The first chapter of Nahum makes clear that God’s judgment is about to fall on Nineveh for her idolatry, pride, and evil. Chapter 2 is a prophetic lens through which we catch a glimpse of the terrible judgment that is about to befall Ninevah. The recurring themes of harsh, thorough, and unstoppable judgment coupled with God’s salvation for His people follow through from the first chapter. But what does it mean for us? We read the minor prophets in a world that has excised judgment from its vocabulary. We read it to learn about what God’s terrible judgment reveals about His character, and what it means for us today!
(A) God’s terrible judgment against false idols and their worshippers (Nahum 2: 1-9)
Have you ever played catching with really young children? You stand completely still, count-down from 10, and then bellow “READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!” If you really wanted to, you could catch them all within seconds, and they would be powerless to stop you.
Nahum 2:1-2 read similarly, but with all of catching’s jocularity replaced with the fearful prospect of God’s terrible judgment. God Himself is coming to battle, and the prophet Nahum bellows loudly, “get ready, here He comes.” What sort of army could possibly stand against God’s wrath? All of Nineveh is warned to prepare themselves (Nahum 2:1), but the magnitude of the One who comes against them (Nahum 2:2) makes a mockery of their attempts at self-preservation.
Nahum 2:3-5 present us with a flurry of action. God’s wrath is manifested through the physical boots, horses, and wheels that are on the ground and ready for sieging (Nahum 2:5). Clothed in blood-red and scarlet terror (Nahum 2:3), these verses are replete with rapid action that reflects the speed and tenacity of the army of God’s judgment. There is flashing metal of sword and spear, alongside the lightning and thunder that the chariots bring (Nahum 2:3-4). There is an imminent sense of great action to come.
And just like that, the river gates are opened and the palace melts away (Nahum 2:6). The great river gates and high city walls were the pride of the Assyrian empire. Nineveh’s walls and warriors were well known for the power and safety they lent the Assyrian empire. But still they came crashing down. The actual siege of Nineveh’s walls took 3 months to succeed, but these verses show us what judgment looks like from God’s perspective. Human hands, minds, and hearts must have raced with tension and question throughout the sieging period. Would Nineveh stand? Or would the Medo-Persian conquest succeed? As legitimate as these questions were to the people of the day, they were utterly foolish questions from God’s perspective. God had decreed judgment - judgment would come. It was guaranteed.
The same can really be said for our lives and the world as we know it. In our lives, we build up tall walls of security. Walls that reek of a well-paying job, a good name, good looks, good grades, and the praise of all we can gather around ourselves. Will these walls stand? In the world today, God’s warning of impending judgment often comes under scrutiny, if not mockery. Given enough time, we think ourselves as capable of fixing every problem. All we think we need is some better governance, a more equitable system of social distribution, and improvements in science and technology. Notions of judgment and God’s wrath are the play-things of the Dark Ages - spillovers of a time long past.
But this passage smacks us in the face with a much needed dose of reality. God’s judgment will come. And it will be completely efficacious to His purposes. Hear the words of the Apostle Peter in 2 Pet 3:8-10:
"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. 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. 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.”
Do you blush when called on to explain notions of God’s judgment and wrath? Do you explain it away for yourself with clever thinking? The Bible speaks clearly on these matters, and so must we. God stands resolutely opposed to idolatry, and His judgment against it is sure. The things that we hold dear to our hearts, exalt over God, and trust in to keep us safe (Nahum 2: 7-8) will be exposed for their folly when Jesus returns in judgment. For these are merely created things, and created things have no right to wrest glory from their Creator. In fact, Nahum 2:10 tells us that vain trust in created things isn’t just inefficacious, but also damaging. The silver, gold, and treasure that Nineveh held so dear to her heart became the object of motivation for her destruction and plunder. Isn’t that the same of every idol that we exalt over God? If you fall in love with pornography, it will crush you. If you lust after wealth and fame, they will drag you to your grave. The tragic tale of celebrities who “had it all”, only to capitulate to mental illness and its ilk prove as much.
(B) God’s terrible judgment against grievous sin (Nahum 2:10-13)
“Desolate! Desolation and ruin (Nahum 2:10)”. What is the reason that such calamity has befallen Nineveh? Nahum 2:11-12 show us one face of the grievous sin that God judges Nineveh for. The British Museum informs us that "In ancient Assyria, lion-hunting was considered the sport of kings, symbolic of the ruling monarch’s duty to protect and fight for his people. The sculpted reliefs...illustrate the sporting exploits of the last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal (668-631 BC) and were created for his palace at Nineveh (in modern-day northern Iraq).”
