“Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder—no end to the prey!” The previous chapter ended with the promise of the utter destruction of Nineveh. We might, having finished chapter 2, have thought Nahum was done, but no, with chapter 3 he continues to emphasize what the LORD said through him in the last verse of chapter 2, “Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts,” which is repeated in 3:5. There is a shift now, however, Nahum is now going on to detail the Where we ended in chapter 2, with desolation and ruin, we now back up to see Nineveh’s present strength, and to see her evil for which she is being judged and her true weakness. In a way, we are travelling back over ground covered in chapter 1:12, “Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away,” but the emphasis has changed. There, the emphasis was that the enemies of God’s people would be cut down—that Judah would be safe, here the emphasis is more on the fact that Nineveh will be destroyed, that she will be judged. It is not only for the safety of Judah that the LORD judges Nineveh, but also because the LORD is just. This justice benefits Judah, and that benefit to Judah is not incidental, but it is also not the whole story. So we can also say that the LORD does not vanquish the devil merely for our sake, but also for his name’s sake. He is just, and cannot permit sin to go unpunished. We are benefitted by the LORD’s just destruction of evil if we are those whose enemy is thereby destroyed, that is, if we place our joy in the LORD, and know and recognize that he is good. If we make the enemies of the LORD our enemies, if we hate what the LORD hates and love what he loves, then his justice will be beautiful in our eyes.
So we have, here, “Woe to the city,” that is, woe to Nineveh. Why? Because she is “all full of lies and plunder—no end to the prey!” She lies, deceives nations, and plunders them. She conquers, not with justice, but with deception. Here the point is the evil that Nineveh has done, not merely the particular threat she is to Judah. It is because the LORD is just, as well as jealous, and here the justice is foregrounded. So we should see, here, that our good is bound up with the LORD’s justice. Our hope in heaven is bound together with a healthy fear of hell. You simply do not get salvation of the LORD’s people without the damnation of his enemies. “The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing word and glittering spear,” again, we have the chariots which the LORD has promised to burn, this strength that Nineveh trusts in. “hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies!” Indeed, as the first verse said, “no end to the prey!” Here, then, is what caused Judah to fear. Here is the strength of the enemy. We might compare this to the Church in places where she is obviously oppressed, and the masses of martyrs which are often produced when the Church is most visibly oppressed. There, too, we find “dead bodies without end” and there, too, our enemies stumbles over the bodies. Our deaths are an impediment to the spread of lies because whether we live or die we do so to the glory of God, and so our deaths pronounce the truth of the beauty of the glory of the LORD, and often makes people think, “who are these, that they die like this?” But we need not restrict these thoughts to where the Church is most visibly oppressed, for the Church is always more or less oppressed, and more or less visibly—sometimes greatly, yet invisibly, oppressed, sometimes mildly but quite visibly, often both visibly and greatly—and so always stands out and suffers for Christ’s sake. Indeed, the Church is always visibly persecuted from her point of view, whether others get it or not, because we can feel how poorly this world fits our new frame. We no longer fit the mold of this world, we are not of it, but we are in it, and so we suffer as those who were not made for our environs, and this suffering serves to magnify the fact that we find our highest pleasure and greatest happiness in the LORD. We are a holy, a unique, people, and that is often visible as we are persecuted.
