30 Jul 2007
Nahum: Celebrating God’s Wrath #2Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Ministry, Nahum, Preaching, War -Peace
Nahum: Celebrating the Wrath of God, 2
When Nahum is read carelessly or superficially it is thought to be a crass nationalistic blast from a blind patriot. Many have accused the prophet of such blindness. And the church down through the years has not heard the word either because Nahum is left out of lectionary readings.
But Nahum is not nationalistic pride. Nahum is a celebration of the goodness of God’s wrath. God’s wrath is good news because it means, finally, salvation for Israel! God’s judgment means deliverance from oppression. Nahum is the assurance that evil will be dealt with by a just and patient God.
The Character of God (1.2-11)
Nahum opens with a magnificent hymn (his poetry is among the most exquisite in the Bible). This hymn is a rich testimony to the covenantal character of Yahweh and needs to be read as such. Here we have a testimony to his love and patient mercy; his protection of his people and of his final defeat of evil in this world.
Nahum opens up his hymn with a statement that God is a “jealous” (Heb. quanno) God. This word is deeply rooted in covenantal theology and has nothing to do with pettiness or self-centeredness. Indeed the word can also be translated as “zealous” and this just may be a better rendering. God is “zealous” for his people, he is “protective” of that which is his. His protective zeal for his people is rooted in the covenant of promise and love. The Assyrians have declared war on God’s people and have thus declared war on Yahweh himself.
But Yahweh is more than zealous or jealous he is “slow to anger” (v.3). This declaration of Nahum echoes the Israelite creed in Exodus 34
The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, SLOW TO ANGER, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished
The confession of Israel, and Nahum, is that Yahweh is an incredibly gracious and patient God. (For more on this foundational “creed” of Israel see Here: “The Gracious and Compassionate God“) And to the Israelite surely it seemed as though it took “forever” for Yahweh to “not leave guilty Assyrian unpunished!” These Assyrians had, since the accession of Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 BCE) terrorized the People of God. From 736 to 722/1 the Assyrians had systematically decimated the northern tribes of Israel deporting them to be, for all intents and purposes, lost from history. During Hezekiah’s day the Assyrians had gone through Judah with impunity and destroyed forty-six cities and “shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a caged bird.” Under Manasseh (687-642) the Assyrians even had their gods placed in the temple. Yes, indeed, Yahweh has been “slow to anger.” This is part of his strength. Yet as Martin Luther once wrote, “It is a weakness of ours that we want the Lord to take vengeance right now.” But God is “slow to anger” because he is “mighty in power” and rich in grace … even for the hated Assyrians (see Jonah).
God is a Stronghold
In Nahum it is God who is the avenger and protector. Nothing in Nahum suggests that any Israelite ever so much as lifted a hand in anger against Assyria. Thus Nahum knows nothing of a nationalistic militarism. It is not a call to arms but a call to faith in the goodness and faithfulness of God. Nahum is the “gospel of peace” because Yahweh will deal with his enemies (cf. 1.15).
But Nahum’s “comforting” message is not simply the destruction of Assyria but rather God is “good” and that he is “a refuge in times of trouble” (1.7-8). Nahum in fact emphasizes the “goodness” of the Lord through his sentence structure. It is literally “Good is the Lord.” Just as in the dismal days of bondage in Egypt the Lord “protected” his people in the days of trouble of the Ten Plagues. This message of Nahum is one that we sing frequently but perhaps do not grasp the significance of the words. The song “Had it Not Been For the Lord” is taken straight from Psalm 124. It is a confession of the gracious deliverance of Israel from God’s enemies, it is the comforting message from the prophet:
If the LORD had not been on our side—
let Israel say—
if the LORD had not been on our side
when men attacked us,
when their anger flared against us,
they would have swallowed us alive;
the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters would have swept us away.
Praise be to the LORD,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
out of the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
Nahum believes the creed and sings the hymn! God is gracious and slow to anger. But the Lord is good and “cares for those who trust in him.” God’s goodness is seen in that he deals with evil and oppression. The enemy has “plotted against the LORD” (vv. 9, 11b) and has “devised evil” thus Yahweh has come to set his people free once again.
Hearing the Good News in Our Day
Nahum’s incredibly good news can be grasped readily through an act of imagination. You are Jewish and in Auschwitz. You and your family watched the rise of National Socialism and the “free” election of Adolf Hitler in 1933. You watched the Nazis first emblazon graffiti on your synagogue, home and business. Then you watched them burn your house of worship and the Torah. Then you watched them take your grandparents because they were not “useful.” Then they took your entire family including yourself. Now you are in a place that is probably the closest to hell on earth. You watch as guards rape and abuse young girls. You watch as folks disappear into a cell block never to be heard from again (think Elie Wiesel’s The Night). Then one day a bomber flies overhead and drops leaflets and you grab one before a SS soldier gets to you. The paper says “Allied Soldiers have Landed in France. We are coming. Hitler is doomed!” How do you think that message would have been “heard” in Auschwitz?? Would it have been seen as “good news?” It is nothing less than a message of “life!!”
This is the message of Nahum. God is coming. Evil’s days are numbered. At this very moment it is on the ropes. What a refreshing and liberating message. It is why Nahum celebrates the wrath of God.
God’s wrath means destruction of evil. It is always Good News for his people. What God promises through Nahum … Jesus Christ did in and through the Cross.
See also Nahum: Celebrating God’s Wrath #1