What a difference a week makes! Last Sunday we looked at the book of Jonah, the stirring story of the prophet sent to the city of Nineveh and the surprising repentance of the people. This week we turn to Nahum and we read God’s message declaring that Nineveh is finished. One week we see compassion, the next, wrath.
It is important to realize that God is not fickle. Jonah was written somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 BC and Nahum was written a century or better later somewhere after 663 BC and before 612 BC.
This prophecy is a vicious judgment against Nineveh. It is quite poetic even if it is bloody. Nahum does a masterful job of piling image upon image almost like a slide show. At the time Nahum spoke many surely thought he was crazy. Nineveh was at the height of their power. They had just conquered Thebes a prominent city in Egypt. It seemed the Assyrians were unstoppable. Nineveh was a fortress that no one could penetrate.
From archaeological study we know that the city was located next to the Tigris River. It was a walled city of about 1800 acres, surrounded by a brick wall almost 8 miles in circumference. The walls were so thick that it is said that they had chariot races on them. The city was surrounded by a moat coming off the Tigris. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and in 721 BC, the Assyrians had conquered and deported the Northern tribes of Israel.
This prophecy troubles many people because of the harshness of the words. I think that is why at the very beginning of this prophecy Nahum affirms some truths about God that we must keep in mind.
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. (1:2,3)
Nahum tells us three things about God. First, we are told that God cares about His people. God is a “jealous and avenging God”. Immediately this raises negative images in us. It sounds like God is overprotective, possessive and hot-tempered. But that is not the image that we should have. Jealousy is a positive when it means cherishing what we have and wanting to protect it. God is jealous over His glory, His name, and His people.
Think about it this way: If someone were to attack a member of your family would you rise up and defend that family member? Sure you would. You would fight for that family member with all the energy you had. Why do we act this way? It is because you are jealous for those you love. You are fervent and single-minded in your devotion to them. When Nahum talks about God being jealous and avenging, he is telling us that God cares passionately about His people and will defend them fully.
Second we are told the Lord will judge those who oppose Him. This really follows from the idea that God is passionate about defending His people and that which is good and true. A lot of people find the idea of God’s vengeance very distasteful. They believe God’s love makes vengeance impossible.
Dwight Moody used to ask, “What if God were the Governor of the state and He decided to be “merciful” and release all the criminals to run amok in society? Is that merciful—or is that cruelty to the decent people in that state? That governor would most likely be booted out of office. Just as we do not allow wicked people to run loose in society, so God will not allow the sinful and rebellious to disturb the peace and joy of heaven.” [1001 things you wanted to know about the afterlife]
The point is that mercy and judgment are not contradictory; they are complimentary. God’s love for truth, goodness, and His people requires that He eliminate those things that threaten these things.
Third we are told that God never acts in a hasty manner. When we talk about people who are jealous or filled with wrath or vengeance we think of someone who acts impulsively. They strike out. They are often out of control. But that is not the case with God. He is slow to anger. God always gives people time to repent. We saw this demonstrated in the book of Jonah. God desires to extend mercy. But we must never equate God’s patience with any sense of weakness. God is great in power.
If you read Jonah and Nahum back to back you see both elements of God’s nature. In Jonah we see God’s patience and love. In Nahum we see that patience exhausted.
THE CERTAINTY OF JUDGMENT
With this background in mind let’s look at the prophecy itself. The prophecy of Nahum is very specific. In fact it is so specific that some believe it had to be written after the destruction . . but it wasn’t. In the first couple of chapters there are many specific details.
In chapter 1:8 we are told that Nineveh would be destroyed in an overwhelming flood. This is most likely a metaphor meaning that the city (and the empire) will be destroyed suddenly and completely.
To understand this image all you have to do is think about the World Trade Center Towers. One minute the towers were filled with the buzz of commerce and life. And in such a short matter of time these sky-scrapers were erased from the skyline. Who can forget the images of people running from near the trade center as the cloud of dust and rubble overtook those running in terror?
This is the image Nahum gives us. The city that thought of itself as invincible would be destroyed quickly and completely. It is interesting how accurate these words turned out to be.
