Summary: Continuing a series on the minor prophets
There is something almost disconcerting about the prophet Nahum and his place in Scripture. Nahum is little more than just a name to us. He is a prophet with a very narrow and particular view of who God is. But even within that narrow vision of God, Nahum’s prophetic words give us something to contemplate. This is remarkable considering the almost impersonal stamp which is put on the book as a whole.
Nahum directs his prophetic words against the people of Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the great power of the time. The Assyrians had conquered the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 BC and had transplanted their people. In the years after that the Assyrians continued their brutal empire building all through the Middle Eastern world. They invaded the kingdom of Judah many times. They destroyed cities, and burned farmland, and put the city of Jerusalem under siege more than once. Assyria had carried off kings, and took treasures, and left Judah in a most vulnerable position.
But Nahum comes to prophesy against the people of Assyria. Nahum comes to speak words against the enemies of God’s people. And there is always a difficulty with reading this sort of prophecy. It is a harsh word which Nahum speaks to Nineveh. This is not the vision of God we get from our sentimental religiosity today. This is not a benevolent, irrelevant being sitting up in heaven fretting over mere mortals and all those things that they do. Nahum’s God is a God of action. Nahum’s God is a god of vengeance. Nahum’s God is a god of justice. Nahum’s God is the God we have tried to destroy with our middle-of the road banal lifeless Christianity.
But some may counter by saying, wasn’t Jesus a nice man. And doesn’t this passage and all of its calls destroy that vision of who Jesus was. And all I can say to that is, Thank God if it does. Because a nice man cannot save you. A nice man cannot lift you from the powers that would destroy. A nice man cannot relieve the burdens that keep you down. Only the power of the living God, the power of his risen Son, the power of his Holy Spirit, only that can save you, lift you, empower you. If Jesus were only a nice man, then what are we to do?
Nahum’s words come to us as a threat to the comfortable religion we have built for ourselves. And that is because the words of judgement against Nineveh are not just words directed to afar-off enemy. They are words that show what our God is like. They are words that, after stripping away the narrow national interest, give us a message about what God has in store for all is people, whether they be enemies or not.
And so we come to the words of Nahum one. In the later chapters of Nahum he describes in brutal detail the siege and the fall of the city of Nineveh. But chapter one provides the rationale for this destruction. Chapter one shows us who God is and why he demands justice. And it begins with the following words, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.” (vv.2-3). There are two images of God in these two verses. The first is jealous, avenging, wrathful. These are the words which Nahum uses to open his description of God. There is no papering over in the beginning. God’s wrath and vengeance are a hard reality in this book, as it is a hard reality throughout the Old and New Testaments.
But these attributes of God are part of his consistent personality, a personality that takes offense at unrighteousness, a personality that looks with anger upon sin. The Lord and sin cannot abide together. There is a necessary consequence to action. Our habit in the church today regarding the wrath of God has been to downplay or even ignore the subject. Those who believe it rarely speak about it, and those who do speak are shouted down in the chorus of theological opinion as some sort of misanthrope who has no faith in humanity. To an age which has sold itself to the gods of greed, pride, lust, self will, the church and its ministers mumble on about God’s kindness, offering some sentimental and nostalgic view of a God who never even existed.
There is bound to be a sense of discomfort when we consider the wrath or anger of God. At times just the mention of God’s anger, God’s wrath, God’s vengeance, God’s judgement, causes the immediate reaction of resentment and hostility. Our stubborn obstinate hostility that we do not want to believe the facts. We do not want to believe the words of Scripture. But the words are clear, “ ... the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord ... maintains his wrath against his enemies. ...the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.” And let us not think that it is simply a description of a far-off God seeking to destroy a far-off people. Let us not think that God’s enemies are some collection of bogeymen with forked tails running about in some nether world.