Our Source of Training –
A series of messages from the Old Testament Book of Nahum
by John Dugas.
Grace Bible Church Tulsa.
So far in Nahum we’ve talked about our source of comfort, hope and restoration. They flow from the overall purpose of Nahum’s prophecy that: Yahweh alone has the power and the character to protect His people and to punish their enemies. The truth is, we don’t put this to use as consistently as we should. All of us need to be trained to use the promises that God has made to us.
In the world of running, there are many books, magazines and websites that consider running from a lot of different perspectives: breathing techniques, foot placement, cadence, increasing your speed, increasing your endurance, eating properly, hydrating properly, and so on. While a few articles tell how to run the actual race, most of the articles are focused on training. They know that a runner’s performance is determined before they ever run a race. Performance is determined during training.
But training isn’t much fun. It is hard, often boring, sometimes painful. Unlike a race, there is no adrenaline rush, no crowds cheering you on, no competitive spirit from fellow athletes. Training is simply work! But it’s necessary work if you want to run. When race day comes, it will reveal how well you have trained or how poorly you have trained. Performance is determined during training.
It is no different in our walk of faith. That’s why Paul uses the images of running a race to help us learn about the spiritual life (1Cor 9:24-26). We will respond to life based on how well we’ve trained.
We must train to develop new thinking patterns (Rom 12:2) that prepare us for our battle with sin or in the midst of relationship conflict so that our thoughts will be biblical thoughts. Godly thoughts are joyful, hopeful, think-the-best-about-others. It must last even as life twists and turns around us.
We must also train our souls to stand firmly on God’s promises and to rest fully in those promises. Those are just two examples of the kind of training we must work at. But they help us see what Nahum is trying to get across to us. There is a reason why God gave us His promises and why He has provided guidance on how we should think about God, about life, about others. He gives us the tools to use in training so we respond to life in ways that honor Him.
Yahweh fights for His people. Yahweh will certainly and completely destroy and dismantle our enemies, including sin. Nahum shows us three ways that our God fights for us against our enemies.
I. Yahweh exposes the true nature of our enemies (Nahum 3:1-7).
The sins of Ninevah were so great, that the prophet pronounces Woe upon this bloody city:
She earned this title from her “atrocious practice of cutting off hands and feet, ears and noses, gouging out eyes, lopping off heads, and then binding them to vines or heaping them up before city gates [and] the utter fiendishness by which captives could be impaled or flayed alive through a process in which their skin was gradually and completely removed.” (Walter Maier, quoted in BKC, p. 1502).
And so in vv. 2-3, Nahum resumes his vision. Nineveh’s own war tactics are now turned against them. It is so bad that there are countless dead bodies that everyone stumbles over (Nah 2:5).
How does God fight againstour enemies? One way is that He exposes their sinful, rebellious nature. Look at vv. 4-7 where God lists some of Nineveh’s sins. Ninevah is called a harlot because she lusted for power. To get it, she sought to allure and manipulate those around her. She even resorted to sorceries to tell the future. Their chief goddess, Ishtar, was the goddess of sex and war. She was a harlot who carried out acts of savagery. She was Ninevah’s role model!
Nineveh was so despicable that Nahum repeats God’s words from 2:13, “‘Behold, I am against you,’ declares the Lord of hosts”. Just as Nineveh had disgraced other nations, she would now be disgraced and shamed before the nations. Yahweh completely exposed her when her city was pillaged. Everyone will realize that Nineveh is vile. God stripped away her wealth and power which hid her evil. Nineveh wallowed in filth (human excrement). That is how God describes idolatry (Dt 29:17; Jer 4:1; Ezek 20:7-8). Yahweh will cover her in her own filth by exposing her worthless idols.
So, the nations will shrink from her in disgust and there will be no one to grieve for her or comfort her. Ninevah’s destruction was so complete that the Cambridge Ancient History says, “no other land seems to have been sacked and pillaged so completely as was Assyria” (quoted in EBC).
