken and ignored, anybody can buy any land and the wealthier you get the more you can wait for a bad year, bad harvest. You can go to people and say, “I’ll lend you a hundred thousand, just relax.” This person says, “I don’t need a hundred thousand.” “Oh no, let me give it to you.” You give him a hundred thousand and then you know darn well there will be another bad year soon enough, maybe three, four, five years down the line and they will not be able to make the payments. Then you go to court and you say, “So and so can’t make the payments; I want the land.” That is the way it is done. That is the practice that is described. It is said this way in Isaiah 5:8, “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.” All the poor people are squeezed out by this practice of lending and foreclosing, lending, foreclosing, and violating the law. You cannot do it under the Pentateuchal law. You cannot do lending and foreclosing, but it was being done in Isaiah’s day. The Lord Almighty says, “Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine, a homer of seed only an ephah of grain.” That is less than you started with. “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no regard for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst.” It is talking about the class divisions, the rich exploiting the poor. It is a way of saying it in the poetry of that day. People then understood it; with a little bit of explanation we can understand it as well. It is an example of the kind of thing they preached and taught against. Class divisions as almost a subcategory of what produces social injustice.
5. There is also punishment. The punishment is not only of individuals or of nations, it is of both. In the New Covenant there is increasingly an emphasis upon the fact that everybody answers for his own sin at the final judgment. But in the Old Covenant, there was a special corporate emphasis that said, “Part of the way God works is to treat people as blocks.” If He has a people and they are mistreated by another people, that mistreating people has to be punished. It just has to happen; God is not going to allow them to get away with that. So there is punishment for the individual evildoer and also punishment for the evildoing nation. That is how the Israelites got their start as a punishing army to punish the Amorites, Genesis 15. Now it is becoming clear they are getting as bad as the Amorites. How long will it be before they get the same fate being dispossessed from their land by somebody else? That is what they have to look forward to.
Here are just some of the preachable themes specific to Isaiah. I am not running you through Isaiah teaching you everything in particular; I am just saying that as you study Isaiah through the years, here are just some of the topics, the wonderful topics, in this book.
A. Sample Themes in Isaiah
1. Creation ongoing
The idea of creation ongoing. Do not forget that for the Bible creation is a constant process from Genesis to Revelation. This is a big theme in Isaiah: new creation, ongoing creation, and God redeeming a people and making a new people for Himself.
2. Apocalyptic concept begins
Also in Isaiah begins the concept of apocalyptic. What is that? Apocalyptic means that which refers to revealed or uncovered material. Isaiah contains some material; sometimes it is called the Isaianic Apocalypse. Chapters 24 to 27 is the Isaianic Apocalypse where you have some of the kind of language that you get in the Book of Revelation. Some of the same kind you get in Daniel also, and in Ezekiel and Zachariah, other Old Testament apocalyptic books. The idea here is that, and we will talk about this much more later, it is looking through the sweep of history to grand, cataclysmic events where God intervenes in human events. There will be much more about apocalyptic after next week. We will begin to talk about some of the themes of apocalyptic and we will especially find that in Daniel, Zachariah and Ezekiel. Isaiah is the starter; he is the first prophet to be an apocalyptic prophet, a special category that we will explain.
3. Reuses Canaanite mythic themes
Isaiah even goes so far as to take some Canaanite mythic themes and reuse them cleansing them. This is a very interesting phenomenon. Back in chapter 5 there is a place where he talks about Mote, which is usually translated death, opening its jaws and clamping over the evil ones. That really is almost the exact wording that you find in some Ugaritic myths. Mote is a god of death. Death because that is what Mote means in Canaanite. He opens his mouth and swallows people. What Isaiah does is to appeal to people who are acculturated with this myth and these pagan stories, and God inspires him to use that as a point of contact but not to exceed to it. Isaiah never shows that he believes it, it is just that he takes some of the language and uses it to talk about what the Israelites have to fear from Yahweh. It is called reuse or cleansed reuse of Canaanite mythic themes; Isaiah has some of that. So much in Isaiah is messianic and particularly brilliant, I think, and this seems to me that it is never tiring to see the intricacy of it.
