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Comfort and Terror | The Book of Nahum

As preached by Zach Thompson.

In light of God’s perfect justice and omnipotent power:

1. God’s people should be comforted (1:1-15).

2. God’s enemies should be terrified (1-3).

3. God made a way for His enemies to become His people (1:7)

Comfort and terror

7 of 12 in a Series through the Minor Prophets

Nahum 1-3

The book of Nahum is often thought of as a sequel to the book of Jonah. In Jonah, God sends a prophet to the wicked city of Nineveh, and they repent. And God puts on display his steadfast love and faithfulness. He showed that he responds to repentance, even when the prophet disapproves.

The book of Nahum was written a little more than 100 years after Jonah. It’s concerns the same city, Nineveh, the most powerful capital in the nation of Assyria. By the time of Nahum, the northern kingdom has already been decimated and deported. The ten tribes have been scattered across the Assyrian empire, and the southern kingdom of Judah is left without a buffer between themselves and the greatest imperial power in the world.

Outmatched in influence. Outmatched in resources. Outmatched in military strength.

When I was in middle school, I challenged a friend to play mercy with me. If you don’t know, that’s a game where you interlock fingers with your opponent then you try to muscle them into a position of pain until they call out for mercy. I’m 5’10. In middle school, I was about the same height I am now, but I was skinnier. My friend was 6’5. He was 5 years older than me, and he probably weighed about 100 pounds more than me. We started the game, and I realized my arrogance. Immediately, he turned my wrists and lifted me up like a child, and I found my head careening toward the ceiling. It’s the fastest I have ever shouted for mercy.

I was outmatched. I was in the wrong weight class. There was never a chance for me to win.

Judah was outmatched, and they could see the writing on the wall. They couldn’t stand against Assyria. This was the nation who had conquered Thebes, one of the most heavily fortified and luxurious cities in the ancient world. This was the nation who had just conquered the northern kingdom of Israel—10 of the 12 tribes cast into the wind.

This was a nation who was known for bloody cruelty. The Assyrians reveled in gore. You don’t have to do much research to find accounts of their kings bragging about flaying people’s skin or boring a hole through people’s cheeks so they could be tied on a leash like a dog.

And this nation had its face set against Judah, who was hopelessly outmatched.

And so, God sends a vision to Nahum of Elkosh. He sends a vision that is meant to comfort God’s people and warn God’s enemies.

Now, if you are able, would you stand in honor of the reading of God’s word? For our public reading, we’ll read 1:1-8

“An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.

2 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.

3 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.

4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;

he dries up all the rivers;

Bashan and Carmel wither;

the bloom of Lebanon withers.

5 The mountains quake before him;

the hills melt;

the earth heaves before him,

the world and all who dwell in it.

6 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.

7 The Lord is good,

a stronghold in the day of trouble;

he knows those who take refuge in him.

8 But with an overflowing flood

he will make a complete end of the adversaries,

and will pursue his enemies into darkness.

Let’s Pray

As we meditate on the book of Nahum today, I have a couple of points that I want us to consider, then a gospel reality to tie everything together at the end. Both of the points today start with the same reality.

It’s this,

In light of God’s perfect justice and omnipotent power:

This is what we just read about in our public reading. And it’s the foundation for everything we will see today, so I want to take a few minutes to chew on it together.

Look back in verse 2. The Lord is a jealous and avenging. Avenging and wrathful. He takes vengeance on his adversaries. He keeps wrath for his enemies.

Verse 3. He is slow to anger. Great in power. He won’t clear the guilty.

All of this is God’s justice. But keep going in verse 3. He is demonstrating God’s omnipotent power.

All of creation bends to his will. Whirlwind and storm. The highest clouds are like the dust of his feet.

Verse 4. The seas and rivers would dry up at his word, and the most luscious areas in the fertile crescent would be like a wasteland.

Verse 5, Mountains quake before him; hills melt. All the earth would shake at his command.

Verse 6, His indignation and anger cannot be withstood. His wrath is poured out like fire.

Verse 7, He is good, and he is a stronghold in the day of trouble. He knows those who take refuge in him.

This God who keeps wrath for his enemies and who could destroy every ecosystem on the planet with a word. This same God is a refuge for his people. This is the God we are considering today.

1. God’s people should be comforted (1:1-15).

God’s people should be comforted by his perfect justice and omnipotent power.

Where am I getting this?

Well first, do you know what Nahum’s name means? It means comfort. God gave a vision to Nahum because he wanted his people to have consolation in the face of a cruel enemy who seemed to outmatch them on every front.

But it isn’t just Nahum’s name. Look in 1:7, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.”

Then look down in verse 12. In these verses it’s as if Judah and Nineveh are sitting at a table with God and God is looking back and forth between them. Look in verse 12. “Thus says the Lord, [speaking to Judah] “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.” [Then God turns to Nineveh] ]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.” [Then he turns back to Judah] 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.

