Nahum’s name means “He comforted, took pity.” Like Jonah, Nahum referenced the city of Nineveh. Nineveh’s repentance was short lived. After revival during Jonah’s ministry, the Assyrian empire—whose capital city was the notorious Nineveh—became strong and began to intimidate and oppress Judah. About 100 years before Nahum’s prophecy, King Ahaz of Judah cowered before the mighty Assyrians and began to pay tribute to their king, Tiglath-pileser (2 Kgs 16:1-9). His successor, Shalmaneser, captured Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Kgs 17:6). Nahum prophesied between the Assyrian conquest of Israel and the Babylonian captivity of Judah. During this time of Assyrian and then Babylonian dominance, the Lord sent Nahum to comfort His flock in Judah and Jerusalem by reminding them that He is the just ruler of all nations. God’s justice upon Israel’s enemies was yet unseen, but not unknown. A day would come when God would settle accounts against those whom He had used to discipline His people (Isa 10:7-16; 14:24-27; 36:1-20). Obadiah, prophesying after the fall of Jerusalem, may have taken up Nahum’s theme.
Nahum encouraged those in Judah by reminding them of the character of their God. “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God,” he said, “the LORD takes vengeance and is fierce in wrath. The LORD takes vengeance against His foes; He is furious with His enemies. The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will never leave the guilty unpunished” (Nah 1:2-3a). According to Nahum, Nineveh’s oppression of Judah had offended the Lord, provoking Him to destroy the Ninevites. While the Lord used foreign nations to warn His people of the consequences of their idolatrous ways, those nations risked the danger of likewise being destroyed if they did not humble themselves before the Lord (Isa 10:7-16). Judah could thus rejoice in the hope of restoration on the day that the Lord destroyed Nineveh and the Assyrians (Nah 1:12b-13, 15).
The theology of Nahum’s prophecy provides a window for understanding God’s justice in the storyline of Scripture. God’s justice—expressed in Christ’s first and second comings—serves to both comfort those in Christ and exact vengeance upon those opposed to Him. In Christ, God revealed the means by which He will both condemn those who oppose the gospel and provide victory for those who submit to it. In the grid of the New Testament, submission, and obedience to the gospel of Jesus is the only way to escape God’s wrath. In Nah 1:15, the prophet announced the word of the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, and exhorted Judah to “look to the mountains—the feet of one bringing good news and proclaiming peace!” In Rom 10:15, Paul applied Nah 1:15 to the new situation in Christ. While many Jews of Paul’s day had heard the announcement of good news from the prophets, they failed to recognize that the good news of eternal salvation had arrived in Jesus Christ. Paul thus employed Nahum’s word pejoratively. Israel had received the message, “But all did not obey the gospel” (Rom 10:16).