Good morning. The Apostle Paul once said “If I must boast I will boast of the things pertaining to my weakness,” so this morning I'm going to boast in my weakness. Well, I'm not really boasting, but I'll talk about it. A weakness and a challenge for me is responding properly to hearing opposing views. My tendency is to automatically reject an opposing view because I'm right and they're wrong. Rich Mullins once said, “If God gave us the Bible it wasn't so we could try to prove that we're right about everything.” If God truly gave us the Bible it was to communicate something to us about Himself. Therefore, our goal when studying Scripture must be to find out what God's truth is. We have to accept that our views are not always right, so if we find something in Scripture that seems to contradict our belief then we must examine it to find the truth that's there rather than ignore it, because just like putting masking tape over the gas warning light in the car, ignoring it doesn't make it go away.
Today I'd like to read to you a viewpoint of the Bible that will probably oppose our beliefs...it might even challenge them. Or, maybe like me, your response might be to automatically reject it and write it off as evil and leave the room. The following is a quote I pulled off the internet. I don't know the author's name. The subject he is writing about is the supposed discontinuity between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament.
“For far too long priests and preachers have completely ignored the vicious criminal acts that the Bible promotes. The so called “God” of the Bible makes Osama Bin Laden look like a Boy Scout. This God, according to the Bible, is directly responsible for many mass-murders, rapes, pillage, plunder, slavery, child abuse and killing, not to mention the killing of unborn children.” Then he goes on to say...“I know that most Christians believe that God is a good and loving god, and wants people to do good things. I believe that most people want to do good things and behave morally. I also believe that many Christians haven’t really read the Bible, or just read certain passages in church. This is understandable, as the Bible is hard to read due to its archaic language and obscure references. Also many priests and preachers don’t like to read certain passages in the Bible because they present a message of hate not love.”
Could this be true? Let's be objective here... could it be that all along we have had a mistaken understanding of the Bible due to our unwillingness to objectively examine all Scripture? Are we narrow-minded to the point of not being willing to hear views different than our own? Let's consider the subject at hand...is the God of the Old Testament the same as the God of the New Testament? Is the God that pours out His wrath in the slaughter of many nations the same God that “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten so that whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life?” During the time the Reformer Martin Luther was still a monk, the stumbling block that consumed his spiritual life was not understanding how he could be forgiven by this angry God of wrath. After all, if God is so angry and judgmental...do we want Him as our God? What kind of God is this?
Well, this morning I'd like us to take a look at one of these passages often cited as proof that God is only evil and angry. Let's take a look at one of these passages that internet writer says Christians are not willing to read, and let's see for ourselves what we should make of it. We're going to be in the book of Nahum, Chapter 1. It's six books left from Matthew. This is apparently the most overlooked, under-taught book of the Bible, so this is perfect for our consideration this morning. Nahum Chapter 1, verses 1-8. Now, most of us are familiar with the prophet Jonah who went to the wicked city Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and prophesied to them. Nineveh repented and God spared their city. Nahum was the second prophet to deliver a message regarding Nineveh, only this time 100 years of wickedness have followed their original repentance. The Assyrians were a nation God used to punish His own people,Judah, for their own disobedience. Now Judah's affliction was complete, and so was God's patience with the Assyrians, because even though it was God using them to carry out His will, they were still a wicked people deserving judgment. To begin this message Nahum gives us this amazing, but intimidating description of God's character. Let's look at verse 1.
2. The oracle of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. The first thing Nahum does here is say this is a revelation from God, so these words are the words of God. The following description of God's character is God's own description of Himself. Verse 2: A jealous and avenging God is the LORD. Jealousy isn't normally considered a positive character quality. How is it a good thing that God is jealous? In the Hebrew the word means an intense passion or zeal for something. Throughout the Old Testament God is described as being jealous...jealous for His own glory, and jealous for His people, meaning He deeply desires their affection as well as fights for their protection. But right from the start here we see that this character trait is balanced with being an avenging God. A jealous and avenging God is the LORD. The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies, or He keeps or maintains wrath for His enemies. This phrase, “avenging and wrathful,” literally says that God is a lord of wrath or a possessor of wrath. Righteous anger and vengeance belongs to no one else, but God Himself. And One who is a lord of wrath and maintains wrath for His enemies is one who exercises perfect, calculated control of the wrath that He pours out on His enemies.
3. However, we should never think of God as an angry ogre always on a rampage after those He doesn't like, because of what we read in verse 3: The LORD is slow to anger and great in power. Rather than immediately flying off the handle at everything He disapproves of, God is slow to anger. He allows lot of time to pass before He carries out judgment. This is exactly what's going on here. Nineveh repented after hearing God's message from Jonah, and God relented from judgment because they sought His forgiveness. But then they turned back from God and went back into a life of wickedness. Only now after 150 years is God going after them in judgment. Now, having said that, just because God is patient and slow to anger does not mean that He is weak, because here it's balanced out with His being great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. This means there is no wrong that can be done anywhere or at any time by anyone that will not ultimately find its punishment in God. He's keeping track.
