“The pronouncement concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We are finally finished with Micah. It’s time for something new. This morning, we are turning to the collection of prophecy we have from a man named Nahum. Nahum’s book is one of the shorter works of the Minor Prophets. It is one of the more focused as well. It is about the downfall of the city of Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire. Still, as brief and concentrated on a single subject as it is, there is much for us to learn if we will look closely and pay careful attention. God included and preserved it for a reason. Let’s begin digging in and see what kind of treasures we can uncover.
The whole existence of Nahum’s collection of prophecy is interesting to me. As I said, the book (going forward, I’ll call it a book for the sake of language convenience, but “ancient document” is a more accurate description) is all about the coming downfall of the Assyrian Empire and its capital city, Nineveh.
Do you remember, though, which book we studied before wading through Micah? Jonah. And what was Jonah about? God overriding the strenuous and committed objections of that worthless prophet to use him to preach a message of repentance which led to the ultimate salvation and rescue from judgment of…the city of Nineveh.
Think about that. Two little books; one about the salvation of a city and the other, its downfall. What changed? Well, I think we can safely say that the spirit of repentance that swept through the city after Jonah’s pathetic little sermon didn’t last. The culture of idolatry and the evil spawning from it was too deeply planted in the hearts and minds of the Assyrians for something like we saw at the end of Jonah to really take root and lead to systemic change for the people. They eventually turned back to the vileness that led to God declaring their destruction in the first place. That was to be their legacy, and one that would lead to their eradication from the earth. The path of the violent always eventually ends violently.
Let’s push this just a bit further, though. Are there any lessons we should learn from this? I think there are a few actually. First, God is just. You already knew that, but the reminder is good all the same. God is just. We serve a God of justice. He will not let evil go unpunished forever. He will eventually come and make all things right. In the short term, though, He will occasionally act to right some particularly egregious wrongs. That doesn’t mean He will supernaturally intervene in every single problem we create by our personal and institutional embrace of sin, but neither will He simply ignore them either. Sometimes–often even–the most effective acts of justice He can make are ones where He steps back and lets the natural consequences of sin play themselves out naturally. Sin brings destruction and the experience of that destruction is often the most effective punishment for sin He can level. On occasion, though, He steps in more directly and makes some…course corrections.
Second, God is merciful. You knew that too, but still the reminder matters. Before Jonah prophesied to the people of Nineveh, they were a grotesquely evil people. The Assyrian Empire, one of the first major empires in world history, introduced to the world a kind of institutionalized violence that was shocking in its brutality. If anyone deserved judgment, they did. That’s likely a big part of why Jonah was so insistent on not preaching a message of repentance to them. As he complained to God at the end of his story, his preaching that message necessarily brought with it the chance that they would respond to it, and if they responded to it, God was going to show them mercy and grace, which was the last thing he wanted for them.
This fact is as good and hard for us as it was for Jonah. When someone sincerely repents of their wickedness, God responds with grace and mercy. The power of Christ’s utter defeat of sin and death is greater and more complete than we can possibly imagine. It matters not how steeped in evil someone is; it matters not how steeped in evil an entire nation is, our faithful and loving God always responds to genuine repentance. Always.
This is good news of the highest order because it means we can never find ourselves outside the reach of His grace if we will turn and receive it. Our loved ones who are running with all their might a path away from God’s kingdom are never more than a hairsbreadth from the reach of His love if they will receive it. As long as there is breath in our lungs and our Lord tarries in His return there is hope for salvation for even the most vile sinner.
This is also incredibly hard news because it means that those who have hurt us grievously can repent and be washed entirely clean of their sins. Powerful men who have done great evil and even whole nations that are awash in it can be swept up by the Spirit of the living God, repent, and be set on a path of righteousness once again. It doesn’t matter what our feelings on the matter are, God’s grace is for all who would receive it. And just so we’re clear: All means all. There are perhaps many to whom we would not extend grace if they sought it, but our God is good and loving and extends it to the undeserving…including us. In fact, by definition, it can only be extended to the undeserving. Since no one deserves it, there are no gradations of those who haven’t yet received it in terms of just how undeserving they are. No one deserves it. If anyone reaches for it, they may receive it.
Here’s the third lesson and we’ll end with this today: Once someone has set off down the path of life, if she wants to enjoy the bounty waiting for her at the end of that road, she must continue walking it to its end. If we step off the path too early and walk once again a path of sin, judgment still awaits because our God is just. Theologians can and will debate whether such a turn of events is the result of someone losing the salvation he had gained or simply his never having actually received it in the first place, but all can agree that someone who gets on a path of sin and remains committed to it to the end is not someone who has possession of the grace of God.
Nineveh may have repented and received a gift of grace from the God of all justice and mercy, but they did not remain on that path. At some point between Jonah and Nahum they turned back to the evil that brought the promise of judgment in the first place. Our faithful God does not want for anyone to face such an end which is why He sent Jonah to them in the first place, but those who are committed to their sin over and against His efforts to call them from it will eventually find the judgment waiting for them at the end of their road. Nineveh was and as we will see over the course of this prophetic record, it wasn’t pretty.
We will get to that violent and depressing description of their end eventually, but first, Nahum sets the stage by giving us a bigger picture of the God who is going to do the judging. This picture is one you don’t want to miss because it gives us a context for understanding better who He is and why He does what He does. Judgment like we will see isn’t ever easy to stomach, but when we understand the character of the God who sends it, we are better positioned to see why giving Him our lives is such a worthwhile thing to do. As with all the Minor Prophets (and indeed all the Scriptures) there is much here to be uncovered. I hope you will accompany me as we go.