Nahum’s three short chapters are the “sequel” to the dramatic events recorded in the book of Jonah. In that reluctant prophet’s day (circa 750 B.C.), the Assyrian inhabitants of Nineveh –from the king down to the beggar in the street –had repented because of Jonah’s message of impending judgement. Because they did, God spared them and the Assyrian Empire remained strong for almost another century. At the end of that time God began to raise up the Babylonian Empire, which would eventually conquer both the Assyrians and God’s own rebellious people, Judah. The descendants of those penitent Ninevites now refused to walk humbly before God, so it fell to Nahum to proclaim their impending destruction. The nation God had used to humble the faithless idolators of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) would suffer the same fate they had so brutally inflicted on many other nations, because of their own sins.
The basic theme of Nahum’s entire prophecy is concisely stated in chapter 1:3, and describes in capsule form the whole of God’s relationship with those who are guilty of sin;
“The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.”
These words parallel what king David was inspired to write in Psalm 7:11, where he declared that “God judgeth the righteous, and… is angry with the wicked every day” (KJV). The fact that Nahum says his words are “an oracle concerning Nineveh” (1:1) makes it clear that the indignation he describes in verse 6 is directed at that heathen capital, and it emphasizes the fact that those ancient Gentiles were still accountable to God even though they were not part of His special covenant with Israel through Moses! Although much of the old testament focuses on Jacob’s descendants and their unique relationship with God, it is important that we never lose sight of the fact that the Gentile world (including the Assyrian Empire) was not“ignored” by Him. As Paul points out in Romans 1, their ignorance of Him was due to their own unwillingness to know and submit to Him (Romans 1:20-32). They could have known and obeyed Him (Romans 1:20), but they refused.
Nahum 1:15 shows that the prophet probably directed his words as much toward the oppressed people of Judah as toward the Assyrians themselves. Between the times of Jonah and Nahum, the Assyrians had conquered Israel (721 B.C.) and then forced Judah to pay tribute (2 Kings 18:13-16) during and after the days of king Hezekiah. Nahum’s warning closely echoes the words Isaiah had spoken about 100 years earlier (in a messianic context); the Jews of Nahum’s day, however, would have understood them as “good news” of the fall of Nineveh. Their significance for Christians lies in the apostle Paul’s application of them in Romans 10:15, in connection with the preaching of the gospel! Just as the people of Nahum’s day would rejoice at God’s delivering them from oppression and bondage by the brutal Assyrian hegemony, so WE can now rejoice because our heavenly Father offers us freedom from the oppression and bondage of sin, through the Christ’s victory at Calvary! In the same way that Nahum urged his own people to keep their feasts and fulfill their vows now that they had been freed, so Christians should willingly and joyfully live faithful lives because the one who had stolen our hope through temptation and sin has been defeated through the blood of Christ.