Why Missions? | Nahum 1

Nahum is not a common book to preach from in general, but even so, using it as our platform for discussing the reason and heart behind missions is more than a bit ironic. If any minor prophet is thought to have a missional theme, it would be Jonah, the reluctant prophet whom God sent to preach good news to the pagan Ninevites (at least that’s how we tend to remember the story going). Nahum, however, is not Jonah, but his book in many ways is a sequel to Jonah. Both prophets were sent to prophesy against the city of Nineveh, which was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Both were sent with a message of judgment. Yet these two prophets delivered their messages roughly one hundred years apart. First, Jonah spoke, and the people of Nineveh repented. God, therefore, relented from bringing judgment upon them for a time, and fifty years later, He used them as instruments for bringing judgment upon Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Fifty years after that wave of destruction, God again pronounced His judgment through Nahum upon the Assyrians, but this time He would not turn back. Nahum, therefore, is primarily about the impending judgment and wrath of God.

As I’ve noted, Nahum may seem a bit odd for a sermon on missions, yet by the LORD’s grace, I pray that we will see the supremacy of God, the severity of our sins, and the radiance of the gospel as we study these 2700 year old words of God given through the prophet Nahum. 


Nahum’s oracle begins with these words: “The LORD is…” Before launching into God’s message of judgment upon the Assyrians, Nahum seeks to establish who the LORD is. Let us also do the same.

Nahum calls Him the LORD. Most of our English translations render this name of God in all capital letters to distinguish it from the actual word in Hebrew for lord, Adonai. Commonly used transliterations are Yahweh or Jehovah. The Jews often referred to it simply as the Name. Theologians sometimes call it the tetragrammaton because it consists of four letters. Regardless of our terminology, this is God’s holy name, His personal name. It likely comes from God’s answer to Moses in Exodus 3. After being called as God’s prophet, Moses asked for God’s name. God responded by declaring, “I AM WHO I AM… Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (v. 14).

What does such a mysterious declaration mean? In part at least, it is a declaration of God’s self-existence and self-sufficiency. Not one item in the universe, including the universe itself, is either of those things. Indeed, Genesis 1:1 teaches that the heavens and earth (aka the cosmos in their entirety) had a beginning, and their Creator is God. This also means, of course, that God had no beginning. Similar to how director’s existence is not bound to the beginning of his film, God stands outside of His creation as its Author. He not only formed matter and substance; He also created time by beginning the beginning. From quasars to quarks and the koalas and seraphim in between, existence exists because God alone truly is. He alone has no need for another, either to exist or to continue existing. Moses is right to declare: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).

Flowing from the LORD’s self-existence and self-sufficiency is His holiness. The concept of holiness refers to something or someone that is unique, different, or set apart from the ordinary. From His position as Creator, God is the pinnacle of holiness. The most insignificant and inanimate atom shares at least one trait in common with the most glorious archangel: they were both created. God, however, is utterly unique. No one or thing is exactly as He is. He is the Extraordinary One. In an act of pure grace, God formed humanity in His image, after His likeness, but we know that this is only in part.[1] In our best moments, we can glimpse the character of God in one another, yet we are still a far cry from being the exact imprint of God’s nature that Jesus is. Truly, God alone is holy.

Furthermore, He is holy in His omnipresence. As the LORD told Jeremiah, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD” (23:24).

He is holy in His omnipotence. Through the prophet Isaiah, God states plainly, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (46:8-11).

He is holy in His omniscience. The psalmist praised, “Great is our LORD, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (147:5). Or as John simply puts: “he knows everything” (1 John 3:20). Possessing all understanding, the LORD is beyond our understanding.

Yet in a wonder of grace, He has spoken to us! This incomprehensible God has made Himself known. Consider God’s words to His people in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” He has not only spoken, but He has revealed Himself. We could not hope to discover Him by our own efforts, but He has by merciful condescension spoken to us.

The proper response to this God is found in the very next verse: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Does not the One who designed our hearts deserve them fully? Does not the One who fashioned our souls have a right to them? Is it not just to give our full might to Him who gives us our strength?

We have every reason to love this God who created us. And love must inevitably flow into praise. C. S. Lewis notes how praise spontaneously overflows from our love for something, giving examples like, “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” (Psalms, 95). We naturally praise whatever we love. God is altogether lovely and deserving, therefore, of eternal praise. An entire book of the Bible, after all, is dedicated to God’s praises (Psalms). Indeed, we could say that theology (the study of God) is incomplete unless it also leads to doxology (a word of praise or glory). We simply cannot view the reality of who God is without also praising Him. As Isaiah declares, “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure” (25:1). To know the LORD as our God must result in praise.


