The last four verses of chapter two of Nahum fall into two sections. First, we have a description of the reaction to the fall of Nineveh, which was described in verses 5-9, then we have the LORD’s promise against Nineveh.
First, we have a description of what is left behind after Nineveh falls: “Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale!” Brave Nineveh has been reduced to ruins and anguish. She could not stand against the LORD. The people left have been left in fear, for they have no defense left against what their enemies might choose to do with them. As Judah was afraid of Nineveh, so Nineveh will be afraid of the army the LORD is sending against her. They will learn to fear the LORD, but it will be too late. This is the fate of all who trust in their own defenses. This is where we would all be headed apart from Jesus Christ. The LORD comes in the end, and they will all bow the knee, but it will be too late then. Those who trust in the LORD are victorious in the LORD; those who trust in themselves will see, in the end, that their trust was misplaced, and then their hearts, too, will melt, and their knees, too, will tremble. They will feel anguish, and their faces will grow pale in fear, for they will have nowhere to turn, no one will be able to save them from the righteous wrath of God. Yet there is hope now, that they might turn to the LORD, that they might be found in Judah. If they are found in Nineveh, then there is no hope for them, but they might yet run from Nineveh, run from the desolation which the LORD has promised, and run to Judah, run to the one in whom there is salvation, that is, to Christ.
We then move on to the next two verses where Nahum forms an analogy between the royal family and a family of lions, “Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb?” Where are they? They were just here, in Nineveh, but where are they now? “The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh.” The kingdom was successful, they had conquered many nations, they had plenty to eat. Where did they go? What became of them? They were doing so well, they were so successful, how did they come to such a quick end?
The allies of Nineveh are surprised by how quickly she fell, the people of Nineveh are disoriented. The LORD turns their world upside down. What others call success becomes failure when it is against the LORD. The LORD raises up and brings low, and he has done both to Nineveh. He judges Nineveh because she defied and belittled the LORD. This is what becomes of those who seek to defy the LORD: he avenges his glory against them. “How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:19). Yet the people of God have nothing to fear, those who love him and keep his commandments are not in any danger, for they take refuge in God himself (1:7). When Nineveh is turned upside down, Jerusalem is turned right side up. Nineveh’s allies thought they were making a sure bet by siding with Nineveh, the people of Nineveh thought all was well, thy had no worries, but they were deceived because they denied the LORD God. They thought power rested in the strength of armies, but now they find that power rests, finally, with the LORD.
This is the cause of a joyful fear of the LORD. We behold that our God is powerful over the mighty ones of our age, those whom we were afraid of, and so we fear God, we tremble before his majesty, yet we rejoice because his power and might and wrath is directed—not against us, though we deserve it—but on our enemies. His power is used on our behalf, to protect us, and to make us a people for the LORD’s own possession, and to make his name great, and in this we rejoice. As we look at the description of the aftermath of Nineveh’s fall, in 2:10-12, imagine what we would think. We would think “what did this?” as the disciples asked “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27) so we would ask “Who did this, that they could bring such utter desolation to such a successful kingdom?”
See, too, the threat that Nineveh was, “The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh.” They were not just successful, they were brutal. They filled their caves with prey. Conquered nations were their prey. They devoured them and enjoyed their spoils. Judah saw Nineveh as a lion, out seeking to devour some nation. Judah was prey, they could not defend themselves against Nineveh. And so, the chapter ends with the LORD’s declaration of hostility against Nineveh, and promise to do her harm, “Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.” Judah is prey, but the LORD is her shepherd. Again, Nahum moves us through: Nineveh is a great, strong lion, he is planning to consume Judah, and Judah is defenseless—you can imagine the cliffhanger, can’t you? And then you go on, and you see the LORD enter the scene. He comes against Nineveh, he says “I will destroy you” and so says to Judah, “I will save you.” This is our predicament and our salvation, do you see? “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Now, Peter does not say that we will be delivered from suffering, but, rather, that we should stand firm in our faith. The devil seeks to destroy us, but we are safe in Christ, because Christ has overcome the evil one. The lion which would have devoured us by our sins has been destroyed by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. We were like sheep, helpless, we could do nothing to save ourselves from such a lion, but the LORD enters right where we would otherwise be doomed and saves us.
