Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 63: An Avenging God in Nahum
January 22, 2012
SCRIPTURE READING: Nahum 3:1-4 (Brandi)
THE OTHER HALF OF THE STORY
Last week, we got to hear the story of JONAH, reset in WWII era. That helped us rediscover the emotion of the story and to see our temptation to WITHHOLD COMPASSION.
* This week we get the OTHER SIDE of the story.
Nahum is a SECOND MESSAGE of warning to Ninevah, written perhaps 60 years after Jonah. Apparently their repentance didn’t “take”:
Nahum 1:1-6 An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. 2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies. 3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. 4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. 5 The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. 6 Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.
* Nahum is one of the LEAST STUDIED books; I wonder why?
We LOVE the GOD of JONAH, a God of FORGIVENESS and MERCY, but don’t like the God Nahum, a God of WRATH and VENGEANCE.
The part of the story of Jonah that BOTHERS US is the thought that God would wipe out an entire city of 600,000, men, women, and children.
This is a MODERN PROBLEM. But Jonah and his readers were bothered by the fact that HE DIDN’T.
* Previous generations OVEREMPHASIZED God wrath, at the expense of God’s love.
Q We joke about FIRE and BRIMSTONE sermons, but how many have you really heard?
* I don’t think the problem is that we are MORALLY SUPERIOR to them, but that we have DIFFERENT HANG-UPS.
I am very SYMPATHETIC toward the modern trend among Christians trying to see God as LESS WRATHFUL, and to try to mitigate passages like these.
* I UNDERSTAND why many Christians want to REMOVE certain parts of the Bible.
Yet I have learned that the parts of the Bible which I LIKE the LEAST are frequently the ones I NEED the MOST. As I have stopped AVOIDING God’s wrath and LEANED into it, I have discovered a God is GREATER and more GLORIOUS not less.
* When we removed God’s VENGEANCE, we end up with a WEAKER, less worthy God.
When we ask for a LOVING, NON-JUDGMENTAL God we end up with a God who is NEITHER. This morning, I want us to better understand that truth.
THE BAD GUYS
To set the stage, you need to know what the Assyrians were like. They were perhaps one of the MOST VICIOUS nations to exist. My friend Bruce Wersen said it would be like having an empire ruled by HANNIBAL LECTOR from “Silence of the Lambs.”
* They tortured and mutilated prisoners.
* One inscription says, “I skinned all the nobles who rebelled against me and draped their skins over the walls.
* They would make pyramids of the heads of their enemies
It was kind of like the “DREAD PIRATE ROBERTS,” create a reputation of ruthlessness, they everyone just surrenders without a fight.
The point is that in Nahum’s day, Assyria was the BULLY that terrified everyone but no one had the strength to stand up to. They all wished that someone could STOP the ASSYRIANS.
THE MYTH OF NEUTRALITY
Around 720 BC, the Assyrians went on a campaign through Palestine. They defeated and deported Israel, as God had promised. Then they attacked JUDAH and JERUSALEM:
2 Chronicles 32:17-20 17 The king also wrote letters insulting the LORD, the God of Israel, and saying this against him: “Just as the gods of the peoples of the other lands did not rescue their people from my hand, so the god of Hezekiah will not rescue his people from my hand.” 18 Then they called out in Hebrew to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to terrify them and make them afraid in order to capture the city. 19 They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world – the work of men’s hands. 20 King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this.
So here are the Assyrians coming to destroy Jerusalem and Judah begging God to stop them.
Q What is the LOVING, NON-VENGEFUL thing for God to do?
* When we say that we don’t want a God of wrath, we are saying we want God to be NEUTRAL, not to takes sides.
There is NO NEUTRAL RESPONSE. In effect, God has to either show wrath against Assyria by stopping them or Judah by not.
* I remember reading about a MURDER that happened in broad daylight, with people WATCHING, who just let it happen.
By being NEUTRAL, these people CHOSE a SIDE, to support the murder. If someone had called the COPS, the cops would NOT have been NEUTRAL – they would have shot the attacker if need be.
When we want a NON-JUDGMENTAL God, we want a God who is INDIFFERENT, and that is a JUDGMENT.
* A God who does NOT JUDGE is a God who allows the STRONGER to BULLY the WEAKER.
So what is God going to DO HERE? Will he show his LOVE towards JUDAH and WRATH towards ASSYRIA, or the other way around?
2 Chronicles 32:21-22 21 And the LORD sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he withdrew to his own land in disgrace. And when he went into the temple of his god, some of his sons cut him down with the sword. 22 So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. He took care of them on every side.
In effect, the angel of death is the GOOD GUY, he is RAMBO coming in to save Jerusalem from impossible odds. God is not neutral, he favored oppressed Jews over oppressive Assyrians.