And what lies behind the strength of Nineveh? What motivates these soldiers? “And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings and peoples with her charms.” It is not the love of God, it is not a righteous motive. Why do the nations fall before Nineveh? She deceives them, tricks them. Her soldiers are hers by means of her grace and charms, and so, when those charms are gone, so too will all her strength. When the going gets tough, the soldiers will desert. There is nothing substantial to keep them on Nineveh’s side. Nineveh’ beauties are accidental to her, that is, there is no beauty to Nineveh, but she has adorned herself to appear beautiful when she is not. But we, the people of God, why do we stand? Is it for some fleeting pleasure? No, it is for the LORD, we stand as a holy nation because we have been called out by God. We do not cower and flee when trials come, because we know that the LORD intends them for good, as he intends all things for good. Our pleasure is in the LORD, who is unchangeable, unlike the nations which pass away. We cling to the LORD because we see his true and absolute beauty. The LORD’s beauty is not accidental to him, but a necessary attribute—God is beautiful, and always beautiful, and necessarily must be beautiful. That is what is seen in the deaths of the martyrs, and that is why the enemy stumbles over their bodies. If we are allied with the LORD, then his justice is for our good, but if we are not allied with the LORD, if we are instead allied with his enemies, then we will flee. As the allies of Nineveh fled when she fell, so the unbelievers will flee when the justice of the LORD comes down like rain.
This stark contrast is what makes us as Christians, and particularly the martyrs, stand out: those who live, as it were, in Nineveh, those who remain in Satan’s realm and love his rule, are there because they believe that that is the most pleasurable thing for them. So when they see us so obviously living for another ruler, seeking something different, not the fleeting pleasures of this life, but the eternal and full pleasures of joy in the LORD, our lives—our deaths—suggest that there is more pleasure in the LORD than anything this world can offer. We all live for what we believe will make us the most happy, and so when we live for the LORD above everything else, in spite of every trial we are faced with, even death, we show that we believe and find the LORD to be the greatest source of pleasure and happiness and joy there is.
Nineveh is a whore, Nahum says. In what way? Often, Israel and Judah are compared to a whore because they whore after other gods, departing from their appointed husband, the LORD. It is unclear whether or not the same meaning is meant here as there, that is, whether Nineveh’s whoredom is her idolatry. It may be that the whoredom refers merely to Nineveh’s trickery, that she seduces nations by her charms, and it is certainly meant in at least that way, as it says that she “betrays nations with her whorings and peoples with her charms.” But, of course, her trickery was a form of idolatry, for she trusted in her deceptions rather than in the LORD. This links Nineveh very strongly to the devil, who is called the father of lies.
So, then, we have, repeated again, “Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts,” And how is this worked out? “and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations to look at your nakedness and kingdom at your shame.” That is, the LORD will expose Nineveh’s powerlessness, and will expose her real weakness. “I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle” all nations will see how foolish Nineveh has been in whoring, rather than in pursuing a true love in the LORD, and they will also see how foolish they have been in whoring with Nineveh. The LORD is not deceived, he watches and knows what Nineveh really is, and he responds to her as she is, and he will show us all who Nineveh really is. The LORD is not silently omniscient. He draws from his knowledge to work justice, and he shares his knowledge with his people, making us know how things truly are by revealing himself and truth thereby in his Word and finally as we see him in heaven.
The LORD who exposes Nineveh as a whore is the same LORD who exposes the deceitfulness of the devil. The LORD shows that what is truly beautiful is beautiful, and what is truly ugly is ugly. He exposes false hopes as false, and vindicates his righteousness in the end. He does this for his name’s sake, that he may be proven just. And so, too, with the liars of this age, those who say “you will not surely die, God doesn’t really love you,” they will be shown wrong, and the LORD will be shown to be the one true loving God. And this happens, often, through us. Through those mounting bodies of the martyrs for whom death is gain because to die is to go and be with the LORD, the lie that money or food or sex or anything in this world can fully satisfy apart from the LORD is destroyed because then we exhibit the truth that there is more pleasure in the LORD all by himself than there is in all the rest of creation.
The Assyrians were not wrong to seek their pleasure. They were wrong to seek it in vicious and deceitful conquest. Many of the things that we seek our happiness in are good, they make us happy to the extent they do because they are truly good, and we see the pleasure and think that these things are good—and we are not wrong! Where we go wrong is in thinking that these are ultimate pleasures. We see a bucket of pleasure and think it is the fullest pleasure in the world. We are wrong because we think that this piddling amount of pleasure is the greatest pleasure. We think these wading pools and puddles of pleasure are deep, but the LORD calls us to the ocean of his pleasure.
