Summary: If the LORD holds back from judgment, it is not because of any inability on His part. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
THE GOODNESS AND SEVERITY OF GOD
We live in an age when people feel uncomfortable with the idea of a jealous God (Nahum 1:2), who condemns the wicked. Even some Christians, and sadly some Christian teachers and preachers amongst them, seem to want to drive a wedge between the ‘angry God’ of the Old Testament, and the ‘God of love’ of the New Testament. The unity and integrity of the Bible is challenged and questioned thereby, and the work of our Lord Jesus Christ is reduced to an example to follow rather than a necessary sacrifice on our behalf.
Yet the jealous God who avenges (Nahum 1:2) is also the God who is slow to anger (Nahum 1:3). Jonah had earlier warned Nineveh of imminent judgment: the city repented, and God relented (Jonah 3:10). We cannot but wonder at the goodness and patience of God.
The message of Nahum also concerns Nineveh (Nahum 1:1), the capital of the cruel Assyrian Empire. Another generation had grown up who no longer remembered the LORD. Yet even now, says Nahum, the LORD is good: He is a stronghold for those who put their trust in Him (Nahum 1:7).
I. The Severity of God
a) The covenant LORD is a jealous God (Nahum 1:2), but He is also merciful (Exodus 20:4-6). He would not be righteous if He was not angry at sin. Yet sin is judged at the Cross of Calvary, for all those who will receive Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21).
b) The LORD avenges (Nahum 1:2). The Assyrians had been messing with God’s people: ‘the apple of His eye’ (Zechariah 2:8). For this an ‘utter end’ would be made of them (Nahum 1:8): they would be ‘cut off’ (Nahum 1:15). Nineveh today can be pointed out - a heap of ruins which has been unoccupied for centuries.
c) The LORD is furious (Nahum 1:2). Jesus’ zeal for the Lord’s house was demonstrated when He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13). There is such a thing as righteous indignation: but mere men have to be counselled how to moderate anger rather than giving place to the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27).
d) The LORD will take vengeance upon His enemies (Nahum 1:2). The Bible teaches that there is a judgment to come (Matthew 12:36; Galatians 6:7) - but there are also examples of temporal judgments in the meantime. Of course, not every affliction is a direct result of personal sin, as Jesus clearly taught (John 9:2-3): but He warns us nevertheless of the necessity to repent (Luke 13:3, 5).
f) The LORD is great in power (Nahum 1:3). If He holds back from judgment, it is not because of any inability on His part (Nahum 1:4-6); but the LORD will not acquit those who continue in their wickedness (Nahum 1:3; Nahum 1:6).
II. The Goodness of God
Before I was converted to Christianity I underwent a period of ‘conviction of sin.’ I sensed God in the ‘quiet times’ I was now being taught to maintain, but only as a darkness (Nahum 1:8). This darkness was initially a darkness like the darkness of Egypt: ‘a darkness that could be felt’ (Exodus 10:21).
For a while it was like the darkness that engulfed the land when Jesus was crucified, seeming to extinguish the sun at high noon (Matthew 27:45). Then the light broke through. After I was converted I sensed the presence of God in a new and wonderful way.
a) The LORD is good (Nahum 1:7).
b) The LORD is a stronghold in the day of trouble (Nahum 1:7).
c) The LORD knows those who trust in Him (Nahum 1:7).
‘Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off’ (Romans 11:22).