4. Messiah and nation / Christ and church
It is the way Isaiah links Christ and the nation of Israel. In the servant songs there are places where God says, “My servant Israel,” and you know that when He is talking about His servant it is Israel. Then there are other places where he talks about, “My servant,” and does not add the word Israel but seems to be talking about an individual; “He did this and he did that, and he suffered in this way, and that happened, with his stripes we are healed, and he was bruised for our iniquities and so on,” and you say, “Which is it?” That is exactly the question in the Book of Acts that the Ethiopian eunuch is asking when Phillip connects with him at Gaza. He says, “Who is he talking about? Is it himself or it is somebody else? Who is it, I don’t get it.” Some of these passages seem to be about a nation, some seem to be about an individual and that is the genius of it. Christ is the head of His people. His people are the embodiment of Him. So in the New Testament we talk about the body and Paul uses that analogy a lot. Paul did not make it up out of the blue saying, “I’ve got a great idea, I’m going to make Christ the head and we’ll be His body.” He got it from Isaiah. It is a beautiful thing to see that inner working.
5. The council of Yahweh
The concept of the council of Yahweh is the idea that the prophet is allowed to imagine or inspired to imagine that he is really up there in heaven listing to God make plans for the future. There is a lot of that in Isaiah, “council of Yahweh, council of God” language.
6. Advisor to the king
The prophet as an advisor to the king. That is not always evident in other cases. Other prophets may have done it. We know from the Book of Jeremiah that there were times when the king sought out Jeremiah, usually privately because he was embarrassed to be seen with this critic of his, but he would still do it. We will later see how King Josiah seeks out a prophet like Huldah for advice about the future. Hezekiah and Isaiah have a close relationship. They are talking all the time. Regularly Isaiah comes and advises the king with “thus says the Lord.” God is giving guidance to a good king through a good prophet. It is nice to see that pattern; it is an interesting picture.
7. Blessing / curse / restoration blessing
We have talked before about the blessing/curse/blessing pattern, but Isaiah shows it everywhere. You can really see that. The blessing up until the exile, then exile, the curse, and then the restoration blessings better than ever, far beyond anything yet experienced or even imagined.
8. All nations in plan of God
All nations with a place in the plan of God. You might say, “Oh, come on, really?” Yes, there are a number of themes like that in Isaiah and it is really quite nice to see it. I do not think I have an example to give you. But there are several places where that is a theme.
9. God is running the show
The fact that God is running the show, Israel is not going to fall until God does that and will not return until God causes that.
10. Redemption dependent on divine opportunity
Redemption is dependent upon divine opportunity. This is quite a theme to preach. How are the people defeated, beaten by the Babylonians, sent into exile, how are they going to rescue themselves? What are they going to do, military techniques? No. Political techniques? No way, they have no political clout. Economics? They are in slavery, in exile virtually. What is going to happen? The answer: God is going to provide the opportunity. In the case of Isaiah He provides it specifically through a named individual. What Isaiah does is actually to predict specifically that Cyrus, by name, will come and do some wonderful things. When Isaiah said it, probably everybody who heard it said, “Who, what did he say, who was that?” But he actually predicted long before the event a Persian king who would destroy the empire that was the empire in Isaiah’s day. In Isaiah’s day it was Assyria. They did not know anything about the next empire, the Babylonians, and the empire after that, the Persians. They knew that there were Persians and they knew there were Babylonians, but they could not predict history, but Isaiah does. He basically says, “Well, here is how it’s going to go,” as God inspires him to be able to say it. The Servant of the Lord idea which I have talked about and Christ embodying that zionism, the hope of heaven. Isaiah is a big booster of the concept of Jerusalem as heaven. Remember that we have this theme developing all the time. “When you get into the promise land,” God says in Deuteronomy 12, “I’ll have a place where I’ll cause my name to dwell. I’ll have a place where I make contact with you, where you will be close to me and I will be close to you.” The temple symbolized that, but the temple was located somewhere and that was Jerusalem. In Isaiah you have lots of themes about Zion, Jerusalem, and the importance of getting there. Everybody will come to Jerusalem in the final days. Everybody will be there. He is transforming the idea of Jerusalem from that of just a particular city in Palestine to this concept of where God is and where all the people who are righteous want to be. When you then see at the end of the Book of Revelation all of this wonderful stuff about the city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, where all the people will live who are redeemed, it is following right off of what Isaiah predicts. Then forgiveness of sins. We all ought to preach the forgiveness of sins. Do not forget that. People need to hear that or there is no hope. Nobody can do it other than by confessing sins and accepting forgiveness. It is a great theme to preach and emphasize for people.
