Having just read Jonah, you know that ‘Nineveh’ can stand as a term for any imperial capital, even in a fable. You know how we use ‘Washington’, or ‘London’, ‘Paris’, ‘Brussels’, ‘Teheran’, or ‘Berlin’. Why would our ancestors not generalize the shape of things ‘bigger than us, smaller than God’, in past, present and future, using the name of ‘that great city’ as code?
Whether an imperial city is on the rise, at its peak, or in decline, it has victims and enemies who cannot overcome it, but wish it ill. They question which side God is on, and assure themselves of ultimate justice. That’s always going to be a threat to some, and a promise to others. As the Marxists say, ‘Behind every great fortune is an equally great crime’. Today’s oracle sings that song.
This is not a revolutionary plan for a national revival, but an affirmation that ‘God is not on their side, even though they prevail now’. Some of that is said in threats to the powerful, and some in promises in the final verses of relief from oppression, and the destruction of idolatry.
Nahum 1 (NRSV)
1 An oracle concerning Nineveh.
The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.
2 A jealous and avenging God is the LORD, the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and rages against his enemies. 3 The LORD is slow to anger but great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, and he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither, and the bloom of Lebanon fades.
5 The mountains quake before him, and the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who live in it.
6 Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire, and by him the rocks are broken in pieces.
7 The LORD is good, a stronghold on a day of trouble; he protects those who take refuge in him, 8 even in a rushing flood.
He will make a full end of his adversaries,* and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
9 Why do you plot against the LORD?
He will make an end; no adversary will rise up twice.
10 Like thorns they are entangled, like drunkards they are drunk; they are consumed like dry straw.
11 From you one has gone out who plots evil against the LORD, one who counsels wickedness.
12 Thus says the LORD, ‘Though they are at full strength and many,* they will be cut off and pass away.
Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more.
13 And now I will break off his yoke from you and snap the bonds that bind you.’
14 The LORD has commanded concerning you: ‘Your name shall be perpetuated no longer; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the cast image.
I will make your grave,
for you are worthless.’
15 *Look! On the mountains the feet of one who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace!
Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, fulfil your vows, for never again shall the wicked invade you; they are utterly cut off.