The prophet Nahum.
by Dave Skipper
Ninevah’s Promised Destruction
1 Woe to the bloody city!
It is all full of lies and robbery.
Its victim never departs.
2 The noise of a whip
And the noise of rattling wheels,
Of galloping horses,
Of clattering chariots!
3 Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear.
There is a multitude of slain,
A great number of bodies,
They stumble over the corpses—
4 Because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot,
The mistress of sorceries,
Who sells nations through her harlotries,
And families through her sorceries.
These words of the prophet Nahum told of the coming downfall of the Assyrian empire in the 7th century BC, including their mighty capital Ninevah (one of the largest cities of the time). The Assyrians were renowned for their great cruelty and the violence they inflicted on the nations they subjugated. We read in the Bible in 2 Kings 17 that the people of the northern kingdom of Israel had also come under their throes, trampled and taken from their land, but now the tables are set to be turned. Assyria itself will be brought low by the growing empires of Babylon/Chaldea and Media/Persia.
These solemn and graphic words pull no punches. The scathing criticism and totality of impending doom are captured superbly in these few lines. The noise of conquest and war in all their undiluted brutality is raucous, deafening, terrifying. The relentless battle cries, horse-whippings, neighings and screamings, gallopings and tramplings, clatterings and careenings. And the destruction wrought by weaponry: metal on metal, metal on stone, metal through wood, metal slicing flesh. The moan and cries of the dying, the thuds and muffles of corpses underfoot. This is the true noise of deathly horror.
But this is more than purely predictive prophecy, for the true prophets of the Lord revealed the bigger picture, the truths behind the historical events. Read on…
5 “Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts;
“I will lift your skirts over your face,
I will show the nations your nakedness,
And the kingdoms your shame.
6 I will cast abominable filth upon you,
Make you vile,
And make you a spectacle.
7 It shall come to pass that all who look upon you
Will flee from you, and say,
‘Nineveh is laid waste!
Who will bemoan her?’
Where shall I seek comforters for you?”
19 Your injury has no healing,
Your wound is severe.
All who hear news of you
Will clap their hands over you,
For upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually?
The graphic imagery intensifies as the true nature of the confrontation of empires is made plain. These words make uncomfortable reading, though anyone familiar with the darker content and imagery of noise culture will find resonances here. It is the Lord of hosts himself who is the one who raises the armies who will take down Assyria. For he is the one above all who has been offended by their violence and debauchery. And there are no soft edges to his proclamation.
Why does Assyria deserve this? On top of their lies and robbery and murderous violence they added harlotry and sorcery, both literally and metaphorically. Harlotry and sorcery denote flagrant disobedience to God’s laws. The gleeful selling of the body that despises sacred marriage, marriage being a real-life symbol of what should be a pure and faithful relationship of devotion between God and man. And the quest for power through illicit means: manipulation of demonic forces, shortcuts to power and control, a rejection of quiet trust in God’s wisdom and providence.
Behind the Scenes
That Israel, God’s chosen nation, should have been subjected to the Assyrians was actually no surprise itself. God had repeatedly warned the Israelites that they would face military conquest if they rejected his law and turned to pagan gods and practices. 2 Kings 17 (click the link to read it) makes it abundantly clear that they had done exactly that, and that was why they fell into captivity. They were without excuse.
And the Babylonians et al would also come under God’s future judgments for their violent empire-building. This repeating pattern of nations and empires rising and falling has continued through history, beyond the ancient world up to the present day.
The first chapter of Nahum reveals the power and justice of God as the true driving force behind the upheaval of empires.
2 God is jealous, and the Lord avenges;
The Lord avenges and is furious.
The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries,
And He reserves wrath for His enemies;
3 The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
And will not at all acquit the wicked.
The Lord has His way
In the whirlwind and in the storm,
And the clouds are the dust of His feet.
5 The mountains quake before Him,
The hills melt,
And the earth heaves at His presence,
Yes, the world and all who dwell in it.
6 Who can stand before His indignation?
And who can endure the fierceness of His anger?
His fury is poured out like fire,
And the rocks are thrown down by Him.
Bam! How can any nation stand before such a God of justice? His noise-making is at another level altogether, for no empire can control whirlwinds, storms, mountains quaking, the earth heaving…
All is Not Doomed!
But there is hope, tucked away in two verses:
7 The Lord is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble;
And he knows those who trust in him.
Even when the Lord’s noise utterly overwhelms, he is unstoppably good! And his power provides certain refuge for those of us who trust in his wonderful goodness!
15 Behold, on the mountains
The feet of him who brings good tidings,
Who proclaims peace!
Peace will come. And peace can only prevail when justice is brought on those who wield injustice. Destructivity must be destroyed. Death must die. True and unending peace requires the shaking of all kingdoms, so that the kingdom that cannot be shaken remains. This is the good news of the kingdom of Jesus Christ:
Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
And our weapons are not to overthrow by violent means:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
What is this armour?
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And Noise Music?
Noise has a significant role to play in exposing the deeds of darkness, highlighting injustice, and revealing the horror of mankind’s evil ways. Yet this can all too easily veer into unhealthy territory when it is gratuitous, hopeless, obscene, demeaning, or unconstructive, let alone when it revels and cavorts in darkness, even celebrating or appearing to condone human evil. There are certainly mainly instances of noise culture ambiguously hopping either side of that line.
A Biblical view doesn’t dismiss, deny, or downplay the severity of social and personal evils, but it never delights in them. A Biblical view always focuses on the goodness and sovereignty of God working behind the scenes of history. A Biblical view focuses on the certain future hope that his purposes and kingdom will ultimately prevail. A Biblical view always focuses on our personal and corporate responsibility to love and serve while living in the light. And a Biblical view also rests content in the mysteries of history, trusting God that he somehow uses the wickedness of man as a tool towards his own ends. As always, the resolution of the tension between justice and mercy finds its only and complete resolution of the mystery of Christ’s death on the cross, so I cannot avoid returning to that theme again and again.
So I would conclude by noting to myself:
- Don’t shy away from exposing and expressing the horror of violence and sin in the extreme and harsh possibilities of noise in/as music; but don’t indulge needlessly in that aspect;
- Do pursue and explore the expression of God’s justice and sovereignty over the nations in the extreme and harsh possibilities of noise in/as music, for example noting the textures and effects of the kinds of noises associated with his power and control over the forces of nature;
- Do intentionally lace noise with the rock solid hope of peace and the unshakeableness of God’s eternal kingdom in the motivations and structures and orientation of my noise-making;
- Recognise that all nations and all cultures (including noise culture) are battlegrounds for this war that is not against flesh, so arm myself with the armour of God that I may bring the good news through noise, proclaiming the peace that can only be fully known in Jesus Christ.
Read Nahum! And watch the video!
Here is a brilliant 5-minute video giving an overview of the context and meaning of Nahum, definitely check it out!
The whole book of Nahum is only 47 verses long, so why not read through the whole thing?
The screenshot below is taken from the above-linked video: