1 A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
2 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 vents his wrath against his enemies.
3 The Lord is slow to anger but 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.
4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
he makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
5 The mountains quake before him
and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it.
6 Who can withstand his indignation?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
the rocks are shattered before him.
7 The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
8 but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.
(Nahum 1:1-8 NIV)
As we begin our journey through the book of Nahum, we see Nahum introduce himself, his message, and the intended audience (v. 1). Nahum is a prophet sent from God, and his message from the Lord is about the Assyrian capital of Nineveh.
As we learned in the Introduction last time, Jonah reluctantly went to Nineveh and preached repentance. The people of Nineveh, even the rulers, repented and turned to the Lord. Fast forward about a hundred years later, and Nahum arrives on the scene. Assyria and Nineveh have reverted back to their old ways, and God has not forgotten His promise of judgment for their evil when they turn their back on Him.
Nahum opens his message with an unmistakable picture of God as being jealous, of executing vengeance, and of wrath. This is an in-your-face confrontation of our mental image of God as a doting grandfather, isn’t it?
God is jealous because the people of Nineveh have turned their backs on Him, the true and living God, to worship their idols of wood and stone. God is executing vengeance because of the Assyrian’s brutal treatment of God’s people. Remember that the Assyrians captured the northern kingdom of Israel, and constantly bullied and made life miserable for the southern kingdom of Judah. God is ready to pour out His wrath on Nineveh because of the people’s sin. A holy God cannot tolerate sin, especially unrepentant, deliberate in-your-face sin which the people of Nineveh were engaged in.
In verse 3, Nahum reminds God’s people that He will judge the wicked, but He will not sweep away the righteous with the wicked. The Jewish people under Nineveh’s rule probably wondered what was going to happen to them as Nahum proclaimed His message from the Lord. Nahum’s name (“comfort”) rang true for those who repented of their sins and turned their hearts back to the Lord.
Verses 4 – 5 show the power of God, even over nature. The seas, the mountains, even the trees respond to God’s Power and Presence. The seas evaporate like the morning dew; the mountains melt like butter before Him. The natural world and the people living there all tremble at His power.
Verse 6 asks two rhetorical questions – and answers them in the same verse. Who can withstand God’s indignation and endure His fierce anger? No one, and nothing. Even the rocks, impervious to everything, shatter before His very Presence.
Verses 7 – 8 are a contrast – God’s love and mercy toward those who love and revere and obey Him, vs. God’s judgment against Nineveh, who made themselves God’s enemy and are practicing willful disobedience toward Him. God promises to care for and to protect those who trust in Him – again, a comfort to the Jewish people that would hear Nahum’s words.
Remember how the Lord delivered Jonah from the water (more specifically, using a creature in the water to take Jonah from the water to dry land)? Now the Lord says that He will use water to destroy Nineveh via a flood. And as history records, that is exactly what happened – God “hid” the city of Nineveh for nearly 2,500 years.
We love to tell about all of God’s attributes that are to our liking, don’t we? His love, his comfort, His justice, etc. But God’s equal attributes of holiness, wrath, and jealousy – do we like them? Not so much, because they remind us of our sin and our need to obey and follow Him vs. do life on our own.
Here is a great perspective on God’s attributes of holiness and wrath:
“In human affairs we rightly value justice and the “wrath” of the judicial system, for they protect us. If by chance we ourselves run afoul of the law, there is always the chance that we can cop a plea, escape on a technicality or plead guilty to some lesser offense and be excused for it. But we cannot do that with God. With him we deal not with the imperfections of human justice but with the perfections of divine justice. We deal with the one to whom not only actions but also thoughts and intentions are visible. Who can escape such justice? Who can stand before such an unwielding judge? No one. Sensing this truth we therefore resent God’s justice and deny its reality in every way we can.”
(Dr,. James Montgomery Boice, FOUNDATIONS OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH, p. 252)
May we remember that Jesus stood in our place to take God’s wrath that was meant for us so that we can experience life and peace with God, both now and in eternity.
This is God’s gift to us – we can’t buy it, earn it, or demand it – we must simply and humbly receive it from His good and gracious hand.