Just two weeks ago we followed the reluctant prophet Jonah as he was called by God to go to Nineveh, but ran in the opposite direction. God finally got Jonah’s attention and he decided to go along with the plan. Nineveh was an important city in the Assyrian Empire, an antagonist and enemy of those who lived in Israel and Judah. For the last two weeks we have talked about how brutal, vicious, and bloodthirsty the Assyrians were in their conquests of foreign nations. If you will remember the past couple of weeks, I shared with you how the Assyrians would impale their victims on long spears, decapitate their victims and pile the heads up in a pyramid in the city, and even skin their victims alive. They were a brutal, bloodthirsty nation of conquerors.
For these reasons Jonah hated the Ninevites, yet he went to Nineveh and proclaimed, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned!” (Jonah 3:4 NIV) The Ninevites responded in a way that no one could have ever imagined. They repented, the king issued a decree calling for a nation-wide fast, and he ordered the people,
8 …Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. (Jonah 3:8 NIV)
Jonah was livid. He stomped around and fumed as he told God,
2 …”O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (Jonah 4:2 NIV)
Jonah was so angry that God would show His grace to the people of Nineveh that he asked God to take his life. God was more concerned about the transformation of the Ninevites than He was about the anger of Jonah.
It is impossible to pinpoint the date of Jonah’s visit to Nineveh, but we can narrow it down to the time period of Jeroboam II, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel. We learn that from 2 Kings 14:23-25. Jeroboam II ruled Israel from 793-758 B.C. Most people place Jonah’s trip to Nineveh towards the end of Jeroboam II reign, around 760 B.C. That is important for you to remember as we begin our study for today.
Our study today, on the message of the prophet Nahum, is the sequel to Jonah. Jonah would have loved to have been given the message that God gave to Nahum because Nahum’s call from God was to pronounce the end of Nineveh. The repentance of the Ninevites didn’t “take,” they returned to their evil, vicious ways, and the patience of God was replaced by the wrath of God.
Once again, we don’t have the time this morning to cover all three chapters of Nahum’s prophecy, so it might be helpful to outline the entire prophecy before we focus on our section of Scripture for this morning. Here is our outline:
1. Introduction of the Prophet (Nahum 1:1).
2. The LORD’s anger against Nineveh (Nahum 1:2-15).
3. The fall of Nineveh (Nahum 2:1-13).
4. The LORD’s judgment against Nineveh (Nahum 3:1-19)
Pretty simple outline. An easy outline to follow if you want to do further study of Nahum’s prophecy after we end our study today. For today we are going to focus our study on the opening verses of Nahum’s prophecy. Let’s take a look at the first nine verses of Nahum 1. Read along with me.
1 An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. 2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies. 3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. 4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. 5 The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. 6 Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. 7 The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, 8 but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into darkness. 9 Whatever they plot against the LORD he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time. (Nahum 1:1-9 NIV)
These nine verses speak so clearly and so powerfully about who God is and what matters most to Him. Take a look once again at Nahum 1:2 with me.
2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies. (Nahum 1:2 NIV)
That’s a tough passage isn’t it? I’m certain that this verse, and others like it scattered throughout God’s Word, are the impetus behind those who say, “The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath.” Or they say, “I don’t understand how God could be jealous? Doesn’t that sound like an emotion that is a little beneath a deity?” To us, jealousy is an ugly word. We think of those who are “jealous” as being selfish, suspicious, and abusive. We’ve all heard stories of husbands, wives, boyfriends, and girlfriends who were jealous. Their jealousy consisted of being possessive, demanding, and overbearing. Relationships that are marked by jealousy are not good relationships. Yet, we’ve just read that God is a jealous God. Can we assume that what we know about the characteristics of people who are marked by jealousy can be applied to the God who says that He is “jealous?” Most people would assume that is the case, but here is one of the great reasons why we need to know what biblical words mean. The Hebrew word that is translated, “jealous,” is the word, “קַנּוֹא” (qannow’), which means, “jealous” or “zeal.” We come upon the word in Exodus 20 where God is giving the Ten Commandments to Moses. Read it with me.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:3-6 NIV)
How can God, who gave the Ten Commandments to His people to lead them, guide them in life, and keep them from destroying themselves—be a jealous, overbearing, and selfish God? God is jealous for you and for me. We belong to Him and when we turn our passions away from Him to another, to an “idol,” then God knows that we are turning from the One who cherishes us, blesses us, and helps us to that which will destroy us.
