Multiply yourselves like the locust;
multiply like the grasshopper!
You increased your merchants
more than the stars of the heavens.
The locust spreads its wings and flies away.
Your princes are like grasshoppers,
your scribes like clouds of locusts
settling on the fences
in a day of cold—
when the sun rises, they fly away;
no one knows where they are.
Your shepherds are asleep,
O king of Assyria;
your nobles slumber.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
with none to gather them.
There is no easing your hurt;
your wound is grievous.
All who hear the news about you
clap their hands over you.
For upon whom has not come
your unceasing evil? – Nahum 3:15b-19 ESV
Nineveh was a wealthy city full of prosperous people who had benefited from the global expansion of the Assyrian empire. Along with tremendous amounts of plunder, the city of Nineveh had become a powerful trading hub, with merchants coming and going all the time, bringing in commodities from all around the known world. It was a great time to be alive if you lived in Nineveh. You had a powerful king with an army that was second to none. You lived in a city that was well-fortified and the envy of all your enemies. Every imaginable produce was available for purchase or trade within its walls. The signs of affluence were everywhere. You were surrounded by elaborate temples, sumptuous palaces, and fine homes. Wealthy and influential individuals walked the streets. Dignitaries from all around the world flocked to Nineveh to strike alliances and bring tribute to the king. As a result of all the Assyrian conquests, there were so many slaves, virtually anybody could have one. It was a great time to be alive.
But not for long. Nahum sarcastically tells the Assyrians to keep on multiplying. It is as if he is saying, “Keep it up. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Enjoy your moment in the sun, because it is about to get very dark, very quickly.” Nahum has no problem if their army keeps on expanding and their population continues to increase, because it won’t do them any good. Their many military victories had brought financial success. Business was booming, with the number of merchants plying their trade growing daily. They were like locusts. Too many to count. Their army was massive in size. In fact, Nahum refers to them in verse 17. The word translated as “princes” is actually the Hebrew word for “captains” and it most likely refers to the military leaders who oversaw the vast Assyrian army. The term translated as “scribes” literally means “crowned ones” and probably refers to the large number of princes and royal officials who helped oversee the administration of the massive bureaucracy of the Assyrian government. He compares these two groups to locusts and grasshoppers. They were everywhere and their numbers were too many to count. But Nahum warns that the day is coming when they will all disappear and no one will know where they all went. The merchants, princes and captains will be no more. Like locusts that cover the land, they will suddenly vanish. Here today, gone tomorrow.
And Nahum has a special word for the leaders of Nineveh. He compares them to shepherds who are responsible for the care of the sheep, but accuses them of being asleep on the job. They are negligent. The king and his officials are so busy building an empire, that they have forgotten to care about the common man. Global expansion had taken precedence over everything else. These men believed that surrounding their people with military might and financial success was all that was needed. They had the fortifications and the army to defend them. No one would dare attack the impregnable city of Nineveh. They had grown cocky and overconfident, drunk on their own success. They wouldn’t see the disaster until it was upon them.
But the word translated as “slumber” has another meaning. It was used as a figurative expression of someone dying. It is as if Nahum is warning that the day is fast approaching when all the princes, captains, royal officials, and the king himself, will all be dead. And the result will be that the sheep, those under their care, will end up scattered. No longer safe within the walls of Nineveh, they will flee to the mountains and try to escape capture at the hands of the Medes and Babylonians.
And there is nothing that can be done to stop what is going to happen. Nahum warns them, “There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous” (Nahum 3:19 ESV). This is going to be terminal. There is no escaping what God is bringing upon them. So, they could keep on growing and expanding, trading and doing business around the world, but none of it would prevent the inevitable. God’s judgment was coming and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who puts kings on their thrones. He is the one who established kingdoms. And in every case, He expects those in authority to rule justly and care for those under their authority. Paul reminds us, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1 NLT). And he says that, “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good” (Romans 13:4 NLT). It is important to remember that, when Paul wrote this, he was addressing Christians who were living under the heavy-handed rule of the Roman government. But God has established the role of all government to provide rule and order and to protect and provide for those under its care. And He will hold all governments responsible for the role He has given them. He will hold to account each and every king, dictator, despot, president, government official, senator or member of congress. God even held the leaders of Israel accountable for their leadership over those under their care. Take a look at what He had to say to the shepherds of Israel:
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT
“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people–the shepherds of my sheep–for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 32:1 NLT
God takes leadership seriously. He allows men and women to enjoy roles of responsibility, but He expects them to wield their power and influence for the good of their people. Even pagan kings and communist dictators are expected by God to provide their people with protection and the provision of their needs. But in so many instances, we have seen governments spend more money on their military than they do on meeting the needs of their people. They build vast military complexes while their people suffer from a lack of the basic necessities of life. God will not allow that to go on forever. He will hold all leaders accountable, regardless of their political ideology or spiritual philosophy.
And lousy leaders are never missed. Their untimely exit from the stage of life is applauded, not mourned. Everyone loves to see the bad guys get their just desserts. As Nahum so aptly puts it: “All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you” (Nahum 3:19 ESV). Eventually, everyone says good riddance to bad leadership.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.