In the previous introduction, we've read about the context and background to this book. As we begin to unpack and understand the context of the book of Nahum, we'll see that it's about Nineveh. The main purpose of this book is not so much to tell us about Nineveh, but rather, focuses on what God does to Nineveh and Assyria. This will be a helpful thing to keep at the back of our minds as we try to understand this book!
The power of God: a mighty God (Nahum 1:1, 3b-5)
Nahum 1 begins with an opening section, a broad description of God’s character, then what Nahum is actually seeing. Nahum 1:1 and Nahum 1:3 are connected by the word “vision”. What this means is that Nahum records for us a divine revelation that he has received not as a heard oracle, but in a vision. Nahum received a picture of God, “his way is in whirlwind and storm and
the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3b). He sees God in the storm. He also hears God rebuke the sea, and the withering of places (Nahum 1:4). This is a terrifying picture because the God of the storm comes and commands the trees to dry up. The glory and greatness in nature seem to disappear as the Almighty comes by (Nahum 1:5a). All the earth and all its inhabitants heave before Him (Nahum 1:5b).
This great God has also chosen to reveal Himself to us, not only in vision, but also through speaking (Nahum 1:4). Here, God speaks and the sea and rivers dry up. We saw something similar in Genesis, when God spoke and things were called forth into existence. But in Nahum, God is doing the reverse. He is destroying with His command, and is basically de-creating. The God who spoke creation into existence also speaks destruction.The Bible teaches us that God is so great that all nature trembles. It will do us well to begin with this picture of God as He has revealed Himself to us.
What kind of a God is this? This is a God with tremendous presence. We struggle with these descriptions of God because we are city dwellers and think about life in terms of structures and infrastructure. But see what God is saying here. He disregards their structures and when He walks by, all nature fades away because of who He is.
When we read this, it also seems as if the prophet struggled to put in words what they saw. He is trying to show us God in His glory and majesty. Yet when we read this, we too might struggle to make sense and even reconcile this picture of God. Chances are the God being described in Nahum is very different from the one we see in our quiet time and personal devotions. This is the one who rends the heavens when He comes down. There is perhaps only one correct response -- to respond in worship.
The character of God: fierce wrath and holy judgment (Nahum1: 2-3, 6, 8)
In Nahum 1:1-3, God is not only spoken of in visual terms, but also in character terms. He is described as:
- Takes vengeance
- Slow to anger
- Great in power
Why does Nahum describe Him in this way? These tell us more than just “God is wrathful”. What is God jealous for as He looks at the Assyrians? Who is He avenging as He responds to them? God is jealous for His own people as He pours out His wrath on sinners (c.f. 2 Kings
18:14). He does take a side on their behalf. What would you think about God if you were an Israelite? The opening verse depicts Yahweh who is jealous and avenges. Wouldn’t this bring comfort? Or, it could also provoke a response like Jonah's, who was upset that God wanted to bring them a message of salvation.
Two word pictures are used to describe Him. Through words like "indignation", "heat of his anger", "wrath is poured out like fire" in Nahum 1:6, we get a picture of a volcano with lava bubbling out and destroying everything in its path. Through the use of these rhetorical questions, the writer is telling us that no one can stand before God and live
The second word picture is an image of an "overflowing flood" (Nahum 1:8). Notice that it's not just a flood, but really one that overflows, and it conveys the extent of His wrath. It calls back the picture in Exodus where there is a complete and total destruction in the Red Sea.
Put together, we see that these are not just pictures of power, but are pictures of holy wrath and judgment. These are what God does on behalf of His people. He doesn’t just hurt people physically but judges them spiritually. This is a consistent theme in the minor prophets (c.f. Hos 4:1-2, Amos 5:12-15, Micah 5:10-14).
But what do we do when we read these passages of judgment? Most of us will not know what to do with what we’ve read, because we know instinctively that this sounds so much like us and the world we live in. This is why when we read passages of judgment we should reach for our newspapers. We need to tell ourselves that judgment on sinners is not just “for then” but also “for now”.
But what about Jesus and grace and forgiveness? Yes, He came to absorb the wrath but that is why we also need to see the sheer weight and severity of judgment. Only then we can see the beauty and glory of the cross. We will never see the solution of the cross unless we see the full wrath and judgment that we ought to bear. This is why Jesus prayed for the cup to be passed from Him if it is possible, because Jesus understood this text. Dear friends, do not run straight to grace and cheapen it in the process when we do not first understand what it cost him. Passages like Jas 4:4-5 will speak to our hearts only after we have considered sin and its serious consequences and wrath. The NT shows us that God is also jealous for His people that their hearts belong to Him, that they'll love what He loves and hate what He hates. God is always jealous for His people.
How interested in God are you really? It’s very possible to make the Christian life your identity. We can get into routine of doing things, singing songs and seeing the same people week after week. But do you love God and what He loves, and hate what He hates. Make God your identity, not the life. What is the solution? God has to reveal Himself to you in ways that are unfamiliar, and one of this way could be in wrath, because none of us like this side of Him. If you want to know God as He has revealed, you need to know Him in His fullness, size and wrath. If that means not being a friend of the world, then so be it.
The heart of God: patience and covenant faithfulness (Nahum 1:3a, 7)
Tucked within this chapter is Nahum 1:3a, which we love this because this is the gospel and we can look at Exo 34:6 to help us understand. After the Golden Calf incident, Moses was worried that God would just break off and destroy His people. The question is will God abandon His people? God says these words to reveal His faithfulness. And a similar idea is repeated in Nahum.
But there’s a problem. God is going to judge in holiness, but will also be slow to anger. How can this be? This is the formula of the gospel. The same God who is holy and righteous and will not let sin go unpunished will in Himself provide the solution. This is put here in Nahum to help us see that God keeps His covenant.
God is a God of tremendous patience and covenant faithfulness. Nahum 1:7 tells us that He is good. He is good because on that day when trouble falls, He is a stronghold and He knows those who take refuge in Him. In context, it refers to His people, those that have received His covenant faithfulness. This theme is also repeated in the other minor prophets, and knowing it will help us in our reading of this section of the Bible. In Haggai 2:20-23, we read of Zerubabbel, an ancestor of Jesus, chosen by God and made a signet ring. Zechariah 10:6-12 tells us that the house of Judah will be strengthened and the promises to Judah are fulfilled in
Christ and applied to us. Mal 4:1-3 is the inspiration for a line that we sing Hark the Herald Angels sing -- “light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in His wings”.
Indeed, this God will not forget His people and will also not forget the Lord Jesus (because Jesus fulfills the covenant of Isaac, Abraham and Jacob). Because He remembers His covenant with Jesus, it means that we who are in Him also enjoy this covenant security. This is how all the gospel and Israel promises come to us! They don’t come to us directly, but come through Jesus Christ, the one mediator of the new covenant. As they come to Him, He applies it to us in comfort.
This is the God who has revealed Himself in Nahum 1. He shows covenant faithfulness to His people, but also executes judgment on those that oppose Him. To end off, here are 3 reflections questions to help you respond to God in repentance and faith and worship:
- Based on Nahum, how biblical is your view of God? How do you think this affects your relationship with Him?
- How interested in God are you? What does it mean to really know Him?
- According to this passage, what is God like? What have you learnt about God today?