Nahum vs. Nineveh
Good News Magazine
June-July 1984
Volume: VOL. XXXI, NO. 6
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Nahum vs. Nineveh
Neil Earle  

Fulfilled prophecy is a powerful proof of God! Read here how one little-known book of the Bible challenges the skeptics — and wins.

   Could an obscure prophet from an insignificant vassal state achieve total accuracy in his pronouncements against the terrifying superpower of his day, the Assyrian Empire? What would be his chances?
   None whatsoever, unless — ! Unless that prophet were directly inspired by the Creator God Himself.
   Nahum means "full of comfort or consolation." The vivid message of this forceful and talented man of God was indeed good news for his people Judah in the late seventh century B.C., but it seemed like a long shot, to say the least. When God stamped Nahum to boldly taunt Nineveh, colossal capital city of ancient Assyria, the odds seemed weighted in Nineveh's favor:
   "At the time of Nahum's prophecy, Nineveh was queen city of the earth, mighty and brutal beyond imagination, head of a warrior state built on the loot of nations. Limitless wealth from the ends of the earth poured into its coffers. Nahum likens it to a den of ravaging lions, feeding on the blood of nations" (Halley's Bible Handbook, page 369).
   When Nahum wrote, around the 620s B.C., Nineveh had already existed for 15 centuries. Nimrod established Nineveh soon after the Flood (Genesis 10:11) as the northern military arm of his gangster empire in Babylon. An independent Assyria flexed its muscles from time to time (Numbers 24:24, Judges 3:8).
   But by the 700s B.C. a succession of strong rulers exploiting tactics of calculated terror made the Mesopotamian city-state a military menace. The 10-tribed House of Israel succumbed to Assyria's sledgehammer in 721 B.C. (II Kings 17:6), and only God's direct intervention saved Jerusalem from Sennacherib's invasion soon after (Isaiah 37).
   Isaiah vividly sketched the swift-moving blitzkrieg sweep of Assyria's disciplined legions:
   "No one will be weary or stumble among them, no one will slumber or sleep; nor will the belt on their loins be loosed, nor the strap of their sandals be broken; whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent; their horses' hooves will seem like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind. Their roaring will be like a lion, they will roar like young lions; yes, they will roar and lay hold of the prey; they will carry it away safely, and no one will deliver" (Isaiah 5:27-29).
   Thus the formidable Assyrian army. In the words of one commentator, this army was "part machine, part beast." The "cruel masters" of Assyria (Isaiah 19:4) utilized terrorism to induce foreign cities to surrender. Listen to Asshurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.) boasting, "The heads of their warriors I cut off, and I formed them into a pillar over against the city" (Finegan, Light From The Ancient Past, page 203).
   The Assyrians' refined barbarism was a gruesome part of their military strategy. Seen in this light, it took a lot of courage for a Jewish prophet still living under the Assyrian shadow to pen this scorching rebuke: "I will dig your grave, for you are vile" (Nahum 1:14).
   Courage indeed! For the penalty for false prophets in ancient Judah was a swift death by stoning (Deuteronomy 18:20).