“And all who look on you will shrink from you and say, ‘Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?” that is, Nineveh, who had so many allies by her treachery, will be left alone. Not only will she be destroyed, desolate, but she will not be missed. She was powerful, but all the nations are glad to see her go. Likewise, we will rejoice at the fall of the wicked, because it vindicates the LORD, because their fall shows that the LORD is great, that the LORD loves us, for his Word has kept us from that evil.
So, then, in summary, we have, first, Nineveh, the bloody city, with a great, but false, hope, and she knowingly extends false hopes to others. Then we have the LORD, who has promised to expose these falsehoods. In contrast to Nineveh’s false hope, finally, we have placed our true hope: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But the end of Nineveh, “Wasted is Nineveh, who will grieve for her?” is not only the end of our enemies, but the end of those whom we love who are allied with Nineveh rather than Judah, and will fall with Nineveh rather than be protected with Judah. Do we rejoice when other human beings are cast into hell? On the one hand, we must not, for the LORD does not take pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32). On the other hand, our text implies that no one will grieve for Nineveh. One could, perhaps, suggest that we, as Christians who are called to love our enemies, should answer the call of the prophet, “Where shall I seek comforters for you?” with “Over here!” but that seems to ignore the literary trajectory and point of this passage. I am inclined to suspect, instead, that this is a point of difference between the devil and his hosts and those humans who will be cast into hell, that no one will grieve when the devil is cast into hell, but perhaps, perhaps, there will be when the lost are. So we should not, I think, be pleased at their perishing—though there has been disagreement about that—but we should, certainly, be pleased that the LORD’s judgment is revealed. We will rejoice at the revelation and confirmation of the truth of God. We ought not, however, be pleased by the fact that some like us have not been saved. But why are they not saved? We might point to their rejection of the Christ, and this would be accurate, but we may also say that, behind that, the LORD has ordained that some will be lost that he might receive more glory in evidencing his just wrath (Romans 9:22). We may not answer the question “why them and not me?” except by pointing to the grace of God, that he appointed them to be in Nineveh and us in Judah. And this is good, for all that the LORD does is good. Why is it good that the LORD should reveal his wrath on some humans who reject him? Because, as we see in this text the LORD reveals Nineveh as a prostitute, so he reveals all kinds of ungodliness as ungodliness in their particular expressions, so that not only are all sins paid for, whether in Christ or in hell, but every sin is exposed as sin, proved to be detrimental to our spiritual welfare, by revelation of what it has brought various individuals to, according to the justice of the LORD. It is so that we might behold how great our salvation is, and how horrible our end would otherwise have been, that the LORD condemns some to experience his wrath in addition to saving some of us by sending his Son, Jesus Christ the righteous, to die in our place.
So, how should we respond to hell? We should rejoice that the LORD’s justice is consummated. We should rejoice that the devil and his hosts are defeated. We should mourn the loss of created beings whom God loves, because we realize that it is only because of God’s grace toward us that we are not among them, and we should thus be motivated to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to all, before it is too late, for one day, when we stand before the judgment seat of the LORD, it will be too late, as Nahum concludes the book, speaking to Nineveh, “There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous,” so shall it be on that day for those who reject the LORD. We should rejoice in it as it exemplifies how great a salvation Jesus Christ bought for us by his death. And how will we respond, when some whom we have loved are cast into hell? We will unabashedly rejoice in and worship our good and loving God, who has preserved us from the evil one. And we will do this because our pleasure and happiness are in the LORD, not in those friends who may or may not have been saved. Our joy will be great as this world passes away, because then the kingdom of the Lord will come in all power and majesty. Heaven will be celebratory, even as the lost are finally lost, being cast into hell. Our joy, our hope, resides there, and that is what empowers us to endure whatever suffering may come to us.