DISCOVERY for TEACHERS: 2 Kings, Nahum, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Lamentations

Nahum and Zephaniah

The Prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah

source for questions

Nahum 1:1 through 3:19
Zephaniah 1:1 through 3:20

key verse for memorization

“Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3)

background

The Book of Nahum deals with God’s punishment of the enemies of Judah, and the consequent good news for the people of God. The prophecy is fairly narrow in scope, focusing on the destruction of Nineveh that would occur in the year 612 B.C. The exact date is difficult to determine, but the prophecy was given sometime after the year 663 B.C., when the Egyptian city of Thebes fell to the Assyrians. Nahum compared Nineveh to Thebes (the city of No mentioned in Nahum 3:8-10). He recounted the seeming invincibility and sad destruction of that city and then predicted that a similar fate awaited Nineveh. The first chapter describes the holy character of God the Judge; the second chapter describes Nineveh’s fall; and the third chapter explains why the city would fall.

Zephaniah prophesied sometime during the reign of a good king of Judah, Josiah, probably between 663 and 654 B.C. (Zephaniah 1:1). However, Josiah followed two of the most wicked kings of Judah (Manasseh and Amon), so the nation of Judah was in a low moral state when Zephaniah prophesied. His prophecy may have played a crucial role in the moral reforms that King Josiah implemented, although after Josiah was killed in battle, Judah lapsed once more into sinful behavior. In chapter 1, the prophet declared that judgment would come to Judah and, in chapter 2, to the Gentile nations surrounding it. Chapter 3 brings out that God will extend mercy and restoration in the last days, and there will be a time of rejoicing.

The destruction of Nineveh that both Nahum and Zephaniah predicted was so complete that many modern people doubted the existence of the city until archeologists discovered its ruins, with great difficulty, in the 19th century.

Suggested Responses to Questions
  1. The two original primary audiences for Nahum’s prophecy were the nation of Assyria (whose capital city was Nineveh), and the nation of Judah, which had been oppressed by the Assyrians. Nahum prophesied the destruction of the great city of Nineveh, which was utterly destroyed by the Babylonians in 612 B.C. Read chapter 1 of Nahum’s prophecy. How would you feel if you were an Assyrian hearing this prophecy? How would you feel if you were a person from the land of Judah?

    Since the Assyrian audience received a message of judgment and condemnation, we might suppose that those receiving that message would be alarmed and fearful, and perhaps motivated to repentance. In reality, they appeared to think it was ludicrous or foolish, for they ignored the warning. However, the people of Judah no doubt felt relief and hope when they heard Nahum’s message. 

    Follow up your discussion of these questions by pointing out that although the people of Nineveh had repented some one hundred years earlier at the preaching of Jonah, this time they failed to turn from their evil ways and seek God, in spite of the horrendous nature of the prophesied destruction. Ask your class: How do people today respond to the warning that Christ’s coming is near, and that a time of terrible trouble awaits those who have failed to make their peace with Him? Why do you think people are so heedless of the warning?

     
  2. Nahum began his prophecy with a description of God in Nahum 1:2-7. What can we learn about God’s nature and attributes from these verses? How should knowing these attributes impact our behavior and attitude toward Him?

    Class discussion may bring out the following:

    Nahum 1:2 — God is a jealous God who takes revenge on His enemies.

    Nahum 1:3 — God is slow to anger. God is great in power. God will not acquit the wicked.

    Nahum 1:3-5 — God’s power is shown in and through nature.

    Nahum 1:6 — God’s anger is like a fiery volcano.

    Nahum 1:7 — God is good. God is a stronghold in the day of trouble. God knows those who trust in Him.

    Being aware of the attributes of God should cause us to view Him and His requirements with awe, utmost respect, and unquestioning obedience. 

    It might be interesting to discuss with your class some current-day examples of these timeless truths about the nature of God.
     
     
  3. What were God’s intentions for Assyria, and why? Nahum 1:9,14; 2:13; 3:19

    These verses bring out that God was going to utterly destroy Assyria because the people were so vile and wicked. 

    Discuss with your class what this indicates about God’s love and mercy. The point should be made that those who reject God can eventually go beyond mercy. A just and holy God cannot see evil people flouting His law unendingly, and do nothing about it. His righteousness and justice require that evil be recompensed. 

     
  4. In chapter 3, Nahum spelled out a number of the specific sins of the Ninevites that were the reason for the judgment pronounced upon them. What were these sins? (Nahum 3:1, 4, 19) In what ways are the sins of the Ninevites evident in our society today?

    Nahum 3:1 — The verse implies that the people of Nineveh were violent, dishonest, and thieves, evidently making gain by exploiting and robbing others.

