Most of the short book of Nahum is concerned with the coming judgment of Assyria, and particularly with the destruction of its capital, Nineveh. The Assyrians had been cruel enemies of Israel and Judah, but Nahum saw that the day of judgment for them was now approaching.
The Assyrian oppression
Assyria had risen to power more than a century before the time of Nahum. From its base in Mesopotamia, it established an empire that soon began to spread over nations of the Palestine region. It conquered Syria in 732 BC, and Israel (the northern part of the divided Israelite kingdom) in 722 BC, taking the peoples of both nations into captivity (2 Kings 15:29; 16:9; 17:3-6).
With the fall of Israel, the southern kingdom of Judah became open to Assyrian aggression, and for the next one hundred years had a constant struggle to keep itself independent. At times Judah was under the power of Assyria and had to pay it heavy taxes; at other times it managed to reassert its independence; but always it was in a state of tension, if not conflict, with Assyria (2 Kings 16:7- 20; 18:7-37; 19:37; 2 Chron 28:16,20-21; 30:6;
By the time of Josiah, who began to reign in Judah in 640 BC, Assyria’s power had weakened considerably. This enabled Josiah to carry out much needed religious and social reforms without the threat of interference from Assyria. During Josiah’s
reign there was a revival of prophetic activity in Judah, with the ministry of the prophets Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Nahum and Habakkuk. (For the relation of Josiah’s reforms to this prophetic activity see background notes to Zephaniah.)
With Assyria weakening and Babylon growing stronger, Nahum foresaw what the people of Judah had desperately wanted for more than a century, the end of Assyrian power. His description of Nineveh’s overthrow is dramatic, colourful and full of feeling. He rejoiced that at last a fitting divine judgment was to fall upon the nation whose cruelty made it one of the most barbarous oppressors in history. In 612 BC Nineveh was conquered as Nahum foretold, falling to the armies of Babylon.