Question: "Why did God judge Nineveh so harshly in the book of Nahum?"
Answer: The message of Nahum concerns the impending destruction of Nineveh. The Lord’s word to the Assyrians is dire: “I am against you. . . . I will burn up your chariots in smoke, and the sword will devour your young lions. I will leave you no prey on the earth. The voices of your messengers will no longer be heard” (2:13). God was obviously angry with the Ninevites, and Nahum reveals why.
Nineveh had long been an enemy of Judah and Israel, the people of God. In 722 B.C., the Assyrians defeated the northern kingdom of Israel, destroying its capital, Samaria. In 701 B.C., the Assyrians nearly conquered Jerusalem, the capital of Judah.
The text of Nahum provides additional clues regarding God’s anger with the Ninevites. Nahum 3:1 says, “Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!” Nineveh was a city of violence, known for its brutal treatment of those it conquered. The Assyrians were notorious for amputating hands and feet, gouging eyes, and skinning and impaling their captives. The final verse of Nahum’s book emphasizes the violence of the Assyrians in the form of a rhetorical question: “Who has not felt your endless cruelty?” (Nahum 3:19).
Another reason for God’s anger against Nineveh was its extreme pride, implied in Nahum 3:8. The pride of Nineveh may have been due in part to its wealth and power. One account reveals, “In Sennacherib's day the wall around Nineveh was 40 to 50 feet high. It extended for 4 kilometers along the Tigris River and for 13 kilometers around the inner city. The city wall had 15 main gates. . . . Each of the gates was guarded by stone bull statues. Both inside and outside the walls, Sennacherib created parks, a botanical garden, and a zoo. He built a water-system containing the oldest aqueduct in history at Jerwan, across the Gomel River” (Nelson's Bible Dictionary, p. 760).
Jesus taught, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). This truth is vividly predicted and fulfilled in the case of Nineveh, whose warlike people were known for their brutal treatment of enemies. Despite the military might of Nineveh, they were no match for the God of heaven. Nineveh’s downfall was greeted as good news by Judah (Nahum 1:15) and all who had suffered under their merciless rule (Nahum 3:19).
After Nineveh’s destruction, the site was hidden for some time (see Nahum 3:11). It was not until 1842 that modern archaeologists rediscovered its location in modern-day Iraq.