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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Biff Taunting Marty McFly in Nahum 3

In Nahum 3:8-12 Nahum compares Nineveh to other great cities of renown. Thebes, Cush, and Egypt.

Stout and strong cities that no one thought could ever be conquered. Yet, Nineveh at the height of its power destroyed Thebes, leaving Cush and Egypt scared of the super power growing next door. Ironic that Nahum points out that Nineveh conquered the unconquerable city of Thebes while they think they are unconquerable themselves. Thebes went into exile afterwards, barely had children left, all the great men cast down and taken off into slavery. So too Nineveh in 3:11-12 will be like a fig tree loosing all its figs by being lightly shaken by God. No wonder Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Let anyone who thinks he stand take heed lest he fall.”

In 3:13-17 Nahum gives his most pronounced taunt to Nineveh. He actually does what people still do today. Nahum in 3:13 calls the infamous, strong, and robust troops of Nineveh “women.”

Wow.

This makes me think of the “Back to the Future” movies where Biff, the bad guy, used one tactic to get a rise out of Marty McFly. Do you remember what Biff would call him? “What are you, a chicken?” Marty would always fall for it and get drawn back in to fight with Biff. He couldn’t stand being called a chicken. How much more a national super power being likened to nothing but women. Even more so, in 3:15-17 Nahum calls the generals of Nineveh’s armies grasshoppers who’ll hop away and flee when the heat of battle bears down on them. You can be sure this caused a response in Nineveh. A violent city would not respond kindly to such a message. We don’t know if this message led to Nahum’s death. We don’t hear from him again in the Bible. Praise God Nahum feared God more than man, and preached the message anyway.

In 3:18-19 we have what theologians call the “funeral song” of Nineveh. (read 3:18-19) Nahum is done pronouncing “woe” upon the great fortress. All the people of God must do at this point is wait for God to act. Wait for God to rescue. Wait for God to show up and end the oppression of the enemy and do as He said He would do in 2:2 “restore the majesty and beauty of Jacob.”

to be continued….

Nahum 3: We are Whores

We’ve come to the end of Nahum, and I have to commend you all for being attentive to God’s Word through what is by and large an ignored book of the Bible.  Today and the next few days we’ll turn our attention to Nahum 3:1-19.

I wonder if you feel it? Do you notice the disconnect between our culture and the message of Nahum? I mean, doesn’t it feel foreign? For three chapters now we’ve walked through the world of Nahum and seen firsthand things we don’t normally see, or perhaps things we like to ignore in our day: judgment, war, poverty, murder, jealousy, and death. But is this not in the Word of God? Indeed it is, and thus it is not only for us, it is a gift to us from God that we shouldn’t ignore meant to teach us innumerable things about our God and ourselves.

A brief reading of Nahum 3 shows us it is very similar to Nahum 2 in that the prophet Nahum is declaring God’s judgment upon the city of Nineveh. The thing that makes chapter 3 unique and different from chapter 2 is that in 3:1 we learn that all of Nahum 3 is a “woe” directed at Nineveh.

Though the visions of the Divine Warrior in Nahum 1 and His judgments in Nahum 2 are striking and alarming in and of themselves they are not a prophecy or pronouncement of “woe.” A “woe” is a heightening because it is a declaration not only of misfortune but death. We’ve seen this before in other passages of Scripture.   We see Isaiah declare a woe onto himself after beholding the glory of God in Isaiah 6 he says, “Woe is me, for I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips; my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” We see Paul declare a woe upon himself in 1 Corinthians 9:16 saying “Necessity is laid upon me, woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Jesus said in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you if all men think well of you.” Other examples of woe are found all over Scripture. Do not miss that these are not mere statements of severity they are declarations that an end will come if God is not obeyed. This reveals that in a prophecy of “woe” like Nahum 3, a zeal to fear God above man exists. Nahum could have been scared to pronounce such a vivid judgment onto such a violent people as Nineveh. But Nahum’s source of courage, his identity, and therefore his strength, lies in God not man.

In Nahum 3:2-3 we see Nahum’s vision of the warriors who’ll come pillaging through the city of Nineveh, galloping on horses and racing in chariots, wielding swords and spears cutting down the Ninevites left and right, so much that 3:3 says there will be heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end.