Godly jealousy put into the human context looks something like this: A husband and wife pledge their love and lives to one another. They are blessed with children and live out their days with love and gratitude. One day the wife learns that her husband no longer loves her. He has found someone else. He doesn’t ask for a divorce, but his wife knows what he is doing and he refuses to stop seeing the other woman. His wife knows that her husband is doing far more than seeking someone to love; he is destroying the priceless treasure God had given him. What about the years they had spent together, working side-by-side, struggling together, loving one another, raising babies together, going to ballgames and dance recitals and cheering for their children, sitting by the bedside of parents in the hospital, and praying over situations that puzzled and scared them? What about the beautiful mosaic of life and love and pain that God had been piecing together all of these years? She is jealous for her husband’s love and life, and for the life that God had given them.
Do you see the difference between this kind of jealousy and the kind of jealousy that we are so accustomed to hearing about or even experiencing ourselves? God is jealous for you and me. We are His. In Scripture, God even referred to Israel as His wife. When His “wife” would turn to other “lovers,” to other so-called gods, God was jealous for Israel’s affection and He acted to turn her back to Himself.
God is not only jealous for Israel, but all the world belongs to Him. Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire rightfully belonged to God. The Ninevites were worshipping false gods when Jonah made his trip to Nineveh and announced the soon coming demise of the nation. They turned from their gods and cried out to the one true God. Instead of bringing the nation to an end, God showered them with grace and His wondrous mercy.
Now, as we look at Nahum, it is not God’s grace that is being promised to Nineveh, but His wrath and vengeance. Many people today cling to the love of God while dismissing the wrath of God. We don’t like to think about the wrath of God, unless it is aimed at those that we feel are really evil people. That’s why Jonah wanted to see the Ninevites wiped out isn’t it? The truth is that God’s wrath is not simply reserved for those that we declare to be the embodiment of evil—those like Sennacherib, Hitler, Tim McVeigh, or Osama Bin Laden. Romans 1:18-23 tells us,
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:18-23 NIV)
That’s pretty unsettling isn’t it? “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” What does Paul mean by “wickedness?” Well, wickedness certainly applies to the atrocities of the Assyrians, the murderous ways of those like Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong il in North Korea, the evil of those who kidnap children and young women and use them in the sex trade industry, the deceitful ways of Bernie Madoff who stole $18 billion from those who trusted him as well as the “Christian” investor, Harrison Jones in Florida, who in another Ponzi scheme, stole millions from Christian friends who trusted him over 20 years time. These would all fit the bill, but that’s not the end of the story. Paul says God’s wrath is being poured out on those who exchange the truth of God for a lie, those who exchange the glory of the immortal God for the glory of lesser things.
In Nahum 1 we can read about the wrath and vengeance of God, the Sovereignty of God as He displays His power in creation as well as over the power of Nineveh, and we also can learn about the goodness and care of God. Take a look at Nahum 1:3 with me.
3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. (Nahum 1:3 NIV)
“The LORD is slow to anger…” The Hebrew word used here for “anger” is the word, “אַף” (aph) and it means, “nostril, nose, face, or anger.” It’s a very descriptive word. Think about it with me for a minute. When you get mad, really mad, what happens to your nose? Your nostrils flare and you get red in the face don’t you? That is what is meant here. God is slow to flare His nostrils and get red in the face. This attribute of God, being slow to anger, shows up throughout God’s Word. In Psalm 86:15 we read,
15 But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15 NIV)
The prophet Joel announced the coming judgment of God, but before the judgment actually came, God sent a message to His people. Turn with me to Joel 2:13,
12 “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2:13 NIV)
God is slow to anger. It is not God’s desire to discipline us. It is not God’s desire to pour out His wrath upon those who are disobedient. God’s first choice in dealing with you and me is not destruction. God is slow to anger, He is full of compassion, and He is mercy personified. God’s heart cry to you and me is, “Turn, turn from your ways and live! Turn to Me and live!” Don’t believe me then I’ll let God speak for Himself. Turn with me to Ezekiel 18:23 with me.