According to secular accounts, during the final siege of Nineveh by a rebel army of Persians, Medes, Arabians, and Babylonians, unusually heavy rains caused the rivers to flood and undermine the city’s walls, which then collapsed over a length of twenty-one furlongs. The invading armies entered the city through this breach in its defenses. [Boice]
In verse ten we are told the city would be burned like dry straw. Archaeologists have concluded that the city was burned to the ground just as Assyria had done to so many cities.
In 2:8-10 we are told that there would be extensive looting,
Loot the silver! Plunder the gold! There seems no end to Nineveh’s many treasures—its vast, uncounted wealth. Soon the city is an empty shambles, stripped of its wealth.
This city had great riches because they stole the treasures of every town they captured. Yet, in all the archaeological digging nothing of all the gold and silver of the great city has been discovered. They were stripped bare by the invading armies. . . just as Nahum said.
Nahum said the destruction would be so thorough that Assyria would have no descendants. They would never be able to attack Israel again. They seemed like preposterous words at the time yet after the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BC these people were lost from history. In fact the city of Nineveh itself was lost until archaeologists discovered it and began to excavate it in the 1840’s!
The point is that these were not merely poetic words that Nahum spoke. They were a glimpse into the future. They were literal not figurative. Their judgment was so certain that God was able to describe it in detail.
THE REASONS FOR JUDGMENT
This leads to an important question, “Why was God so mad at Nineveh?” What took place during those 100-150 years since the time of Jonah? The answer is found in the first ten verses of chapter 3.
They Were Vicious in their actions (1-3) The Ninevites were called the city of blood because of the vicious way they went about their conquests. They would make promises to a city and then destroy it. They were cruel and inhumane. The historical records are filled with accounts of the Assyrians massacring people, even killing children in the streets. When they would take captives they would often tie the captives together fastening them by hooks through their lips or other body parts. They were barbarians.
It makes you think of the Nazi massacre of the Jews, the disregard for human life shown by terrorists, and the genocide of ruthless dictators. They all walk in the footsteps of Nineveh. God is taking note. When compassion leaves a nation judgment will soon follow.
Second, The Ninevites were idolators. In verse 4 we are told these people were morally corrupt. They bowed down to that which “felt good”. They loved to party and indulge. They bowed to the Goddess Ishtar, the goddess of sexual passion, fertility, and war. And as with the prostitutes of old Nahum declared that they would be publicly exposed.
But they also engaged in various kinds of sorcery. Sorcery taps into the power of evil spirits. Sorcerers look for spiritual guidance by means of their charms and trinkets. They proclaim that they can communicate with the dead.
It’s not as odd as you think. This kind of thing is going on all around us. One of the more popular shows on television is a show called Crossing Over on the Sci-Fi Network. On this show the “sorcerer” (he isn’t called that on the show) is a man by the name of John Edward. He sits down with people and gives them messages from those who are dead!
There is also an increasing fascination with the occult and a sharp rise in witchcraft and Satanism. Many consult their trinkets such as crystals and other objects. God is slow to anger but He will not tolerate this pandering with evil forever.
Third, the Ninevites were arrogant (3:8-10). As we pointed out earlier, not long before this time the Assyrians had destroyed the Egyptian city of Thebes. It was city that many thought was immune from attack. It had a huge wall, great riches and was known for its power. After the Assyrians attacked this city you would have thought they would have realized that they too were vulnerable. But they believed, “It would never happen to us.” They were cocky. They were superior. They were invincible. They did not need to live by God’s rules. But, they were wrong. They would be destroyed in the same way as they had destroyed others.
THE LESSONS IN THE JUDGMENT FOR US
The danger with a book of the Bible like Nahum is that we may read it and conclude that it really has little if anything to do with us. I hope you know better. Everything in the Bible is there for our instruction. Let me give you three things that we can learn from Nahum.
A Fact to Keep in Mind: Sin Will Be Dealt With
A healthy respect for God’s nature and character is a good thing. A person who does not respect the ocean’s power can easily drown. The water is beautiful and fun. You may go into the ocean and do some snorkeling or scuba diving. Perhaps you even might do a little surfing. But you must always be aware of the ocean’s power. You must be aware of the oceans dangers: the deadly fish and the powerful undertow of the waves. If you take the ocean for granted you may be destroyed by it’s power.