In 3:4-7 Nineveh is likened to a whore prostituting herself off with graceful and deadly charms. Remember God once granted grace and repentance to Nineveh through Jonah’s preaching, but afterwards it’s clear that after they turned to God for salvation they turned away from Him to false gods and idolatry. Is this not the essence of sin? Turning away from God to devote your life to something else? Jeremiah 2:12-13 says it like this, “Be appalled O heavens, be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord. For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out for themselves wells, broken wells that cannot hold water.” Nineveh was drank the living water of God but then turned to dig other wells, wells which not only do not satisfy but wells which cannot satisfy because they’re full of holes. Nineveh did this, we do this too. For such whoring around God says He’ll lift the skirt of Nineveh so the nations will see their nakedness and shame, making them a spectacle for all to see. When others see this they’ll cry out saying Nineveh is wasted. Do we not feel the same for those around us we see leaving Christ to dig their own wells, hoping they’ll satisfy? Do we not feel the same when we see ourselves doing this too? There is a reason God uses the graphic imagery of a whore to describe not only His enemies, but His own people throughout the Bible – we have all we ever could want, need, or desire in Christ and yet we leave Him thinking other things will fill us up while in reality they leave us empty and ashamed.

C.S. Lewis described it like this, I’m sure you’ve heard the quote: “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Reader, are you far too easily pleased?

Too Drunk on Grace – God Stands for Us in Jesus

The final word the Lord speaks over Nineveh in Nahum 2:13 is, “Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.”

After the “fog of war” Nineveh hears again the Divine Warrior declare His wrath against them. Just in case Nineveh thinks the reason they fell was the anger of the Babylonians and Medes alone, God remind Nineveh it was Him who crushed them. It was Him who stood against them. “Behold I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts.”

I want our discussion on Nahum 2 with two things today:

1) Standing back and looking at Nahum thus far we see a pattern reveal itself. In 1:15 we have the promise of salvation for God’s people while in 2:13 we have the promise of God’s judgment of His enemies. 1:15 speaking of salvation saying, “Behold upon the mountains the feet of him who brings good news! Your enemies will be utterly cut off and I will rescue!” 2:13 speaking of judgment saying, “I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts.” This pattern of salvation first and judgment later is a foreshadow of what will happen in the last days.

Think about it, salvation came first at the first coming of Christ – “Come to Me, the Kingdom of God has come, all who thirst drink the living water that I along give and you will never thirst again. Come follow Me.” After this announcement of salvation first we know there will be a later judgment to follow. “God will throw all those who rejected His Son into Hell for an eternal punishment.” Salvation first and judgment second. This is the pattern. Historically there was some time between 1:15 and 2:13 in Nahum, so what were the people of God to do in the meantime? They’ve been promised salvation and are waiting for judgment. So too, what are we to do in the meantime, we’ve been promised salvation in Jesus and await the second coming of Christ when He’ll judge the world in righteousness. 2 Peter 3:14 has great benefit for us: “Therefore beloved since you are waiting for these things (coming judgment) be diligent to be found by Him without spot of blemish, and at peace.” 2 Peter 3:11-12 even calls us to live holy and godly lives in view of the coming judgment. Why? Because it is in view of the coming judgment that should encourage us to live lives of holiness and godliness in this day.

I fear we have become so drunk on the grace of God that we over look sin as if it doesn’t really matter and even treat it as acceptable. We’ve become so numb to the words “holiness” and “godliness” that when we think of them we don’t think of our own lives following the commands of Christ in Scripture but think of people like Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. Is this not ridiculous?  Church, pleasing God by our obedience is a neglected New Testament teaching.

Too often we find ourselves on either too soft in grace or too hard in legalism. We either water down the commands of Christ so much that we make the gospel into a kind of “easy-believism” where we merely believe in Jesus and hope everything else will alright, or we make the commands of Christ so burdensome we make the gospel into a kind of lifeless legalism where we’re merely checking off boxes in our obedience “to-do” list.

