Nahum: Divine Payback…And Some Good News, As Well.

Posted: April 16, 2012 in Nahum

Beginning before and continuing throughout Isaiah’s ministry to Judah, the southern Kingdom, things got increasingly worse in Israel, the northern Kingdom. Things never got better than they were when Jeroboam II ruled Israel from 793 to 753 BC. Jeroboam II was a productive king and did a lot of good for Israel as a kingdom, but spiritually he was wicked and therefore aided in the spiritual downfall of Israel.

His son Zechariah assumed the throne but was assassinated six months later by Shallum, who only a month later was murdered by Menahem, who then set himself up as king. Reigning for ten years, we find that the Assyrian empire is beginning to flex its muscles against Israel, and Menahem raises over ten million dollars to “buy” the friendship of the Assyrian empire. Now, if you think back to the image of a schoolyard bully, what happens the first time you give your lunch to someone to avoid being beat up? That’s right- the next week they want another one. The same thing happens to Israel, who is now considered a “vassal” to the Assyrian empire.

After Menahem dies, his son Pekahiah assumes control of Israel. After two years, however, one of his military leaders named Pekah murders him inside the royal palace and sets himself up as king of Israel. Eight years after this the Assyrians began to plot against Israel and helped a guy named Hoshea to kill Pekah and become king.

By this point in history, though, Israel isn’t near the size and strength that it used to be. Bit by bit, the Assyrian empire whittled away at the borders of Israel, and finally in 724 BC Shalmaneser V began a two year siege of Samaria, the capital city of Israel. When the city finally fell in 722 BC, Israel as a kingdom ceased to exist. The Assyrian empire moved key Israelites out of the land, pulled their own governmental officials into the region, and assimilated Israel into the empire.

Now, there are two things right off the bat that we need to understand and try to wrap our minds around. The first is this- Israel is toppled by the Assyrian empire, whose capital city is Nineveh. That’s right- the same city that experienced complete revival and repentance through the ministry of Jonah. What was once a city with 120,000 brand new converts within only a couple generations reverted back to the Israel-hating, God-rebelling people that they once were. I’ve said before and I’ll continue to say that your parent’s faith does you no good at all on the Day of Judgment. What matters is where your faith is. If you’re trusting in yourself to earn your way into Heaven, you’re in for a great disappointment. God’s gracious salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone.

The second thing we need to grip is the realization that the Assyrian’s oppression of Israel is God’s way of passing judgment over Israel. Of their entire line of 19 kings, not a single one of them did right in God’s eyes, and as a result from the time of the kingdom division in 931 BC to the fall of Israel in 722 BC, God’s people lived lives of idolatry and rebellion against the God who delivered them from Egypt. His judgment in return was their oppression by Assyria, which we see clearly in Isaiah 10:5 as God says, “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger. The staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him.”

Now here’s where things get crazy, because the entire book Nahum is about Nahum’s vision and prediction of God’s complete destruction and overthrow of Nineveh and the Assyrian empire for its crimes against the kingdom of Israel. This book was a great comfort to Judah, who could rest assured that God was going to have His payback. But the crazy part is this: the Biblical record is clear that God purposely caused Assyria to oppress His people as judgment for Israel’s sin, and then God in turn is going to destroy Assyria for what they did. I mean, how does that work?

What we see in Nahum is a beautiful illustration of Divine tension. On the one hand we see that God is absolutely sovereign and can used whatever means necessary to bring judgment upon a person or a nation. On the other hand, we are indeed responsible for our actions and will give an account for what we’ve done. Some people simply cannot grasp this and do not believe that it works. God would never ordain sin and use it, and then turn around and blame the one who God “made” sin in the first place! At least, that’s what they think. Their problem, though, is that they fail to recognize that God can ordain and bring about sin without having to “make” anyone sin. All God needs to do is withdraw His restraining grace and allow their evilness to be more rampant. And the reason God can hold the Assyrian’s responsible for their actions against Israel and against God is because they were doing exactly what their evil hearts wanted to do- rebel against the God of the universe. So realize these tension-filled truths: God is sovereign and accomplishes His purposes…but we are also accountable to God for our actions and responsible for our sins.

Judgment is certainly coming to Nineveh. As Nahum delivers his message to Judah some eighty or so years after the fall of Israel, we get a sobering look at God’s wrath against sinners in this short book of just three chapters.

Nahum opens with a word about the character God as he says

“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
and keeps wrath for his enemies.
  The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
  He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
he dries up all the rivers;
Bashan and Carmel wither;
the bloom of Lebanon withers.
  The mountains quake before him;
the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
the world and all who dwell in it.

  Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.

Ok, so the picture that Nahum paints is of a God in complete control of His creation who is angry at the rebellious Assyrians. Throughout the book this becomes clear as God says things like this in chapter three:

“1Woe to the bloody city,
all full of lies and plunder—
no end to the prey!
The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies!
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
and peoples with her charms.

Behold, I am against you,
declares the Lord of hosts,
and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
and kingdoms at your shame.
I will throw filth at you
and treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle.
And all who look at you will shrink from you and say,
“Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?”
Where shall I seek comforters for you?”

God tells Nineveh that no one will feel bad for the destroyed capital city, or for the Assyrians as a whole. History confirms the accuracy of Nahum’s prophecy, for we see that within twenty years Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC by the combined efforts of the Medes, Scythians, Babylonians, and Susianians. By 608 BC the Assyrian empire ceased to exist. When God says that payback is coming, He means it.

But we know, not only from the Prophets, but from the Biblical narrative as a whole, that God is also a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. We know that though we all deserve the spend an eternity in Hell suffering the wrath of God for our own rebellion, that He sent His Son into the world to die on a Cross and redeem for Himself people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. We know that forgiveness is extended and guaranteed for all those who will see their sin as God does and trust Jesus as their Savior. We know that God’s attitude towards His people is radically different from the way He see His enemies, and we see that at work in the book of Nahum as well.

But I want to zero in on one verse and some of the implications that it has for those of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior. If that’s not you reading this, my prayer is that God will open your heart and eyes to the Truth. But this is especially important to those of you who are following Christ. Look at Nahum 1:7, which reads “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows those who take refuge in him.”

Three things I want you to think about today. The first is this: God is good. The very fact that He saves sinners shows His goodness. The patience that He has with us, the unconditional love, the fact that He will not give up on us shows His goodness. But I want you to know that not only is God good when life is good, God is also good when life is bad, and we know this to be true because no matter how bad it gets, we know that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will.” This is hard to understand sometimes. It really is. Sarai and I are friends with a couple back home who have a five year old son with a growing tumor in his brain that is going to kill him. This is what their Facebook status read last week:

“tumor is stable but having chemo complications, nose and eyelid bleeds, so we will still do weekly vinblastine but change the avastin to every 3 weeks. The vinblastine is still causing neuropathy to his arms, hands, legs, and feet but since the tumor is only stable he has to continue it. We are monitoring him for a possible GI bleed due to a questionable stool last night, avastin can cause this in adults but usually not in children, but his stool appeared to have some blood in it last nigt and looked a little grainy. Thank you all for you continued prayers for our sweet boy, he is still in great spirits.”

Though it’s hard to understand, God is still good even in this hellish nightmare of a world where children suffer and die, evil runs rampant, and everywhere we turn it seems like God is defeated. But He’s not. He’s in control, and He’s good. So I don’t know what you’re facing this week. Could be family issues, or you’ve lost someone close. Relationships have ended, parents have split, jobs have been lost. I don’t know where you are, but I know that our God is good, even in the worst of times. Do you believe that?

The second thing to note is this: God is a stronghold in the day of trouble. A stronghold is a place to hide, a place to seek shelter and protection, and God offers that to His children. Whether your battle is against your own sin nature, or you need a place to run to because life is overwhelming to you, God says to us, “Run to me. Come to me. Seek me. Rest in me. Trust me. I will bring you through this.” Maybe you’re so used to fighting and losing your own battles that you’ve forgotten that God is the one fighting for us. Perhaps you’ve been defeated so many times that you’re convinced that God is done with you. But that’s not what we see in Scripture. Instead we find that God is forever offering protection for those who want it. Maybe today is the day where you fully surrender to the truth of the Gospel and trust Jesus as your Savior. God is a stronghold- go to Him.

Lastly, we see that God “knows those who take refuge in Him.” Clearly God knows everyone on the planet, which tells us that Nahum is going deeper than a simple surface-level knowledge of our existence. What God means when He says He “knows” His people is that He is intimately involved in every aspect of their lives. He is guiding their steps. He is protecting them. He is conforming them to look more like Christ. Even if this means disciplining us when we get out of line, that’s all a part of what a loving parent does to their wayward child. God is actively involved in every breath you take, every molecule of your existence. What are you doing to get to know the One who saved you? Are you spending time daily in His book that He wrote for you? Are you talking to Him and seeking His help in your life? Or are you still trying to do this thing alone?

I really don’t know where you are in life, but God does, and He’s extending Himself to you. How will you respond to him?

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