NAHUM | Week 1: Great Vengeance - Greater Comfort

February 25, 2018 Speaker: Christopher Rich Series: NAHUM | Greater Comfort

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Nahum 1:1–1:15

 

Introduction | Nahum - Jonah Sequel   

Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we begin a brief series on the Book of Nahum titled, Greater Comfort. We are going to spend three weeks walking through this old testament prophetic book learning about the nature and character of God and how He gives us greater comfort in the midst of great pain, chaos, and injustice.   Nahum 1:1 | 1An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.

A distant foreign city of sin is condemned to destruction………....again.  100 years previous, Jonah, a well-known, but self-righteous, prosperity preacher from a religious culture was given a bold mission to Nineveh which he fearfully avoided. Fleeing he found himself a on a boat with savvy sailors and a sudden storm. The preacher swallowed and saved by a great fish sent from a greater God. Mission advanced turns to mission accomplished and a city is saved. Jonah was a lesson on rebellion, repentance, and obedience. A less than enthusiastic prophet give a message of both God’s judgement and mercy and the unthinkable happens, a whole city repents in an amazing picture of deliverance for penitent pagans. This turn to God is apparently short lived and temporary, contained to a generation or two. Each generation needs to submit to God. Each generation needs to repent of sin and follow God because each generation is infected and impacted by sin. 8th Century Nineveh may have repented but their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren did not. A tenderheartedness that brought them to sorrow for their sin had been replaced by hard hearted arrogance of believing they were god Himself. A century later, this city is again under God’s divine judgment. A second prophet, Nahum, passionately and artfully describes the coming fall of this city, this time without hope of the execution being stayed. In this, we see despite what can seem like the unending reign of violence, oppression, and injustice our God will come with His mighty hand bringing righteous vengeance and justice for the purpose of giving His people Greater Comfort. 

The Man- Little is known about Nahum. His name means “Comfort” and he was used to bring comfort to people who have been suffering. Suffering both by their own sin and the sin of nations around them. He is possibly from Galilee, (The Galilean town of Capernaum’s name means “Village of Nahum”) a poor subjugated part of Israel. He writes with the imagery, inspiration, and intensity of a great poet. The vivid details of a city swallowed in conquering wrath of an invading power are specific enough some liberal scholars believed it could only be written after Nineveh’s fall. However, dating of this prophetic work places it in the middle of the 7th Century BC, BEFORE the events described. In Nahum we learn very little about the man, but we much about the character and nature of God.

The Mission- Generations have passed since Jonah reluctantly came to Nineveh preaching a message of God’s Deeper Mercy. In Jonah’s day Nineveh was given the opportunity to repent of their ways and worship and the do! God grants them grace and they are spared as everyone from the least to the greatest turns to follow the God of the Bible. But this act of contrition does not endure and a century later Nineveh does not fear or worship the God of the Bible but instead worships themselves and strikes fear and loathing into the hearts of each nation or people they come in contact with their violent conquests.  Where Babylon was the city know for man’s war against God, Nineveh represents man’s war against his fellow man.

Nineveh is a preeminent city in the Assyrian Empire situated on the eastern bank of the Tigris River (now the outskirts of modern day Mosul, in Northern Iraq). Even in Nahum’s day Nineveh was an ancient city founded 1300-1600 years before it’s fall in 612 BC. Founded by Nimrod, who is described by Genesis 10:8 as the first “mighty warrior on the earth”, this city has been characterized by violence for countless generations.  It was a city where people would send the heads of their enemies back as trophies. Foreign leaders where held hostage. Women from conquered nations were trafficked back to as sex slaves. Torture and cruelty were common. A booming inland city, many estimates at the time had over 600,000 people living in the city and her many suburbs. Known to have massive 100ft high and 50ft thick walls with one stretching 7.5 miles long. A capitol of a nation on the assent, the people worshipped Asur and Ishtar as male and female deities. With growing influence, worshiping pagan gods, military strength and likely the largest city in the world by population, Nineveh represented a real and growing threat to the continued security and prosperity of Israel. Seen as Israel’s enemy, many patriotic Hebrew’s likely prayed for God’s judgement on the city or at the very least that her flourishing would be halted. More than just Israel, when her fall comes we see Nineveh as few true allies as “all who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?” (Nahum 3:19)

The Message- Most books of the Old Testament Prophets (i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, etc) are focused on recording the words of the prophets to God’s people. This is why you see many phrases like “Thus says the LORD…” or “The word of the LORD is…” in their volumes. The message takes center stage.  Nahum is no different. While this is an “oracle concerning Nineveh” The message is for God’s people who have been living in the perpetual questions about God’s involvement in human history that seems more defined by great brutality against each other rather than greater comfort of God’s presence. God is alive and active.

Greater understanding God’s Nature and Character– When we read difficult text of judgement and wrath from the Old Testament we have to remember they are not at odds with the mercy and grace of the Gospel in the New Testament but are necessary for a robust understanding of the grace and mercy we experience in Christ.  God is patient and powerful. He creates good, loves His people and hates sin. God is active in the storms of nature and human history and promises rest from both.

