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What is it about nice people that attract total idiots?Nice people are martyrs. Idiots are evangelists.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wednesday Bible Study: History or prophesy?



This is one of those rare times that we will be hitting the meta-story (the big picture) rather than the tiny details.  We have come to the Prophet Nahum, and his 3:16 goes like this:

Nah 3:16  You increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away. 


Now this obviously needs a bit of elucidation.  Nahum was prophesying over Assyria and its destruction.  Assyria had been, for centuries, a byword for cruelty.  Not until the days of Tamerlane 2,000 years later do we find such a nation so dedicated to the mass murder of others solely for the intimidation value.  But, you say, didn't God send Jonah to save the Assyrians in Nineveh?  Yes, and that legendary cruelty was what led a usually faithful prophet to hitch a ship going the other way.  But in Jonah's days- likely the mid 760's BC, Assyria was in major decline.  Weak kings, court leaders who were NOT Assyrian and WERE the power behind the throne- oh, and throw in a plague, a couple earthquakes, and a terrifying eclipse, and God had prepared that age's Assyrians for repentance.

But soon after, the kings became strong again and the empire returned to its former ways.  Now, my next question shows the wisdom of God.  By the time we get to Nahum, Assyria is again imploding, and all her enemies are at least ready to destroy her.  So why didn't they do that in Jonah's day?  A quick look around the Assyrian rogue's gallery shows Egypt was in a time of troubles herself, and being slowly conquered by a foreign, Nubian Dynasty; the Hittites and Mittani were no more; the Babylonians were also going through violent change, with the Chaldeans first making their presence known; and the Medes were still a bunch of mountainside goat-ropers.

Now, however, things had changed.  The Chaldean-Babylonian alliance had grown powerful;  the Medes had founded a powerful kingdom, and they and the Persians stood united; powerful barbarian tribes, the Cimmerians and Scythians, were moving in.  But all of these were but stormclouds on the horizon as Nahum spoke.  Or were they?


Historians out to disprove the Bible cite Nahum's description of Assyria's fall as SO accurate, it HAD to be written at the time of the events, and not as prophecy.  Let's take a look at some of that prophecy.

In verses 12 and 13, he says that their defensive fortresses fell "like ripe figs", and that the soldiers that defended them " are women in your midst."  He goes on to say that their gates are opened, their bars burned.  Then he moves on to taunting, which is still going on in our verse, deriding them for the futility of their resistance when the Lord decides, this time you fall:


Nah 3:14  Draw water for the siege; strengthen your forts; go into the clay; tread the mortar; take hold of the brick mold! 
Nah 3:15  There will the fire devour you; the sword will cut you off. It will devour you like the locust. Multiply yourselves like the locust; multiply like the grasshopper! 


The whole locust thing is a curious one.  You might see it translated in your Bibles as "cankerworms", "palmerworms", or even "larvae".  This is because, as one commentator explains, the locust was so destructive that Hebrew has TEN different words for them!  They include the four used in the book of Joel:

Joe 1:4  What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten. 


One commentator explains that these are four life-cycle stages of the insect.  The cutting, or gnawing, is a larval stage without wings; the swarming- duh- is a reproductive stage; the hopping is more like the grasshoppers we know, with but limited flight- so they aren't going anywhere; and the destroying phase is when they take wing and find the next area to devastate.  In our story, we are at the hopping phase.  Their merchants HAD been the hoppers swarming over the nations, making the empire rich by debauching others; now, the wings are fully formed, the merchants flee away, and the empire is left with nothing.

Of course, the most telling verse is the last one of the chapter:

Nah 3:19  There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil? 

So how close DID Nahum come?  In 616 BC, Babylon marched upriver, taking city after city.  On their right came the Medes and Persians, who took Assur, the city for which they were named, in 614.  The Cimmerians and Scythians joined the alliance from the north.  In 612, Nineveh itself was sacked; the Medes burning it to the ground.  Those who were not slaughtered (and archaeologists found lots of unburied bodies in her ruins) fled away to the neighboring hills.

Nah 3:17  Your princes are like grasshoppers, your scribes like clouds of locusts settling on the fences in a day of cold-- when the sun rises, they fly away; no one knows where they are. 
Nah 3:18  Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them. 


The King, Sin-Shar-Ishkum, was killed; his brother fled away, begging the Egyptians for help.  This would be the Egypt of Necho, whom Josiah vainly tried to stop at Meggido and was killed.  The brother, now Ashur-Uballit II, took refuge in Harran, but the allies sacked Harran in 609.  He fled away again, met up with the Egyptians, and tried and failed to retake Harran.  The final battle between the two allied forces came at Carchemish in 605, where the rump Assyrian army ceased to exist, and Egypt limped away just years from falling herself.

So you might can see the historians' point; this seems like just a poetic recitation of events.  BUT...  we have some clues that it was not.  One of which lies in this verse:

Nah 3:8  Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her wall? 
Nah 3:9  Cush was her strength; Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers. 
Nah 3:10  Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity; her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; for her honored men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in chains. 



Thebes, the Egyptian capital, fell in 664 BC.  What is not mentioned is that a new king, Psamtik, REBUILT Thebes in 656;  so the prophecy HAD to be between those years.  Also, unusual for recorded Prophets, he doesn't mention the King of Judah in his prophecy or text; and back then, that king would have been the evil Manasseh, which would have been a very good reason for God to ignore him.  So, based on the evidence in the prophecy, Nahum spoke a good 40 years before the events I described- and about 30 before the Medes and Persians had united enough to be a partner in the allied coalition!

So here are our takeaways from our verse:

1- God avenges and judges, in His time.  All of our "why doesn't He"s don't take into account that HE has the plan.

2- God gives us evidence that His Word is true.  The world will always seek to lie about it, but you just can't hide the truth.

4 comments:

  1. Chris:
    ---I will say one thing for the kingdoms of that era...they sure did LOVE to take one another over (and over).
    No wonder many of them failed to follow God...they were too busy trying to off the guys up (or down) river.
    ---Those are very good points mentioned at the end, and to think all ANY of those people had to do was make a different (and better) choice.

    Very good study.

    Stay safe (and historically sound) up there, brother.

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    Replies
    1. And the only difference since 1945 is they take each other over economically- where it hurts...

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  2. Very thorough analysis of this topic. I'd never heard about all this to this detail. I'm going with the prophecy rather than history.

    The truth always comes out eventually and it amazes me that so many try to ignore it or run away. Human nature hasn't changed since the beginning of time.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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