23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:23 NIV)
If that is not evidence enough for you then flip on over to Ezekiel 33:10-11 and let’s read together.
10 “Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?” 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:10-11 NIV)
God has been so patient with me. He has been so patient with you as well has He not? He has worked in our lives in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine. He has not just demonstrated His patience towards you and me, but this is God’s very nature.
Long ago, in 586 B.C. to be exact, the southern kingdom of Judah, including Jerusalem, was destroyed by the Babylonians and taken into captivity. Cyrus, king of Persia, captured Babylon and ordered the release of the Jews in 539 B.C. Once back home the Jews were suffering post traumatic stress or something like it because they just couldn’t get things going. Almost 100 years later, after the Jews had been languishing in the ruins of the Holy City, Nehemiah, who was a cupbearer for the Persian king Artaxerxes, was moved by God to go back to Jerusalem and help rebuild the wall. He began his work in 440 B.C. and when the work was done all of the people gathered for worship. Let me read you an excerpt of what was said as the people gathered at the reconstructed wall and recounted the faithfulness of God and the faithlessness of their forefathers.
16 “But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. 17 They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, 18 even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. 19 “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. (Nehemiah 9:16-19 NIV)
Did you hear it? Though their forefathers coming out of Egypt were stiff-necked and rebellious God did not forsake them. Why? Because He is a “forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” Over and over again throughout Israel’s history the people demonstrated their disobedience and God demonstrated His faithfulness and mercy. Eventually God’s mercy and patience ran out and His wrath and judgment was poured out. That is why the exiles were in Babylon for a period of time.
Can’t the statements made about God by the citizens of Jerusalem at the reconstructed wall be said by the citizens of Nineveh, the recipients of His grace and mercy during the days of Jonah? I believe they can. Yet, just because God lavished His grace and forgiveness upon the people of Nineveh in the days of Jonah doesn’t mean that they were given a free pass to live however they wanted to live once the crisis was over.
Remember, Jonah preached on the streets of Nineveh around 760 B.C. We don’t know the name of the King of Nineveh referred to in Jonah, but we do know that Ashur-nirari V became the King of Assyria shortly after Jonah visited the city of Nineveh about 760 B.C. Ashur-nirari V ruled the Assyrian Empire from 755 to 745 BC. We don’t know so much about him, he was probably a weak king, but the following king, Tiglath-Pileser III, who ruled from 745-727 B.C. and is considered to be one of the most successful military leaders in world history. He was a vicious, brutal military commander who took no mercy on those he conquered.
If you will remember our study of Micah last week then you will remember that we took a look at Sennacherib who invaded Judah and took 46 of its strong cities before making his way with his troops to the gates of Jerusalem. There, at the gates of Jerusalem, he mocked God and tried to humiliate king Hezekiah. That invasion took place in 701 B.C. About 760 B.C. God showers the Ninevites with His grace and mercy, but within fifteen years they are back to their brutal, evil ways. The fall of Nineveh didn’t come until 612 B.C. Was God patient with the Ninevites? I’d say He was. For more than 100 years God patiently waiting for the Ninevites to remember the grace that had been shown to them before He finally said, “Enough is enough!”
It is God’s desire to turn us away from sin, defiance, and disobedience. It is God’s desire to turn us away from using and abusing those He has created in His image. It’s God’s desire that we worship Him alone and give Him the glory, honor, and praise. If we choose to continually turn away, disregard His counsel and discipline, then He will pour out His wrath.
God’s patience is not endless my friends. We are to take very seriously our sin and God’s patience with us in seeking to turn us around. When we become aware of what God is doing we must not take His work lightly or worse yet totally disregard it. We must confess our sins, as the Ninevites did in the days of Jonah, and then never forget, never ever forget. In 2 Peter 3:1-10 we can read about the purpose of God’s patience and the certainty of what He has planned for those who disregard His call.
1 Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. 3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:1-10 NIV)
Peter urged the people to remember the words of the prophets. God is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” At the same time, the “day of the Lord” is coming. Don’t wait for that day to come to cry out to the Lord. Won’t you cry out to Him in gratitude, confession, and commitment this very day?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 19, 2010