YOU CAN’T BE NEUTRAL
Before we talk more about God’s wrath, let’s look a little at OURSELVES:
This story, and thousands more like it, expose what I call the “MYTH of NEUTRALITY.” While we can maintain a “RELATIONAL NEUTRALITY” to a point; but moral neutrality is impossible.
We value neutrality and not taking sides. Maybe you have friends who are at odds, or family members who can’t get along, and you are in the middle. There is a place to that and a WISE NEUTRAL person can RESTORE RELATIONSHIPS.
* But there may be times we can NO LONGER be neutral.
Years ago I watched a great production of HAMLET at SVC where they had each actor dressed according to their characters personality or role.
Horatio was dresses in a referee’s jersey beceasue he tried to be the the neutral party between Hamlet and his uncle. At the end he took of the jersey, because he could no longer be netural, he had to side with Hamlet.
It is one thing to be RELATIONALLY NEUTRAL, loving both sides equally – that is a GOOD THING. But it is another to be moral neutral, to ignore sin.
There may be times that the SIN is equal on both sides and NEUTRALITY helps each side SEE their SIN and CHANGE. But there will likely come a point where you cannot remain MORALLY NEUTRAL without taking sides.
I say all that to say this: Are you playing the REFEREE between anyone? If so, are you confusing RELATIONSHIP NEUTRALITY with MORAL NEUTRALITY?
* There may come a time when you have to STICK up for what is RIGHT even at the cost of NEUTRALITY.
The CLEARER the SIN, the HARDER it is to remain NEUTRAL.
AN AVENGING GOD
Okay, so God CANNOT and SHOULD not be NEUTRAL, to be good, he must takes sides, championing good and destroying evil. But still, we DON’T LIKE READING:
Nahum 1:2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies.
Q I mean, does he have to be so WRATHFUL about his wrath?
It is easy to get HUNG up on passages like this. But again, the PROBLEM is OURS not his. We respond so poorly to descriptions like this is because we have seen WRATH DONE so WRONG.
* We think of our ABUSIVE PARENTS.
* We think of OUR EXPLOSIVE ANGER and the pain we have caused.
When we are angry, it tends to be CONTAMINATED by our own SIN: SELFISHNESS, STUPIDITY, PRIDE. We make our anger toxic by getting mad at the WRONG THINGS for the WRONG REASONS.
Q Can you think of a time you have been mad at the RIGHT TIME for the RIGHT REASONS?
A couple years back, some friends were at my house and his son nearly got hit by DRAG RACERS...
Another great example comes from “RANSOM,” where Mel Gibson’s son is kidnapped and you get to see a father’s righteous wrath – his wrath is the proof of his love for his son.
[“Ransom” trailer: 2:30]
Unlike us, God’s wrath always flows from his GOODNESS, his HATRED of everything that would DESTROY US. That is why Nahum can say:
Nahum 1:7-8 7 The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, 8 but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into darkness.
To me that sounds like Mel saying “I will DEDICATE my LIFE to tracking you down.” God’s wrath and vengeance and jealousy for us is part of his GOODNESS and LOVE, not separate from it.
GOD’S WRATH AGAINST OUR SIN
Sin is DESTRUCTIVE – it takes everything GOOD and CORRUPTS it. It’s been destroying your EVERY RELATIONSHIP and made you MISERABLE every day. The fact that God HATES it MORE than you, and is COMMITTED to WIPING it OUT, should THRILL you.
* God’s wrath is the FULL FORCE of his GOODNESS directed against evil.
That is why God’s wrath is a CORE COMPONENT of his goodness. It should comfort us that God AGAINST what is AGAINST ME. God is against the CANCER of SIN.
Q What happens when we LIKE our CANCER and won’t let go of it?
That is when it gets COMPLICATED. God will DESTROY all SIN; at some point he will say “Sin has done ENOUGH DAMAGE, I will remove it from my creation and QUARANTINE it in HELL.”
* If you REFUSE to LET GO of your sin, he will not take it away from you.
That is why CS LEWIS said, “In the end there will be two kinds of people: Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’”
* Hell is where God lets the UNREPENTANT get THEIR WAY.
Said another way, God’s wrath is DIRECTED against your SIN. If you SUBMIT to HIM, he will work in you to REMOVE it.
The message of GRACE is that once you let go of your sin and turn to God he HOLDS NO GRUDGES but FORGIVES FREELY, but he CANNOT FORGIVE until you LET GO.
As it says in Nahum, he is SLOW to ANGER, in hopes of REPENTANCE, but in the end he MUST ACT or else he is not righteous.
And in the end, be DESTROYED NINEVEH, 40 years later, when she was still at the height of her power. She was so completely destroyed that people thought Nineveh was a myth until they found her ruins in 1845.
* PPT: Please text Janna; service is almost over: 333-4505
Q & A