Do you see what the Lord is doing? He is promising relief for Judah. “Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more.” He tells Judah that the house of Assyria will be cut off and that they should resume their worship of Yahweh knowing that Assyria will not trouble them again.

Then for the literal rest of the book, God tells Nineveh that he will judge with the same harshness that they employed against the nations.

Throughout all of the books of the prophets, God condemns prophets and priests and leaders who deal falsely. Men who see rebellion and evil, and then proclaim that there is peace when there is no peace (Jer 6:14, Jer 8:10, Ezek 13:10). These are men who say that God doesn’t care about sin, and that everything will work out.

That’s not what Nahum is saying. He is pointing to God’s justice and his wrath and his unstoppable power, and he is saying, “The living God is on your side.” He isn’t faking peace. He is trusting God and finding comfort.

At a glance, maybe this feels strange, Nahum is pointing to God’s unstoppable power and his wrath that’s poured out like fire, and he is saying to Judah, “take comfort.”

Is it right to take comfort in God's wrath poured out?

I think that if we take this text seriously, we have to say, “yes, it’s right.” Because that is the call of the text for the people of God. But let’s consider it for a moment.

Judah is like an ant looking into the snout of an ant eater. For that ant, could there be anything more comforting than knowing that a hunter has the sights of his rifle set on the anteater?

Think of Romans 8:31, If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Or consider 1 Peter 4:16-19, “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. “

Peter is saying that the present sufferings that the people of God experience is just a taste of what is coming for those who don’t trust in Christ. How should we respond? “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Maybe an analogy is helpful. We often talk about how if we look to our eternal hope, God will use that strengthen us to persevere through every kind of trial. Well, I think that in a similar way, we can look to God’s future wrath and have hope for two reason. First, because we have been spared from that wrath, and second, because we know that there will not be a single wrong that is unaddressed.

This is the logic of Romans 12:19-20, when Paul writes that we should entrust vengeance to the Lord. Listen to what he says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do you see it? The act of entrusting vengeance to the Lord is what allows us to love our enemies. Because vengeance isn’t ours. We can have peace in our hearts knowing that God will address every wrong.

The clear teaching of Scripture is that we can look to the future day of God’s judgment and find consolation because we hope in his perfect justice and omnipotent power.

Our second point,

In light of God’s perfect justice and omnipotent power:

2. God’s enemies should be terrified (1-3).

This is the other side of the very same coin from our first point. God's wrath isn’t just an idea or an abstraction. It is real and it has real consequences.

One of the principles that my dad instilled in us was that if you are going to be dumb, then you better be tough. It’s easy to look back and see so many times when he let us implement that principle. But he was teaching us something. If you ignore wisdom, there are consequences.

Don’t touch that kerosene heater. It will burn you. Don’t pee on that electric fence, it won’t turn out well. Don’t mess with big Tony, he used to be a bouncer, and he will hurt you.

Hard lessons learned. And in each case, one of us didn’t listen.

Each of these lessons hurt. They were hard.

But even looking back, none of these were a matter for real terror. Because it was never a question of destruction.

In the book of Nahum, God isn’t promising discipline for Nineveh. He isn’t promising a lesson learned. He is promising destruction.

If my daughter Hope thought that a man was going to hurt her. If she was genuinely scared for her well-being, then I could comfort her by saying, “Hope, if that man touches you, I will hit him with a baseball bat until he can’t move.” Just to clarify, I’ve not said this to her. But it seemed to work as an example. For Hope, I think this would give her some level of comfort. But if that man is closeby, and he hears me say that to my daughter, and he sees the baseball bat in my hand, and sees my eyes as I look up from speaking to my daughter, he won’t feel comforted. He would feel terror, or at least he would if I was a bit more imposing.

But in Nahum, we see the God who is characterized by perfect justice and omnipotent power, and he looks to Nineveh, and he says, you will never touch my people again.

Terror is appropriate. If a man is unarmed and comes upon a hungry lion in the wilderness, it’s appropriate to be terrified, because that lion hungers for his destruction.

If you are floating on a home-made raft alone in the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by hungry sharks, it’s appropriate to be terrified, because those sharks are not circling your boat to encourage you. They aim for your destruction.

Think of Psalm 139, the same promise that gives David hope and peace is the promise that should fill the enemies of God with dread.

Psalm 139:7–12 Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

9 If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light about me be night,”

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is bright as the day,

for darkness is as light with you.

There is no place you can flee from his presence. For the faithful, this is comfort. For the wicked, this is dread.

The book of Nahum is meant for comforting the people of God, but it’s also meant to threaten and taunt and belittle the proud nation of Assyria.

Comfort and preservation for God’s people. Terror and destruction for God’s enemy.

Two sides of the same coin.

Just think about everything we read in 1:1-8. From the perspective of God’s people, it’s a promise for restitution and renewal. But for Nineveh, it’s a promise for wrath and destruction.