The same is true of God. He is our loving Lord. He is our provider, sustainer and friend. But we must never forget that He is also holy and powerful. If we don’t we will tend to presume upon His grace.
Are you presuming upon God’s mercy? Is God’s peace and joy gone from your life? Could it be that you are living in disobedience? Maybe you have tried to rationalize, justify and excuse your behavior. You have tried to convince yourself that God is “OK” with your sin. You are sure that God “understands”. But you are wrong! God does not compromise with His standards. God does not change with the winds of public opinion. Right is right and wrong is wrong. If you continue to rebel against Him you will face His judgment just as Nineveh did.
On a national level we must see that God does judge nations. He will withdraw His blessing from those who rebel against Him. I can’t help but wonder how long God will remain silent toward a country that defends the right of people to abort children who are the consequence of their own immorality. How long will God tolerate a nation that outlaws any Christian conversation in public life? How long will God remain silent while the elderly and infirmed are put to death by lethal injection? How long will God put up with the wanton immorality that is broadcast into homes through television and the Internet? How long will God continue to be patient as sorcery and mysticism replaces genuine worship? I don’t know the answer to these questions but I know God will not remain silent forever.
A Reminder: God’s Mercy Must Be Embraced by Each Generation
Just a week ago we looked at the book of Jonah. At that time judgment on Nineveh was averted because of their repentance. This time it will not be averted. Jonah was written 100-150 years before Nahum. Nahum reminds us that faith in the past does not guarantee faith in the present.
The people of Nineveh had been granted God’s mercy in the time of Jonah. I suspect they remembered their deliverance for many years. Perhaps they set aside a holiday to commemorate these events. And maybe they didn’t. The point however is that even these people may have remembered the faith of their forefathers . . . it no longer existed in them.
Hear the sober warning. You may have grown up in a Christian home. You may have been raised in the church. But this means nothing unless you personally have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not enough to know the words. It is not enough to affirm the facts about Jesus. You and I must believe the words and build our lives on them. Have you personally received Christ as the Lord and Savior of your life? Have you made the faith of your forefathers your own? You cannot get to Heaven on the coattails of another.
I am not going to debate whether America is a Christian nation. At one time it seemed to be grounded in the values of Heaven. I don’t see that today. It is time for us to stop merely remembering the faithful of the past and begin being faithful ourselves.
An Encouraging Word
Finally, I want you to see that this book is an encouraging book. The book was written not only to the people of Nineveh, but also to the people of Judah. These words are a reminder that God does not forget His people. The Israelites had gone through tough times. They may have felt abandoned, but they were not.
Throughout the book Nahum declares that God is a refuge for those who trust Him (1:7; 12-13; 15; 2:2). He defends those who hide themselves in Him. He does not let the evil committed against them go unpunished. God cares passionately for His people. God is defending His honor, but also His people.
Maybe you feel beaten up by life. Maybe you feel overrun by the army of difficult circumstances. Maybe you feel abandoned by the Lord. The book of Nahum reminds you that the Lord Almighty is your shield. You are not forgotten.
Perhaps you have made bad choices. (Haven’t we all?) Maybe you have drifted away from the Lord. Maybe you feel that God would be justified in turning away from you. Nahum reminds us that we still have time to turn to Him and discover his forgiveness and grace. I don’t know how much time remains . . .but there is time now.
I urge you to search your own heart. If you are not right with God . . . please turn to Him this morning. Admit your rebellion and your sin. Ask God to make you clean through the death of Christ on your behalf. Run to Him as a lost child runs when their parent is found. Run to him as a dog runs to its owner. Don’t delay. Be done with compromise and half-heartedness and instead follow Him with energy, devotion and seriousness. The stakes don’t get any higher than this. Don’t presume upon His mercy. Learn from Nineveh.
How long will God endure with our world? How long will God allow America to drift from Him? How long before the Father stands and says, “Enough!”? I don’t know. I have a feeling the answer to that question depends on whether or not people like you and I pay attention to the message of a guy named Nahum.