B. Overview of Isaiah
I am quickly trying to give a feel for this big, complex book. Aside from Jeremiah, which is a little bit longer in the actual word count than Isaiah but so much simpler in structure, Isaiah is the most compound, complex of all the prophetical books. It is the biggest thing, although there is a lot in Ezekiel, too. Ezekiel is a very long book as well, but it is so simply organized that neither Jeremiah or Ezekiel are rivals to Isaiah in their complexity. I am going to take a little bit of time to try to unravel that.
It starts off with an introduction against external worship.
2. Early prophecies
Then you have some early prophecies. This is part of what I read in chapter 5 for example.
3. Inaugural vision
Then his inaugural vision. This is where he is called. He sees God high and lifted up, his train fills the temple, there is the seraphs yelling holy, holy, holy, and he says, “I’m a people of unclean lips, I’m among them; I myself am one. What am I going to do?” God gives them the reassurance of the symbolism of getting his lips cleansed with a coal from the alter and so he can serve God.
4. Present world vs. coming kingdom of God
Chapters 7 to 12 emphasize what is going on in the world versus the coming kingdom of God. Look at chapter 10 for example, the Doom for Assyria. That was a big thing to say to people. Assyria was all powerful, you saw the size of their empire and yet he is saying, “Yes, they’ve destroyed the north. Yes, they’ve sopped up everything except a little bit of Samaria and that’s going soon.” Some of his prophecies reflect the time after 722 BC when all of the north was gone, just little Judah was left. Yet, he can say, “No, it is the Assyrians, ultimately, that are going right down the drain.”
5. Oracles against foreign nations
Chapters 13 to 23, eleven chapters of oracles against foreign nations. It is important to appreciate that he actually includes Samaria and Jerusalem in some of those. So just like Amos, he can define even the “chosen people” as God’s enemies. Remember oracles against foreign nations are not because God likes to say, “I hate you, I hate you, you’re going to hell,” it is not that at all. It is that God is a just God. If His promise to His people that they will get out of the oppression they are in is to be true, then there has to be suppression of the oppressor. That is what those always are. They are always saying, “You think you are so big now and you’re dominating everybody and you’re bleeding them dry and you’ve done this and that and you cruelly conquered them but the time will come when it will be the other way around.” That is what oracles against foreign nations are. They are, “You will get your just desserts. You will get your comeuppance,” as we also say in English. “You will not have this unfair advantage forever that you now enjoy over my people.”
6. Isaianic Apocalypse
Then the Apocalypse. We will talk more about that next time.
Then some woes against Israel and Judah for unfaithfulness.
8. Judgment on Edom, joy for the redeemed
Then a turning point. It flips, then, because you get both judgment on Edom, and by the way, interestingly, Edom is the most attacked foreign nation in all of the prophetical books. It is very interesting. That is partly because the Edomites just constantly gave the Israelites grief. We will see more about that when we come to Obadiah. Then joy for the redeemed. There is kind of a divider here in the historical chapters. But a little glimmer of joy is starting there at the end of chapter 35.
9. Historical chapters
Then you have some historical chapters that are the same as in 2 Kings where the role of Isaiah in connection with Hezekiah in connection with the great and threatening invasion of Sennacherib. By the way, this has interesting historical correlation. If you read what is going on in those chapters, you see that this great Assyrian king’s huge empire comes to Jerusalem and besieges it, surrounds it, wants to destroy it and he cannot. For a long time skeptical scholars said, “Oh yeah sure, this is the kind of stuff that they write it centuries later and make up this story about little dinky Jerusalem could resist the entire Assyrian army. Oh yeah sure.” that is the kind of historicizing you get until the annuls of Sennacherib were found. Interestingly there is an annul for 701 BC when he does, in fact, surround Jerusalem and he mentions Hezekiah. He says, “This King in Jerusalem, I bottled him up like a bird in a cage.” You might say, “What does that mean?” He says in every other thing in that same annul, “I destroyed and took captive King so and so, I put his city to the torch and so on, I broke down the walls of this and I destroyed… and I destroyed… and took captive… and took captive…” as for Hezekiah of Judah, “I bottled him up like a bird in a cage.” In other words, it is a boastful attempt to make the best of a failed attempt to break Jerusalem and the king.
