Rhetorical-ness, God’s Not a Fickle Dummy, & the Full Expression of Jonah & Nahum

All three chapters of the tiny ignored book of Nahum are now done.  Let me end it today with 2 thoughts.

First, the rhetorical question:

Did you notice that Nahum ends with a rhetorical question? Do you know what the only other book in the Bible to with a rhetorical question is? Jonah. Jonah 4:11 says, “Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Likewise Nahum 3:19 ends with “For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?” Jonah’s rhetorical question pointing out the obvious – that God can show mercy on whomever He desires to while Nahum’s rhetorical question pointing out the obvious – that God can withhold mercy and destroy whomever He desires to. Two rhetorical questions; one about grace and mercy, the other about woe and judgment. What does this mean? God is completely free to do as He pleases. He doesn’t ask permission, doesn’t need a hall pass, doesn’t phone a friend. The ultimate answer is Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will show compassion on whom I show compassion.” God is sovereign. “Our God is in the heavens, He does what He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) God is wise, and decided in that wisdom that His glory would be made much of most by granting Nineveh mercy and then executing judgment on them when they turned away.

I’m sure some of you are feeling what rises out of a thought like that, “Is God really that fickle?” No, God is not a fickle God as if He was merely picking rose petals off a rose flower saying “I love Nineveh, I love them not, I love Nineveh, I love them not.” The question we all should be asking is “How could God have ever showed mercy to Nineveh in the first place?” When I talk to people about the gospel I often get this response, how can God destroy whole peoples and whole cultures, isn’t that genocide? To which I answer, no – God does what He wants to do, the question we should be asking is – in light of our sin and wickedness why would God extend mercy to us through Christ at all? We learn from this that if we don’t understand our sin we will never understand that God is just to not save one single person in history.

If we don’t understand the depth of our depravity we will sit in constant judgment of God ridiculing His sovereign decisions as if we knew better how to run the universe. Jonah and Nahum each end with a rhetorical question to reveal to us that God is God, we are not.

Second, Jonah – Nahum – Jesus:

The theologian B.B Warfield once said, “The Old Testament is a room fully furnished but dimly lit. When Christ comes He turns on the light.” In light of this truth an appropriate question to ask is: How are the two messages of Jonah and Nahum bound up and brought together in Christ for the Church? Well, the prophets Jonah and Nahum foreshadow Christ, the true Prophet. Just as the two minor-prophets were obedient (Jonah with some prodding) by bringing God’s Word to God’s people – so too Jesus was obedient to what His Father called Him to, obedient even to point of death on a cross. In Christ we find the full expression of both Jonah and Nahum. And when I say Christ is the full expression I mean that Jesus was gracious to His enemies as Jonah was in His message Nineveh and Jesus pronounced woe to God’s enemies as Nahum did in His message Nineveh. Jonah and Jesus preached grace to those who knew no grace. Both Nahum and Jesus preached judgment to those deserving judgment. John 1:14 states it, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of (BOTH) grace and truth.” Jesus’ life shows us this as well. To those who were repentant and humble in heart Jesus was kind and gracious. To those who were stubborn and prideful in heart Jesus was harsh and rebuking. He was full of grace and full of truth.

So Church, what will be to our city? Full of grace only? Minimizing the message of God’s judgment to maximize the love of God in Jesus? Will we soften the gospel? Will we obey men rather than God and tell them only what suits their tastes? Will we candy coat the gospel into a message that only says, “God loves and has a wonderful plan for you life.” Have we grown comfortable with telling men how to be saved without telling them why they need to be saved? Do we fear the opinion of other men so much that we have believed the lie that men really don’t need to hear about the judgment of God. Or are we on the other side of the equation: will we be full of judgment? Minimizing the grace of God to maximize the judgment of God against sin? Will we get out the spray paint and posters making signs that say, “God hates Fags?” Will believe the lie that men don’t really need to hear about the grace of God because they are coddled too much already in this life; thinking the only thing men need is to be scared straight? I’m afraid both of these positions are wrong. If we minimize God’s judgment to make much of His grace or minimize God’s grace to make much of His judgment we lose both God’s grace and God’s judgment.

We must follow in the footsteps of Christ, and be full of both grace and truth. We must proclaim both the full judgment of God due to us for sin, and the grace extended to us in Christ. One way that’s helpful to remember to keep the full measure of God’s grace and judgment is to make a distinction between Law and Gospel. Galatians 3:24 says the Law is a tutor, to lead us to Christ.

Charles Spurgeon said, “The Law is the needle which prepares the way for the thread of the gospel into the heart.”

A.B. Earle said, “I have found by long experience that the severest threatening’s of the Law of God have a prominent place in leading men to Christ. They must see themselves lost before they will cry for mercy. They will not escape from danger until they see it.”

Martin Luther said, “The first duty of the Gospel preacher is to declare God’s Law and show the nature of sin…we would not see nor realize our sin if it were not for the Law, and we would have to remain forever lost, if we were not again helped out of it through Christ. Therefore the Law and the Gospel are given to the end that we may learn to know both how guilty we are and to what we should again return.”

John MacArthur said, “We need to adjust our presentation of the gospel. We cannot dismiss the fact that God hates sin and punishes sinners with eternal torment. How can we begin a gospel presentation by telling people on their way to hell that God has a wonderful plan for their lives? It is true that God has a wonderful plan for their lives—but it is that they would repent and trust the Savior, and receive the righteousness of Christ.” It is this message, the message of the wrath of God against sin and grace of God in Christ that saves men and women like us. It is that message we must preach to ourselves each morning, and that message we must take to our city each day.

This is why John Wesley in writing a letter to a young Christian said, “Preach 90% Law and 10% Grace….Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but the grace of God for sinners, I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.”

So, as we come to the end of Nahum may we trust in the sovereign power of God to do dispense grace and judgment as He pleases. May we rejoice in Jonah’s message of the grace of God heading toward those who deserve judgment and be encouraged to take the gospel to our own city. May we be challenged in Nahum’s message to fear God in response to seeing such a Divine Warrior at work and be encouraged to not minimize any of the attributes of God be it His wrath or grace. And may we like Jonah and Nahum, more so like Christ, may we be obedient to the message of the gospel in actually proclaiming it to those who need it.

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