Welcome back to Nineveh. Nahum’s divinely appointed task in his book is to reveal the anger of the long-suffering God. He is angry, and this is no ordinary temper tantrum. It’s impossible to read this prophecy without sensing the gravity of it. There is nothing capricious about it. There is nothing selfish about it. It is a controlled but terrible rage. The words used to describe it are jealousy, vengeance, wrath, anger, indignation, fierceness, and fury. This book is also a foretelling (Nah. 1:2) of the punishment and defeat of nations crushing the Israelites to include Babylon, Persia, then later Greece, and Rome.
Ironically, the Lord’s willingness to send Nahum, whose name means “comfort,” into such a hopeless situation as Nineveh shows how He is more confident in us than we are in ourselves (Nah. 1:7). The book is about God’s anger yet using a prophet whose name means comfort shows God true heart. The metropolitan area of Houston was impacted by flood waters from Hurricane Harvey, that covered a space of 10,000 square miles, equal to almost the same space as the entire state of Massachusetts, comparable to an area that could encompass Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Detroit, and it recently made the history books. Last recorded flood of this magnitude was 100 years ago when hurricanes weren’t named. This one rained fifteen trillion gallons in the area. I write this to tell of the outpouring of help and rescue by people (voluntarily) for others in harm’s way was nothing short of inspiring. It was one of those moments when people were at their best when things got worst. That is an example the refuge God provides, and it comes from the best part of man as He so intends. Scripture says “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (cf. Matt. 5:45).
An image of the same is in Jesus in Micah 4:1-5, also illustrated in Nah 1:15, as one who is visible on the horizon. He is the avenger of God’s elect.
Nineveh, a city of Assyria, was a brutal imperialism that was a curse to the lands of the Middle East for a couple of centuries in the Old Testament. It was located in northern Iraq, near on the outskirts of the city of Mosul. Many believe that the hanging gardens of the seven wonders of the world were actually in Nineveh. Their policy was of westward conquest and world domination. They were known for being one of the most aggressive, brutal, cruel, and wicked nations on earth. Nineveh, the capital, saw men and nations as tools to be exploited to gratify the lust of conquest and commercialism. Assyria existed to render no service to mankind only to its rulers.
Nahum wrote this before the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC. He preached God’s judgment for a second time to Nineveh with the book Jonah being the first warning 120 years earlier. Within fifty years of Nahum predictions, Nineveh was utterly wiped off from the face of the earth by floods. The prophecies of Isaiah, Zephaniah, and Jonah are the back stories of Nahum’s prophecy.
It is easy to understand why God is a jealous God when looking at jealousy as love in action. God refuses to share the human heart with any rival, not because He is selfish and wants us all to himself because He knows that loyalty to Him depends on how morally life is lived. He is not jealous of us, He is jealous for us.
Part of the job description of the prophet’s message is to reveal the character of God. The prophets unfold the divine attributes and each sees God in a different light telling it from a variety of differing perspective. The Ten Commandments reveal God’s character. Considering what God commands, His burden of mandates on us are light and by following them, they create freedom for us. And then there is the cornucopia of Scripture references for Jesus like the way, the truth, the light, the morning star, Lamb of God, Bread of Life just to name a few along with the other descriptors used in this book from the Bible.
There is a story of the agnostic who teased a Christian farmer who refused to work his fields on Sunday. The agnostic went out each Sunday to work in his fields, and at the end of the year he came to his Christian neighbor and taunted him. He said, “Look, you are a Christian, and you do not work on Sunday. You have had a fairly good crop. Look at the way God blessed me. I have worked every Sunday, and look at the abundance of grain that I have. Why this has been one of the richest October harvests that I have ever had.” The Christian farmer turned to him and said, “Yes, but God does not always settle his accounts in October.”
When a long-suffering God begins to move, nothing escapes His grasp. We have no choice but to accept the consequences from a God who forewarns repeatedly that if His grace is thwarted, He will rise in judgment at the last vengeance.
I remember years ago, one of my kids did something wrong that resulted in a spanking. Parents typically pause and have the child wait for the punishment to contemplate what they did wrong and also for the parent not to respond in anger. This child wailed dramatically but still seemed unrepentant. Then suddenly she turned and threw her arms around my neck. Now, what was I to do? Continue to spank? No, I couldn’t, because she grasped what she had done and took refuge in me.
Fortunately, the majority of parents don’t resort to just physical punishment today to reprimand or work through a challenge with their children as often as was done in bygone eras. My dad fell into the latter mold of not sparing the rod. My oldest sister used to receive the brunt of discipline (Dad reasoned she was watching us so she got punished for her siblings, we saw what was happening, obeyed her when she said something because we knew, in the future, who would bear the punishment). Once I was heavily teased by my sibs for never getting a spanking. I was accused of being a“spoilt brat” which was an accusation of severe charge amongst us. Consequently, I intentionally tipped the scales and did not do my chores that weekend knowing I would get a spanking.
So when my time came to receive the punishment, to vindicate myself from being accused of being a spoiled brat, I was ready for the spanking as I ever could be. My youngest brother at times was spanked but he stubbornly would not cry. This evoked great respect within the ranks of my siblings I asked him how he did it. He said he held his breath.
When Dad came in to do the deed (and my siblings were sitting outside, below the window sill of the room as official witnesses), Dad asked if I was ready. I said yes but one moment then I would signal when. I took this deep breath, my cheeks bloated out like a blowfish with my holding my breath then signaled him to commence. He looked at me and laughed quietly then asked me what I was doing. I explained everything. He said ok here’s what we would do instead. He would spank the bed I was leaning over (in the ready position with my bottom available) and I would wail after each blow to the bed as if it struck me. I did. And it convinced those who needed the assurance that I wasn’t a brat. My honor was in tack.
In retrospect, I think the punishment I didn’t get was because of what my what intentions even though I broke a rule. God is that way, he knows our intentions. He knows our hearts as we are trying to overcome ourselves. (Rev 2:7-11) God is a spiritual cardiologist interested in the condition of our hearts.
God knows who seek refuge in Him and for those, His heart of love is always open. They will never know his wrath. Jesus put it this way: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (cf. Jn. 5:24).
The book of Nahum, which describes the fall of the city of Nineveh, contains no lofty religious sentiments. Its inclusion in the Old Testament has led to various interpretations of the imagery used in the poem. With these symbolic expressions used, it is possible to read the poem whatever one wishes to find. Interpretations of this kind are legitimate only when the context indicated by the writer is comprehended. Nahum’s poem does not indicate that he is describing anything but the destruction of a representative city responsible for many woes inflicted on the Hebrews and others.
Another incident on this issue came when chastisement was due for another one of my kids, who was a teenager at the time. When told the consequences of his actions, he was quick to say he didn’t realize what the repercussions for the offense and so the punishment wasn’t fair in execution. He said if he had known he would have thought twice before doing it. That was fair enough. I suspended the punishment because I never gave him a warning of the consequences of the grievance he did. God, in his long-suffering always gives us warnings of the repercussions first.