The chariots, the strength of Nineveh’s army, will be destroyed. They will have no more strength. Here we see that the strength of armies does not lie in their chariots, in their military technology or their masses of soldiers. While Nahum emphasized the power of the LORD’s army by pointing to his chariots in 2:3-4, here we see that the chariots of Nineveh do not help them. And why is that? Why are the chariots of the LORD powerful, but the chariots of Nineveh get burned up? Because the power is the LORD’s. The reason that the chariots in 2:3-4 are strong, and these chariots are burned up is the same as the reason that those who are found in Israel, in Christ, on the last day will be strong, while those who are in Nineveh, in Babylon, those who rebel against the LORD, will be burned up. It is because the strength of armies and nations and people cannot stand against the strength of the LORD. It is because the LORD must, in the end, be shown to be the one true holy and awesome God of the universe. It is because those who are in Israel, those who trust in the LORD for salvation, already acknowledge that the power is the LORD’s. We have put our hope in this very fact, that only the LORD is unconquerable, that only the LORD can and should rule the universe. All other rulers and authorities will pass away, for they depend on the LORD for their existence, and the LORD will show himself to be the only eternal God.
“The sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth,” These two refer back to the preceding two verses where the metaphor of the family of lions in their den was developed. “Where is the lions’ den…where his cubs were, with none to disturb?” (2:11) The LORD says “The sword shall devour your young lions” (2:13). The cubs are disturbed by the LORD, who cannot be kept out when he wants to come in. The LORD will enter wherever he will, and he cannot be kept out. No one is safe from him. He can and he will have his way in every life. The question is whether he will show mercy or not. The question is whether we will be found in Christ, in Israel, or not. Whether we will flee to him, hold on to him, seek him, love him, as our only hope for safety, or whether we will fight him, rebel against him, try to keep him away, hate him, as if he were our enemy, and so make him our enemy and bring judgment on ourselves. These cubs hoped for a perishable inheritance, and received death. We hope for an imperishable inheritance, and we are sure to receive it. They hoped to save their lives, and they lost them. We who are willing to lose our lives for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the gospel have found our lives hid with Christ.
“I will cut off your prey from the earth” Nineveh will look about for some nation weaker than she, some nation she can plunder, but will not find any. Instead, Nineveh will become a prey. We all, prey to the enemy, will be, as far as prey goes, cut off from the earth. We will be in the world, but not of it. We are protected from Nineveh by the power of the LORD of hosts. Those who have been prey will be saved. Those who have been conquered by Nineveh, in whom Nineveh thought her power secure, they will be removed, they will not be at all useful to her. Indeed, some of the nations will become her oppressors, the Medes and the Babylonians will conquer her as she would have liked to conquer them. The LORD has power over the nations. He can turn them as he will, he can judge one with another, he can unite and divide, he is the single sovereign LORD, the God of the universe and God of the nations. This is our God.
And so, at the end, even the voice of her messengers, those who ridiculed Judah, who mocked the LORD, will no longer be heard. Think what this means: it means that those who came and told Judah that they should not trust the LORD their God not only are destroyed, but those messengers will no longer be heard. They have been proved utterly wrong. Judah did trust the LORD, and the LORD has promised to work this great victory for them, and then all those who said that Judah was foolish will be no more, but Judah will remain because she loves and trusts the LORD her God. It means this: that the tempter is silenced.
This passage should encourage us because it shows that those who oppose God, no matter how successful they may appear, cannot stand before the LORD’s indignation. No matter how strong the devil may appear to be in this world, God is the ruler yet, and he is our father, who is in heaven, hallowed be his name. We have confidence, then, to pray “your kingdom come!” “Come, Lord Jesus!” because we know that he will come when he chooses, and on that day no one will be able to stop him. Therefore we have nothing to fear now, because when our Lord, the LORD, comes, he will make all things right. Because he is our joy, his victory is our hope, and so we can continue in faith that he is in control.
