Nawho? — Why We Need to Preach From the Most Neglected Book of the Bible

In the entire history of preaching I doubt there is any section of the Bible more neglected than the minor prophets and among the minor prophets none is as ignored as the book of Nahum. Elizabeth Achtemier says of the book, “We often wish Nahum were not in the canon, and the book has been almost totally ignored in the modern church.” (Achtemeir, 5)  If you will take about 15 minute to read the book you will quickly see why.  The message that Nahum delivers is one of judgment and the picture of God given in the book is one of vengeance, wrath and anger.  Consider the second verse of the opening chapter, “The Lord is a jealous, and avenging Go; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps earth for his enemies.” (1:2) This picture of God doesn’t go over too well in the modern church but I would like to suggest that there’s more to Nahum than what we see at first glance.  There are hidden nuggets in this short book that the modern church desperately needs to hear.  Let me just mention a few of the important themes that make Nahum one of the most relevant books for our times.

Nahum Reminds Us that God’s Justice and Loving Kindness Are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Another way of saying is this is that God is sovereign, showing justice and wrath to the doers of evil while at the same time displaying mercy and love to His people.  We’ve already noted that in 1:2 Nahum clearly teaches us that God is jealous and avenges evil but we also need to note that in v.3 he says, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power…”  Throughout this book, Nahum reminds the people of Judah that while God will judge the city of Nineveh for the atrocities that it had committed He will at the same time show them mercy.  For instance, in 1:15 he writes, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who published peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through yowl he is utterly cut off.”  In other words, the people of Judah could be confident in worshipping God because He will restore them and will deal with their enemies. 

God’s justice and His lovingkindness are not separate natures but rather, they are attributes that coexist perfectly within His divine character.  In the modern church, we have so overemphasized the grace and mercy of God that we have neglected to teach on His justice and wrath.  But the truth of the matter is that we cannot understand what God is like without coming face to face with both aspects of his character.  These two aspects of God’s character are displayed most vividly through the cross of Jesus Christ.  On the cross Jesus met the righteous demands of God’s justice by bearing the punishment for our sin while at the same time displaying God’s love and grace by becoming the ultimate sacrifice for our sin.

Nahum reminds us that God’s justice provides comfort because He has not forgotten nor does He ignore those who do evil.  People living in Judah may have thought that God had been harsh with them but that He was letting the Assyrians and their capital city of Nineveh off the hook.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Nahum reminds us that God is faithful to His promises

In 1:12-13 Nahum writes, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Though they are at full strength and man, they will be cut down and pass away.  Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more.  And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.”  In these verse God reminds Judah that He has not forgotten about them and that He is going to be faithful to all of His promises.  He may have had to temporarily afflict the people but He had not forgotten them.  This is a message that believers in every age need to hear.  Like the ancient residents of Judah, we often find ourselves wondering if God is ever going to intervene to bring about justice.  In those moments, Nahum speaks to us and reminds us that God is faithful to His promises.  He will judge evil and He will restore the righteous.  But there is one final theme in Nahum that modern believers need to hear.

Nahum reminds us that our only security is in God

 The Assyrian Empire was the mightiest military force on the face of the earth in Nahum’s day.  Under the leadership of Tiglath-Pileser the Assyrians dominated the Ancient Near East, including both Israel and Judah, forcing the conquered nations to pay him homage.  The Assyrians were a fierce, militaristic, conquering people who lived by the philosophy that “might makes right.”    They had conquered every major power in their part of the world and must have felt invincible but God says, “Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at you nakedness and kingdoms at your shame.” In other words, God is announcing that He was about to humble the greatest, most powerful nation on the earth at that time. In their commentary, Kenneth Barker and Waylon Bailey state that, “Nahum shows that when the military might of a nation becomes its security and its god, then sin has conquered the nation, and it will fall.  Sin is not limited to those with specific instructions from God’s book about it.  Every person knows basic human rights and values.  Any person or nation who refuses to follow these rights and values is condemned as a sinner and faces God’s judgment.” (Nahum, 155)

As a people we need to be reminded that our strength is not in our military might, economic power, or advanced technology.  In the end none of these will stand the test of time.  The only true source of security that we have is in God.  Nations, churches and people who trust in anything other than God will find that their lives are built on sinking sand.  Our security is found in God and God alone!

My prayer is that God will use this brief survey of the themes in Nahum to encourage you to preach through/from this most neglected book of the Bible.  

 

God is Righteous

Sistine Chapel, fresco Michelangelo,
Sistine Chapel, fresco Michelangelo, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.”

Psalm 89:14

I have devoted my Thursday posts recently to an examination of the four basic attributes of God that form the basis for our understanding of the gospel.  So far we have seen that:

Today, I would like to look at the third major attribute of God— He is Righteous or Just. In English the terms righteousness and justice are different words, but Wayne Grudem points out that in the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament, “there is only one word group behind these two terms.” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.203)  He goes on to say that “God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.” (p.203)

The word “righteous” often invokes negative feelings in people.  We all know people who are self-righteous and look down on others.  Most of us also know people who try to impose their own standards of righteousness on other people.  We often refer to these kinds of people as being “self-righteous.” Thankfully, the righteousness of God has nothing to do with either of these kinds of people.  When we say that God is righteous, we mean that He cannot make a rule or a promise and then not keep it.  In other words, God is always faithful to do what He says that He will do.  This attribute of God helps us to understand the penal or legal aspect of the gospel.  To see what I mean it may be helpful to read Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:1-24.

In Gen 2:16-17 God gave Adam permission to eat from every tree that was in the garden except for one, which is called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  This is a simple and straightforward command.  At the end of v.17, God established a penalty for breaking this command, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  This is a simple and straightforward command; don’t eat of this one particular tree because if you do you are going to die.  For God to be righteous, He must carry out the penalty that He attached to this law.  In other words, Adam and Eve had to die after they ate the fruit or God would not be righteous.  God cannot simply overlook or ignore the rule.  God’s righteousness compels Him to carry out the penalty for sin and this is exactly what He does in Genesis 3:13-19 when announces the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A.W. Tozer points out that God’s righteousness would seem to “destroy the hope of justification for the returning sinner.” (The Knowledge of the Holyp.94) This raises the age-old question that can only be answered by the gospel “How does God spare the wicked and yet maintain His own righteousness?”  To answer this question we must look to the cross of Jesus Christ, where the full measure of God’s righteousness and justice was poured out upon Jesus as He bore the full penalty for our sin.  In the cross, we can fully see both the righteousness and grace of God being displayed.  This is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Come back next week, when we look at God’s grace.

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