10. Looking forward to Exile and need to return
There really is a dramatic shift then with chapter 40 because this material has been organized in the typical bifid fashion that so many of the prophetical books are organized in. It is the woe first and the weal second. You have the weal all put together in the second part. There are two big chunks here, 40 to 55 is looking forward to the exile and the need to return from it. So there is new Exodus language in chapter 40. In here God comes up leading His people up out of the south, nations trembling, and Zion rejoicing, and then the servant songs. By the way, that is a Moses figure. My servant suffers for and with the people just as Moses did. So Jesus is a new Moses as well as many other things.
11. Zion's glory and shame
But then another chunk of material. Some people have said, “Wow, this seems like a whole new topic,” therefore, probably from a later epoch. That really is a mistaken way to do it. That is not some new time period that it reflects; it is just a grouping of material. It is topically organized, and this is all on this tremendous emphasis on Zion.
1. Included in that, how God’s salvation is generally available.
2. How important it is that the leaders be corrected.
3. Righteous people have a good future.
4. True religion is the desire.
5. Repentance is needed.
6. God must deliver Zion, it has to be a place that is free and good to live in forever.
7. The need for cleansing from sin and faithfulness to God.
Those are great themes. You could do a long sermon series just from the last eleven chapters; they have great stuff in there. Wonderful pre-Christian prepare-for-Christian-truth kind of preaching from Isaiah. The bifid break is after 39. Another way to say it is, 1 to 35 is a block and 36 to 39 is the hinge or the divider block; we have a similar divider block in Jeremiah.
A quick look at Micah. Micah is kind of easy to understand in one sense because of the patterning. It is organized by three groups of woe and weal. Micah is not bifid, it is trifid; it is put together with three blocks of material. These are the woe/weal progressions that you so often see in the prophets.
A. First woe / weal
Chapters 1 and 2 start out with a woe oracle. Woe means somebody has died. So when you say, “Woe to you,” it is a way of saying, “Hey, you’re going to die.” Woe for you or woe to you means, “I’m singing your death song.” When Jesus says, “Woe to you Pharisees,” that they did not like to hear. That was not some little thing like, “I would like to suggest a problem.”
1. Punishment of Samaria and Judah
Then, woe to the oppressive nation. Who is the oppressive nation? The answer is Samaria and Judah.
2. Reunification under Yahweh
Then, weal, reunification and increase under Yahweh. God has a remedy, an antidote, a solution, and a bright future. It is possible Micah did not preach these in this order. Somebody was lead by God to organize them this way. We just do not know, it could be chronological, but do not assume that. It is obviously thematic, but is it also chronological? Most of the people have said, “if it is so obviously thematic topical in its organization, it is less likely chronological,” but it is a guess.
B. Second woe / weal
Then you have in chapter 3:
1. Woe on corrupt leaders and corrupt Jerusalem
2. Complex set of weal oracles
4. The Messiah and Purification. There is a lot on purification in the Prophets as they are deeply concerned with the question, How can you get right with God, how can you possibly get right with God? Look at the long history of our degeneration as a people, our idolatry, our sin, our flaws, our faults. We are going into exile, we have broken the covenant in every way you could think of breaking it. Is there really any hope? So they are longing for purification. It is wonderful when God says, “Yep, I’ve got a way of doing this, it is coming, there is a method for making it happen and you will be a pure people someday. My people will be pure.
C. The final cycle
1. Covenant lawsuit
There is a covenant lawsuit there. I think I have alluded to that before. The covenant lawsuit is something one also finds a lot in Isaiah. It is a case where the prophet is inspired to imagine Judah or Israel on trial. They have offended God; they have broken His covenant so they are on trial. Who is the plaintiff? The answer is the Lord God. Who is the prosecuting attorney? The answer is the Lord God. Who is the judge? The answer is the Lord God. Who is the warden of the prison to keep them in exile? The Lord God. So, they are not going to win this court case; there is not a chance. That is the way it works. It is really an effective kind of way of saying, “Your doom is coming, you’re in trouble.”
