Nineveh’s End

Scripture: Nahum 2 & 3

 

Title: Nineveh’s End

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • The assault on Nineveh
  • The weakness of Nineveh
  • The sin of Nineveh
  • The humiliation of Nineveh
  • Conclusion – the justice of God

 

Introduction:

2016 marks 400 years since the death of Shakespeare

–         It is a testament to the classic nature and quality of his work that we are still studying Shakespeare’s plays 4 centuries on

–         But who can understand them?

–         A few months ago we went to see a live performance of King Lear at the Circa Theatre here in Wellington

–         Wow – it was brutal

–         Although I didn’t fully understand every line I still felt strangely moved, disturbed even

–         Shakespeare has a way of touching something in the human soul

 

Over the past few weeks we have been looking at God’s dealings with the city of Nineveh, first through the prophet Jonah and then through Nahum

–         The story of Nineveh is like a Shakespearean tragedy in that it is both disturbing & moving at the same time

–         Today we conclude this series by unpacking Nahum chapters 2 & 3

–         Nahum’s prophecy (his vision of Nineveh’s destruction) is like Shakespearean poetry too in that it is not immediately understood

–         We don’t have time to read both chapters in their entirety but here’s a few verses from chapter 3 to allow you to feel something of its impact…

 

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots! Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses – all because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.

 

“I am against you [Nineveh]”, declares the Lord Almighty. “I will lift up your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame. I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. All who see you will flee from you and say, ‘Nineveh is in ruins – who will mourn for her?’ Where can I find anyone to comfort you?” 

 

Sounds like a Shakespearean tragedy doesn’t it

 

It seems to me that Nahum was describing four main things in chapters 2 & 3

–         The assault on Nineveh

–         The weakness of Nineveh

–         The sin of Nineveh

–         And the humiliation of Nineveh

 

The assault on Nineveh:

Let’s begin with Nahum’s vision of the assault on Nineveh…

movie-ratings

On the wall here we have the NZ movie rating system

–         A G rated movie is suitable for anyone, including children

–         PG stands for Parental Guidance recommended

–         M is recommended for Mature audiences 16 years and over, although it is still legal for someone under 16 years to attend an M rated movie

–         And R rated movies are restricted by age – the higher the age restriction the more disturbing or offensive the content

 

If Nahum’s vision of Nineveh’s destruction was to be made into a movie then it would probably be at least an R16

–         It is violent and the content is disturbing

–         With this in mind I want you to remember – there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

 

We believe Nahum wrote about the fall of Nineveh years before it happened – when the Assyrians were at the height of their powers

–         In describing the assault on Nineveh, Nahum writes in verses 3 & 4 of chapter 2

 

The shields of his soldiers are red; the warriors are clad in scarlet. The metal on the chariots flashes on the day they are made ready; the spears of pine are brandished. The chariots storm through the streets, rushing back and forth through the squares…

 

The colours of the Babylonian army were red and their officers wore scarlet

–         Nahum is looking into the future, imagining the city of Nineveh under siege by the mighty Babylonian army who are equipped with chariots – fast and furious

 

From verse 6 the assault on Nineveh continues…

–         The river gates are thrown open and the palace collapses.

 

Nineveh was located near the Tigris River (in northern Iraq) – near the city of Mosul which has been in the news lately

–         The engineers of Nineveh used the river as a defence (like a moat around the walls) and as a resource, by diverting the water under the wall

–         That way, in a siege, the city would still have a water supply

–         The people of Nineveh thought of the River as a strength

–         But sometimes our greatest strengths can also be our biggest weaknesses

–         In the end it was the River which was Nineveh’s undoing

 

According to the ancient Greek historian (Diodorus Siculus) a series of heavy rains swelled the River so about 2 miles of the wall collapsed, flooding the city [1]

–         With the breach in the wall the Babylonians could easily invade the city

–         From verse 8 we read what happens next…

 

Nineveh is like a pool and its water is draining away… Plunder the silver. Plunder the gold. The supply is endless, the wealth from all its treasures. She is pillaged, plundered, stripped…

 

Nineveh had made itself rich by looting other cities – now it is plundered, just as it had plundered others

–         The once full city was drained of wealth, drained of people, drained of life. From verse 2 of chapter 3 we read…

 

The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots. Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears. Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over corpses… 

 

On hearing these words (delivered in a staccato machine gun style) modern readers, like ourselves who live in safe little NZ, may be left wondering…

–         Why does Nahum describe the violence & death that is soon to come on Nineveh in such graphic & disturbing detail?

–         Well, it’s these sorts of details which enliven the readers’ imagination

–         They didn’t have movies in Nahum’s day so people had to imagine things in their minds eye (in their head)

 

Okay – so Nahum’s vivid word imagery helps people to better imagine Nineveh’s demise

–         But why do they need to imagine this – how is this focus on Nineveh’s violent end helpful to Israel?

