The Hope of Judgment
Topic: Minor Prophets Passage: Nahum 1:1–3:19
If you have a Bible this morning, open it to the book of Nahum.
When you hear the word judgment, it probably does not cause you to think good thoughts; the idea of judgment usually comes with a negative connotation; if it is in the title of a movie then you probably recognize that it is not going to be a romantic comedy; facing judgement of some kind usually leads to panic or, at best anxiety.
Today we are going to be working through this short book of Nahum as we talk about hoping in judgment.
Look at Nahum 1:1; it says, “An oracle concerning Ninevah. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.”; this opening verse gives us some good information about the context of Nahum’s prophecy; first it tells us that this oracle or prophetic vision pertains to Ninevah—the Assyrian city made famous by Jonah; Ninevah was the capital city of the Assyrian empire during the 7th century BC and at the zenith of its power during Nahum’s day.
About a century earlier Jonah had gone to Ninevah and preached a message of repentance; to his dismay, the city responded; in Jonah 3:6 we read that Jonah’s message of repentance, “reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
In Jonah’s day, the people of Ninevah responded and turned from their sin but by Nahum’s day they had returned to their wicked ways; through violence, cruelty and destruction, the Assyrian empire had been greatly enlarged and Ninevah was at the center of it all.
It was in this setting that Nahum comes on the scene with a message from God about the fate of Ninevah; as we will soon see it was a message of judgment where God outlines his intentions for this evil city and its citizens; in this first verse we are told that Nahum is from Elkosh; while there is some speculation about where Elkosh was, no one really knows exactly where it was located; having said that, most scholars agree that Nahum was from Judah; this meant that he was very familiar with Assyrian oppression of his people.
Nahum’s prophetic words are consumed with the fall of Ninevah; with bold words, Nahum describes in vivid details the fury of God’s judgment; he pulls no punches about the destruction that is quickly approaching; Nahum delivers his message of judgment with great passion; his message should have struck fear in those to whom he was speaking yet what is ironic is that Nahum’s name means comfort.
Having said that, Nahum seems like a strange name for a prophet of destruction; what comfort is there in judgment? Why would anyone have been comforted by Nahum’s graphic description of God’s fury being poured out on Ninevah?
If you were from Ninevah and enjoying the fruits of oppression and cruelty, you had good reason to be afraid; fear and panic-rather than comfort-should have been the normal response; but if you had been forced to live under the weight of Ninevah’s cruelty; if you felt forgotten and abandoned because of your suffering; Nahum’s message of judgment would have been just what you needed to hear; it would have brought comfort in a way that nothing else could.
The point is that the judgment of God is something that the people of God find hope in; while God’s enemies should rightly fear his judgment, God’s people should take comfort in it; with that lets begin to work through Nahum; we have already looked at the opening verse of the book so let’s begin at verse 2 in chapter 1 and read through verse 8.
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.
Nahum begins his message of judgment with a psalm or a hymn that praises God for His power and His providence; Nahum sets the stage for God’s pronouncement of judgment by calling attention to the very nature of who God is; in vivid detail Nahum paints a picture of a God who is jealous for His reputation and His glory.
In verse 2 we are told that God is jealous, avenging and full of wrath; in verses 4 and 5, Nahum highlights God’s sovereign control over all creation; in verse 6 Nahum uses even more vivid language as he talks about the inability of anyone to stand before his indignation or endure the heat of his anger; and in verse 8 Nahum ends his psalm of praise by speaking with absolute assurance of God’s ability to bring an end to all of His enemies.
Nahum’s psalm of praise is much different than most of the praise songs that we sing today; while we praise God by singing about Him being a good, good Father, Nahum chooses to focus the majority of his hymn on the wrath and fury of God but there is something unique about his song.
While Nahum does go to great lengths to describe the righteous wrath of God, there are these little interludes where he shows us the other side of the coin; in verse 3, after describing God’s jealousy and wrath in verse 2, he proclaims that God is slow to anger and great in power; in verse 7, after he talks about man’s inability to endure the heat of God’s anger, he reminds those who are listening that “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows those who take refuge in Him.”
When you consider everything that Nahum is saying about God; there is a chance that one may come away confused; how can God be both jealous, avenging and slow to anger? How can He pour out His wrath like fire and still be good? How can He declare the end of His enemies and still be a refuge? Nahum seems to be painting two different portraits of God but the reality is that he is actually giving us the full picture of the nature and character of God; slow to anger, full of wrath, a place of refuge and a consuming fire; God is all of these things at once.