But let’s not stop there. The LORD is also good, as Nahum notes in verse 7. As the Creator, God defines good and evil. Morality is not a social construct. Rather, God has ordered the universe in coherence to His law and His will. Paul even testifies that every human, as God’s image-bearers, have God’s moral law written upon his or her heart (Romans 2:15). Our own conscience, for as long as we keep it from being hardened, bears witness that we do not define good and evil. Indeed, John notes that sin, which is the act of committing evil, is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). To be morally good, therefore, means obeying God’s law and will, while evil is the breaking of His law and will.

But let us also consider His other attributes listed here. Because God is entirely good, His vengeance, wrath, and jealousy (which we find in verses 2-3) are also good. These are attributes of God that we don’t often like to consider, but they are very much in line with God’s nature.

God’s jealousy is good because it means that He takes ownership and possession of us. If the LORD was not jealous for His people, He would not think twice about letting His people slip into sin and worshiping false gods, which cannot satisfy or save but only damn. Indeed, the saving work of the gospel is only accomplished through God’s jealousy for His people.

God’s vengeance is good because we live in a world of injustice. Turn on the news, and you will hear the doctrine of human depravity being revealed. Pay attention to the world, and you will quickly find justice denied for the sake of greed or power. Not so with God! He judges with perfect equity, and none will escape His sentence.

God’s wrath is good because sin deserves punishment. Every rape, every murder, every theft, every betrayal, all of them deserve God’s wrath. In fact, without God’s wrath, God could not be good or just. Without His wrath, justice would not be dealt, and God would be a false judge.

The Ninevites certainly deserved such judgment, vengeance, and wrath. One historian described the Assyrians’ brutalities as follows:

The Assyrians created the world’s first great army and the world’s first great empire. This was held together by two factors: their superior abilities in siege warfare and their reliance on sheer, unadulterated terror. It was Assyrian policy always to demand that examples be made of those who resisted them; this included deportations of entire peoples and horrific physical punishments. One inscription from a temple in the city of Nimrod records the fate of the leaders of the city of Suru on the Euphrates River, who rebelled from, and were reconquered by, King Ashurbanipal [side note: who was most likely king during Nahum’s day]:

I built a pillar at the city gate and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up inside the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes.” Such punishments were not uncommon. Furthermore, inscriptions recording these vicious acts of retribution were displayed throughout the empire to serve as a warning.

Anglim, 185-186.

We should rejoice that God “will by no means clear the guilty” (v. 3). We should rejoice that the Mountain-Shaker and Hill-Melter will come to judge the wicked. We should rejoice that evil cannot escape Him, that no one will stand before His indignation or endure the fires of His anger. We should rejoice that “with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness” (v. 8). We should rejoice that while God is slow to anger all evil will receive its righteous judgment from His hand. Verse 15, after all, is a call for the messengers to proclaim the good news of the Assyrians’ coming destruction from the mountaintops. God is the defender of the innocent and the terror of the guilty. This should be good news.

Yet here’s where we encounter a problem. Sin is not limited to the Ninevites. We are all guilty before God “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). By rejecting God’s law and will, we are each “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). God’s wrath is not reserved exclusively for “big” sins. All sin is cosmic treason, blatant rebellion against the King of kings. Our sin is against the Eternal One, so it rightly bears an eternal consequence. Consider, for instance, the consequence of lying to a complete stranger is not likely to be great. Lying to your spouse or best friend, however, can bring long-lasting damage to the relationship, but lying while under oath is the crime of perjury. The consequences of sin, therefore, differ depending on who is sinned against. How, therefore, can we who are nothing more than grace-infused dust hope to escape the righteous wrath of the holy God against Whom we have sinned?

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:4-9

Jesus, who as God the Son was in the beginning with God and was God, who is the One by whom “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16), this Infinite One was born into His own creation as an infant. He emptied Himself and humbled Himself “to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). He offered Himself in payment for our sins, absorbing fully the wrath of God in our place, so that we can now be reconciled to God as being clothed in the sinless righteousness of Christ. This is the gospel! This is the good news!


So, why missions?

What is the purpose and point of missions?

God’s judgment of Assyria was good news. In fact, God’s judgment of all sin is good news. But the better news, by far, is that God has defeated sin itself. Christ has crushed the serpent’s head. He has reversed the curse of Adam by becoming a curse for us. The one true God, the LORD, has laid down His life for us. Is there a truer, greater love than this? The hymn, Jerusalem, by CityAlight provides a beautiful glimpse at the radiance of our loving God.

