Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nahum's Good News and Bad News

Good morning!

Here's a quiz question for you:  where is the verse that speaks of "how beautiful are the feet of them who bring good tidings of peace"?  If you said, "Isaiah 52:7" you would be right.  I've expounded upon that passage before.  If you said "Nahum 1:15", you would be close.  Isaiah lived just prior to Nahum; in fact, Nahum was probably a youth when Isaiah lay dying.  This might explain why Nahum paraphrased Isaiah 52:7; it might have been something he had heard in his youth, from Isaiah. Maybe Nahum counted himself as one of those with beautiful feet, because he was bringing good news to the people of the southern kingdom, Judah.

Nahum, Zephaniah and Jeremiah were contemporary prophets, having their ministries during the time of the good king, Josiah, of Judah.  Nahum wrote his book sometime between 662 B.C. and 612 B.C. We know this from a reference in the book itself (the fall of Thebes - - Nahum 3:8-10) and also from historical records from when Nineveh was conquered.

Nahum's prophecy concerns the evil city of Nineveh, the capitol of the Assyrian Empire.  Earlier, in 722 B.C., the Assyrians had conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, and hauled them off to various parts of the empire.  Now, the Assyrians were threatening Judah, the southern kingdom.

"But, wait a minute," you say, "Jonah received a prophecy that Nineveh would be destroyed; but then, they repented, and God spared them."  Yes, that is true.  Unfortunately, after their repentance, the city of Nineveh plunged back into the heathenism of their former lives, thereby once again earning God's wrath.  When they threatened to overwhelm Judah, the apple of God's eye, that was the last straw.

In Nahum 1:15, God speaks to Judah through the prophet:

Look, there on the mountains,
the feet of one who brings good news, who  proclaims peace!
Celebrate your festivals, O Judah and fulfill your vows,
No more will the wicked invade you;
they will be completely destroyed.

And, this time, there was no reprieve for Nineveh which, when Nahum prophesied, was at the height of its power.  The city was utterly overthrown in 612 B.C.  Its fall precipitated the waning of the Assyrian Empire, which made room for the Babylonian Empire to rise.

Because Nineveh was at the height of its power, Nahum's message was especially bold.  The Judeans must have thought his message impossible.

There are two basic themes to the book of Nahum, and they can be found in Nahum 1:2-3 and 1:7.

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.
The LORD is slow to anger and great in power;
The LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.

The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in him.

King Ashurbanipal was the last great ruler of the Assyrian Empire.  In the palaces and temples of Nineveh, the Assyrians created relief sculptures depicting their great conquests and their endless cruelty.  They were famous for torturing their captives, their "endless cruelty" (3:19).  One example of these is now housed in the British Museum, the relief depicting a mighty battle of 633 B.C., the campaign against Teummann of Elam and Dunanu of Gambula.  Nahum boldly references these reliefs in verse 14:

I will destroy the carved images and cast idols that are in the temples of your gods.  
I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.

His prophecy was a bold stand against both the king and the false gods of Assyria.  What courage!

Do you think that, in America, we are as prone to complacency as were the Assyrians?  They believed that they could not be overthrown.  Nineveh was a tremendously wealthy city; when the kings conquered a people group, the resulting treasure was brought to and stored in Nineveh.  Hence the references in Nahum 2:9-10.

America is also a very wealthy country, one of the wealthiest, if not THE wealthiest in the world. We tend to think that neither ISIS/ISIL nor Iran nor North Korea, nor Russia, nor China, nor any other invader can "touch us".  We would be wrong.

As a Christian, I read about the wrath of God, His divine retribution on this evil enemy of His people, and I tremble.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry, omnipotent God.  Inconceivably, various governments local, state and national are turning against the people of God in this country. God will not allow this to go on indefinitely.  No, I am not Nahum, nor have I had a vision.  But, I do know this:  the word of God stands forever.  What He promises, He will do.  Since He destroyed places like Nineveh, Sodom and others for their iniquities, He will be consistent to bring down others who practice evil, especially those who do their dastardly deeds against His Chosen Ones.

"He cares for those who trust in Him."  Isn't it a blessing - - - this precious promise?  We do not need to fear what may come, if we trust in Him.

Father God, the popular preaching proclaims that You are Love and Mercy and Forgiveness and Grace; and, so You are.  Not so popular is the preaching that proclaims Your other, equally important attributes of Justice and Holiness and Changelessness and All-Powerfulness.  I pray for forgiveness, for my own sins, and those of my fellow Americans.  Every day I hear of another Christian who is being persecuted by our American governmental agencies.  This persecution is escalating and will continue to escalate unless and until we, the Church first and then the people as a whole, repent and turn to You.  We know though, precious Father, that You love and care for Your own, and that if we trust You, You will see us through any or all circumstances.  In Jesus' name, amen.

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