Greater Gospel Fluency – In Nahum, we have to remember we’re the Ninevites. But Nahum is not the end of God engaging with His people. The God who is jealous for His people has acted to bring just wrath and judgment for those who have sinned against Him, which is everyone. No one can stand this indignation. However, God has made a refuge. In Jesus, we see God’s own Son taking the judgement we deserve in our place so that we can look to the good Lord as a stronghold in the day of trouble.

Greater identity as Urgent Ambassadors – God saves people in part to proclaiming His salvation to others. It is easy rejoice over justice for the wicked, but it more difficult to remember that because of sin we are all “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3) mean everyone needs to hear the Gospel.

PART I | Great Vengeance | Nahum 2-6

Nahum 1:2-6 |The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers.The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.                     Fittingly, the message doesn’t begin with Nineveh or the Assyrian empire but with who God is. He is Jealous for His people and is powerful to act on their behalf. His patience in enduring sin and brokenness should never be mistaken for weakness or a lack of justice as He “will by no means clear the guilty” (1:3). With a heart of righteous vengeance God will bring a terrible end to all wicked nations. This is a message of consolation in the midst of difficulty. There is comfort for the afflicted, God has had enough, no longer will this city continue in violence. He brings:

Great Jealous- He is jealous FOR His people not OF His people. He knows when they seek after other gods or worship themselves they are worshipping something less-than. It upsets the order of life and creation and leads to distortions and destruction. When we untether from God we bring chaos into the world. God’s jealousy is one that protects and defends the best interests of the universe and us who dwell in it.

Great Vengeance- This word is used 3 times in verse 2. Before we attempt to judge God as being too harsh, we have to remember Vengeance is retaliatory punishment for egregious wrong committed. God’s vengeance is driven by just anger against sin. His wrath is not dolled out capaciously it’s reserved for His enemies.

“Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged. – English Writer, Samuel Johnson

God doesn’t have hurt feelings, He knows cosmic crimes have been committed against created beings who are image bearers of Him. This is a difficult concept for us to understand because we think of these things in human terms so when we think of jealous for someone is a sign of weakness we should think of it like a parent who wants good things for their children. Vengeance is for the unmerciful but with that we forget how serious sin is when it’s committed against another person. God’s vengeance is just and good.

 

Great patience and power. (3) (this is the God who took His people from Egypt) He is slow to anger..  this means When God bring vengeance it is not reactionary like us but it is measured and thoughtful. It doesn’t say “merciful and gracious,” “abounding in steadfast love” “forgiving iniquity”  like it does in Exodus 34 that is part of God’s character but that is not the focus here. It only includes “slow to anger” and “will not clear the guilty” and add is “great in power”. We can and should hold on to all those characteristics of God. This letter/book is not the entirety of scripture. But we do know that all scripture of breathed out by God and profitable for teaching.  God’s power and His justice are necessary to focus on when the evil seems so strong and unrelenting. “God I know you love me I need to know you’re going to fix what is broken and end what is evil.” “God I know you’re tender, I need to know your tougher than the bully.” It is comforting to know that the one who will not clear the guilty is also mighty and powerful. How much?

 

Great over all creation –  (3b-5) He controls the storms. Tempest blow from order of His throne. The clouds are the dust of His feet. We see grand movements in the sky, to Him it is but dust.  He can and does bring dryness where there is typically lushness for the purposes of showing His judgement.  Even places like Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon who are rich can be brought low. He has power over the sea (parts it), he brings natural property in the flourishing places like Bashan, Carmel, Lebanon. And controls the storms.

Why is it important for God’s character of patience and goodness to be known along with His justice and power? How would our understanding of God change if we took an aspect of His character away?

Great judgement (6) – Who can stand? No one! No one is righteous no not one. (Rom 3) so before we talk about wicked Nineveh we need to know there is no one who can stand before the judgement of God and not be found wanting and endure the heat of His righteous wrath. No one can stand before God in His vengeance God has power over all creation we are so fragile and weak in His presence. This should drive us to ask “Where do we stand? with or before God? Friend or enemy?” How serious do we take our sin?  

PART II | Great Refuge | Nahum 1:7

Nahum 1:7 | The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.

 

GOD IS GOOD! Great Refuge- In what may be the key verse (1:7) of the whole book we are reminded that God is Good. This is a respite in the midst of overwhelming intensity of God’s nature and character. If it is forgotten we can easily see a God who is to be feared/revered/worship, one we should run to, be one we run from in terror. All His power and authority over creation means He is an unbreakable stronghold for everyone who seeks refuge in Him. God knows His people who trust Him. This knowing is greater than knowledge, it is love and intimacy, In Christ you’re part of God’s family, you’re known and accepted. Those with God as a refuge have nothing to fear even in the “day of trouble.” When you have God as your refuge you have the comfort of great security so you can step back and watch God working in history.

 

PART III | Great Clarity | Nahum 1:8-14

Nahum 8-14 | 8But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness. What do you plot against the Lord? He will make a complete end; trouble will not rise up a second time. 10 For they are like entangled thorns, like drunkards as they drink; they are consumed like stubble fully dried. 11 From you came one who plotted evil against the Lord, a worthless counselor. 12 Thus says the Lord, “Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. 13 And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.” 14 The Lord has given commandment about you: “No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile.”