As Nahum pronounces God’s judgment on Ninevah, he begins by drawing attention to who God is; for those who would have ears to hear, Nahum wanted people to understand why God’s judgment was coming; the point is that the judgment of God is based upon the character of God.
The pronouncement of judgment on Ninevah is not the result of God having a bad day; it is not the result of impatience; instead, it is because God’s nature demands that He act; He is jealous for His own glory and so He must respond to those who are attempting to rob Him of what is rightfully His; it is because of His holiness that He must respond to sin with wrath; but it is also because of His goodness that He must respond with vengeance against those who oppress His people; understanding God’s character helps us understand the reason for His judgement.
There are many today who have a distorted view of God’s character and this leads to a misunderstanding of God’s judgement; there are many who prefer to focus on the wrath of God as they preach against all of the sins that others struggle with; in doing so they make God out to be a capricious tyrant with a short fuse; they diminish God’s love and compassion and ignore Paul’s words in Romans 2:4 where we are told that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance; the problem is that, while you may obey a tyrant king, you will not love him and so it is important that we not allow the pendulum to swing too far in that direction.
Having said that, there are others who prefer to focus on the goodness and compassion of God at the expense of His righteous anger; in doing so they diminish God’s holiness and His hatred of sin; they remove the anxiety of judgement because love conquers all; a God who lives and lets live is not worthy of worship because He willfully ignores oppression, rebellion and idolatry; it’s like a father who knowingly allows thieves to enter his house and terrorize his family while he sits in his recliner watching the game; God is worthy of worship because He is good but He is also worthy of worship because he does not ignore sin.
So Nahum begins his oracle about God’s impending judgment by first laying the foundation for it; God is going to judge Ninevah because His holiness demands that He cannot ignore their sin and He is going to deliver His people because He cannot ignore their oppression; it is the character of God that should cause the wicked to fear His judgment but it is also the character of God that should cause the people of God to hope in His judgment; the judgment of God is based upon the character of God; look at verses 9 through 15 of chapter 1.
9 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.” 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.
There is a transition in verse 9 where Nahum goes from talking about a generic enemy to a specific one; Nahum writes, “What do you plot against the Lord?”; this “you” represents the beginning of God’s pronouncement of judgement against Ninevah; here God begins to outline his case against Ninevah; the reasons why He is preparing to pour out His wrath against them.
In verse 9 Nahum asks why they plot against him; in verse 13 Nahum speaks about the yoke that the Assyrians had placed on God’s people; and in verse 14 Nahum mentions their idolatry; although Nahum will go into greater detail concerning the wickedness of Ninevah later, he begins laying out the case here at the end of chapter one.
What is interesting about this section is that he mixes his message of judgment with a message of hope; he seems to switch between each verse of this section; at the same time that he is pronouncing judgment on Ninevah, he is sharing a message of hope with God’s people; this is the irony of God’s judgment; it is something to be feared by God’s enemies but something for His children to hope in; after all Ninevah’s judgment meant deliverance for God’s people.
In verse 12 God speaks, “Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away.”; Assyria’s strength and might was no match for God’s power; God could and would judge Ninevah at the height of their power; He would demonstrate His power by bringing them down at the most unexpected time.
God goes on to say in verse 12, “Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more.”; here God is reminding His people that He is sovereign; their oppression was not the result of Assyria’s superiority but rather the result of God’s divine judgment upon His own people; the Assyrians were just the tool that God had used to refine His people and now that He had accomplished His purposes, He was about to, as verse 13 tells us, destroy the yoke that Assyria had used to oppress God’s people.
In verse 15, Nahum describes His message as good news; he likens it to publishing peace; it seems ironic to call a message of judgment good news but that is exactly what it was for God’s people; this was a message of liberation; a message of salvation; Nahum goes on to tell the people to keep their feasts; in essence he is saying that they should celebrate both God’s past faithfulness and His future faithfulness as they looked forward to the day when Nahum’s message would come to pass; the reality is that the judgment of God brings comfort to the people of God.
In Psalm 73 Asaph sings, “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.”
I am sure that the Hebrews could have sung these words during Nahum’s day; all around, it seemed like the wicked were prospering; in spite of their blasphemy, everything seemed to go the Assyrian’s way as God’s children suffered under their oppression; sometimes it seems like the rain only falls on the just.
That is true for us as well; as we live in a culture that is increasingly hostile to Biblical truth, we can be tempted to sing along with Asaph as the wicked scoff and speak with malice; but God’s message of judgment is not just good news for Jews living in Nahum’s day; it is good news for all of God’s children, including us.