    Nahum 3:4 — The Assyrians worshiped idols and practiced witchcraft. Nineveh was like a harlot because her people served many gods instead of the one true God.

    Nahum 3:19 — The Assyrian nation had cruelly oppressed and exploited many of the weaker nations.

    Class discussion of the second question should provide many current-day examples of violence, dishonesty, witchcraft, serving things other than the one true God, exploitation, etc. 

     
  5. Unlike Nahum’s prophecy, which focused almost exclusively on the destruction of Nineveh, the prophecy of Zephaniah foretold the destruction of Judah (Zephaniah 1) and the Gentile nations surrounding Judah (Zephaniah 2). What Gentile nations were named? (Zepheniah 2:4-15) What do you think is indicated by the fact that nations to the west, east, south, and north of Judah were all mentioned?

    A map of these areas at the time could be helpful in class.

    Zephaniah 2:4-7 refers to the nation of Philistia. Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron were four of the five major cities of Philistia. The Cherethites were a Philistine tribe that dwelt in the south of Canaan, the lowland along the coast of Philistia.

    Zephaniah 2:8-10 refers to the nations of Moab and Ammon. These nations had historically maintained an adversarial relationship with Judah, often encroaching on the land of Judah. 

    Zephaniah 2:12 refers to the nation of Ethiopia. Ethiopia ruled Egypt from 720 to 654 B.C., shortly before the time of Zephaniah’s prophecy.

    Zephaniah 2:13-15 refers to the nation of Assyria. Thus, both Nahum and Zephaniah prophesied the destruction of Nineveh.

    In response to the second question, it should be brought out that Zephaniah was indicating the universality of God’s judgment throughout the world. You could follow up this thought by asking your class: How is God concerned with the actions of entire nations today?

     
  6. In Zephaniah 1:12-13 the prophet said that God would punish those who were “settled on their lees,” a phrase which meant they were at ease, or apathetic. Why was this attitude worthy of God’s punishment?

    The people condemned by the prophet in this verse were not concerned about the sinful condition of Judah, nor were they concerned about the coming judgment of God. They seemed to be concerned with, and trusting solely in, their own wealth and material possessions. Such a complacent attitude was worthy of punishment because it indicated that they had stopped trusting in God and believing His prophets.

    What parallel might we see to this behavior in our society? What warning is there for us as we ponder God’s anger at such an attitude of indifference? 

     
  7. Although Zephaniah’s prophecy of destruction was much broader than Nahum’s prophecy, it also held out more hope for the redemption of the Gentile nations. What does God promise in Zephaniah 2:3, 3:9, and 3:13?

    In Zephaniah 2:3, God promised to spare all the meek and righteous in the earth. In Zephaniah 3:9, God promised to purify the nations through His time of judgment so that all may call upon the Name of the Lord and serve Him in unity. In Zephaniah 3:13, God promised that He will cleanse the remnant of Israel from all vestiges of sinful pride, and will cause them to dwell in perfect peace and security.

    You may wish to broaden out the concept of God’s promises by asking your students to name some promises God has made to us. Ask them: How do we know God’s promises to us are true, and will be fulfilled?

     
  8. Zephaniah 3:14 commands, “Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.” Why would the prophet ask the people of Judah to rejoice after pronouncing the coming wrath of God upon Judah and all the nations? (Zephaniah 3:15)

    The people were to rejoice because although Zephaniah foretold the great and terrible Day of the Lord when God’s wrath would be poured out to punish sin, he also foretold that God’s punishment will purify a remnant of Israel who will serve God in righteousness. (Read Zephaniah 3:11-13.) God will then be in the midst of His people, and the land of Judah will be restored. (Read Zephaniah 3:15-20.)

    Ask your class: Though we know a time of great and terrible trouble is coming upon this world, what reason do we have to rejoice?
     
     
  9. What do the prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah teach us about the way we should live our lives? 

    Answers to this question may vary, but they should offer a springboard to wrapping up this lesson. The point should emerge that Nahum and Zephaniah’s prophecies reveal that God is displeased with dishonesty, violence, robbery, moral apathy, idol worship, self-complacency, and pride. God is pleased with those who trust in Him, who seek meekness and righteousness, and who are honest and upright. To escape God’s judgment, we must purpose to listen to Him, accept His correction, obey Him, trust Him, and seek His guidance for our lives. As we do these things, we can be assured of a glorious future with Him, in spite of the calamities that will come upon this earth.
conclusion

The prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah were fulfilled in part when Nineveh was ransacked in the year 612 B.C. and when Judah fell to Babylon in the year 586 B.C. However, the ominous world-wide “day of the Lord” prophesied by Zephaniah, and the universal worship of the Lord which is to follow this time of trouble, has not yet come to pass.