Great Clarity- In order for peace to reign there has to be victory over evil. The power of evil has to fall. God’s victory over evil is a compressive annihilation that brings an end to all oppression. For Nineveh that means a swift end without possibility of return. A city defined by violence and evil will be lost to history with no legacy for the rest of humanity to endure. There is this clear air of certainty and inevitability.  Things get specific and we’ll see in greater detail in chapter 2, but this section lays out some broad strokes including:

  • 8 – Flood will engulf the city, this happened when the river over flowed after a wall was breached.
  • 9 – God will bring a swift end and they will not return. This is one of the most comforting things about God’s powerful justice, not worrying it will return. Think of any movie where the bad guy is crushed but then at the end you see the hand coming out of the pile of rubble and you know there is going to be a sequel. That is not comforting. But knowing this millennia long center of human suffering will come to a complete end and you don’t have to worry any longer! Praise Him who does this!!
  • 10 – Consumed by fire as dry stubble. Flood and fire brings an added intensity and picture of the city being consumed. One happening to a city is a disaster. Two is terrifying.

Verse 11- gives clarity of what is behind the evil city. It’s spiritual and worldly. From this crew came a worthless counselor that sounds like a therapist who is isn’t effective but instead it has a much harsher meaning. It has a demonic root of a leader who moves people from passivity in their resistance to God’s leading to one who is catalytic in driving active opposition to God. It is literally one who “schemes ruthlessly” This prince is in great contrast to the one Isaiah promises in chapter 9 who is a “wonderful counselor” this worthless counselor’s city will end, the wonderful counselor has an unending kingdom.

  • 12 – No allies (full strength) they are cut off. God’s not impressed by numbers. Evil at full strength is nothing compared to our good and powerful God. He mows it down like grass.
  • 14 - No descendants – Lost from History. No more Ninevites (Parisian, Londoners, Renovites, but no Ninevites. City wasn’t even found until the 1840’s) There is a grave for the vile (they are buried because they are morally found wanting) 

Lets not skip this little phrase in verse 12 “Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more.” We read in 2 Kings 18:11-12 They were carried away from Israel into Assyria “because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God but transgressed his covenant”…”They neither listened nor obeyed”….  ( they did not fear God) God allowed this because of His peoples unfaithfulness but He did not let it remain forever. They were oppressed because of their sin. But in the victory over evil their affliction will be over. The burden they have been bearing will end because of God’s goodness to His people. They may have been afflicted by Assyria but don’t mistake that for God’s favor TO Assyria, anymore than you should think God is pro Babylon who is coming into to take out Assyria. It’s like the Soviet coming into Berlin at the end of World War II, they ain’t the good guys.  But He also breaks the yoke of the oppressor (13)  so there is no lasting legacy for evil. False worship will be ended, put in a grave for that has no escape.

 

PART IV |Greater Comfort | Nahum 1:15

15 Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.

A messenger of lasting peace is coming! A midst a constant bombardment of human pain there is good news. True peace, communion with God and His people, is coming. There is this feast language This is not simply evil is no more, but great celebration commences! The evil and demonic will not touch God’s people again. This is looking WAY ahead not just to the end of Nineveh but the end of all Ninevehs! To a new forever city of flourishing and feasting. This is the comfort we have in the Gospel. Where we remember we are all Ninevites all subject to God’s judgement, all be found lacking, all in sin. but God has granted mercy to those who seek refuge in Jesus. Like Nahum’s  prophecy to Nineveh, everyone is under God’s judgement and need His mercy. We are not in the state of Nineveh from Nahum where divine final judgement is assured. We are in the time of Nineveh in Jonah’s day where there is still hope and opportunity for those opposed to God to repent and receive deeper mercy. This comes when we see God has given us His greatest comfort at the Cross by pouring out His judgement on Jesus in our place. Because of His resurrection, Jesus is alive ruling and reigning over everything. Because of His mercy we can live new eternal lives of enthusiastically worshiping King Jesus now and forever.  

 

Because “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) we can have Greater Comfort knowing our call is to desire and work for justice in this world but God will settle all things. We are to be messengers God’s reconciliation that can only be found in through faith in Jesus.

The same jealousy that consumes can also drive God to redeem. God cares enough about us to not let us remain in places of idolatry, violence. He knows that us bringing Him glory also leads to our joy.

Nahum sees great comfort and good news in the promised fall of the Assyrian capitol because it is ultimately pointing to the defeat of all wickedness and sin by the victory of Christ over satan, sin, and death, It points us to the cross. It is at the cross where we see God’s measured and perfect vengeance and temperance. God shows restraint in the moment of crucifixion. A crime against God and man is being committed as sinners are slaying the savior. The Father restrains His great vengeance puts the judgement even for this crime on Jesus who could have called down angel armies to wipe out everyone and instead cries out “Father forgive them.” Yes God ends evil but he also saves rebels. Nineveh’s fate is sealed. They stand condemned, we have hope that there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So we are people who have a greater comfort than the promise of great vengeance when we Trust Jesus.

 

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