For the Jew being oppressed in Ninevah and for those of us who have grown weary living in a pagan culture today; Nahum’s message reminds us, first, that God has not forgotten us; in His providence, God may afflict us but He will never abandon us; that was good news in Nahum’s day and it is good news today; Nahum’s message reminds us that even in affliction, God is our ever-present help.
In addition, Nahum’s message reminds us that God can and will bring evil to an end; His children don’t hope in the anxious and timid way but rather we hope in confidence; knowing that God is accomplishing His purposes and will, at the proper time, burst all of our bonds apart; God’s message of judgment meant victory for His people and so that is good news; while the enemies of God should have been terrified over their fast-approaching judgment; God’s people can and should take comfort in it; if you are in a season of suffering this morning, understand that, for the people of God, every affliction, even the most painful one-is temporary; this is the hope that we hold on to even in the valley.
Look at chapters 2 and 3; it’s a long passage but it is all one idea and so I want us to read it all; in chapter 2 and verse 1, Nahum writes, “The scatterer has come up against you. Man the ramparts; watch the road; dress for battle; collect all your strength. 2 For the Lord is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches. 3 The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet. The chariots come with flashing metal on the day he musters them; the cypress spears are brandished. 4 The chariots race madly through the streets; they rush to and fro through the squares; they gleam like torches; they dart like lightning. 5 He remembers his officers; they stumble as they go, they hasten to the wall; the siege tower is set up. 6 The river gates are opened; the palace melts away; 7 its mistress is stripped; she is carried off, her slave girls lamenting, moaning like doves and beating their breasts. 8 Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. “Halt! Halt!” they cry, but none turns back. 9 Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of the treasure or of the wealth of all precious things. 10 Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale! 11 Where is the lions' den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb? 12 The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh. 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.”
In chapter 3, Nahum continues, “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! 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. 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? 8 Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her wall? 9 Cush was her strength; Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers. 10 Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity; her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; for her honored men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in chains. 11 You also will be drunken; you will go into hiding; you will seek a refuge from the enemy. 12 All your fortresses are like fig trees with first-ripe figs—if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater. 13 Behold, your troops are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars. 14 Draw water for the siege; strengthen your forts; go into the clay; tread the mortar; take hold of the brick mold! 15 There will the fire devour you; the sword will cut you off. It will devour you like the locust. Multiply yourselves like the locust; multiply like the grasshopper! 16 You increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away. 17 Your princes are like grasshoppers, your scribes like clouds of locusts settling on the fences in a day of cold—when the sun rises, they fly away; no one knows where they are. 18 Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them. 19 There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?”
While Nahum spends the first part of his prophecy mostly talking about God’s character and Judah’s fate, the last two chapters of Nahum are reserved solely for the purpose of describing the judgment that God is preparing to unleash on Ninevah; here we see in vivid terms the wrath that is about to be poured out upon those who rejected God and oppressed His people.
In verse 2 Nahum describes how the Assyrians have plundered God’s people; it is here that the tables are turned; as the Assyrians have plundered other nations, now they will become the victim of raiding hordes; in verse 4 Nahum details chariots with flashing metal that will roll through the streets of Ninevah; while Ninevah will try to defend themselves, their resistance will be futile; in verse 6 Nahum says that the river gates will be opened and the palace will melt away and their mistress will be carried off in bondage; their silver and gold will be taken and their response in Ninevah will be fear, trembling and anguish.
In verse 13, God speaks directly to the people of Ninevah, “Behold, I am against you 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.”
It is clear that God is prepared to pour out a full measure of His wrath on Ninevah; in chapter 3, Nahum goes into more detail about the wickedness of Ninevah; in verse 1 God says that they are full of lies and plunder; in verse 4, God speaks of their idolatry as they “whore after prostitutes” and “betray other nations with their charms.”; it is because of the depths of their depravity that God says again in verse 5, “Behold, I am against you.”
Although they had repented in Jonah’s day, it is clear that Ninevah had quickly returned to their wicked ways; while God had used their evil to judge His own people for their unfaithfulness; he was now prepared to turn His wrath upon the wicked of Ninevah; He was prepared to shame them, show them contempt and turn them into a spectacle.
For those in Ninvevah who thought that they were too big to fail, for those who thought they had good reason to disregard Nahum’s message; God reminds them of His sovereign power; in verse 8 God reminds them of Thebes; Thebes was an Egyptian city that fell to the Assyrians in spite of being well-fortified and having powerful allies; the point was that if Thebes could fall then so could Ninevah; just as Thebes fell, God could and would lay waste to Ninevah.
