Are you familiar with the book of Nahum?
Forgive me for assuming, but I imagine not.
The minor prophets are a rather neglected section of our Bible to begin with, but Nahum seems to be spectacularly unmemorable. I’ve read through God’s Word in its entirety multiple times, so I know that I’ve read Nahum. But for the life of me, I still didn’t know anything about it. A lack of knowledge, I think, is as a good of a reason as any for studying a book of the Bible.
It turns out that Nahum is essentially the spiritual sequel to Jonah (the prophet most famous for being swallowed by a fish). God sent Jonah to the Nineveh, a chief city of the Assyrian Empire, at the time when they were the greatest threat to Israel, and though God sent a message of judgment, the people repented and God showed them mercy.
Unfortunately, their repentance did not last long, and within a few decades, the Assyrians had thoroughly destroyed Israel. About a century after Jonah, Nahum writes his message against the Assyrians (probably at the height of their power), proclaiming again that God’s judgment is coming for them.
A quick reading of Nahum will reveal that the book is undeniably filled with the message of God impending wrath. God’s wrath is not a popular topic with people today, but we must also remember that the wrath of God has never been a pleasant topic. People have always preferred to dwell on God’s friendlier attributes (i.e. love and grace), but a sober study of His wrath is both necessary and beneficial.
As we read Nahum, it is important, therefore, to remember that God’s wrath is good. In fact, Nahum says as much: “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him (1:7).” And in the very next verse, the prophet declares that God will not spare any of His enemies.
How can these things coexist?
God’s wrath is an outpouring of justice; therefore, it is good. The wrath of God is the criminal receiving due punishment. It would be unloving and unjust of God not to avenge those who have been sinned against. We only need to read stories of the Holocaust, of the African slave trade, or of any terrorist organization to understand the beauty found in God’s wrath.
Of course, the problem of God’s wrath is that we have committed sins that put us on the receiving end of God’s vengeance. The promise that “the LORD will by no means clear the guilty (1:3)” is a great promise to those offended by the sins of others, but we have also been the offenders. No one is innocent of committing sin, and no one is exempt from God’s wrath. As Christians, we know that our sin did not go unpunished, but Jesus absorbed the wrath of God upon Himself in our place. Only in Christ, therefore, do we have hope to be spared from God’s fiery and just judgment.
This knowledge should impact our reading of Nahum. Although we may have not committed the level of violence of which the Assyrians were guilty, we are no less deserving of God’s wrath than them.
May Nahum’s vision of Nineveh’s doom remind us, therefore, of the great salvation we have received in Jesus Christ our Lord.