The principle is this: Yahweh exposes the true nature of our enemies. People flocked to Nineveh to share in her wealth, glamour, prestige and power. She looked so attractive. So Yahweh exposed her real nature. She was despicable! Think now about our greatest enemy that we fight every day. The only reason why we are tempted by sin is that it appears to us as something attractive and desirable. But our Lord is faithful to reveal to us in our in our failures, the true nature of sin. As Ralph Venning’s book title proclaims, God shows us The Sinfulness of Sin. How deceptive, how vile it is!
Here’s an exercise you might find helpful: meditate on Nahum 3:1-7 and think about how this is also a fitting description of sin. You’ll know you’re making progress when you realize that your sin is filth. Then write out a summary of sin’s true nature to remind you when you are tempted.
II. Yahweh teaches us to learn from His work in history (Nahum 3:8-10).
God teaches us how to draw lessons from history, about how He works. Learn from what happened to Thebes. She trusted in her own ability to protect herself. Yahweh will destroy those who don’t repent of their pride, self-sufficiency and sinful ways. This is a warning against overconfidence.
No-amon was the Jews’ name for Thebes. Amon was the chief god. Thebes was located about 400 miles south of modern Cairo, near ancient Ethiopia. A leading center of Egyptian civilization, it was home to great temples, palaces and sphinxes. God had already said through His prophets that Thebes would fall (Jer 46:25; Ezek 30:14, 16). And so Assyria had conquered them in 663 B.C.
Thebes was located on the eastern bank of the Nile river but its suburbs sprawled across, some being built on islands formed by divided channels. It could literally boast the river as its walls. They had moats, canals and other waterways surrounding the city. An attacking army would have to cross numerous channels of water to conquer the heart of the city. In ancient times, the Nile was often called “the sea” and it still is called “the sea” today by the locals.
In contrast to Nineveh, Thebes had a good allies on all four sides. Together their resources seemed without limits. But in spite of her strength, allies and strategic location, Thebes still fell. The Assyrians were cruel and hateful in their treatment of the captives. They murdered infants at the head of every street so their captives could watch. They even rounded up the honorable men and cast lots for them to be their slaves. This was designed to further humiliate them.
All of this is the answer to Nahum’s question to Nineveh, “Are you better than Thebes?” Strategically, Thebes had more going for it. Learn from God’s work in history. Forsake pride!
III. Yahweh promises to completely destroy our enemies (Nahum 3:11-19).
Nineveh will also fall like Thebes. Nahum gives at least seven ways in which Yahweh will completely dismantle Nineveh. Let’s briefly step through these.
- They will lose the benefit of sound judgment (read v. 11a). The Assyrian king gave his soldiers lots of wine. While drunk, they were attacked. They thought they were invincible!
- They will search hopelessly for a refuge (read vv. 11b-12). The ferocious Ninevites will rush about frantically, trying to hide. When the figs are ripe, even children could shake them from the trees. The Babylonians reported that the suburbs fell easily into their hands. The eater was eaten!
- They will become terrified and lose courage (13a). The men defending the city would become afraid and defenseless. Under the hand of Yahweh, the ferocious lion became a frightened kitten!
- They will be struck with disaster (13b-16). Nahum saw in his vision that fire was set upon the gates and their bars. So he calls her to prepare for the siege. They will need an adequate supply of drinking water, extra bricks to repair the walls, and extra troops. But it won’t help. They will be consumed by fire and cut down by the sword. Like grasshoppers, Babylon will consume it all!
- They will run like cowards (read v. 17). While it sounds good that Nineveh’s guards and marshals have increased, like cold insects which are warmed by the morning sun, they will flee!
- They will collapse as a nation (18). Their leaders (shepherds, nobles) will all be dead (sleeping). Those not captured will be so scattered that they couldn’t be regathered.
- Their devastation will bring rejoicing to the nations (19). Nineveh will find that there was no relief for their nation’s breakdown and that their wound is incurable. Those who had been so terrorized by Ninevah would now rejoice in her demise.
Studying this book ought to be a faith-building exercise. You probably don’t think of the Minor Prophets that way. But they are just as profitable to us as any other book of Scripture. My prayer is that we will learn to better trust in God’s faithfulness and to more fully rest in His promises.