Nahum’s prophesy is one of shock and awe. It should provoke a visceral reaction in us. The book is characterised by overwhelming judgement portrayed by graphic poetry. This verse foresees those on the receiving end with sinking hearts, a trembling dread, and blood sapping pallor. This is deadly serious!
But amidst this frightening revelation there are pockets of comfort and hope for us to notice as well. There we can find protection, for ‘Yahweh is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knows those who take refuge in him’(Nahum 1:7).
First we must refresh our concept of exactly who this Yahweh is. He’s the LORD God, Almighty. Yes we can experience His comfort, even ‘love’(1 John 4:8&16), His defining characteristic, but the comfort of this love is in proportion to His power, and He’s not feeble! ‘The mountains quake before him, and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, yes, the world, and all who dwell in it’(Nahum 1:5). This is the creator and sustainer of the universe. The enormity of His awesome reality cannot be overstated. It’s beyond words.
And some of us choose to ignore His wisdom and authority, worshiping elsewhere?! That’s the charge against ‘Nineveh’(Nahum 1:1), the capital of ‘Assyria’(Nahum 3:18), who this prophesy was originally about. God views such behaviour like adultery, i.e. unfaithfulness against Him. So their judgement was ‘because of the multitude of the prostitution’(Nahum 3:4), which might well have been literal in their case, because worship of their false God’s likely involved shrine prostitutes. As is always the case however, their unfaithfulness to God included other forms of ungodliness too, such as ‘endless cruelty’(Nahum 3:19), which particularly characterised the Assyrians. This imagery is seen throughout scripture, especially with their successors the Babylonians used as a type, like in Revelation where we read of ‘Babylon’ as a personified prostitute, with whom the world rulers and ‘“those who dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her sexual immorality”’(Revelation 17:2), and things that accompanied it, like opulent greed etc.
This shocking unfaithful betrayal is why God is described as ‘jealous… full of wrath’(Nahum 1:2), and why it’s a just response that ‘“with violence will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down, and will be found no more at all”’(Revelation 18:21), and those who ‘“lived wantonly with her, will weep and wail… saying ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For your judgement has come’”’(Revelation 18:9-10). When the prophet Daniel saw these things panning out over history he was ‘much troubled’(Daniel 7:28) and went pale too. Shocking events and a shocked prophet.
This is not what the Assyrians were anticipating, and nor might any other ‘Babylonians’ unless warned by the likes of Nahum. They were swaggeringly complacent, like ‘lions’(Nahum 2:11), rather than concerned, not realising that God sometimes permits evil to flare up only to be quenched later. Perhaps they thought that their prosperity was a sign that God was okay with their attitude?
Nahum points out that although God is ‘slow to anger’(Nahum 1:3), He is nevertheless ‘great in power, and will by no means leave the guilty unpunished’(Nahum 1:3). Such delays are partly because He’s ‘patient with us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’(2 Peter 3:9). However, we should be warned that there is a point of no return, which apparently the Assyrians had reached, a terminal condition from which there ‘is no healing’(Nahum 3:19). So it’s important to respond in a season of grace before terminal hardness sets in, as the apostle Paul warned, ‘now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation’(2 Corinthians 6:2).
But there’s a problem. If ‘all have sinned’(Romans 3:23) and God doesn’t ‘leave the guilty unpunished’(Nahum 1:3), how can any of us find ‘refuge in him.’(Nahum 1:7)? The tone of the apostle Paul’s answer to that question reflects the seriousness of the issue, ‘we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For him who knew no sin [i.e. Jesus – God the Son] he made to be sin on our behalf [on the cross]’(2 Corinthians 5:20-21), so ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses’(2 Corinthians 5:19). The blood drained from Jesus’ face on the cross so that our faces might not grow pale at the final judgement. God the Son absorbed in Himself the wrath due to us.
So ‘every knee should bow’(Philippians 2:10) in worship, and one day ‘“‘will bow’”’(Romans 14:11) in continued worship, or crumpled devastation.
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