4. There are a lot of people who think that somehow they are exempt from God's judgmental because they are good people. “How could God judge me?,” they say. “Do you really think He would judge a nice person like me?” The question for the person who says that is, “If you were arrested for committing a crime, and you went to court, would you rely on your being a good person to get out of punishment? Is the judge going to relent from making sure you serve out your sentence simply because you're a nice guy?” He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
5. Now that God has announced His character as jealous and avenging, how does that vengeance play out? If God were to pour out that wrath and vengeance on the earth, what might that look like? Let's look at the second half of verse 3. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet. If God were to come down and walk upon the earth, His path would be a whirlwind and a storm, and in the same way that people walk on the dust of the ground, so God walks on the clouds of the sky. God is bigger and more powerful than we can possibly imagine. Now look at verse 4: He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers. The same way that God dried up the Red Sea in Exodus and the Jordan River in Joshua, so God can just as easily speak and dry up all the rivers on the entire earth. The amount of water is not the question; the only question is God's will...is it His choice to do it? Bashan and Carmel wither; The blossoms of Lebanon wither. Three places used in the Bible as symbols of fertility and power... At the simple rebuke of God the rivers will dry up to the extent of withering the most lush, the most powerful and the most fruitful.
6. Verse 5: Mountains quake because of Him And the hills dissolve; Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, The world and all the inhabitants in it. This phrase literally reads “the earth lifts up from before Him.” The image Nahum is painting is like a model village. Imagine if you had one of those elaborate model villages with the train set. You spend hundreds of hours collecting, painting and assembling this village. You've got the town square over here with the church and the park. Maybe it's Sunday in your model so you've got people coming in and out of the church. You've got people in the park flying a kite and ducks in the pond. And there's the train tracks running alongside the park, down the hill and through the valley where it winds around the lake and up to the sawmill. The sawmill runs 24/7 in your town so it's full of people even though it's Sunday... you've got all this business and all this activity, and all these people...but there is one problem. You're village rests, not on a sturdy wooden table, but on a flimsy card table... and then a big guy walks by, stops at the village, raises his fist and pounds the model as hard as he can on that flimsy card table...every person, duck, park bench, building and train track is going to fly up into the air, and come back down in complete disunity, complete disarray and is no longer anything that resembles a village. If God decided to pour out His ultimate, totally destructive judgment on this earth, every little thing on it would erupt in total chaos. Thank God He is slow to anger, and exacting and calculated in His judgment.
7. So where does this leave people in relation to God? Look at verse 6: Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? The obvious answer to a rhetorical question of this sort in Scripture is no one. Who can stand, and who can endure...this word “stand” here is a picture of standing up before a throne. And because of the context it refers to taking a stand before the throne of God in His judgment. The second word, “endure,” is to remain standing in the midst of God's judgment. If no one can take a stand before God in the midst of His judgment, surely none can remain standing once His judgment, His great wrath has begun to pour out. And, of course, as witnessed by the New Testament, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and “there is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.”
8. How is His wrath enacted? Look at the second half of verse 6: His wrath is poured out like fire And the rocks are broken up by Him. Just as lava can explode out of a volcano, breaking up the rocks of the mountain as it pours out, so God's wrath breaks up all the rocks it comes across. What's the significance of this? Rocks are frequently cited in the Old Testament as strongholds or places of refuges. The prophet Isaiah uses this image in a similar way that sheds some light on the subject at hand. Isaiah 2:19 says, Men will go into the caves of the rocks And into the holes of the ground Before the terror of the LORD And the splendor of His majesty, When He arises to make the earth tremble. When the Lord comes to make the earth tremble in judgment the most secure refuge is last place you'd want to be, because the very rocks are broken up by Him.
9. Readers of the Bible have always struggled with this image of God as a God of wrath and vengeance, an angry God who comes down from heaven to the earth to wreak havoc and destroy people. Is this the God we serve? Is this the God of the New Testament? Is there a place for the wrathful God of the Old Testament in the heart of the follower of Christ? The key to understanding the connection between the angry God of wrath and the loving God of grace is understanding the connection between His actions of vengeance and His actions of salvation, as they are one in the same. His action of vengeance is the act of our salvation. The act of pouring out His wrath is the very act which procures salvation for those who trust in Him. We're now going to look at verse 7, but before we do, remember what we just considered, which is that when the Lord comes to make the earth tremble in judgment the most secure refuge is the last place you'd want to be, because the rocks are broken up by Him. So where is the place you'd want to be? Look at verse 7.
