Slideshow image

Few passages are more explicit and troubling than Nahum 3:5-7. After predicting the utter destruction awaiting the city of Nineveh (Nahum 1-2) and the reasons for the impending doom (Nahum 3:1-4), God tells the city of Nineveh how He really feels. Reader discretion advised.

Nahum 3:5-7Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame. 6 I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. 7 And all who look at you will shrink from you and say, “Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?” Where shall I seek comforters for you?.

Indeed, this passage is so troubling that it has attracted immense attention over the last few decades. In that time, many biblical critics have argued these verses record a divine rape scene. [1] Perhaps the strongest critic is Judith Sanderson, who writes:

What would it mean to worship a God who is portrayed as raping women when angry? And if humans see themselves in some way as the image of God, what would it mean to reflect that aspect of God’s activity on the human level? To involve God in an image of sexual violence is, in a profound way, somehow to justify it and thereby to sanction it for human males who are for any reason angry with a woman. No wonder, then, that these biblical passages are seldom used for preaching and teaching.[2]

Are the critics right? No doubt this is a troubling text, but is it really depicting divine rape? Even a cursory reading of the passage rules this interpretation out quite easily. Notice the language. The nakedness of Nineveh doesn’t entice God or the nations. Instead it repulses them. No this isn’t a rape scene, something else is going on here. But what?

Using an admittedly troubling metaphor (that’s the point, after all, it’s supposed to be troubling), God promises to expose what’s underneath Nineveh’s external beauty. She’s bright and shiny on the outside, but underneath there is nothing but filth and horror. For now the nations are enticed by the seductive charms of this glorious city (Nahum 3:4), but the day is coming when that spell will be broken. The day will come when people see the truth about who they really are underneath the façade.

I experienced this personally a few days ago as I stood outside an abortion clinic with my brother Don Karns. The abortion complex in our country is bright and shiny. We call it “reproductive freedom” and “women’s healthcare.” We celebrate it on social media. Our leaders boast about their good works and care for poor and vulnerable women. We give millions and millions of dollars for the advancement of this supposedly beautiful cause. But underneath it all, it’s diabolical. Sure, we can boast about it all we want. But the day is coming when God will pull back the curtain and the world will look in horror at what we’ve done. The day is coming when God will break the spell, our nakedness will be exposed and we’ll wretch at the sight. God help us.

But there’s more going on in Nahum 3:5-7. Jesus taught His disciples repeatedly that He came to fulfill the law and the prophets (cf., Matthew 5:17). Does Jesus have anything to do with a passage as horrifying as this? Absolutely.

The wrath that Nineveh endured in Nahum 3:5-7 was ultimately and more fully endured by Jesus Himself. On the cross the Lord of Hosts was against Him. His nakedness was exposed. Our filth was thrown upon Him as He bore the penalty for our sin. As He wore the vileness of our sin, the Father treated Him with contempt. He was made a spectacle for a watching world. Why? 2 Corinthians 5:21 makes it crystal clear: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So don’t shy away from troubling texts like Nahum 3:5-7. They expose the horrors of our sin. They illustrate the holiness of God. And they point us to the hope we have in Christ alone.  


[1] Cook, G. D. (2016). Severe Compassion: The Gospel according to Nahum. (I. M. Duguid, Ed.) (p. 168). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. For instance, Julie Galambush, “Nahum,” in The Women’s Bible Commentary, 3rd ed., ed. Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsely (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 332; F. Rachel Magdalene, “Ancient Near Eastern Treaty-Curses and the Ultimate Texts of Terror: A Study of the Language of Divine Sexual Abuse in the Prophetic Corpus,” in The Latter Prophets, ed. Athalya Brenner, A Feminist Companion to the Bible, 1st ser. (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 1995), 333; Gerlinde Baumann, “Prophetic Objections to yhwh as the Violent Husband of Israel: Reinterpretations of the Prophetic Marriage Metaphor in Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40–55),” in Prophets and Daniel, ed. Athalya Brenner, A Feminist Companion to the Bible, 2nd ser. (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 100.

[2] Ibid.