The best of times, the worst of times

   Nahum probably wrote sometime after the 12th year of Judah's righteous King Josiah (II Chronicles 34:1). His encouragement for the nation to continue its "appointed feasts" (Nahum 1:15) doesn't fit the reign of evil King Manasseh (696-641 B.C.). Furthermore, Nahum mentions the collapse of NoAmon in Egypt in 663 B.C. as a past event (Nahum 3:8). Josiah's religious reforms in his 12th year (II Chronicles 34:3, 35:1) dates Nahum's prophecy to about the early 620s B.C. Even though rebellions against Assyria characterized his time — Babylon actually seceded in 626 B.C. — Nahum's confident, even insulting, predictions of the utter extinction of mighty Nineveh were bold beyond belief.
   Why? Nahum was luridly specific: "It shall come to pass that all who look upon you will flee from you, and say, 'Nineveh is laid waste! Who will bemoan her?'" (Nahum 3:7). "Surely, your people in your midst are women!" (verse 13).
   Remember, even God three times called Nineveh a "great city" (Jonah 1:2, 3:2, 4:11). Excavations revealed a staggering picture:
   "The term Nineveh refers to the whole complex of associated villages served by one great irrigation system, and protected by the one network of fortifications based on the river defenses. Nineveh ... was about 30 miles long and about 10 miles wide... protected by five walls and five moats. Jonah's mention of 120,000 babes (Jonah 4:11) suggests it might have had a population of near a million. The inner city, about 3 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide, was protected by walls 100 feet high, 8 miles in circuit" (Halley, page 369).
   Diodorus Siculus, writing in the first century B.C., recorded that three chariots could drive abreast the 50-foot-thick walls overlooking a 150-foot inner moat. Twenty-story watchtowers at regular intervals monitored the inner defenses of that titanic inner fortress.
   Yet God's servant Nahum thundered against this impregnable urban colossus in fiery and picturesque verbal hammer blows (Jeremiah 23:29). Nahum, stirred by God Himself, was taking on proud Nineveh (II Peter 1:21). Who would prevail?

Six specific predictions

   Nahum faithfully catalogued six specific, pointed predictions against the Assyrian capital.
   First, he warned that Nineveh would fall easily and quickly. This was astounding. Ancient bastions held out for years. Tyre mocked Alexander the Great three years, while Ashdod resisted the Egyptians 29 years. But Nahum was colorfully emphatic: "All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs: If they are shaken, they fall into the mouth of the eater" (Nahum 3:12).
   Next, Nahum foretold that the city would fall in a state of drunkenness: "While drunken like drunkards, they shall be devoured ... you also will be drunk" (Nahum 1:10, 3:11).
   Third, Nahum 1:8 and 2:6 mention an "overflowing flood" and predict that "the gates of the rivers are opened, and the palace is dissolved." The river was to feature in the city's collapse.
   Fourth, Nahum prophesied that the proud capital would burn: "Fire shall devour the bars of your gates" (Nahum 3:13).
   Next, Nahum pulled no punches, warning that Nineveh's destruction would be total. She would never rise again, unlike Memphis, Sidon, Babylon, Damascus, Jerusalem and other ancient cities: "Your injury has no healing, your wound is severe" (verse 19).
   Last, a staggering prediction: Nahum twice predicted that the gargantuan metropolis that sprawled over 1,800 acres, that seemingly unconquerable citadel of Assyrian greatness, would totally disappear — vanish from human sight! Notice Nahum 1:14 and 3:11: "I will dig your grave... you will be hidden."
   Thus Nahum's specific predictions No vague generalities here — rather, specific challenges to the skeptics who doubt God's Word! Was Nahum accurate? Did his prophecies come to pass? Could they have been cunningly doctored after the event to make Nahum seem inspired?
   Who would win out? A supreme city-state of the ancient world, or the words of a faithful, fearless servant of the true God? Let's sift the facts of history and archaeology and find out.

The stones speak

   In 1840 the energetic French consular agent in northern Iraq, Paul-Emile Botta, financing a small excavation project to relieve his boredom, spent a fruitless season digging in earth mounds along the Tigris River.
   Then, seven miles north in the town of Khorsabad, Arab farmers accidentally uncovered immense pillars in the sunbaked earth. By 1844 the tablets Botta salvaged from Khorsabad were the sensation of Paris. Botta's "find" was nothing less than the castle of Sargon II (721-705 B.C.), conqueror of Samaria.
   In 1845 another dogged amateur, Englishman Henry Layard, worked the spot opposite Botta's original project on the Tigris. His find? The "Black Obelisk" of Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.), an Assyrian victory monument that mentioned, in enduring stone, such biblical figures as Hazael of Damascus and Jehu of Israel (II Kings 8, 9) doing obeisance to the Assyrian strongman.
   All this was amazing, incredible, exciting beyond words to describe. "Enlightened" skeptics of the 1700s had scoffed at the very existence of the Assyrian Empire: "For centuries the only knowledge that such an empire existed was to be found in the direct and indirect statement of Scripture. The historian puzzled; the skeptic jeered the scriptural accounts" (Meisinger, The Fall of Nineveh, pages 4-5).
   In 1853 Howard Rassam unearthed the royal library of King Asshurbanipal, containing tens of thousands of volumes of ancient Babylonian and Assyrian literature.
   It remained for the Mallowan expedition, sponsored by the British School of Archaeology from 1949 to 1950 in Iraq, to uncover astounding evidence for the veracity of God's faithful prophet, the fiery Nahum.

