8 Are you better than Thebes,
situated on the Nile,
with water around her?
The river was her defense,
the waters her wall.
9 Cush and Egypt were her boundless strength;
Put and Libya were among her allies.
10 Yet she was taken captive
and went into exile.
Her infants were dashed to pieces
at every street corner.
Lots were cast for her nobles,
and all her great men were put in chains.
11 You too will become drunk;
you will go into hiding
and seek refuge from the enemy.
12 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.
13 Look at your troops—
they are all weaklings.
The gates of your land
are wide open to your enemies;
fire has consumed the bars of your gates.
14 Draw water for the siege,
strengthen your defenses!
Work the clay,
tread the mortar,
repair the brickwork!
15 There the fire will consume you;
the sword will cut you down—
they will devour you like a swarm of locusts.
(Nahum 3:8-15a NIV)
As we began Chapter 3, we saw the Lord pronounce His declaration of woe against Assyria, and on Nineveh, its capital city, in particular. Assyria, the aggressor and cruel warlord, was now about to get a taste of what it had been handing out.
As we begin today’s text, Nahum compares Nineveh to Thebes, the capital city of the southern part of Egypt. Like Nineveh, Thebes had a river (the Nile River) that provided a natural part of its defense. Like Nineveh, the citizens and army of Thebes thought of themselves as invincible.
The Assyrians knew the history and details of the fall of Thebes well, as they were the ones that conquered the city. Even the surrounding nations like the rest of Egypt, Libya, Cush, and Put that were friendly toward Thebes and rose up in her defense were no match for the Assyrians (vv. 8-10).
Now the tables were turned and justice was about to be served. The Lord was about to give Nineveh the same treatment they had been dishing out for decades.
Verses 11 – 13 provide the description of Nineveh’s fall:
- like a wobbly-legged drunk
- like a frightened fugitive
- like a fig tree that is shaken and drops its fruit
- like an old woman, unable to defend herself
- like a city with no gates, completely vulnerable to attack
In verse 14, the Lord taunts Nineveh to prepare herself for battle:
- draw water (assume your aggressors will cut off the water supply from the city)
- strengthen defenses (add more defenses to what you already have)
- work the clay (like brickmaking, give the work your full, undivided attention)
- tread the mortar (do the physical exertion needed to accomplish the task)
- repair the brickwork (use the brick and mortar above to reinforce the wall)
This verse is a taunt because all the human effort in the world is no match for the Lord. No preparation will help – Nineveh’s fate is sealed and its destiny has already been recorded in God’s Book, long before it actually takes place (v. 15a).
As I think about today’s text, I am reminded that no one and nothing can stand in God’s way when He brings justice to a broken world.
And in contrast to the brutality of the Assyrians, I remember God’s mercy and heart toward Nineveh when He sent Jonah to preach repentance to them. I ponder how God wanted to redeem the city and call them to Himself.
And so it is with you and me – we were enemies of God before we came to Christ, worthy of His justice for all our sins. But yet, in His mercy, Christ died for our sins and offers us eternal life if we will turn from our wicked ways and make Him the center of our lives.
May we never see God’s judgment and justice without knowing His heart of mercy and love.