Minor Prophets: Nahum, God’s Wrath


To Nahum, God likened the Assyrians to cruel lions, strangling and dragging their prey into their bloody city. Now the righteous lion, the lion of Judah, would put right all the wrong that Assyria had committed. And for that reason,

Nahum has been likened to the lion, symbol of Judah.


Perspective

Not much is known about Nahum except for his focus on Nineveh, which had, in his lifetime, savaged Israel and torn the people from the land. Did Nahum go with them? Or did Nahum evacuate from Capernaum to Judah when Samaria was deported? Might he have been among those war refugees who excaped to Judah, carrying with them the precious scrolls and records from Samaria’s capital city, that were eventually folded into the Hebrew scriptures?

If he did, then he delivered his oracles from the vantage of Jerusalem.

Nahum’s chapters seem to fall neatly into three headings:

I  Nineveh’s doom declared, Chapter 1

II  Nineveh’s doom described, Chapter 2

III  Nineveh’s doom deserved, Chapter 3

Last week was a deep dive into chapter 1 with a more scholarly approach. What theologies were represented in Nahum’s oracle, what was the structure of his delivery, what main points was the prophet making? This week’s look is more from the devotional perspective.

Character of God

Take a moment and reflect on the nature of God. Think about one word that you might choose to encompass the totality of God, the overarching portrayal of who God is. What word came to mind?  Was it Love? Forgiveness? Powerful? How about Wrathful? Did that come to mind? 

Wrath of God

It is hard for me, at least, to imagine God as angry, because of all of my painful and traumatizing experiences with those who have been enraged. The rage and fury I have personally encountered seems unworthy of God. That rage rose up from what seemed to me the very pit of hell, evil and dark, violent and malicious, profoundly self-focused and self-serving. That toxic anger, that poisonous fury was objectifying, changing people into things to be tortured and destroyed. The wrath I am familiar with feels psychopathic, the enraged one glutted with the sheer pleasure of ferocious power coursing through them.

But God’s wrath is not that at all.

Even the capricious, self‑indulgent ire that is irritable, impulsive, at a loss of control, that truly is selfish, sometimes even immoral, like my anger and yours so very often is, is a far cry from the wrath of God.

God’s wrath comes from moral perfection, it is the right and necessary response to evil.

Jealousy of God

How about jealous? Did that come to mind?

Anyway, what is jealousy exactly? Usually you and I think of it as being envious of what others have and wanting it, of being grasping. It is not a very pretty word. But when the word jealousy is applied to the Lord it means

God knows what is precious and God is doing what it takes to protect it.

The only earthly analogy you and I have is when partners are jealous of what they have together, and actively protect the exclusivity of their marriage. In that context, thinking of it in that way—agreeing that protective love is appropriate between spouses—then we understand how God would no more share you or me with sin, than you and your spouse would willingly share the intimate union you have with each other with some other person.

Absence of Evil, Presence of Good

There is no evil in anything God does, God is not cruel, God’s wrath is not immoral, God’s jealousy is not petty. James wrote of God saying,

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17 (NRSV)

The essence of God’s wrath is God’s holiness that can have no part in unholiness.

Holiness of God

For those of us who are suffering today because of someone else’s sin, it brings comfort to know that God is angry on our behalf. Those wrongs did not go unnoticed. I think this is where Nahum was coming from when he wrote,

A jealous and avenging God is the Lord,
    the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
    and rages against his enemies.

Nahum 1:2 (NRSV)

God’s character is revealed. Vengeance is not an idle threat. You and I do not need to avenge ourselves. God is angry on behalf of those who have been wronged!

But it does beg the question, why does God seem to sit back and allow so much injustice, unfair suffering, and tragedy? And the best answer I have so far is to understand the truly vast and complicated tapestry of stories God is writing into all the lives of all the people that have ever been and will ever exist.

God’s purposes are still taking shape, still underway. God is longsuffering and patient, giving even the most hardened person a chance to soften and turn to God. From before the foundation of the world, as the scriptures eloquently put it, God’s purpose has been about life and love, beauty and unity,

Who am I, then, to judge what suffering God allows to that end? Or to judge the wickedness and deservedness of God’s wrath and judgement?

God is not ignorant of what is going on, the Lord does not let wickedness just pass way. God will not acquit the wicked, the Lord will deal with sin and unrighteousness.

Expunging Evil for Eternity

Instead of feeling uncomfortable and queasy about God’s righteous wrath about sin and God’s jealousy over us, the Lord’s beloved ones, you and I can take heart.

What kind of God would God be who is indifferent about evil? 

God’s end is always for good. The God of the Hebrew scriptures is not cruel, inflicting needless pain. All the writers of the Hebrew scriptures taught that God is good, kind, and loving. But!! The Lord is also not a weak, indulgent God who has no opinion about evil. The Lord’s goodness is righteous, is holiness. So one aspect of God’s character is a putting down of evil, a cleansing of evil by fire that purifies all that it touches.

God is Angry But God is Also Patient

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.

Nahum 1:3 (NRSV)

God is slow to anger because God is powerful. As the Psalmist said,

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
    evil will not sojourn with you.

Psalm 5:4 (NRSV)

The Lord is patient in anger to give people time to soften towards God so that God can restore them.

The Lord is good,
    a stronghold in a day of trouble;
he protects those who take refuge in him,

Nahum 1:7 (NRSV)

Repent Before It Is Too Late

Judgment is coming, Nahum warned, but there is a hiding place, there is one safe place to be, and that is in the Lord. The Lord cherishes those who trust in God. You and I understand that today in the provision of Christ through the cross. The refuge that God offers to all who come to Jesus would have been available even then to Nineveh, in a forward-hoping faith in Messiah to come. Before God’s judgment rolls down, there is always time to turn to God.

But Nineveh showed indifference.

The generation in Jonah’s time that did turn to God failed to pass on what they had learned of God and God’s word to their children and grandchildren.

This is a typical picture of the shallow roots in rocky ground that Jesus spoke of, or the other metaphor of the young shoots being choked out by weeds. Slowly, the old ways crept in and worship of God dwindled away, for as Nahum noted,

Like thorns they are entangled,
    like drunkards they are drunk;
    they are consumed like dry straw.

Nahum 1:10 (NRSV)

History documents they really were in a drunken orgy when the siege began. Speaking in God’s own voice, Nahum declared,

And now I will break off his yoke from you
    and snap the bonds that bind you.

God, Nahum 1:13 (NRSV)

God claimed responsibility for making the graves of Assyria; it was not the Babylonians who were merely God’s instrument.

Look! On the mountains the feet of one
    who brings good tidings,
    who proclaims peace!
Celebrate your festivals, O Judah,
    fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the wicked invade you;
    they are utterly cut off.

Nahum 1:15 (NRSV)

This was all written perhaps at the beginning of Manasseh’s reforms. Nahum may even have proclaimed this from the temple steps.

The Assyrians committed awful atrocities, whole towns committed suicide rather than be captured by the Assyrians, who were terrifying and horrible. But sin is no less evil today. People need to know that one expression of God’s great love is God’s great anger over sin.


[Mountains | rachel_thecat, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

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