10. The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble. When judgment comes from God, where is the shelter, where is the refuge? God Himself, who not only is the stronghold in the day of trouble, but look what it says: And He knows those who take refuge in Him. In the very manifestation of His vengeance God proves His goodness. In the midst of judgment God's people are safe in Him. His action of vengeance is the act of our salvation. God is violently protective, and zealous for His own people. As a husband is jealous for His wife, so God is jealous for His people. Remember that these Assyrians were afflicting and violating His people, those He had promised eternal devotion and protection to by covenant. God's fierce protection of His people is shown further in verse 8: But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site,... literally this says “her site,” referring to Assyria...And He will pursue His enemies into darkness. The word “pursue” here is a severe word, picturing God passionately and zealously hunting down enemies to darkness, to death. This isn't a pursuit in the way you would pursue a spider with a napkin so as to relocate it to outdoors. This is the way you would take a hammer and hunt down a scorpion that just stung a child. This shows how complete God's protection, care and love is for His people.
11. Now, all of this is a picture of something bigger. This is all true and historical, but is a shadow of a bigger picture, relating to the covenant between God and His people. The nature of this particular covenant is so important. Back in those days when one king would make a covenant of peace with another king (or any other covenant for that matter), they would want to make this thing official, so what they would do is take some animals, cut them in half, lay the corresponding pieces on opposite sides, and then walk down the aisle together, so as to say, “May the same be done to me (i.e., chopped in half) if I don’t uphold my half of the covenant.” In the case of this covenant, in Genesis 15 between God and Abram, just when they were getting ready to walk the aisle God put Abraham to sleep, and He passed through the pieces Himself. What God was saying in that moment was, “If this covenant be broken, I will take the punishment upon myself to ensure that this is an unconditional, perpetual covenant that goes on into eternity, a covenant of salvation by faith.” When God the Son came to this earth as Jesus Christ, and He was rejected by His covenant people, arrested, tortured and nailed to the cross, in that moment He took upon Himself the sins of all humanity for all times, past, present and future…and all this terrible wrath and judgment that all sinful people of all times so deserve…He took that anger and that wrath and that judgment and He poured it out on Himself. He incurred His own wrath to spare us from an eternity without Him. That is why, in the day of trouble when God brings judgment, He is the stronghold. He is the lifeboat. His action of vengeance is the act of our salvation.
If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have just heard every reason why you should. We have all sinned, and we all deserve an eternity of separation from God in hell. Salvation has always been unconditional, by faith alone. Believe that Jesus Christ died to pay for your sins and rose back from the dead to give you eternal life. Turn from your sins and turn to Christ and you will be saved. You don’t have to walk an aisle, you don’t have to pray a prayer. You can be saved right where you’re sitting if you put your faith in Christ. For the rest of you, don’t ever think that God’s love is not enough. Don’t ever doubt God’s devotion to you. There is no wrong you can do that will fade His love. There is no sin you can commit that will make Him second-guess your salvation. To quote a hymn by John Newton, “Weak is the effort of my heart and cold my warmest thought, but when I see Thee as Thou art, I’ll praise Thee as I ought.” This is not a different picture, but a more complete picture of God’s incredible, unfailing love for His people. So how then should we praise Him in light of this amazing truth? Seeing Him as He truly is, how then should we praise Him? For the answer to this question, let’s turn to verse 15: Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace! Celebrate your feasts, O Judah; Pay your vows. For never again will the wicked one pass through you; He is cut off completely. The Jews observed certain days and feasts to celebrate the goodness of God. While under oppression from Assyria they were unable to do this. They didn’t have religious freedom as we have…or at least still have at the moment…nor was keeping vows something doable, as they could sometimes be very difficult to carry out even during a time of peace. The enemy was now to be defeated. Judah should now respond with celebration of God’s salvation, and thanksgiving. I think far too often we forget how much God has actually done for us, and I have two challenges for us today; one is easier and the other is a little harder. The first is to start up a prayer journal where you record your prayers and then go back and mark in big, bold print how God has answered those prayers. By the way, this journal should begin with your conversion. That way if you go back and open up the journal the first thing you will see is His salvation. The second challenge, the one that’s a little more difficult, is to organize amongst yourself a regular thanksgiving prayer meeting. A pastor friend of mine in Scotland has twice this year witnessed a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit at prayer meetings to just express thanks to God.
What conclusion are we to land on? Is the God of the Old Testament the same as the God of the New? Is the God of wrath and vengeance the God of grace and love? Is one image of God more correct than another? Or is God really just a hater of people and lover of destruction? See, without seeing the connection between His judgment and His salvation, we can dichotomize the Bible and pit it against itself. The Bible is not divided. The Bible contains more unity within it than our brains. Do you realize our brains are actually capable of thinking two contradictory thoughts? It’s true, otherwise Christians would never sin. The picture of God in the Old Testament is not a different picture than that of the New Testament. It’s simply a more complete picture. We serve a mighty, powerful, holy, and violently-crazy-about-us God who although is a God of wrath and vengeance, His actions of vengeance are the very acts of our salvation.