“For the Lord will restore the majesty of Jacob, yes, the majesty of Israel, though ravagers have ravaged them and ruined their vine branches.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the things we try and teach our kids is that they shouldn’t delight at someone else’s misfortune. Doing that is natural. We tend to think about life as a zero-sum gain affair. Someone else winning means we’re losing. Their losing, therefore, must mean we are winning. But that’s not the way of Christ. How are we supposed to teach them this lesson well, though, when we see Nahum, whose name means “comfort,” offering as much to Israel by prophesying the destruction of Assyria?
Cheering for the downfall of the bad guys is part of what action movie filmmakers count on when they produce their pictures. As a Marvel movie fan, it was enormously satisfying to see Thor behead Thanos in Avengers: End Game. It was even more satisfying to see his past self, brought to the future thanks to time travel, blow away into dust when Iron Man finally got ahold of the Infinity Gauntlet and undid all the horror Thanos had wrought on the universe. That kind of emotional lift at the destruction of evil is natural.
Let me raise what I find to be a bit of an interesting question. Is cheering at the death of someone like Thanos any different than cheering the misfortune of, say, the other team in a sporting event? I mean, as a Kansas City Chiefs fan, would it have been bad to celebrate a bit if one of San Francisco’s key players had gone down to injury just before the game started?
Surely the answer to that question is yes, right? We should not delight in the injury or misfortune of another person. We should not toast the downfall of someone else. But again, how is that different from the satisfaction and even delight I would say we rightly feel when we see a genuinely evil person receive the justice due his crimes?
Let me pull back the curtain a bit on the answer here. This isn’t a question with easy answers. On the one hand, we should not wish the fate of Hell on even our worst enemies. We should genuinely desire, as does our God, to see every person come to a saving relationship with Him in Christ. On the other hand, as John makes clear in Revelation, in the end, there will be those who are incorrigibly impenitent. These will receive the just end of their efforts—Hell—and this will bring glory to God, which is always something worth celebrating. Let me just state it again: There is tension here.
To get at the actual tension residing here and in the broader picture of Nahum’s prophecy, though, you have to put yourself in the place of a persecuted people. People living under genuine persecution—an extinction level threat even—cheer the downfall of their foes because in their situation, when their enemy loses, they do win. The kingdom of Judah was to be comforted by the news of Assyria’s fall because the Assyrians had already destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and they were next on the chopping block.
No, they were not to be cheered by any single Assyrian death—each one represented a parent losing a child or a child losing a parent—but those deaths were the result of the nation’s sins. When a nation pursues a course of sin, eventually the destruction that sin always unleashes will come to bear and that will always bring with it a profound loss of life. These losses are tragedies, but the arrival of justice through appropriate judgment that brings the sin to an end is a point of celebration.
In the bigger picture, people driven by sin represent a set of ideas that are opposed to the truth about God. These ideas, these worldviews, are our real enemies. We rightly cheer anytime they are revealed to be empty and false. We praise the Lord when He lays bare the brokenness of ideas that don’t acknowledge Him for who He is. Unfortunately, because there are generally people who are sufficiently sold out to these ideas to be driven by them to do awful things, the fall of the ideas are represented in the fall of the people themselves. It is the downfall of the ideas that we cheer, though, not the people.
Now, is this a splitting of hairs? Yes, but an important one. What we find here in the Scriptures is not a celebration of the death and destruction of a nation, but rather a celebration of the destruction of a set of ideas that happens to be represented by the downfall of a people. The Scriptures are right and true in all they affirm. Sometimes we just need a little help understanding how they represent the character of God consistently.