The Assyrian empire had dominated the international political scene since the reign of Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria (745–727 BC)— also called “Pul” in the Bible. To consolidate his power, Pul besieged the city of Samaria and asked King Menahem of Israel to pay tribute to him. According to 2 Kings, “Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver so that his hand might be with him to strengthen the kingdom under his rule” (2 Kings 15:19). Once Pul received the tribute payment, he withdrew his troops from the Israelite land (2 Kings 15:20).
In 733 BC, Israel allied with Syria to seek independence from Assyria. Israel and Syria requested help from King Ahaz of Judah, but Ahaz refused to join because he had allied with Assyria. Consequently, Israel and Syria decided to wage war against Judah, “but they could not conquer it” (Isaiah 7:1). One year later, the Assyrians invaded Damascus (the capital of Syria), and ten years later (722 BC), they captured Israel when King Hoshea stopped paying tribute to the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V (2 Kings 17:6).
Meanwhile, the Assyrians continued to receive tribute payments from Judah. But in 701 BC, King Hezekiah of Judah rebelled against King Sennacherib of Assyria. This could be because Hezekiah made an alliance with Egypt (Isaiah 36:6). In frustration, the Assyrians attacked Judah, but the death angel of the Lord “went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians,” causing Sennacherib to depart from Israel (2 Kings 19:35–36; Isaiah 36–37).
Eventually, under the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (668–627 BC), the Assyrians returned to Judah, captured King Manasseh, and “led him to Babylon, making Judah one of their subjects (2 Chronicles 33:11).
Upon Manasseh’s return to Judah, he reigned for a short time and then died. His son (Amon) ruled in Judah for only two years, from 642 to 640 BC (2 Kings 21:19–26). Following Amon’s death, his son Josiah ruled from 640 to 609 BC. In 627 BC, the last strong Assyrian leader (Ashurbanipal) died, causing the Assyrian empire to decline rapidly. Josiah seized the opportunity and began a religious reform in which he purged all the altars of Baal along with the molten images (2 Chronicles 34:3–7).
During that time (around 630 BC), the prophet Nahum ministered, announcing an eventual collapse of Nineveh. The great bloody city of Nineveh fell by a coalition of Babylonians and Medes in 612 BC.
The Message of Nahum
The prophet Nahum predicted judgment on Nineveh, the capital and strength of Assyria. About one hundred years earlier, the LORD had sent the prophet Jonah to preach a message of repentance to Nineveh. The people of Nineveh repented for a while but shortly after returned to their wickedness and cruelty. Now the LORD raised the prophet Nahum to announce the destruction of Nineveh. Nahum’s prophecy also offered hope and comfort for Judah, which the Assyrian empire had oppressed for so long (Nahum 1:15).
Nahum 3 laments the lost city of Nineveh and describes the reasons for her fall. The LORD will cause Nineveh to suffer shame and defeat because she has oppressed God’s covenant people (Judah), causing them to live in fear. Nineveh will suffer the same fate that it inflicted upon the great Egyptian city, No-amon., Nineveh will suffer the same abuse it heaped on others through the LORD’s intervention. She will fall and will never rise again. Nineveh’s destruction will bring hope and comfort to the nations, especially the people of Judah who rely on the LORD for relief from their traumatic experiences. The chapter’s outline is as follows: