Our Source of Comfort
A series of messages from the Old Testament Book of Nahum
by John Dugas.
Grace Bible Church Tulsa.
After Nahum 1 was just read, what did you think? Did it sound harsh? Uncomfortable? It is meant to bring you comfort. How can such severe words bring comfort?
What must it be like to have a powerful country threaten your country for years? The Assyrians were known for their cruelty and their power. For many years, no one was able to stop them. They plagued God’s people for years. Prophecies foretold how the Assyrians would destroy the northern kingdom of Israel. But the Assyrians also tormented the southern kingdom of Judah. They invaded Judah and destroyed nearly 50 of their cities. Nineveh the great city would become their capital.
In Jonah’s day, Nineveh repented of their sins after hearing his message from Yahweh. But apparently the next generation returned to their wicked ways. How cruel were they?
“Ninevah was the capital of one of the cruelest, vilest, most powerful, and most idolatrous empires in the world.” (E. Johnson, Bible Knowledge Commentary: OT, p. 1494). Its rulers boasted about their military conquests and their terrible cruelty:
Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.) – “I stormed the mountain peaks and took them…I slaughtered them; with their blood I dyed the mountain red like wool…The heads of their warriors I cut off, and I formed them into a pillar over against their city; their young men and their maidens I burned in the fire.”
He also wrote this about a leader he captured, “I flayed [him], his skin I spread upon the wall of the city”. He also mutilated the bodies of live captives and stacked their corpses in piles.
Ashurbanipal captured another leader, ran a dagger through his chin, then passed a rope through it, put a dog chain on him and made him live in a kennel. When he captured a number of Egyptian officials, he peeled their skin off and hung those skins on the city walls.
Shalmaneser II (859-824 B.C.) – “A pyramid of heads I reared in front of his city. Their youths and their maidens I burnt up in the flames.” Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) – “I cut their throats like lambs… Their hands I cut off.”
Their kings were also blasphemous: “I [am] Ashurbanipal, the great [king], the mighty king, king of the universe…The great gods…magnified my name”. Esarhaddon boasted, “I am powerful, I am all powerful, I am a hero, I am gigantic, I am colossal, I am honored”.
It was against this hateful, arrogant nation that Nahum wrote. Yahweh gave Nahum a message to assure His people that He would deal fully with wicked Nineveh. When you think about what Nineveh was like, this prophecy is a fitting response from the one true God who alone had the power to destroy the Assyrians. Nahum’s message is that Yahweh alone has the power and the character to protect His people and to punish their enemies. This morning, in vv. 1-8, Nahum will present three character traits of our God and show three ways that those traits benefit us.
But first, let’s set this book in history. Jonah gave his warning to Nineveh most likely in 759 B.C. In 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria. Nahum wrote between 663 and 654 B.C. Nineveh will be destroyed in 612 B.C. But those huge gaps in time are hard to swallow.
And so the first character trait of our God that Nahum addresses is the one that is most difficult for us deal with. Waiting for God to act is a trial in itself, isn’t it?
I. Though slow to anger, Yahweh will certainly punish the wicked (Nahum 1-6).
Aside from v. 1, we don’t know much about Nahum. He opens with these words, The oracle of Nineveh. An oracle is a heavy, threatening message. This oracle promises Nineveh’s doom. God gave this message in a vision. He will certainly punish the wicked. How certain is it?
A. It is Yahweh’s character to punish the wicked (Nahum 2-3a).
People are troubled when God takes so long to punish the wicked. But oddly enough, those same people are unsettled by passages like this one which present God as jealous, avenging, wrathful and sovereign. But what comfort is there with a god who is not in control and is not perfectly just? A deep-seated hope can come only from faith in a just and sovereign God. He is just because He gives His enemies their due punishment. And He is sovereign in making it happen.
Our God is a jealous…God. There are two kinds of jealousy in the Bible. One kind is sinful. It is sinful if we are suspicious without cause (Num 5:14; 1 Cor 13:4) or envious (Ps. 37:1). But jealousy that exercises protective care is righteous. This word for ‘jealous’ is used solely of God in the OT. As the spiritual husband of Israel, He was zealous to protect her. He chastised her when she was unfaithful (Dt 5:9; 6:15). And He punished those who harmed her (Zech 1:14-15). He is deeply committed to protecting His people and to securing their exclusive obedience and worship.
It’s hard to miss this next term: Yahweh is an avenging God. Nahum mentions it three times in v. 2. Yahweh is Judah’s Champion and He will repay her enemies. Vengeance is God’s right because He is the holy Judge who carries out vengeance for the sake of His people (Dt 32:35; Rom 12:19).
Yahweh is also wrathful (lit. “He is master of fury”). It is related to the verb “to be hot”. This speaks of God’s burning rage or intense fury against sin. But when will God do this? Look at v. 3a.
God carries out His plan according to His own time. Failing to recognize this causes the people of God to become disillusioned, discouraged or angered at God. Why does God not act when we think He should? And so Nahum reminds us that Yahweh is slow to anger. We should be very glad for this. Do you realize when you wonder, “Lord, why haven’t you dealt with other people’s sin yet?”, that other people are thinking the same thing about you? Be glad that He is slow to anger!
Now we must not mistake His patience for weakness. So Nahum reminds us that Yahweh is great in power. He assures us in Isaiah 46:10, “I will accomplish all My good pleasure”. It takes strength of character to be patient. The word for power “suggests the ability to endure or the capacity to produce, and from there comes the idea of the ability to cope with situations” (E. Johnson).
Although He is slow to anger, His patience doesn’t last forever. And so Nahum promises us that Yahweh will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. The wicked may die before receiving any punishment they deserve. But the Bible is clear that an eternity of punishment awaits them (Ps 73). God will punish the wicked in His own time, but make no mistake about it, He will punish them! It is His character to punish the wicked. How else is their doom certain?
B. Yahweh is sovereign over creation (Nahum 3b-5).
Destructive forces of nature are tools in Yahweh’s hands. I know that people today claim that God is not behind natural disasters. But the Bible says that God is behind them all, working for His purposes. God used a mighty storm in Jonah 1 to get the prophet’s attention and to save those sailors. But sometimes, His purpose is to punish the wicked. Nahum says that this is “His way”.
He is so great that the clouds are like dust beneath his feet. Picture a giant so tall that our clouds are like dust kicked up by his feet. Bashan, Carmel, Lebanon were fertile areas. If God can dry them up, He can punish Ninevah. Mountains and hills are symbols of stability, but in His presence they quake and dissolve. If Yahweh is sovereign over nature, then He certainly can bring Ninevah to its knees. God is in sovereign control of creation, so punishing the wicked is certain.
C. No one can stand before His wrath (Hahum 1:6).
God’s wrath is as devastating as intense fire. The verb, poured out is used of pouring out molten metal that is red hot like fire. There is no escape from it. But after such severe language directed to His enemies, notice how the tone shifts. Picture an intense storm that suddenly stops and is replaced by a peaceful breeze and warm sunshine. Look at v. 7
II. Because He is good, Yahweh is a refuge for His people (Nahum 1:7).
What makes the difference between which group a person falls into? Those who partake of God’s goodness, are those who take refuge in Him (who trust in Him). He knows them personally. Those who receive His wrath are those who oppose Him and His people. How is Yahweh good?
Yahweh is our stronghold. He Himself is a strong, fortified place, a place of safety (see Ps 27:1; 37:39; 43:2; 52:7). While this doesn’t mean that God will always keep His people from physical harm (Ps. 56:2-4), it does mean that they will certainly be kept safe forever in heaven.
III. Because He is faithful, Yahweh will deal thoroughly with the wicked (Nahum 1:8).
During Babylon’s siege of Ninevah, severe rains caused a nearby river to flood the city, breaking down part of the walls. This allowed their enemy to enter the city. He used that storm to bring Nineveh to a complete end. Yahweh’s vengeance is so thorough that He will pursue His enemies into darkness. When people are pursuing an enemy, they will not follow them into dark places. But darkness is no hindrance to God. He goes right in after them and finishes His work.
It is comforting to know that God will right every wrong. He will punish the wicked appropriately. But the deepest source of comfort is that God is in absolute control of everything and that He personally is our stronghold and refuge. THAT is real comfort!