Nahum and Judgment

Nahum and Judgment

Nahum and Judgment.

“The Lord is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and rage. He takes revenge on all who oppose Him, and continues to rage against his enemies! The Lord is slow to anger, but his power is great, and He never lets the guilty go unpunished.” (Nahum 1:2-3).

There is a good reason why many consider the book of Nahum to be a sequel to the book of Jonah. Around 120 years before Nahum, the prophet Jonah had preached to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, about their certain destruction at the hands of God unless they turned from their evil ways. Jonah turned out to be quite the effective preacher, and the whole city of Nineveh repented of their sin before God. Unfortunately, their turn away from sin was short-lived, for it wasn’t but a few generations later that God tapped the prophet Nahum to preach to the very same city about Nineveh’s destruction, once again at the hand of the Lord. Only this time with Nahum, there was no opportunity to repent. These Assyrians had reached the tipping point of evil, they were past the point of no return. God had seen enough of the Assyrians to know that repentance was hopeless. They were indeed doomed and headed for destruction. Moral restraint was not in their vocabulary, but violence and oppression and “endless cruelty” sure was. God had decided there was no hope for redemption as in the day of Jonah.

Nahum’s job was not to be envied. God sent him to tell the Ninevites that judgment day was coming, and the righteous Lord would execute His anger in due time. Sure enough, about forty years after Nahum, in 612 BC, the fearsome Babylonians laid waste to Assyria. The Ninevites were destroyed. Once again, those treacherous Babylonians were used by God to demonstrate God’s anger against evil.

Nahum’s pronouncements were not all gloom and doom. He spoke words of comfort in the midst of judgment:

1:7 = “The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in Him.” (NIV). “Yahweh is better than a fortress in times of distress. He recognizes those who trust in Him.‘ (NJB). It’s clear that God, even when executing corporate punishment, is perfectly willing to rescue the lone believers in the group. Noah, Rahab, and Lot are examples of God’s willingness to recognize the believers in the midst of evil. He will faithfully keep the innocent from sharing in the punishment.

1:15 = “Behold! Look! A messenger is coming over the mountains with good news! He is bringing a message of peace!” This verse is a clear messianic reference, a pointing forward to the time when a savior would come who would declare peace between the sinful people and a righteous God.

A Monumental Question. The book of Nahum begs a huge question. Why does God make these occasional judgment calls on whole cities, nations, civilizations? Here are some thoughts that at least help to explore this imponderable.

(1.) The Lord is a jealous God, a God who is sometimes stirred into action in His zeal for righteousness, to see holiness in His people on earth. If evil was only winked at and not held accountable, if there wasn’t a sense of a moral universe, then God and His righteous character would be mocked. Almighty God called his creation “Good!” at creation. And He has a holy Name that must be maintained, because that is a truth woven into the universe. Extreme unholiness would dishonor Him and make a mockery of His righteousness and purity, and it would make a mockery of His good world He carefully created. God is jealous for his holy Name, He refuses to be mocked by evil, by being replaced by other gods, by people engaging in a moral or spiritual free-for-all in His own backyard. We are encouraged to pray “hallowed be your Name” for good reason. It is vital that His name be kept holy.

(2.) God told the world’s first humans that if they disobeyed him, “you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17). Right from the start, anyone who sinned received a death sentence. This death warrant could be physical or spiritual or both. And it could be immediate death, or it could be involvement in the process of death in which we naturally reap what we sow, we are judged by the consequences of our sins over time. Either way, accountability is built into the structure of the world. Sin deserves death. Evil has a destiny that is inevitable… punishment sooner or later, eventually. The death of sinners are only receiving what they deserve.

(3.) In Genesis 15:16, the Lord voiced a fascinating principle. God was explaining to Abram the reason why his distant family members would only enter the Promised Land after remaining slaves in a foreign land for 400 years. Their entrance would have to wait that long because “the iniquity of the Amorites (Canaanites) is not yet complete.” Other versions of this verse say, “the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.’ (NLT); “the sin has not yet reached its full measure.” (NIV); “the sin is not yet filled up. (Septuagint); “the iniquity will not have reached its full extent.” (NJB). So it seems that sin has to be fully developed in a society, it must reach a point of no return, before God will intervene with judgment. Sin is never acceptable to a purely righteous and holy God. But evidently it has to reach a certain level of evil, a full measure of evil that has become hopeless. God is slow to anger, but divine justice demands that He reach His limits at certain times. We saw it with Noah and that particular corrupt world; we saw it with the Canaanites as they were judged by God through the Chosen People; we saw it with Sodom and Gomorrah; we even saw it to some extent with His People through the Babylonian destruction of Israel. In all these cases, God was acting true to His nature and character. When a group of people reaches completeness of evil in God’s eyes, they receive divine justice and corporate punishment. Evidently, even the endless patience of God has its limits.

(4.) One other element in God’s judgments is that He doesn’t want sin to spread its corruption. Great evil needs to be destroyed in order to stop the evil from polluting other peoples. As W. L. Alexander once wrote, “It is a mercy to the world when the evil is stamped out.” He went on to say, “No nation has any absolute right to itself or its land. It holds its existence subject to God’s will, and to that will alone; and if it is good for the world that it should give place to others, God will cause it to pass away.” When a nation is given over to evil, they are only getting what they deserve when they are destroyed. This mystery is in the hands of an eminently fair Lord of the universe. And sometimes God has to look at the welfare of the world when judging the sins of a nation. God has a zeal that people flourish by living in goodness and purity. God knows that it is best that people follow his will, that people thrive. God doesn’t want the evil to spread and then have it result in people running to self-destruction. Christian believers are thus called to be salt and light to their societies in which they dwell… salt applied to society that is rotting and need a preservative; light to be shone in the darkness of a world that needs truth and love.

(5.)  Bringing the corporate judgment down to the individual level, would the Lord ever consider an individual person to be hopelessly past the point of no return? Would God ever consider that sin has reached its full measure, that wickedness had somehow been completed, in an individual person? Would God ever bring about a death sentence on someone considered fully evil so that the wickedness does not spread to others? In fact, would God ever consider an individual to be fully evil at all?  The short answer to this question is: No! With Jesus, no one is ever beyond redemption till Judgment Day. Jesus changed everything relating to sin and death. On the Cross He took God’s death sentence and somehow absorbed it unto Himself, and He literally died. He carried the death sentence and was put on death row so sinners could have the hope of redemption. Jesus bore on His shoulders God’s death sentence for sin. Mankind continues to reap what they sow in the natural order of things that God put into place. We still experience the natural consequences of sin in our lives. But Jesus has taken upon Himself the spiritual death of sin, giving new life to all those who trust in Him. He took on the sin of the world and opened up a new destiny for all people who believe. As John the Baptist once said (John 1:29), “Look , the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Sin no longer has a deathly grip on those who believe, taking away both the guilt and the power of evil in one’s life. Jesus’ sacrificial blood was so pure and powerful that it is able to cover over all the sins of the universe! The potential holding forth in the world is that everyone on the face of the earth can be saved and redeemed from evil.