Friends, is there even a category in your life that God, through His Word, commands you to not do things, avoid things, or fight against certain things? Is there even a category in your life that God, through His Word, commands you to actively put certain things into practice, pursue things, or embrace other things? 1 John 3 tells us this is the difference between the non-Christian and the Christian. Christians please God by following His commands, non-Christians don’t. Jesus said His friends are those who keep His commands in John 15, and that those who make a habit of sinning resemble their father the devil. Who do you resemble?

Nahum does this. It turns you inward to reflect on your character, your life, the company you keep, and the decisions you make. If you find that you’re not on the right side of God, and that God is against you like He’s against Nineveh. Beware, if you continue in this manner of living you will go to Hell.

But be comforted with the second point I’ll end with.

Nahum 2:13 is a staunch reminder of the wrath of God against His enemies. “Behold I am against you declares the Lord of hosts.” Desolation will be the only reality for the enemies and mockers of Christ.  “I am against you declares the Lord of hosts” came to Nineveh. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” comes to those who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus to save.

Nineveh & the Fog of War

Notice the foundation of the destruction of Nineveh in Nahum 2:2. “For the Lord is restoring the majesty of Jacob, as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches.”

Why is God doing these things to Nineveh again? In case they’ve forgotten Nahum 1 where God called them to account for their vileness, God now says He is coming to restore the beauty and majesty of Jacob, and in order for the majesty of Jacob to return the enemies of Jacob must be done away with. The people of God had been plundered, their land ruined, hopes stripped away, wellbeing removed, and God as their faithful Father is jealous over His people and yearning to avenge them and heap destruction on their enemies. While God’s people will be made beautiful and lifted up, the enemies of God’s people will be made dreadful and cast down. Remember 1:15, “Rejoice O Judah! Keep your feasts, beautiful are the feet bringing good news! Your enemy is utterly cut off!” This is meant to comfort God’s people, and terrorize Nineveh. Nahum 2-3 teaches us that God did not make an end of Nineveh in a manner like Sodom and Gomorrah. God did not rain sulfur and fire from heaven. No, God put an end to Nineveh and all Assyria by using the armies of their neighbors to destroy them. You see, as Nineveh was reaching the height of its power, a few other nations were beginning to gain strength and even surpass Nineveh in its glory as well. How were they destroyed? How did God make an end of them? From 627 – 612 B.C. the armies of the Babylonians and the Medes tore Nineveh apart.

We then see the “Fog of War” in 2:3-12. The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet. The chariots come with flashing metal
on the day he musters them;
the cypress spears are brandished.The chariots race madly through the streets;
they rush to and fro through the squares;
they gleam like torches; they dart like lightning.He remembers his officers; they stumble as they go,
they hasten to the wall; the siege toweris set up.The river gates are opened;
the palace melts away;its mistress is stripped; she is carried off,
her slave girls lamenting,
moaning like doves
and beating their breasts.Nineveh is like a pool
whose waters run away.
“Halt! Halt!” they cry, but none turns back.Plunder the silver,
plunder the gold!
There is no end of the treasure
or of the wealth of all precious things. Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble;
anguish is in all loins;
all faces grow pale!Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions,
where the lion and lioness went,
where his cubs were, with none to disturb?The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses;
he filled his caves with prey
and his dens with torn flesh.

The phrase “fog of war” describes this section perfectly because that’s what we see. The soldiers and their shields stained “red” with the blood of the Ninevites, chariots speeding through the city streets cutting people down left and right with their thick and weighty cypress spears, the defense of Nineveh wavering and stumbling in face of such dread, clearly unable to hold them off. You see how 2:6 says the river gates opened, melting away the palace? Well, a historical map of Nineveh shows the Tigris river flowing directly into and through the city of Nineveh. They had designed it like this, to not only fill up the mote around the Ninevite walls, but to allow the river to flow through the city. One almost gets a Thomas Kinkade picturesque image in mind when thinking of such a sight. Well, the armies of Nineveh’s neighbors dammed up the Tigris at a specific spot causing all of Nineveh to flood. And thus we have it, “…The river gates are opened, the palace melts away, it’s mistress stripped and carried off…people lamenting and calling out “Halt! Halt!” The soldiers victorious respond to these screams of grief with screams of their own, “Plunder the silver, the gold, there is no end to the wealth found here!”

