Minor Prophets Series: Nahum’s Message
Nahum 1 – 3
How do we feel about God’s wrath/anger/vengeance? One does not really want to invite someone along to church if you know that THIS theme is to be preached on a particular Sunday! Or perhaps you reassure the visitor as soon as possible after the service: “it does not always go like this on Sunday. Mostly it also deals with the Lord’s love and forgiveness. Please just come again…”.
Or perhaps you are here for the first time this morning. And now you hear that this God whose Word you have to listen to, is a God of wrath/anger and vengeance/fury. Perhaps you feel that you are in completely the wrong place.
When we hear about the wrath of God, our natural reaction is always to balance it, not so? “Yes, He is that, but He is really a God of love…”
With regards to our local pulpit, we do not jump around in the Bible with our messages, but we try to follow the consecutive order of Scripture itself. For that reason, in our present study of the “minor prophets”, Nahum is on the agenda for today, and therefore the theme of God’s wrath, the way the Holy Spirit speaks through His prophet.
Immensely important, because as one comes to understand the wrath of God biblically correct, one suddenly also understands His compassion and grace. The wrath/anger of God is for example, light-years removed from our human fury and anger. We must be careful not to project our kind of anger on Him, and to imagine that is what He is like. God’s wrath does not mean that He jumps on His high horse, kicks the chair, does/thinks/says certain things that He would later regret. His anger does not mean that He jumps to some self-centred conclusions. His wrath is absolutely pure and just.
To make all of it understandable for us, Nahum is an important book in the Bible.
In fact, there is nothing in the book Nahum which is difficult to understand. The Lord uses the pen of Nahum to pronounce a final judgement over Nineveh, and at the same time, comfort for all who serve Him with heart and soul. Yes, it is the same Nineveh where Jonah had been sent to preach. The pagan Assyrian city in – what is known today – northern Iraq.
Nahum prophesied 100 years after Jonah (in approx 630 BC). In the time of Jonah, almost the entire city came to faith and repentance, but 100 years is a long time. New generations came and the former wickedness returned (3:1; 3:4; 3:18; 3:19). Through Nahum the Lord announced that He was going to destroy the city. The degeneration was so bad, that everyone who would hear the news about the destruction of Nineveh, would clap their hands (3:19).
It happened exactly like that in 612 BC, when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar razed the city to the ground. So much so, that the ruins of Nineveh were discovered only 171 years ago (1847), and today the modern city of Mosul is there – on the western bank of the river Tigris in northern Iraq.
What should we now say about the wrath and vengeance of God?
Some foolish people are of the opinion that it is typical Old Testament. The God of the OT is a God of wrath and vengeance – they say. In the NT it is completely different: In the figure of Jesus, the God of the OT is kind and forgiving.
This opinion is obviously an error. The OT & NT form a seamless unit. Besides, in the heart of the OT one finds the mercy and love of God, even in Nahum! (1:2). In the heart of the NT we find the wrath of God. Did you know that our Lord Jesus – according to Matthew, Mark and Luke – almost never mentioned heaven, but constantly spoke about the coming judgment? Also consider Romans 1: 16, 18. Too many examples to mention.
You see, a great misconception in many people’s minds is the idea of: God is love and His patience endures for ever, and therefore – if I live a reasonably decent life – He will definitely forgive me. His JOB is to forgive me, not so? Therefore, I can live unrepentantly, and one day I can just make an appeal on His love.
What a gruesome surprise awaits many thousands of misled people!?
Why CAN God not be eternally patient and why can He not forgive anyone who lived a life of unbelief and makes an appeal on God’s love at the final judgment?
Answer: As a result of His perfect character of holiness and justice.
Yes, He is love, but He is also holy (perfect) and 100% righteous.
Interestingly: We actually WANT Him to be holy and just, because we don’t want to see someone like for example Hitler in heaven, and in the case of criminals who always get away with things there has to be law and justice. That is why everyone claps their hands when Nineveh is destroyed, because everyone wants law and justice to triumph. In the same way as everyone wants law and justice to take place in in South Africa.
It is a great comfort to know that the living God is holy and righteous. It is a comfort to know that someone like Hitler shall one day stand before God. And also the man who burgled your home and stole all your things – even if the police could not find him. Or the murderer who got away with it.
Apart from God being a God of love, He is also holy and just. That is His being.
However, what happens when this holy and just God comes into contact with SINNERS? People who do not live with Him and don’t believe His promises? Finite beings who transgressed thousands of times against this Infinite Being during their earthly lives?
Yes, His love WANTS to keep and embrace them. But what does His holiness do? It pushes them away and justly damns them. It is impossible that He would never exercise His vengeance, because what then becomes of His holiness and righteousness? Then He has to say: “Your one million transgressions against My Law do not matter” (then He would be unjust). Or: “Your one million transgressions are okay” (then He would be unholy). Do you understand why He HAS to be a God of vengeance? It is also the reason why there IS an eternal condemnation in hell. It simply HAS to be!
The question is now: What about the love of God? His forgiveness? The adoption as child? Because we are all out-and-out sinners (not only the Ninevites), nobody stands a chance with the holy and righteous God. God’s holiness and righteousness will exclude us from His presence for eternity. We would all have to walk the way of Nineveh. He cannot push His holiness aside so that His love can meet us! Where His holiness meets our unholiness, His great wrath and anger ignite. Then who has a chance? See 1:6. See also Rom 3:23.
Just when we are poised to agree: it is a good righteous thing that God’s anger ignited against the Ninevites – we discover that it also includes us!
Only once we discover this crisis, we begin to understand why the Lord Jesus Christ had to come down to earth and why He – as sinless man – had to die such a terrible death on the cross.
It is true that God’s love can now – because of Christ – accept unholy people WITHOUT abandoning/annulling His own holiness and righteousness.
Because, look what happens now:
God’s anger/wrath/vengeance now falls on Jesus (the mediator/substitute) while He takes our place. Remember: Where God’s holiness connects with our unholiness, His wrath ignites. And just there, the moment that happens, our Lord Jesus’ sacrificial death intercedes!
God’s wrath has struck Christ our substitute. And He is our Mediator. He was standing in the middle. He took our place. So that when, at long last, we come to the point to realize how lost we are and acknowledge the fact that we have absolutely no hope of ever moving past God’s holiness to slip into heaven – because our unholiness is a fact, it is a reality. And we then discover CHRIST. How He took our place when the full wrath of God came down on Him on the cross. And we then realize, IN CHRIST God’s love breaks through and He forgives us! And then we begin to believe/trust Him for it.
Do you follow? When the holy God fully adopts me – 100% unholy – IN Christ the Mediator, then He does not first have to sacrifice His holiness/righteousness/anger in order that I might be forgiven! No, He UPHOLDS His holiness! Because His holiness has vicariously struck JESUS. And now His love enfolds me – in/through Jesus. He does not look my sin through His fingers in an UNjust way and pretends that it is not so bad. Now He does not have to change/adjust His character of holiness to get the sinner into heaven. No, my sins have justly been punished in full – in Jesus.
Do you understand why no one can receive eternal life outside of Jesus? Because outside of Jesus, the sinner must remain standing against God’s holiness, and that is not possible for anyone to do (see Rom 3: 10-18). There is only one place where the love of God enfolds/includes a sinner – and that is IN CHRIST, because He alone endured the righteous wrath of God (which we should have received) at Calvary.
Oh, how awful that my wicked unholiness should have caused the sinless Son of God so much suffering/sorrow/curse/death! The clearest proof that the wrath of God is a reality, and that there really is a place like an eternal pool of fire, is the cross at Calvary. Why would the cross have been necessary if the Biblical doctrine of an eternal fire is only a myth?
No, everything that Nahum is speaking of in such cutting terms, is focusing ahead to the Son of God on the cross. For example: whirlwind and storm (1:3), mountains quake (1:5), earth trembles (1:5), wrath like fire (1:6), rocks are shattered (1:6), overwhelming flood (1:8), darkness (1:8), consumed like dry stubble (1:10), cut off and pass away (1:12), pillaged/plundered/stripped/hearts melt/knees give way/bodies tremble/every face grows pale (2:10), piles of dead (3:3), treated with contempt (3:6), captive and taken into exile (3:10), fire consumed bars of city gates (3:13), cut down by the sword (3:15), fatal injury (3:19).
This is child’s play compared to the eternal suffering which lost souls will experience in hell. And it is child’s play compared to the suffering which our Lord Jesus had suffered. The wrath which struck Nineveh is merely a forerunner of what is to come.
But there are other words of Nahum’s that focus on the cross, namely that which people, who believe and trust the Lord for their salvation, will experience. Things like: the Lord is concerned about you (1:2), He is long-suffering (1:3), the Lord is good (1:7), He is a refuge (1:7), He cares (:7), He will break the yoke from your neck (1:13), tear your shackles away (1:13), hear the feet of one who brings good news: Celebrate your festivals (1:15), the wicked is completely destroyed (1:15), your splendour is restored (2:2). This is all child’s play compared to the eternal glory which awaits everyone who lived and died in Christ Jesus.
Can you see how Nahum helps us to clearly understand the eternal gospel?
Oh, do not be satisfied with a wretched life of “50% of my heart is here and 50% is there and I hope the Lord will be merciful to me one day, because after all, He is a God of love”. No. Be aware that the wrath of God will consume you outside of Jesus. Also see how God’s love includes and embraces you IN HIS SON. And that you are privileged that 100% of your heart may belong to Him. In that way you can have absolute assurance that you will never experience the wrath of God! Because it rested completely on Jesus. What a blessed deliverance! Amen!
Translated by Marthie Wilson