We know what it is like to hear the messengers of Nineveh. When the world says to the Church, “if you would just compromise on this issue, and that one, then you could reach more people,” they ask us to doubt that our God is powerful and mighty to save. If we compromise what we have received from the LORD our God because we think we know how to save sinners better, then we are doubting his power in salvation. If we doubt that he can and will save those whom he has called, we will be like an Israelite doubting that God can save them from Assyria. If we have faith that God can save us from our sins, if we are trusting God to save us from our sins, then how can we suppose that there is anything besides God himself that might be needed for salvation?
The messengers shall no longer be heard. They will pass away, but the LORD endures forever. When this current culture has passed away, yet there will still be those who bring good news, who publish peace (1:15). The Church will stand, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, but it will prevail against the gates of hell, and the servants of the evil one will be made desolate (2:10). This is our hope and our confidence which enables us to go forth in joy and with love, to seek and to save that which was lost in the name and in the power of God, whose name is above all names, and whose power is mighty to save and the only power to save.
So we go to a world which has become a prey to the devil and call to them that there is hope, that they can be saved, that our God reigns in heaven and protects his people, and look, Christ has made a way that we can become the people of God. We who know the goodness of God and the horrors of the evil one rejoice at this: that the LORD has declared himself the enemy of the evil one. This is our hope for salvation from him. This is good news for the oppressed. The LORD has ransomed us from Nineveh, and we return to take more out of Nineveh, to free her prey from her jaws, for it is the LORD who does it, and he cannot be stopped. This is our God, whose majesty was the introductory theme of Nahum, and whose power resounds throughout the whole book. It is because the LORD is huge and massive, mighty and powerful, jealous and avenging, that Judah can trust him to save her, can call on him to enter the course of history here, when Judah is afraid of her enemy, and rescue her from the adversary. Because Judah knows that her God is this big, she is not, in the end, terrified of her enemy. She is calm, she calls on the name of the LORD and is saved. And that is what we all must do: call on the name of the LORD and you will be saved. The alternative is to be like Nineveh, trusting in your own power, and finally, in the last day, becoming desolate. Indeed, you are already desolate if you are not in Christ, you have no hope, really, only delusions. Nineveh may have been rich, but when the LORD makes her desolate, he only makes visible what was already the case: she was already dead without God. God is the giver of life, the source for life and joy, and without him we are dead, but in him we have life everlasting and overflowing.
Now, am I telling you to convert in order to escape hell? Yes. Hell is bad, and you should run away from it as quickly as possible. You must understand, however, that hell is bad because we were made for heaven, for communion with God. Hell is horrible because the LORD is not present to people there. He is there, but he is not present, his hand is heavy upon them, he is far off—these are two ways of saying the same thing. It is because God is absent that hell is bad, and therefore where God is will be excellent, awesome, overflowing with joy. We run from hell because God is not there, and only God can satisfy. So where must we run to? If we run away from hell because it is the absence of God, then we must run to heaven because it is where God is present. If we run away from Nineveh because the LORD is against her, then we must run to Judah because the LORD defends her. I say “Run from hell!” because only loving God will ever satisfy. So, yes, convert in order to escape hell, that is, convert in order to enjoy the greatest possible pleasure in the LORD God almighty. The desolation of Nineveh is what hell looks like, and so it is also what life apart from God really looks like, beneath all the self-deluding idolatry, beneath the excuses and self-esteem talks, beneath all the cover-ups which sinners are prone to use to hide the hideous appearance of themselves from themselves. Only grace, only safety in the LORD, can enable us to look on our sins as they are, as gruesome death and decay, and only then can we possibly have any hope to deal with them, and even then, only by the grace and the power of the LORD.