This is a tragic scene for Nineveh. In the “fog of war” they had been crushed, wiped out, and flooded. No wonder why it says in 2:10 that hearts were melting, knees were trembling, and faces growing pale. Catastrophe had come. The city was soon to be no more.

In 2:11-12 we see Nineveh being likened to a lions den, filled with cubs and lionesses, safe and secure, piles of prey and food for the family. God likens Nineveh to a lions den for two reasons: 1) to point out the violent nature of Nineveh. I’ve been to Kenya and seen a lioness take down a wildebeest, and it was terrifying how quickly and helpless the wildebeest was. Nineveh is called this because they lived and fed themselves on the violence they brought to God’s people and the other nations around them. 2) To mock their so called “strength.”

What was known as the safest most indestructible fortress around was nothing in comparison to God’s mighty strength.

Does God Stand Against You?

How many of you are fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien? How many have read Lord of the Rings? How many have read The Hobbit? Well, it doesn’t take long to notice I’m a huge Tolkien nut when you enter my office and see all the characters from all the movies atop my bookshelf in the form of Pez figurines.

It’s a funny thing when you make a book into a movie isn’t it? There’s so much material in the book that is often hard to reproduce the same story in film. One interesting thing the director Peter Jackson has done with Tolkien’s works is to make both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit into trilogies. Each movie is then given a specific title pertaining to its place in the overall plotline. Now whether or not you agree with what Peter Jackson is doing when he chooses these titles is a matter for another time, what I want to draw your attention to is the title to the second film in the Hobbit trilogy. It’s called – The Desolation of Smaug. It’s a perfect title for this second film because the word “desolation” draws attention to the utter misery the dragon Smaug brings upon the Dwarvish kingdom of Erebor and the neighboring city Dale. These kingdoms were wealthy beyond belief, sturdy, secure, seemingly safe. They were the kingdoms of renown in Middle Earth. Yet, when Smaug came, desolation came with him. Anguish, ruin, decay, despair, violence, poverty, isolation and bleakness came upon these people. This is not so different to what took place in Nahum’s prophecy over the city of Nineveh; ruin, decay, anguish, violence, utter-misery, a whole people being cut off. Except in Nineveh’s case there was no dragon fire, there was something worse, the consuming fire of the wrath of God.

Recall the context of Nahum as we enter into chapter 2. The prophet Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh and they repented. Close to 120-150 years later we learn that though genuine, the repentance of Nineveh didn’t last long, perhaps it only lasted for that generation that heard Jonah. Well, their wickedness not only returned but grew in its violence, and into this violent city a century later God sends another prophet, Nahum, not with a message of grace like Jonah, but with a message of judgment. In chapter 1 of Nahum we see the Divine Warrior speaking to both Nineveh and to Judah. He speaks a comforting word to His people and says He will crush the Assyrian capitol of Nineveh and bring their wickedness to an end. It is a harsh and terror filled word for Nineveh to hear this Divine Warrior say He will make of end of them quickly. Once we enter into Nahum 2 we see this Divine Warrior begin His assault on Nineveh and carry out the judgments He had previously announced in chapter 1.

Notice the “Call to Arms” in 2:1. As we saw God mock Nineveh and its leaders by calling them names in Nahum 1:10-11, so too we see God toy with Nineveh using more satire, mockery, and ridicule in Nahum 2:1. “The scatterer has come up against you. Man the ramparts, watch the road, dress for battle, collect your strength.” Though God is the Divine Warrior with no equal, He calls His enemy to meet Him in battle, ready, watchful, and full of strength. He does this even though it is painfully obvious who the winner of this matchup will be. This is not a David vs. Goliath battle, this is not mono e mono fight, this infinite Creator ablaze in His glory is lining up against finite creation aware of its own imperfection and weakness.

“Meet me in battle the Lord says, prepare your strength, do everything you can do to get ready, I am upon you and I will scatter you!”

This makes me think of a truth given to us in the letter to the Galatians.  Though God may mock His enemies, He can never be mocked Himself: “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked…” (Galatians 6:7)

Terror to the Enemy, Comfort to the People

As we end Nahum 1, note the last verse of chapter 1.

1:15 says, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts O’ Judah, fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you, he is utterly cut off.”

Does this sounds familiar to you? It should.

Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God Reigns!”

Let me read one more passage, Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

See what’s happening here? There is a two-sided coin for us to see here. When the beautiful feet bring the good news, terror enters the enemy, and comfort enters the people of God. Nahum meant for it to be a comfort to Judah that Nineveh would be overthrown, they would never again enslave, abuse, or treat them harshly. Nahum meant for it to be a terror to Nineveh that the feet who bring news of its destruction would be beautiful, because it means their destruction is sure, it is a declaration of victory before the battle has even happened. Isn’t amazing to see Paul employ this same language in regard to the gospel intending the same meaning? When the beautiful feet bring the gospel, comfort and terror go into the hearts of men. This is the two-sided coin of the gospel response.

Where are you in this? Does the gospel bring comfort to your soul? Or does hearing what Nahum is saying about this Divine Warrior bring terror to your bones?

God is Subject to Fallen Notions of Fairness

We just saw the Divine Warrior, now lets see His Divine judgments in Nahum 1:9-15.

“What do you plot against the Lord?
 He will make a complete end;
trouble will not rise up a second time.For they are like entangled thorns,
like drunkards as they drink;
they are consumed like stubble fully dried.From you came one
who plotted evil against the Lord,
a worthless counselor. Thus says the Lord,
“Though they are at full strength and many,
they will be cut down and pass away.
 Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more.And now I will break his yoke from off you
and will burst your bonds apart.” The Lord has given commandment about you:
“No more shall your name be perpetuated;
from the house of your gods I will cut off
the carved image and the metal image.
I will make your grave, for you are vile.” Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace!
 Keep your feasts, O Judah;
 fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the worthless pass through you;
he is utterly cut off.”

Once we get into 1:9 the style and mood changes. Whereas before we heard all about the power and greatness of the Divine Warrior we now hear the Divine Warrior address His enemy Nineveh directly. “What do you plot against Me?” To hear such a Warrior personally address you in anger like this is the most frightening things one can experience in life, because you know in a fight with this Warrior, you’re not winning. Well, so complete is the destruction of the city going to be that it will not be able to trouble anyone ever again. It will be brought to a complete end. The Assyrians are then compared to entangled thorns that cannot escape their own craftiness and drunkards in 1:10.

Notice that God is taunting them? Who would have thought that God, of all people, would ever be caught up in name-calling?

God will make quick work them, like dry stubble in a fire, when He comes in His might and wrath they will instantly be exterminated. In 1:11 God not only addresses them personally again, but calls out one individual who is infamous for his worthlessness and wickedness against the Lord. This is most likely referring to the King of Assyria Sennacherib, who invaded Judah a few years ago wreaking havoc among the people of God. Therefore we find the reason God is destroying them is to execute revenge on Assyria for invading Judah. God is a jealous Father isn’t He? Not only have His own children been attacked but His name has been defamed and reputation marred from this attack. God will not stand for this, and will right this wrong and make sure this wrong never happens again.

God turns to His people next in 1:12-13 and comforts them saying, “Though Nineveh is at full strength and many, I will cut them down, they shall pass away.” They may be at the height of their power militarily, but God will strike their name from the history of man. Notice next He says to Judah, “Though I’ve afflicted you, I will afflict you no more, and will break their yoke from off you, bursting the bonds apart.” While Nineveh is given the guilty verdict and is soon to be wiped out, God’s people are given pardon, freedom, and rescue. But wait, Assyria invaded Judah and God says “He” afflicted Judah? Was it God or was it Assyria that afflicted the people of God – YES! We see here that God is sovereign over all nations, and raises up some nations for a time and purpose and brings some nations low for a time or wipes them out for a purpose. This means God was using the wicked Ninevites of Assyria to chasten and discipline His children. Remember 1:7? “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble. He knows those who take refuge in Him.”

So hear me loud and clear – those who take refuge in the Lord, though held in His arms, are not promised peace, health, wealth, or safety. Because of this truth we’re taught again that our peace and strength and sure footing doesn’t come in the absence of conflict or pain but in the presence of Christ.