2. Weal of lament
Then it ends with chapter 7, a weal of lament, a kind of a lament ending with a deliverance plea and trust, assurance, and praise. Just like you learn in the ACTDAP formula of the Psalms. If you read chapter 7, you say, “I recognize that, I know that, I can see those ingredients of the ACTDAP format because it ends with a lament. What is the purpose of lament? It is not just to say, “I’m miserable, thank you very much.” The purpose of a lament is to say, “God, we need Your help. We are asking for deliverance.” That is the way the book ends. Micah knows that God inspires him to know and to make clear to the people that they need God’s deliverance. They need help; they need mercy from God; only God can do it. They cannot save themselves. They are in trouble. Only God can do it.
We wind up with Nahum and have a quick look at this guy in terms of simple structure. First an acrostic poem. Acrostic means going through the alphabet. So this starts with the equivalent of the letter A in Hebrew and then goes to the equivalent of the letter B and so on right through the Hebrew alphabet. It is about God’s majesty but also His judgment. It is very powerful, very glorious, but He is going to bring judgment for Israel. I said, “For Israel He is going to bring judgment.” I can understand that that would be just the thing that somebody would write in the wrong way. It is for Israel but against Assyria. It is very important that you understand the Book of Nahum is like one great big foreign nation oracle that comprises a whole book in itself. Remember how we saw a number of chapters in Isaiah, oracles against foreign nations. Now the Book of Nahum is like two or three chapters out of the chunk of material in Isaiah. Some of the prophets have a very limited focus, a special purpose, and that is what Nahum is.
A. This is a foreign nation oracle
Nahum is just a foreign nation oracle against Nineveh. Nineveh was the major city and functional capital of Assyria. The siege and sack of Nineveh are coming. What a thing to say. This huge, powerful, unstoppable, unbeatable, massive empire; who is going to knock them off? Who is on the horizon that could do it? It is a lot like saying, “Woe to you United States because Guatemala will someday come and take over.”
B. Nahum is a southern prophet
Then, finally, a description of Nineveh and a comparison with Egypt in 3:8. That helps nail down to some degree when this book might have been written. I have lumped it in with the late eighth century prophets for convenience but, in fact, that reference in chapter 3 to Egypt and its destruction must be a reference to the fall of Thebes. It mentions Thebes specifically. That is the country the Assyrians themselves knocked off in 663 BC. Then in 612 Nineveh fell to the Babylonians. That is the time frame we are in. We are really into the seventh century with this book, but I have included it along with the other two.
D. What are some of the emphases?
Many times Old Testament theologians talk about reversal language. There is a lot of reversal language. Jesus uses it when he says, “The first will be last and the last will be first,” He is using reversal language. In other words, God can just flip what we think is going to transpire, what we think is so certain and definite. He can simply turn it around. So many times the prophets will say, “Yes, here is the way it is now but God is going to turn that thing totally around so that those who are now in power will be out of power; those who are now nothing will be great and special in His plan.” That is what you have, the defeat of those who thought themselves impossible to defeat and the eventual righting of wrongs.
There is again the little overview that we looked at, although it is described this way: God’s righteous anger requires Him to relieve His people of their oppressor so it is for Israel against Nineveh. Remember now, Nineveh is the capital so it is really talking about the whole Assyrian Empire, not just the city. Remember that. It is just like we might say, “Well, Washington and Moscow are disagreeing; it means really the U.S. and Russia. God will cause Nineveh to be destroyed by their enemies and then finally Nineveh’s extensive wickedness gets itself into a place where there is no chance to escape.
F. General advice
Will you join me in prayer as we close?
Father, thank you for the way Your word is rich, is varied, and has a lot in it. That means that there is a lifetime of study that will always yield blessings and encouragements and information that will challenge and sometimes even amaze us. We pray that we can sort it all straight, understand it, and appreciate how we may use it for the benefit of our own faithfulness to you and to encourage the faithfulness of others. In Christ name, Amen.