Delving into the book of Nahum

The book of Nahum is the account of a vision. A vision about the city of Nineveh, the same city that God sent Jonah to with his message of warning and hope of redemption. This is different. This time there is no hope for Nineveh, no redemption, no mercy. Nineveh, the mighty capital of the Assyrian empire which crushed Judah, is to be brought to justice.

Nahum is prophesying here at the same time as Jeremiah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (we haven’t met the second two yet), but he has no message form God for Israel or Judah. His vision is focused entirely on Nineveh.

Nineveh: powerful, wealthy, impregnable, pagan…and cruel.

The first half of the first chapter of Nahum is a poem. It doesn’t work as well in translation. In the Hebrew, the first letters of each line spell out the Hebrew alphabet.

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.
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.
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.
The mountains quake before him
and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it.
Who can withstand his indignation?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
the rocks are shattered before him.
The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.

We see two sides of God here – protection and destruction, compassion and anger. Two sides that we often find difficult to reconcile. We’re comfortable with a God of love and mercy – slow to anger, good, a refuge in times of trouble. It’s God’s power and how He uses it that we find more difficult to handle. We don’t know what to do with a scary God.

God is great in power. That is scary. That should be scary. He’s in the whirlwind and the storm. He controls creation – the clouds and seas and rivers and trees and hills and mountains. Consider a mountain. Consider it quaking before God. Such is God’s great and terrifying power.

The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it.

That is a right response. God’s power should overawe us and make us tremble. We lose sight of God’s power all too often. We put Him in a box, reduce Him to a manageable size, focus on the heart-warming stuff.

But if God were not all-powerful, than how would He be God? We have to keep His great power in mind and stand in awe of God to appreciate His love and mercy all the more. We have to remember what God is capable of.

So God is all-powerful. And He has anger issues. And far more powerful and destructive than the Incredible Hulk could ever be – God is saying ‘You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.’

God has every right to be angry. The surrounding nations have attacked and exploited God’s chosen people with unspeakable acts of cruelty and violence. They have mocked the one true God and taunted Him and tested Him.

God has been patient for long enough. He has been slow to anger, slow to act, but now is the time to unleash His wrath.

To show kindness and love and protection and salvation to those who have been exploited, He has to bring destruction and devastation on those who have perpetrated the cruelty and exploitation. He is the original Avenger. Look at the Avengers for a moment, any of our Marvel and DC superheroes in fact – we call them heroes and yet they bring devastation and punishment. Whether you believe what they are doing is a good thing or not depends on which side you are on. Isn’t that the same with God? For God to bring justice, some will be punished.

And so jealousy and vengeance and wrath and anger are as much a part of God’s make up as His love. If He loves, then His anger will inevitably be roused when those He loves are suffering. We can all relate to that.

However, in the midst of His fierce anger and wrath and indignation, there is a safe place, a refuge for those who love Him and trust Him.

The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.

The picture in my mind is of a father protecting his child from a twister. As he see the whirlwind approaching, he picks up his child and runs faster than he has ever run in his whole life to the safest place he can think of. He crawls under the table with his child wrapped tight in his arms. His mouth is on her hair, whispering words of reassurance – ‘I love you, I’m here for you, I’m going to keep you safe. Everything is going to be OK. And as the twister destroys their home and everything in its path, all this father can think of is keeping his precious child safe.

That’s how God loves and protects those who put their trust in Him. The twister will come and the flood and the earthquake and all manner of disasters, but God will hold his child, you and me, safe in His arms and keep us safe in Him.

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