One final word is given directly to Nineveh in 1:14, look at it. “No more shall your name be spread throughout the land, I will cut off your gods and carved and metal images, I will make your grave, FOR YOU ARE VILE.” A harsh word from the King of Grace but a word directed at a people who are not innocent nonetheless. I know some people often speak of “the god wars” and demean those of who go to other countries and in say “My God is better than your God. Mine is true, yours is false.” They think us arrogant to do such a thing.

Do you think God arrogant to war against these false gods? I hope you don’t. “Our God is in the heavens, He does all that He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) God is not subject to fallen notions of fairness as if He operated from some sense of equal rights among all peoples. His rights are the only rights that matter, and He is completely free to do what He wants. Conquering the gods of Nineveh would show God’s people His strength, and show Nineveh the helplessness of the gods they commune with. They are statues, having eyes but seeing nothing, having ears but hearing no prayers, having arms, legs, and hands but unable to save! Our God is true, our God is the only God, our God sees, our God hears, our God acts, moves, works, and saves! He is no statue, He is the living God!

The Divine Warrior Brings Comfort and Terror

Nahum 1:2-8, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries
and keeps wrath for His enemies.The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm,
and the clouds are the dust of His feet.He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither;
the bloom of Lebanon withers. The mountains quake before Him; the hills melt;
the earth heaves before Him,
the world and all who dwell in it.Who can stand before His indignation?
 Who can endure the heat of His anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by Him.The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
He knows those who take refuge in Him.But with an overflowing flood
He will make a complete end of the adversaries,and will pursue His enemies into darkness.

In this section we have before us the Divine Warrior, on full display. In 1:2-3a we find God’s character being described in terms and ways that you normally don’t find in this day and age. The Lord is jealous, He avenges, He is wrathful, and stores up wrath for His enemies. The reason for this wrath in Nahum is sin. This sin has stirred up His jealousy, stirred up His avenging character. The target of His wrath here is the great city Nineveh, against whom the end of 1:2 says He is keeping wrath or maintaining it, until the time comes to unleash it. It would seem an apparent contradiction in terms exists when we see 1:3 say the Lord is slow to anger. Some may think here that we have two opposing sides that cannot exist within the same God, wrath and patience, justice and grace. But look again, it says “The Lord is slow to….” what? ANGER. The Lord is slow to anger means that though it may take some time to stir up the great anger of the Lord there comes a time when God Himself says “Enough is enough! I will be patient no more!” God doesn’t condone sin, anywhere, whether it be in His own people or in His enemies. Nineveh has reached this point which shows that their repentance at the preaching of Jonah probably didn’t last that long before they went back to their old ways, and upon returning to their old ways God was patiently waiting, storing up His wrath for their wickedness.

Well, the storehouses are full and they are ready to come pouring out over the city. He has been slow to anger, and He is about to show that He is great in power. After all, what does the rest of 1:3 say? “The Lord will by no means clear the guilty.” Once wrong has been done and guilt has accrued itself it doesn’t just go away, it must be dealt with. If God is the just judge of all the earth punishment must come to all who break His law.  If this does not alarm you, we get more description of the Divine Warrior in 1:3b-6 where we see the very elements of nature are part of His weaponry. Notice the two sides of the coin here, God can stir up the whirlwind, the storm, the clouds, and the dust of His feet. He can also do the opposite and rebuke the sea, dry up the rivers, make famous fruitful environments like Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon wither. There is no end to His great power that wields the weather in His wrath as if a weapon in His hand. This Divine Warrior can use creation, reverse creation, and even cause creation itself to shake or melt before Him. As God did creation in Genesis 1, so too in His wrath God can undo creation as well, untying the fabric of the world, allowing it to rip and fall apart in His hands.

In view of such great power the proper response is 1:6, “Who can stand before His indignation? What can endure the heat of His anger?” Rhetorical questions, not meant to be answered but to further impress upon Nineveh, Israel, and ourselves today that we stand powerless in the face of such awesome power. For His wrath is poured out like fire, and all those things that we once thought to be so steady and secure are shattered and broken in pieces. Are any of you frightened? You should be, our God is a consuming fire. Are any of you guilty of law-breaking? Anyone fearing the penalty and the sentence of this Just Judge? You should, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Martin Luther described the fear of judgment like this: “…at the Last Day, when the people in the world cannot get enough of eating, drinking, marrying, building, planting, worrying about their livelihood, scraping, and scrambling. Under those conditions they should be frightened. But they will mock and ridicule us and go on with their eating and drinking. And then, when they think the final Day is a hundred years away, they shall in a moment stand before the Last Judgment.”

