At the church where I serve we are in the middle of a sermon series entitled when God speaks. During this series we are spending our time together looking at these letters that we often have a tendency to skip over, which are referred to as the prophets. We are discovering who these letters that we have a tendency to skip over were written to. We are discovering what these letters that we have a tendency to skip over reveal about who we are. We are discovering what these letters that we have a tendency to skip over reveal about the nature of God and God’s activity in history. And as we go through this series, our hope and prayer is that God would move by the power of the Holy Spirit in our heads, hearts and hands so that we understand and embrace the timeless and timely truths that these letters that we often skip over have for our lives.
This week, I would like for us to spend our time together looking at a letter that is recorded for us in the Old Testament of the Bible called the book of Nahum, which is the next letter that was written by prophet chronologically, which is not necessarily the order that they are found in the Bible, where they are organized by size. So let’s look at the man and the message of the Book of Nahum, beginning in Nahum 1:1:
The oracle of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
Here we are introduced to the prophet Nahum, who most scholars believe wrote this letter between 650-642 B.C. Nahum wrote this letter to the city of Nineveh, which was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire. Nahum was sent to Nineveh to proclaim an oracle, or announce a judicial sentence, against the Assyrian Empire from the Lord.
Earlier in this series, we looked at another letter that was written to the Assyrian Empire by a prophet named Jonah. Upon hearing the message of Jonah, the Assyrian Empire repented and were converted to the worship of the Lord. However, it had been 120 years since Jonah’s time and approximately 70 years since the time of the prophet Hosea. And over the successive three generations, the Assyrian Empire had not passed down their knowledge of the Lord to their children.
As a result, the nation quickly returned to their cruel practices and to worshipping false gods. After conquering the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C., the Assyrian Empire began the threaten the Southern Kingdom of Judea. After the Lord protected the Southern Kingdom from an Assyrian attack during the reign of King Hezekiah, a new king, named Manasseh ruled over the Jewish people. However, King Manasseh’s reign left Judah in spiritual shambles as a result of his rebellion against the Lord, and the Assyrian Empire conquered much of the Southern Kingdom. And it is in this context that Nahum wrote this letter of judgment from the Lord to the Assyrian Empire. We see the Lord’s message to the Assyrian Empire revealed in verse 2-6:
A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies. 3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet. 4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; The blossoms of Lebanon wither. 5 Mountains quake because of Him And the hills dissolve; Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, The world and all the inhabitants in it. 6 Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire And the rocks are broken up by Him.
Nahum begins his letter of judicial sentence against the Assyrian Empire by proclaiming the character of the Lord. As we have talked about in the past, when we read about the wrath of God in the letters that make up the Bible, this is not God blowing a head gasket. God’s wrath is not a selfish passionate emotional response. Instead, it is God’s perfect justice resulting in a rightful response to the wrongdoing and injustice of others.
Nahum is proclaiming that the Lord, in His very nature and character, is righteous and avenges those who have been wronged as a result of wrongdoing and injustice. Nahum is proclaiming that the Lord, in His very nature and character, is both longsuffering and all-powerful. Nahum is proclaiming that the Lord, in His very nature and character, is just and executes justice.
Nahum then asks a rhetorical question to hammer home this reality: “Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger?” Now the reason why this question is rhetorical is due to the fact that the answer to this question was so obvious it did not require an answer. The answer to this question, is no one. No one who has engaged in wrongdoing and injustice will be able to stand before the Lord as He executes His right and just response to wrongdoing and injustice. Nahum then continued to proclaim the character of the Lord in verse 7-11:
The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him. 8 But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site, And will pursue His enemies into darkness. 9 Whatever you devise against the LORD, He will make a complete end of it. Distress will not rise up twice. 10 Like tangled thorns, And like those who are drunken with their drink, They are consumed As stubble completely withered. 11 From you has gone forth One who plotted evil against the LORD, A wicked counselor.
Here we Nahum proclaim the absolute justice of the Lord who is just. Nahum is proclaiming that the Lord, in His very nature and character, is morally good. Nahum is proclaiming that the Lord, in His very nature and character, is a stronghold of strength in the face of trouble and difficulty for those who trust and take refuge in Him. Nahum is proclaiming that the Lord, in His very nature and character, is knows and cares for those who trust and take refuge in Him.
By contrast, for those who place themselves in opposition to the Lord, the Lord will overwhelm them with a flood of justice and judgment. Nahum is proclaiming that the Lord, in His very nature and character, is able to destroy the plans of those who oppose Him in rebellion against Him.
And because of that reality Nahum proclaimed “Distress will not rise up twice”. In other words, the Lord’s judgment of the Assyrian Empire would be so complete that it would not have to happen twice. In spite of the Assyrian Emperor’s attempts to destroy the Southern Kingdom of the Jewish people, the Lord would make a complete end of the Empire in His good and just judgment of their wrongdoing and injustice that flowed from their rebellion and rejection of the Lord.
After proclaiming the nature and character of the Lord, Tomorrow we will see Nahum proceed to proclaim the Lord’s judicial sentence against the Assyrian Empire…