 

Well, when you have been oppressed and down trodden and bullied and treated unfairly, anger builds up inside – both inside the individual personally and inside the wider community corporately

 

It’s like a balloon

–         Every time someone does you wrong the pressure builds [blow]

–         Every time the Assyrians raided a town [blow]

–         Or burned a crop to the ground [blow]

–         Or killed innocent people [blow]

–         Or cut off someone’s limbs [blow]

–         Or sold someone into slavery [blow]

–         The news of that injustice built pressure in the community

 

But hearing, in graphic detail, how the bad guys are going to get their just desserts, helps to release that pressure

–         ‘Woe to the city of blood’ [release some air from the balloon]

–         ‘All who see you will flee from you & say Nineveh is in ruins’ [release]

–         ‘The fire will devour you; the sword will cut you down Assyria’ [release]

–         ‘Your people are scattered on the mountains’ [release]

 

Without this voiced release of hurt and anger the oppressed become violent themselves

–         Nahum’s message provided release for the community’s anger – so that they didn’t explode

 

The weakness of Nineveh:

Nineveh was successful in a perverse kind of way – they were the champions of the world

–         And their success had lulled them into a false sense of security

–         We would like to play you a short clip from the movie God’s Not Dead

 

[Play the scene from God’s Not Dead – comfortable prison cell]

https://youtu.be/reIy1uqNcJ0

 

In that scene a son goes to visit his mother

–         He is a successful but cynical, ruthless and ‘mean’ business man

–         She is the opposite – a kind, faithful, prayerful woman

–         He despises her faith – if life was fair then she should be successful and he should be burdened with troubles – yet she is the one with dementia

–         The young man’s success (his life of ease) has lulled him into a false sense of security

 

“Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble because he doesn’t want them turning to God. Sin is like a jail cell, except it’s so nice and comfy. There doesn’t seem any need to leave – the door is wide open. Until one day time runs out and cell door slams shut and suddenly it’s too late.”

 

At the time when Nahum gave his prophecy Nineveh was the most powerful, most successful, nation of the day

–         It was unimaginable to the Assyrians that Nineveh would ever fall

–         The people of Nineveh have been lulled into a false sense of security

–         To drive home this point Nahum goes on to explain just how weak Nineveh actually is

 

In verses 11 to 13 of chapter 3 Nahum writes…

 

You too will become drunk; you will go into hiding and seek refuge from the enemy. All your fortresses are like fig trees with their first ripe fruit; when they are shaken, the figs fall into the mouth of the eater. Look at your troops – they are all women. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies…

 

The prophet uses 5 images here to underline the helplessness and weakness of Nineveh. They will be like…

–         A staggering drunk (not in control of themselves)

–         A panicked fugitive (on the run)

–         A trembling fig tree (easy pickings for their enemy)

–         A frightened woman (unable to offer much resistance)

–         And a gateless city (wide open – defenceless) [2]

 

Continuing the theme of Nineveh’s weakness and false sense of security, from verse 8 of chapter 3 we read…

 

Are you better than Thebes, situated on the Nile, with water around her? The river was her defence, the waters her wall. Cush and Egypt were her boundless strength; Put and Libya were among her allies. Yet she was taken captive and went into exile. Her infants were dashed to pieces at the head of every street…

 

Here the prophet draws a comparison between Nineveh and Thebes

–         Nineveh is like the city of Thebes

–         Both were protected by a mighty river and both had strong allies

–         No one thought Thebes would ever fall and yet it did – it fell at the hands of the Assyrians in fact

–         Just as the people of Thebes were taken captive and dragged into exile, so too the people of Nineveh would suffer the same fate

 

Those words: Her infants were dashed to pieces at the head of every street, are among the most difficult in the whole Bible

–         This is not a metaphor – it is historical fact

–         It was typical for the Assyrians (and others) to kill babies like this.

–         They did it for a number reasons:

–         Firstly, to break the spirits of those they had conquered – to take away their hope

–         But also because infants don’t serve any commercial purpose – they are a burden and can’t work as slaves

–         What’s more, the mothers couldn’t hold their babies on the long march into exile because their hands were shackled

 

This kind of behaviour is a sad indictment on the human race – I believe it grieves the heart of God

–         But in case we are tempted to look down on people of ancient times we do well to remember that children are still killed in war today

–         And even closer to home, NZ has one of the worst child abuse records of the developed world

–         Add to that the thousands of babies who killed through abortion each year

–         We shouldn’t be too self-righteous

–         There is a principle in creation that we reap what we sow

–         Just as the Assyrians had done to others so they could expect it done to them

 

As well as describing the assault on Nineveh and the vulnerability of the great city, Nahum also details the sins of Nineveh

 

The sins of Nineveh:

Greed, deceit, violence, cruelty and slavery

–         These were some of the things Nineveh was guilty of

–         In verse 4 of chapter 3 we read why all this destruction is coming on Nineveh…

 

…because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft. 