Pause for a moment, everything you’re feeling at this moment, the fear, the awe, the little-ness of your personal power in relation to the power of this Divine Warrior is exactly how Nahum’s message is supposed to make you feel.

God is fed up with Nineveh and He will no longer be patient to sit by and let sin happen! All the earth will fear when we look up into the sky and see the One who made us calling us to account. God is Holy, Holy, Holy, no equals, no rivals. He is the Divine Warrior. Look at 1:7-8, into the fear of God we ought to be feeling God has a Word of grace. “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, He knows those who take refuge in Him. But with the full force of His wrath wielding all the weather as His weapons, He will chase His enemies into darkness and they will be brought to a complete end.

This leads us to a teachable moment in Nahum. Anytime God reveals Himself in the splendor of His greatness and majesty, it will do one of two things. If you’re one of those who takes refuge in Him, comfort will rush into your soul like a mighty wave because you know the One in whom you take refuge in is good, unrivaled in His strength, and that the safest place to be in His arms. But if you’re one of those who has mocked Him, who broken His law, it won’t be comfort rushing into the soul, but terror. You it’s true when He said in 1:3, “…the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.” God is fed up with you, and will be patient no longer! The wrath He has storing up is sloshing over the brim of the cup, and is about to sweep over you as fast as lightning. Grace and wrath, patience and justice, causing either comfort or terror to rise within us.

Where are you? What are you feeling? Safe in His strong arms? Or terror in view of His torrential downpour looming right around the corner? I am not playing games with you today. We are not neutral characters sitting on the sidelines of history. We are front and center, the spotlights are on, the stage is set, and all heaven looks on to see the show. What side are you on?

Hello My Name is Nahum, Have we Met?

I want to introduce you to a person you may not know anything about.  He is in the Bible, he is a prophet, he carried the Word of God to both the people of God and the surrounding nations, he wrote a book we can still read today, and the funny thing is he is among a group of other prophets who are largely ignored by the Church today.  His name is Nahum, and though he is called a minor prophet, he and his message are of major importance.

Nahum begins by saying in 1:1, “An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.”

There is scarcely little we know about Nahum.  1:1 only tells us a few things things.  First, Nahum (a shortened form of the name Nehemiah) means “comfort” or “compassion.” Second, Nahum was from Elkosh. We don’t know where Elkosh was located exactly but some place Elkosh in Galilee while others place Elkosh in Capernaum (because a possible meaning of the name Capernaum is “Nahum’s city.”) Others place Elkosh in the area around Judah. Way out there, an Eastern medieval tradition places Elkosh within Nineveh, and argues that Nahum was a descendant of an exiled northern Israelite. Third, the other prophetic books and their timeline places Nahum as a contemporary of the prophets Zephaniah and Habakkuk, and the King Josiah.

Because the prophecy of Nahum is largely directed towards the Assyrian capitol of Nineveh, it is important to know about the history of Assyria during this time.

To put this in perspective, Jonah preached to Nineveh around 780. Afterwards a handful of Assyrian kings led the nation to power and expansion: they were Tiglath-Pileser III (747-727), Shalmaneser V (726-722), Sargon II (721-705), Sennacherib (704-681), and Esarhaddon (686-669).  Afterwards, Ashurbanipal came into power, and captured the Egyptian city of Thebes.  This caused Assyria and its capitol Nineveh to hit its high point of power, growth, and expansion.  He remained king until 627 BC when his brother and semi-King of Babylon Samas-sum-ukin led an unsuccessful revolt against Assyria that virtually emptied Assyria of its resources.  Ashurbanipal died shortly after, and Assyria’s decline began. The next king of Babylon, Nabopolassar, led a revolt against Nineveh and won in 612 BC.  It was this time, between the capture of Thebes and the fall of Nineveh, a time when Nineveh had grown rich and safe, fat and wealthy, that their evil grew as well.

Into this context, the oracle of God came to Nineveh through His prophet Nahum.