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Whatever happened to . . .

We’ve all had that conversation, haven’t we? Despite the prevalence of social media, time still has a way of unraveling relationships, acquaintances, and contacts. Phrases like, “out of sight, out of mind,” exist for a reason. Then one day something happens to jog our memory, that person pops into our mind and the next thing you know we’re asking the question, “Whatever happened to . . . “

This phenomenon isn’t restricted to individuals; it applies to families (the Rockefellers and the Roosevelts), groups of people (the Incas and the Shakers), and nations (Soviet Union and South Vietnam). They’re in the spotlight one moment and in the next they’ve not only exited the stage—they’ve left the building. They’re no longer on anyone’s radar. To borrow another phrase, they are “here today and gone tomorrow.”

Most of us have probably heard of the Assyrians somewhere along the line. You might remember them from a world history class since they existed as a kingdom for almost two thousand years (from 2500BC to 600BC). Along with Egypt and Babylon, they occupy a prominent role in the Old Testament as an enemy of Israel and Judah.

It requires a bit of effort, but it’s well worth it to imagine the size of the shadow they cast over Judah at the time of Nahum. It would be fair to say that Assyria was to Judah what Goliath was to the army of Israel (1 Samuel 17). If you haven’t read the story lately, v. 11 reminds us that “Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.”  

Dismayed and terrified—I imagine that’s exactly the way Judah felt in regard to the Assyrians. After all, they had been haunting their region of the world for two centuries. In 722 BC they defeated Israel and deported the survivors so that there was nothing left of their brothers to the north. Eight years later they invade Judah and capture all of its fortified cities (46 according to the Sennacherib Prism). Soon they are outside of Jerusalem and if not for the intervention of Yahweh, the city would have been destroyed (2 Kings 19:35). Assyria was their worst nightmare and they weren’t getting much sleep!

Nahum’s message that Nineveh (capital of the empire) would fall must have seemed ridiculous at a certain level. They had plagued Israel a longer time than automobiles, television or airplanes have been around. And just as we can’t imagine life without these things, it must have been difficult for Judah to believe that Assyria would be no more.

But that’s exactly what happened. In her work The Ancient Near East, Amelie Kuhrt writes, “The sudden disappearance of the Assyrian Empire, which seemed impregnable and solid, especially in the period of the seventh century, is a phenomenon as yet poorly understood . . . The change is sudden and abrupt; the process and circumstances, and possible underlying causes, all remain obscure.”

Like Goliath, the Assyrians towered over the people of God until a prophet named Nahum was raised up by Yahweh to say, "Your time is up!" 

"This is what the Lord says, 'Although they have allies and

are numerous, they will be destroyed and pass away" (1:12).

There's nothing obscure about that.

And that's how Assyria became part of the "Whatever happened to . . ." club.

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