See Him there upon the hill
Hear the scorn and laughter
Silent as a lamb He waits
Praying to the Father
See the King who made the sun
And the moon and shining stars
Let the soldiers hold and nail Him down
So that He could save them

See Him there upon the cross
Now no longer breathing
Dust that formed the watching crowds
Takes the blood of Jesus
Feel the earth is shaking now
See the veil is split in two
And He stood before the wrath of God
Shielding sinners with His blood

Missions exists because God deserves to be praised by all people and all nations. That is the supreme goal. The marvelous reality that God’s praise means our supreme is a beautiful corollary. Indeed, we see this within the greatest commandment. If you want to love your neighbor, begin by loving God. Proper love of God always flows into love for our neighbor. But if loving neighbor is our supreme motivation, we will not be able to love properly because we are not supremely loving the God who is love.

Paris Reidhead illustrates this point powerfully in missions through his own wrestling with God over why he was in Africa preaching the gospel:

I went out there motivated by humanism. I’d seen pictures of lepers, I’d seen pictures of ulcers, I’d seen pictures of native funerals, and I didn’t want my fellow human beings to suffer in Hell eternally after such a miserable existence on earth. But it was there in Africa that God began to tear THROUGH THE OVERLAY OF THIS HUMANISM! And it was that day in my bedroom with the door locked that I wrestled with God. For here I was, coming to grips with the fact that the people I thought were ignorant and wanted to know how to go to heaven and were saying, “Someone come teach us”, actually didn’t want to take time to talk with me or anybody else. They had no interest in the Bible and no interest in Christ, and they loved their sin and wanted to continue in it. And I was to that place at that time where I felt the whole thing was a sham and a mockery, and I had been sold a bill of goods! I wanted to come home.

There alone in my bedroom as I faced God honestly with what my heart felt, it seemed to me I heard Him say, “Yes, but will not the Judge of all the earth do right? The Heathen are lost. And they’re going to go to Hell, but not because they haven’t heard the gospel. They’re going to go to Hell because they are sinners WHO LOVE THEIR SIN, and because they deserve Hell. BUT, I didn’t send you out there for them. I didn’t send you out there for their sakes.” And I heard as clearly as I’ve ever heard, though it wasn’t with physical voice but it was the echo of truth of the ages finding its way into an open heart. I heard God say to my heart that day something like this: “I didn’t send you to Africa for the sake of the heathen, I sent you to Africa for My sake. They deserved Hell! But I LOVE THEM! AND I ENDURED THE AGONIES OF HELL FOR THEM! I DIDN’T SEND YOU OUT THERE FOR THEM! I SENT YOU OUT THERE FOR ME! DO I NOT DESERVE THE REWARD OF MY SUFFERING? DON’T I DESERVE THOSE FOR WHOM I DIED?”

I was there not for the sake of the heathen. I was there for the Savior who endured the agonies of Hell for me. But He deserved the heathen, because He died for them. My eyes were opened. I was no longer working for Micah and ten shekels and a shirt, but I was serving a living God.

Do you see? Let me epitomize, let me summarize. Christianity says, “The end of all being is the glory of God.” Humanism says, “The end of all being is the happiness of man.”

If our aim in missions is the happiness of man, we will certainly fail to achieve it. If, however, we aim at glorifying God, the joy of man is sure to be found as well.

As we come to the Table of our King, where the gospel is visualized before us, let me ask: O brothers and sisters, have you tasted and seen that the LORD is good? Do you know the One in whose presence is the fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore? Have you bowed before the King who left His throne to pay your debt with His blood?

Gaze at the beauty of the LORD our God and His gospel, and we will say with Peter and John, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). We will long for all creation, for every nation, to praise our Savior. We will long to see John’s vision fulfilled before our own eyes: people from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelations 7:9) crying out in worship of this God who has rescued us. And we will pour out our very lives to see it fulfilled.

The LORD is worthy of all worship, so may we shout His name from the mountains until every nation has heard this gospel of peace.

[1] Interestingly, His majesty is reflected in the placing of His image upon us as a collective unit of His living, breathing creatures. Coupled with God’s prohibition against images, even of Himself, in the Second Commandment, we could say that God’s image could only ever be accurately placed upon something so large as mankind, composed of billions of conscious and rational individual persons. If even this growing and living portrait cannot perfectly reflect God’s likeness, how could we possibly expect an image of our own making to capture His likeness?


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