The Ninevites were nasty! Nineveh was the capital of the kingdom of Assyria, which was the leading power in the Middle East for around 130 years (c.740-610BC). They were known for their ruthlessly cruel treatment of those they conquered. In 722BC, the northern kingdom of Israel had been defeated by Assyria, and many Israelites were deported (read 2 Kings 17). Assyria continued to threaten the southern kingdom of Judah. Nahum is prophesying probably around 100 years after this, perhaps just a few years before Assyria itself was defeated by the Babylonians in 612BC.
Nahum’s main focus is on the character of God, particularly in v2-8. The Lord is a jealous and avenging God, who takes vengeance and is filled with wrath (v2). He is slow to anger but great in power; he will not leave the guilty unpunished (v3). v6 speaks of his indignation, fierce anger and wrath. These aspects of God’s character might make us feel uncomfortable; we prefer to think of his love, grace and mercy. This is perhaps understandable, but we must be careful not to so emphasise certain aspects of his character, that we effectively deny others aspects clearly taught in Scripture. God is as he is, not as we might wish him to be, and he has revealed himself as he is in Scripture.
v7, 8 show the balance, and are in many ways the key theme of Nahum’s prophecy. The Lord is good; he is our refuge in times of trouble, and he cares for those who trust in him. However, not everyone trusts in him; some refuse to acknowledge him, refuse to bow before him as Lord. He does not leave the guilty unpunished; he pursues his foes. Those who (v11) plot evil against the Lord and devise wicked plans will be destroyed (v12).
Nahum’s God is our God. He has not changed, nor will he. He sees, hates and will punish oppression, injustice, cruelty and idolatry, particularly when it is directed against his people. However, we a have clearer and fuller view of both God’s wrath and his mercy. Both are wonderfully revealed at the cross of Christ. We have been introduced to the one who brings good news and proclaims peace (v15, see also Is. 52:7. You might be old enough to remember the old chorus ‘Our God reigns’!) Like Peter in Acts 10:36, we know the message God sent … announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Paul adds in Rom. 10:12 that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him. We have a good God who blesses us richly when we call on him!