 

Nineveh is being compared to a witch and a prostitute – the metaphor is one of power & deceit

–         Nahum is basically saying that Nineveh’s great power & wealth has been gained through deceiving others

–         They look attractive on the outside, but underneath they are only interested in looking after number one

–         Their whole economy is based on stealing other people’s stuff and exploiting those same people for slave labour

–         They are unfaithful – they can’t be trusted – and where there is no trust (no faith) there is no possibility for forgiveness or reconciliation

 

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims.

 

You have increased the number of your merchants till they are more than the stars of the sky, but like locusts they strip the land and then fly away.

 

Nineveh was a consumerist society

–         Like locusts they stripped the place bare and then moved on

–         They had made themselves rich at other people’s expense and did not give anything back

 

We should be cautioned by this

–         While I don’t think we are quite as bad as the Assyrians, consumerism is strong in our society today too

–         Literally millions of people work as slaves in the world we live in

–         Some are forced into the sex trade, others make bricks or produce crops for an unfair return. Many work in factories making clothes for us

–         Although we may not want to be, we are implicated – we are often the unwitting & unwilling beneficiaries of slave labour

 

Greed, deceit, violence, cruelty and slavery – it seems no one was left untouched by Nineveh’s sin

–         And so Nineveh’s humiliation would be great indeed

 

The humiliation of Nineveh:

In verse 5 of chapter 3 the Lord says to Nineveh…

 

“I am against you [Nineveh]. I will lift up your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame. I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle…”

 

Nineveh had deceived people but now God is going to expose the truth behind the façade

–         “All the dirty facts of her undercover deals will be fully known.” [3]

–          Nineveh’s true character will be visible before all

 

What was it Jesus said?

–         ‘Whatever is covered up will be uncovered and every secret will be made known’  (Donald Trump found that out this week didn’t he)

–         It’s a frightening thought for all of us really

 

Given all the terrible things that were going to happen (and did in fact happen) to Nineveh, we may be inclined to feel sorry for them

–         But no one who actually knew the people of Nineveh felt that way

–         The final verse of Nahum’s prophecy reads…

 

Nothing can heal your wound [Nineveh]; your injury is fatal. Everyone who hears the news about you claps his hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty.

    

We heard about Nineveh’s cruelty last week – how the kings of Assyria tortured their victims – skinning people alive, cutting off heads & limbs and so on – we don’t need to go into all that again today

–         The point I mean to highlight here is that Nineveh’s fall is good news to everyone else

–         No one is sad for Nineveh – not one person is left untouched by their cruelty – they showed kindness to no one

–         Nineveh got what they deserved

 

Conclusion:

What then does the story of Nineveh reveal about God?

 

All these words describing Nineveh’s violent end might give some the impression that God is vengeful and brutal

–         But when we look at Nineveh’s story as a whole, what we see is a God who is patient, slow to anger and rich in love – but also just

–         I don’t think the Lord wanted to destroy Nineveh, but Nineveh didn’t leave him much choice

–         God gave the Assyrians more than 200 years to change

–         He reached out to them by sending Jonah and showed compassion on the people when they repented at Jonah’s preaching

 

Sadly the repentance didn’t last – the Assyrians returned to their evil ways and God had little option but to execute justice

–         As Martin Luther King famously said…

–         ‘The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice’

nineveh-then

nineveh-now

On the wall here we have before and after shots of the city of Nineveh

–         The top image is an artist’s impression of Nineveh in its hay day

–         And the bottom image is a photograph of the archaeological ruins of the ancient city today

–         As we gather here this morning preparations are being made to invade the city of Mosul (in the neighbourhood of ancient Nineveh), where Isis is currently based

–         So much turmoil in that part of the world then – so much turmoil now

 

Empires rise and empires fall – but God stays the same

–         He is a God of grace and his mercies are new every morning

–         But he is also a God of truth and justice

–         He gives people many second chances but he won’t let the stubbornly unrepentant go unpunished

 

God sent his Son Jesus to make all things new

–         As Christians we look forward to the day when Christ will return in glory to bring an end to war, greed and slavery – to establish heaven on earth

 

Let us pray…

 

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/16-oct-2016-ninevehs-end

[1] O. Palmer Roberston (NICOT) ‘Nahum’, page 90.

[2] O. Palmer Roberston (NICOT) ‘Nahum’, page 118.

[3] Ibid, page 109.

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