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Nahum – Angry God

February 8, 2014

Nineveh – a reminder.

 

Nineveh was a city dating back to the 6th millennium BC, part of the Assyrian Empire. There had been royal palaces located there, but in 700 BC, King Sennacherib appointed Nineveh as the capital city of the empire.

 

Assyria had the whole world terrorised, and the city of Nineveh was considered to be the embodiment of wickedness. The Assyrians conducted their wars with ‘shocking ferocity’, uprooting whole populations. Leaders of defeated cities were tortured and horribly mutilated before being executed.

 

So when God called Jonah, an 8th century BC prophet, to prophesy against the city, he not only refused to speak, but ran away as far as he could so that he did not have to be God’s spokesman. Why? Because he was terrified that if he preached, Nineveh might repent, and God would be merciful. And that was just too awful a proposition for Jonah’s worst enemy. And of course Jonah was proved to be right. Jonah preached. Nineveh got out the sackcloth and ashes. God forgave. And Jonah sulked and finished sulking. Nineveh did not deserve God’s favour.

 

So now a century later we have the sequel. It’s not called Jonah 2 – it’s Nahum.  There’s no large man swallowing fishes this time, no stories about great sea storms. This is straight prophecy although originally delivered in poetic form. And Jonah would have loved it, because evil Nineveh is going to get its comeuppance. This time there will be no repentance and Nineveh will fall.

 

Nahum is a Judean, probably during the reign of King Josiah, the child king, one of the great kings of Judah. We learn only that Nahum was from Elkosh, a village in Galilee. His ministry overlapped with that of Zephaniah and a young Jeremiah. Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians and Jerusalem was under threat from them. The meaning of Nahum is ‘consoler’. But it was God’s people, certainly not the people of Nineveh, who would be consoled by the prophet’s message. Assyria and Nineveh may have seemed invincible, but God said otherwise through Nahum.

 

Nahum encourages the people of Judah to see beyond Assyrian domination, and to believe in and pray to a sovereign God.

 

Like all good foretelling prophecy, Nahum’s words were proved true. Nineveh fell to the Babylonians and Medes in 612 BC. The great city fell when floodwaters breached her walls making way for the attacking armies. Verse 8 was not accidental – “with an overwhelming flood, he will make an end of Nineveh” Nineveh was never rebuilt and its ruins can still be seen today, across the river Tigris from Mosul in Iraq, 250 miles north of Baghdad.

 

So that’s the history. But what do we learn from the book, and specifically from the verses we’ve read this morning. Frankly, we learn about a side of God that we generally prefer not to think about.

 

In the passage God is described as slow to anger, good, a refuge in times of trouble, caring for those who trust in him. And we love God being like that. We sing about God being like that. And truly as sinful, weak human beings, we NEED a God like that. We sing

 

You are my shield, my strength, my portion, deliverer.

My shelter, strong tower, my very present help in time of need.

 

We sing

 

Faithful One, so unchanging,

Ageless One, You’re my rock of peace

Lord of all I depend on You,

I call out to You again and again.

You are my rock in times of trouble.

You lift me up when I fall down.

All through the storm Your love is the anchor,

My hope is in You alone.

 

and we love God being like that.

 

But if we learn anything from Nahum it is that God has another side. It’s very loud, violent and leaves a lot of mess. For the attributes of Nahum’s God are anger, jealousy, avenging, wrath, great power, fury, punishment, fire. Nineveh did not stand a chance in the face of such a God. A trail of destruction is left behind which reads like a catalogue of natural disasters. Whirlwind, storm, famine, earthquakes, rocks shattered. To paraphrase CS Lewis’s words about Aslan, God is ‘NOT safe’. Who can stand against the one true God?

 

Nineveh was not about to hear about a God of love and mercy here. They had experienced His mercy in the previous century, but had returned to their old ways. And now God’s anger would destroy wicked Nineveh, who had stood boastfully against his people, once and for all.

 

To use the words of our songs ‘THIS is our God’. And God does NOT change. So God is still a God of love and mercy. But God is still a God of anger and judgement.

 

But Assyria was not the first, and was certainly not the last to arrogantly stand in the face of God and to terrorise the world, causing great suffering and destruction in the process. As Eugene Peterson puts it in his introduction to Nahum in ‘The Message’, “The stage of history is large. Larger than life figures appear on the stage from time to time”. But whatever those people may think, be they Nero or Hitler or Hussain or Mugabe, they are NOT centre stage – God is!

 

Nahum was the consoler – to Judah, to bring God’s message that though evil had had its day, God was angry. And a day was coming, when God would pour out that anger and judge and destroy the enemy of His people. Even when all that was wrong seemed to be winning, God was going to strike the knock out blow. There could be only one winner. The champion of heaven.

 

And today, as we still see untold evil in this world, Nahum teaches us that God is angry. So are we angry or indifferent as we look at our televisions and newspapers and see the latest atrocities around the world? Anger that is righteous is part of who God is and thus should be part of who we are. Anger that acts.

 

Perhaps God does not step in as and when we think he should, but yes, He is angry, and anyone who stands in the face of God will be repaid for their evil, will be destroyed. If not in this life, then in eternity. Blatant wickedness will not go unpunished, be confident of that.

 

But before we get too smug, let us not forget that the God we follow, the God we worship is still an angry and jealous God. A God who judges all men by the same standards. Who requires His people to live in his ways, to be devoted to Him and to do His works. To be faithful to Him and Him alone. To have no other God’s before Him. To be perfect as He is perfect.

 

Ours is a high calling, but the one who calls us is the champion of heaven. This is our God.

 

 

 

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