Nahum ends his prophecy of judgment on Ninevah by stressing God’s power in relation to the Assyrians; compared to God, in verse 13, the troops of Ninevah are like women and, in verse 17, their princes are like grasshoppers; in essence, although they see themselves as being strong and safe, they are no match for the all-consuming power of God;
The reality is that the judgment of God is devastating for the enemies of God; while followers of God look forward to God’s judgment, the enemies of God have much to fear; the irony is that they don’t care; like those living in Noah’s day, they eat and drink and be merry while their destruction quickly approaches; God is loving and compassionate and full of grace and mercy but we rob him of his glory when we fail to acknowledge the depths of His hatred towards sin; for those that reject him, they will face the full wrath of His holiness.
The good news for the people of God living in Nahum’s day was that the enemies of God were going to be destroyed; God was not going to ignore, excuse or hide the wickedness of the Assyrians; instead He was going to put an end to it in terrifying ways; in a haunting final verse, to the people of Ninevah, Nahum says, “there is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous.”; the reality is that their judgment was final; there would be no second-chance; all that they had to look forward was the ongoing and eternal judgment of God; it is important for every person to understand that while God’s salvation is eternal for those who embrace the Gospel, his judgment is eternal for those who reject it; the judgment of God is devastating in its depth, breadth and length.
God’s devastating response to wickedness reminds us of His holiness; my family is reading through Leviticus right now as a part of our family Bible-reading plan; in Leviticus 24, there is one of only two narratives in the entire book; it tells the story of a son who got in a fight and in the process of fighting, blasphemed God; as a result of his blasphemy, God instructs Israel to take the boy outside of the camp and stone him; as we were talking about that story at the dinner table, my kids thought that it was really unfair and on some level I agree with them; it seems like a bit of an overreaction but that is only because we fail to understand the depths of God’s holiness; His holiness demands that He respond to sin with devastating fury; that was true in Nahum’s day and it is true today.
We live in a day and age where judgment is a four-letter word but Nahum reminds us that God will never tolerate sin; for the enemies of God, their future is the same as the people of Ninevah; to all those who remain in their sin, God says, “Behold, I am against you.”; that is true for our friends and neighbors and family members; God’s nature remains the same and so that means that His judgment of sin today is just as devastating as it was in the day of Nahum; understanding this will help us experience a new sense of urgency in sharing the Gospel with those who stand in danger of God’s devastating judgment.
On the surface, the message of Nahum seems to be pretty dark and gloomy; the vivid descriptions of judgment pronounced against Ninevah can send chills down our neck but the reality is that it is not just a message about judgment; it is also a message of deliverance; the judgment of sin and evil of God’s enemies meant the salvation of God’s people; that was true in Nahum’s day and it was true that day on Calvary when Jesus willingly gave his life as an atonement for sin; as Jesus was nailed to the cross, the burden of humanity’s sin was placed upon his shoulders as the wrath of God was poured out on him in devastating fashion.
When we read Nahum’s prophecy, we see a picture of the cross; as Jesus bled out on the cross, in essence God said to His son, “Behold, I am against you, I will make the nations look at your nakedness, I will throw filth at you, I will treat you with contempt and I will make you a spectacle.”
In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul writes, “For our sake He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might be the righteousness of God.”; when we read Nahum’s prophecy of judgment, we are likely to identify with God’s people who were being delivered but we must first see ourselves as the Ninevites; we are the ones who have lied and plundered and betrayed but praise be to God there is one who became our sin.
On the cross, the full fury of God’s wrath toward our sin was poured out on the one who knew no sin; and so rather than being the enemy of God who only has judgment to look forward to, there is good news, there is a message of peace; through Christ’s sufficient sacrifice, we who were once the enemies of God have now become the people of God, “Behold, how beautiful are the feet of the one who comes declaring this good news!”
That is why the people of God hope in His judgment; because it is His judgment of sin through Jesus that has broken the curse of sin for us; sin, evil, death does not win so let us take comfort in our holy, righteous and all-powerful judge.
In 612 BC, Nahum’s prophetic words came true as a coalition of Medes and Babylonians overran Ninevah bringing an end to the Assyrian empire; God’s judgment was as swift as it was certain; the same is true today; God’s judgment is certain for those who reject him but for the one who cries out in humility for forgiveness and salvation, there is hope; today if there is one here who is living in rebellion; who has, up until this point, rejected the Gospel devastating judgment from a holy God is your certain fate; but if you cry out to the one who graciously took your place upon the cross then there is deliverance and salvation and hope.
As I close this morning, I want to share from the third chapter of Peter’s second epistle, “3 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.