Through their dominance over the lion, the Assyrian kings prided themselves for their ability to defend and conquer as they pleased. Consider how the Assyrian kings speaks to the Israelites in 2 Kings 18:32-35:
“...And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”
The arrogance of the Assyrian king is plain for all to see. He looks back at his past victories, and mocks the God of the Israelites in due process. Now look back at Nahum 2:11-12. Where is the self-sufficiency and safety that this lion-king was so confident of providing? Where is his resting place, his generous provision, and the peace that he stewarded for all who were under his care? Many of us find ourselves as meaningful contributors to our society. Many of us lead and care for many others. But many of us also pride ourselves over such matters. Instead of looking to the Giver of Good Gifts (James 1:9) and praise Him for all the good that proceeds from our lives, we elevate ourselves and think of ourselves as little-sovereigns over our little-domains of rule. But we don’t just elevate ourselves over God. We hoard and savage for our own gain and comfort (Nahum 2:12). I remember speaking to a friend once concerning his ambitions for corporate success. He explained his desire with the need for self-preservation, and the need to provide for his loved ones. And he also mentioned that he was willing to stop at nothing to achieve such success. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world after all”, he explained. This might not be how you think all the time, but the sad truth is that we often elevate ourselves by stepping on others.
And because the Assyrians were culpable of this sin, God declares His terrible judgment against them (Nahum 2:13). Is there anything more terrifying than these 8 words? “I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts.” Behind the might of the Medo-Persian alliance stood the personal wrath of God. And because God stood in judgment over them, their destruction was final and complete. No longer would the voice of their messengers be heard.
God’s warning of judgment isn’t that different today. Paul speaks in Acts 17:29-31,
"Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
What is the gold, silver, stone, and created thing that you have turned to? Turn away from them, and repent, for God has appointed One who will return to judge the world. Turn away from the grievous sin of idolatry today!
(C) God’s astounding salvation through judgment (Nahum 2:2,13)
This wrathful and personal declaration of judgment might strike us as odd. Isn’t God supposed to be loving and merciful? Why all of this hate and fury? Nahum 2:2 reminds us that the God who is personal in His judgment is also personal in his loving salvation for His people through it. This verse also invokes the revealed name of God, “LORD” or YAHWEH, in declaring His intention to “restore the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel.”
The reference to Jacob makes one thing very clear: God remembers his covenants. It is Jacob who, after wrestling with God, is blessed with the name Israel. And God remembers this! The same blessing of presence, provision, and peace that He lavished upon Jacob is the same blessing that He intends to restore to Israel. It is a majestic thing to be chosen and blessed by God, and God promises to restore this majesty to His people. Do you see the attention that God pays to the suffering and disgrace of His people? He knows how they have been plundered, and He knows how their branches have been ruined (Nahum 2:2). This is a God who cares, and a God who acts decisively in His care. This is a God capable of bringing about salvation through judgment. Do you believe this to be true? We often languish in our misery, thinking that God is not a God who truly cares. The world can be a bleak place, and it may even often feel like we are under God’s judgment! But God reveals Himself personally not only in His terrible judgment, but also in His astounding salvation. Our God is a God who saves.
But at this point, something surely seems off. If God hates sin and idolatry so much, how can He favour Israel so? Israel, too, is culpable of having turned away from God in idolatry. Sure, they had to suffer captivity and slavery, but their judgment pales in comparison to the terrible things about to befall Nineveh. Does God have double standards?
The truth of the matter is that God did not only enact salvation through judgment by saving Israel from her oppressors. For salvation from these oppressors did not mean salvation from sin, and it is sin that God has always had His eye on (Gen 3:15). While the immediate fulfilment of this prophecy came true when Assyria’s walls fell, the majesty of Israel - God’s people - was truly restored when the full brunt of God’s terrible judgment came crashing down some 600 years later. God Himself, in human flesh, would come personally to deliver His people by paying the price of their sin. It is through this act of judgment that ultimate salvation is secured, and it is to this momentous event that Christians everywhere must fix their gaze on when we read of God’s terrible judgment. As Christians, we stand righteous only because Christ bore the full weight of God’s judgment against sin on the cross. This should cause us to tremble. Not in fear of being condemned, but in awe and gratitude for the intertwining of terrible power and astounding love like none other.
Friends, how do you think about God’s judgment today? Is your heart burdened for a world that stands under God’s judgment? Do you see the weighty price that Jesus bore? Are you intentional about your sanctification, and persistent in your praise? Look to Christ today!