Point by point

   In 612 B.C. avenging Scythians, Medes and Babylonians finally surrounded Nineveh. The city fell in three months. "The siege lasted from Sivaw to Abu, that is from May-June to July-August, but eventually Nineveh fell" (Finegan, page 219). Nahum's analogy of an overripe fig falling into open mouths was stunningly accurate (Nahum 3:12).
   Why did Nineveh succumb so quickly?
   "Camped outside the city walls, the king of Assyria... became lax in his vigilance and began to indulge with his soldiers in much drinking. With great success the enemy general routed the disorganized camp... battle decided entirely by the Assyrian drunkenness" (Evidence That Demands a Verdict, MacDowell, pages 310-311).
   Nahum 1:10 was fulfilled. The Assyrians regrouped inside the perimeter walls, still secure. But nature's God intervened: "After heavy rains the river broke down a distance of the city walls... the siegers, learning of the break in the wall, attacked," wrote Diodorus Siculus.
   One archaeologist reported, "The fact of the flood accounts for a stratum of pebble and sand found a few feet below the surface of the river in the mounds of Nineveh."
   How literally Nahum's prophecies were fulfilled: "With an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place" (Nahum 1:8).
   What about Nahum's prediction that Nineveh would burn (Nahum 3:13)? M.E.L. Mallowan records: "The condition in which we found (the throne room) was a dramatic illustration of the final sack: The wall plaster had been packed hard and burnt yellow by the flames and then blackened with soot which had penetrated into the brickwork itself. The intense heat had caused the south wall to bend inward and the floor of the chamber itself was buried upon a great pile of burnt debris over a metre and a half in depth, filled with ash... never have I seen so perfect an example of a vengeful bonfire, the soot still permeating the air as we approached" (Nimrud and Its Remains, Vol. II, page 434).
   Could anything be plainer?
   Yet Nahum's fifth and sixth predictions were blockbusters, prophecies that could only be verified with the passage of thousands of years. Nahum predicted that Nineveh would never recover and, strangest of all, that the Assyrian stronghold would disappear altogether. Check Nahum 1:14 and 3:11 once again.
   Now look at the evidence:
   "In 612 B.C. the ancient capital of the Assyrian Empire was so completely obliterated that it became like a myth until its discovery by Sir Austen Layard and others in the 19th century" (Unger's Bible Dictionary, page 795).
   "Even scientifically minded travelers who know from the Bible the existence (of Nineveh) attempted to find it and several times passed over the very ruins without knowing it" (Edward Chiera, They Wrote on Clay, page 40).
   The disappearance of Nineveh was labeled one of the most bewildering riddles of history. So complete was its burial that the Iraqis built a village atop one of the mounds covering the once-proud metropolis. Even today excavators must bore through 30 to 45 feet of debris before Assyrian strata come to view.
   There is absolutely no way that a Jewish seer could have engineered all of these events and then made them come to pass across a time span of more than 2,300 years!
   Nahum's fifth and sixth predictions are the crowning proof: He was inspired by the supreme God! Only God could have brought these predictions to pass so accurately and so minutely over the millennia!
   The evidence is in: Prophecy is proof of the overruling power of God. That is why Nahum, God's bold and colorful servant, prevailed against Nineveh (Isaiah 40:17)!

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Good News MagazineJune-July 1984VOL. XXXI, NO. 6