The prophet Nahum wrote about the spectacular downfall of ancient Nineveh. His writings lend support to the Bible as an accurate historical source. The question is whether Nahum wrote only history or chillingly accurate prophecy.
Nineveh, capital of the ancient Assyrian empire, was long known only through Scripture. The book of Jonah says Nineveh was an exceedingly great city. As great as it was, no archaeological evidence supported its existence until relatively recently. Skeptics had a field day.
Nineveh was first excavated in the late nineteenth century by Sir Austen Layard and other archaeologists who looked closely at its ruins. Encyclopedia Britannica (2002) states that it was Assyria’s oldest and most populous city, on the east bank of the Tigris River. Nineveh’s wall was wide enough for three chariots, side by side.
Many temples and an impressive palace were found in Nineveh, with King Ashurbanipal’s library containing twenty thousand tablets or fragments on mathematics, religion, botany, chemistry, and literature. The existence of Bible characters such as Sennacherib, Shalmaneser, and Tilgath-Pilneser was confirmed by what the archaeologists unearthed. With Nineveh’s existence proven so spectacularly, Bible skeptics had to eat some serious humble pie.
In 612 bc a combined army of Babylon and Medo-Persia captured and destroyed the city, as foretold by Nahum. Assyria had cruelly oppressed the northern kingdom of Israel for about a century when Nahum, a prophet in Israel, pronounced God’s word of vengeance against Nineveh (1:2).
Then he predicted in some detail how Nineveh would fall: “They shall be devoured like stubble fully dried . . . I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions . . . Fire shall devour the bars of your gates” (1:10; 2:13; 3:13).
Britannica confirms the relevance of fire to Nineveh’s destruction in 612 bc. Traces of ash were found in many parts of the city’s once high, fortified walls.
In a poetic way, Nahum also forecast the great speed of Nineveh’s fall: “All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs: If they are shaken,
they fall into the mouth of the eater. . . . The gates of your land are wide open for your enemies; fire shall devour the bars of your gates” (3:12, 13).
Britannica says the city was besieged in 612 bc and ceased to be important after that. This suggests a siege of less than a year. In The Fall of Nineveh George Meisinger writes:
When one considers that Psammetichus besieged Ashdod for twenty-nine years
. . . a city of considerably lesser dimensions than Nineveh, it is amazing that Nineveh fell in just three months. However, the prophet Nahum predicted that this great city would fall with ease. He prophesied that as a ripe fig falls off a tree when shaken, so Nineveh will fall.1
Meisinger suggests it was only God’s might that brought Nineveh down so quickly.2
Nahum foretold the devastation and finality of Nineveh’s destruction:
But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place . . . He will make an utter end of it. Affliction will not rise up a second time . . . Thus says the Lord: “Though they are safe, and likewise many, yet in this manner they will be cut down when he passes through. . . . Your name shall be perpetuated no longer” (1:8, 9, 12-14).
Thus the book of Nahum proves to be accurate in many ways, telling of a remarkable downfall that surely speaks of God’s hand. What should really cause us to stop and reflect, though, is that Nahum does not claim to be writing history. His writings are predictions — a bold and chilling prophecy of a heavily defended city’s quick demise by fire and flood, not to rise up a second time.
Is it possible for us to know whether Nahum wrote before or after Nineveh’s fall? It is more reasonable to accept that he indeed wrote before that fall than after because his book has been given the great respect of being chosen to sit alongside the Bible’s other highly esteemed books of prophecy. Please think with me about why this is so.
Imagine if I had written about the terrible events of September 11, 2001, in the US — two days later, with exact details of what happened. Then imagine if I claimed to have written that before 9/11. People would expect me to offer some kind of proof for this amazing claim. If I could not prove it to a wide or respected audience, then my claim would be ignored and soon forgotten.
Nahum’s prophecy has not been ignored or forgotten. It sits alongside Isaiah’s spectacular prophecies of Christ’s first coming — and others. Learned and careful men who arranged the Bible’s canon were convinced Nahum was a true prophet of his time. He must have proven that to his contemporaries. Thus the onus of proof should be on those who say Nahum did not write before Nineveh’s downfall. Considering this, one may stand in awe of the pedigree of Nahum’s prophecy and of the prophet’s God, Yahweh.
Important applications arise from this story. The strongholds of Nineveh seemed invincible, but in fact they were like ripened figs ready to fall by a light shaking. Nineveh fell because its people found no favor with God, and the same can happen today. Eternal disaster can come upon us quickly at any time. Our lives are fragile; they can be lost at any moment by a simple mistake behind the wheel or by a heart attack. If we have not found grace in the eyes of the Lord, this can mean an utter end for us too — like Nineveh.
More positively, any strong defenses built against God can come down quickly and easily, as did Nineveh’s. If we are open to God’s Spirit, we can be brought close to Him even today. Jesus would like that. His coming will be like a thief in the night, when we may be unprepared as were the Assyrians. If we watch and are ready always, our name will be perpetuated for all time.
As Nahum wrote, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
and will not at all acquit the wicked” (1:3). Let us be certain that we’re pleasing in God’s sight, through Christ.BA
In preparing this article, the author acknowledges much reliance on Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Here’s Life Publishers, 1979).
- Master’s thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary (1968), 87; quoted by Josh McDowell in Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 298.
- Ibid., 88.