We have all known people over the years who are a mixed bag of extremes – kind and loving one moment, yet in a short time triggered by some event into a violent rage. What makes such people difficult to deal with is the unpredictable nature of their personalities and expressions.
God’s character is expressed in two vastly different ways. Some people wrongly see God as merely a Father of love, love, love … who just loves everyone so much no matter what they do or values system they adopt – he just can’t help himself. Yet others see God as a nasty and vindictive despot who is always just waiting to zap the next person who steps off the straight and narrow. Both views are wrong … wrongly understanding love and wrath, or how God’s grace and justice work as two sides of the same coin.
Today and tomorrow we turn to the obscure little book of Nahum, and we have scheduled it for this week of study along with Jonah – the two books belonging together in their prophesies regarding the Assyrian Empire.
However, these prophets were not contemporaries and wrote about a century or more apart from each other. Jonah wrote in the mid 700s B.C. The fruit of his ministry was a short-term revival, but about 40 years late, Assyria conquered the northern 10-tribe kingdom of Israel. Another 20 years later in an attack upon the southern kingdom of Judah, God miraculously saved the nation by the deaths of 185,000 in the camps of the Assyrians. By the time of Nahum’s writing in the mid 600s B.C., Assyria was at its peak of power – having defeated the Egyptians, while also receiving tribute from Judah. Nahum predicted the demise of the proud Assyrians, which would happen at the hands of the Medes and Persians in 612 B.C. – with Jerusalem being taken by the same about seven years later, beginning the Babylonian Captivity of Judah.
1:1 A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
2 The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.
3 The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.
4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. 5 The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it.
6 Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.
So these opening verses display God’s anger, wrath, and great power to judge. God will judge his enemies and those who stand up against him through evil lives. His anger is slow – to allow repentance; but his power is beyond the most powerful displays of nature … like tornados, droughts that wither the most fertile areas of the Near East, and volcanoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. But here is the flipside …
7 The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him,
But then again, the prophet returns to the first theme, identifying exactly whom God is particularly angry with – and it’s Nineveh …
8 but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness. 9 Whatever they plot against the Lord he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time. 10 They will be entangled among thorns and drunk from their wine; they will be consumed like dry stubble. 11 From you, Nineveh, has one come forth who plots evil against the Lord and devises wicked plans.
The varied and powerful kings of Nineveh all had designs upon totally conquering Judah. There was the one particular incident of the 185,000 killed by God in one evening – sending Sennacherib back home. But they continued to threaten – and even held Judah’s King Manasseh in chains for a time. But the Assyrians were not to be the people to conquer Judah.
Here the Lord speaks through his prophet to the nation of Judah …
12 This is what the Lord says: “Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be destroyed and pass away. Although I have afflicted you, Judah, I will afflict you no more. 13 Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away.”
And now the word is directed toward the Assyrians …
14 The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.”
It is not a good thing to have God say that he is going to prepare your grave! Nineveh was so completely destroyed and buried, that when Alexander the Great fought a battle near there a few hundred years later, he did not realize he was at that site.
15 Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed.
So there is judgment against Assyria – demonstrating God’s wrath, and grace toward Judah – demonstrating God’s mercy. Those are the two sides of God.
It is a terrible thing to be on the wrong side of God, and that is where we are in our natural condition under the curse of sin. But God’s grace, and Christ’s provision as the substitutionary object of God’s judgment, makes it possible for our adoption as his own people on the good side of God’s mercy.
Would you want a God who ignored sin and injustice and was simply love, love, love? No! And would you want a God who was angry and vindictive? Of course not. The difference between God’s two sides and the multiple personalities we know to mark the behavior of certain damaged people is that God’s two sides are predictable and work in perfect harmony. He is angry and will judge sin, but he is gracious toward those who repent and trust in the provision for sin that he has provided.