We don’t have to time to read everything that pertains to this point, but we are going to read a lot, so keep your Bible open. In all of these God is promising his judgment against Nineveh.

2:13 and 3:5, both start with the same phrase, I want to highlight this, because I think it works as a summary for everything in chapters 2 and 3. God says, “Behold, I am against you declares the Lord of hosts. . .”

But look back in 1:9, “What do you plot against the Lord? He will make a complete end; trouble will not rise up a second time.”

Look over in 2:3, “ The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet.” That’s talking about Babylon. They were known for wearing red. That’s the nation that eventually overtook Assyria.

Look down in 2:6, “The river gates are opened; the palace melts away;” Nineveh fell after a 3 year siege because of a flood that made a breach in their walls. Remember, God already said that the rivers move at his word.

Look in 2:10, “Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale!”

Then down at the end of chapter 2. In verse 13, “Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.”

Their means of war will be destroyed. They children will be taken from them. Their means of food will be taken away. Their means of getting help will be gone.

This is utter destruction.

Look in 3:1-3, “Woe to the bloody city,

all full of lies and plunder—

no end to the prey!

2 The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,

galloping horse and bounding chariot!

3 Horsemen charging,

flashing sword and glittering spear,

hosts of slain,

heaps of corpses,

dead bodies without end—

they stumble over the bodies!”

Keep going in 3:4, “ And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,

graceful and of deadly charms,

who betrays nations with her whorings,

and peoples with her charms.

5 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 your nakedness

and kingdoms at your shame.

6 I will throw filth at you

and treat you with contempt

and make you a spectacle.

This was an ancient practice where an adulterous woman was publicly humiliated for her adultery. I don’t think this is God condoning that practice, but he is using a point of common knowledge to illustrate what he will do to Nineveh. This will be utter and total shame followed by destruction.

Then look in 3:7, “And all who look at you will shrink from you and say,

“Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?”

Where shall I seek comforters for you?”

In 3:8-11, God tells Nineveh that he will destroy them in the same way that Assyria destroyed Thebes. Do you know who destroyed Thebes? Assyria did! God is telling them that no kingdom is beyond his reach. No mountain will hide them. No amount of riches can bribe God away.

Are you getting a picture of what God is communicating here? God is promising real shame and destruction. This isn’t feint. It’s not a bluff. God doesn’t make a promise he doesn’t keep.

Less than 50 years after this book was written, Nineveh was destroyed.

As we have worked through the minor prophets this year, we have encountered the reality of God’s judgment again and again. If you read the minor prophets honestly, it just can’t be ignored. God has wrath against His enemies, and in His wrath, He is righteous.

God’s wrath is real and it has real consequences. This isn’t Zach’s idea. This isn’t simply church tradition.

This is the word of God. You can choose to regard it, or you can choose to disregard it. But there’s no third option. Nineveh chose to disregard it. There are 1000s of ways people find to disregard the word of God. Maybe you are trying to find a way around the clear teaching of what God has said. Maybe you have found some way to justify ignoring it or changing what it means.

But hear me on this, according to the Bible, disregarding the word of God will result in judgment. It will result in confusion. It will result in pain. It will result in death.

But haven’t we all done this? Haven’t we all disregarded the word of God? Yes. Just like Nineveh ignored the word of God, we ignore the word of God, and we do what we want.

None is righteous, no not one. (Ps 14:1). All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rm 3:23). And wages of Sin is death (Rm 6:23).

Friends, in ourselves, we aren’t Judah in this story. We’re Nineveh. The promise for destruction and shame and death is a promise for us. That is the promise we deserve.

So here is the gospel reality for us today: God made a way for His enemies to become His people

This is the gospel. Jesus became sin so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.

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

“He knows those who take refuge in him.” Taking refuge in the Lord doesn’t mean that rush to the closest church so that you can claim sanctuary. Taking refuge in the Lord doesn’t mean that you are covered by a place. It means that you are covered by a person.

It means that at the cross, Jesus took our shame. Think of the promise for destruction in chapter 2. Think of the promise of a raised skirt in chapter 3.

2 Corinthians 5:17–21, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

By faith in Christ, we aren’t just given the opportunity to be better. We are made a new creation. He became sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.

Think of the horrible destruction and death and shame that we just looked at in Nahum. Jesus took all of it on himself. And it was nailed to the cross with him, and when was raised our death and our shame stayed in that tomb.

So what is the call for us today? How should we respond to this?

If you are not in Christ, then repent. Despise your sin. Despise the shame. And turn to Jesus. He wants you to be his. He wants you to have comfort.

If you are in Christ, then walk in your repent. Despise your sin. Despise the shame. And continue to turn to Jesus. Because you are already his. And you can cling to the comfort given to you by the God of all comfort.

And we can close with a reading from Hebrews 12. “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

Amen. Let’s pray.


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