April 18, 2011

Minor Prophets LXX: Empires Rise and Empires Fall

Nahum 2:11-13: Assyria/Nineveh begins their fall and Nahum speaks on behalf of God and gets to poke and prod at the Assyrian captives. He taunts them comparing their current situation to their previous glory. This group of tormented individual includes the leaders and citizens alike of Assyria, a notoriously brutal and cruel regime that was represented by a lion motif. Assyrians, like lions stalked and devoured/destroyed their prey. Before eating their prey cats often torment and torture it. Sick but true. Assyria did the same with their captives.

So in a reversal of rolls Nahum returns the favor by taunting and asking the captives, “Where now is the lions’ den, the place where they fed their young, where the lion and lioness went, and the cubs, with nothing to fear?” Nahum is effectively asking the equivalent of “Where’s your city now?” as it is being destroyed and pillaged. Their home or “den” has been destroyed. He also mentions how lions, “killed enough for his cubs and strangled the prey for his mate, filling his lairs with the kill and his dens with the prey.” By comparison the Assyrian “lion” had amassed so much wealth it was beyond counting…far more than they needed to survive. Perhaps this is what eventually led to their downfall. Arrogant pride and striving for more eventually overreaching their capabilities until they stuck their neck out so far…it got chopped off.

Now, ironically, they have nothing. Jonah had come to warn them over a 100 years before but they had quickly slipped back into old patterns that cost them their kingdom to the upstart Babylonians. Assyria would have no weapons, no riches and no home. God had become fed up and smacked them silly making them a footnote in history as He had done to other nations and would do to still more in the future.

Moving to Nahum 3:4 there are comments/metaphors that have actual political and religious connotations. Idolatry was often pictured by prostitution in the Bible. The chief deity of Nineveh was Ishtar a goddess of sexual passion, fertility and war (great combo) so it is not surprising that Nahum would use this metaphor. Likewise Nineveh was under the control of lust, greed and violence. People become what they believe. “…so as a man thinketh, so is he”. Assyria spread this horrid influence to those they subjugated or “enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft” a “mistress of sorceries”. Nineveh had spread their idolatrous ways through bad influence to those they conquered and enslaved. So not only did they physically and politically enslave people through military means, they also spiritually enslaved people through their spiritual decadence and idolatry.

In Nahum 3:8 we see historical comparisons made to the once great "invincible" city of Thebes (No-Ammon)
The reference to Thebes is based in historical fact (not that I would ever doubt the Bible). Thebes was an Egyptian city defeated by the Assyrians in 663 B.C. which is illustrated in verses 8-11. It was the capital city of Upper Egypt and was sure that it was secure from invaders yet it succumbed to defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. Similar to Nineveh it was located by waters that are supposed to be natural defenses. They were also allied with Ethiopia. The invincible are not invincible. Often what is their strength becomes the means to their end. Assyrian demise would fall along the same lines as Thebes. Ironically, there were monuments in Thebes that mention Nineveh paying tribute to Thebes at one time (Pusey 152). Now Assyria had displaced the very empire that had subjected them to tribute. The idea would’ve been insulting and repulsive to a Assyrians or as we say in modern vernacular-“laughable”.

Further metaphors are laid on the reader in Nahum 3:14-19. I have illustrated their meanings to the best of my ability. Assyria was commanded to strengthen their defenses in preparation of a siege that was to come. They are told to repair earthen nonflammable material like clay mortar and brickwork. Yet they are told their end will be caused by “fire that will consume you” and “the sword will cut you down”. They will be destroyed like a landscape that is swept clean like a swarm of locust or grasshoppers. This tells me that the demise of Assyria will be in a two prong front of both human (sword) and divine (fire) destruction. To me the fire is the fire of God’s judgment and the sword is an obvious allusion to man-made implement of war used by a human soldier. Once they are finished sacking the empire the will just “fly away”. It is clear that they will probably be caught “unaware” since they will not have scurried inside the city walls but instead their nobles or shepherds (people entrusted with the well-being of the people) will be caught “sleeping” and their people will be “scattered on the mountains” and no one will gather them together. They will be left alone and isolated and vulnerable to attack, a result of a shepherd not doing his job. They will be picked off like stragglers separated from a herd. A deadly and mortal wound will be inflicted upon them. Assyria having been such a brutal regime will not have many mourn their demise either, for as Nahum asks rhetorically, “who has not felt your endless cruelty?” They were about to get their comeuppance and it was waiting right at their doorstep.

Pusey, E. B.. "Nahum: Chapter 3." The Minor Prophets A Commentary: Explanatory and Practical. Grand Rapids: Baker Books House, 1974. 152-153. Print.

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