How Long?

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted. 
Habakkuk 1:1-4 ESV

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Nahum and Zephaniah, two other prophets of God. Like his counterparts, Habakkuk was a pre-exilic prophet, who was sent by God to the deliver His message regarding their coming fall at the hands of the Babylonians. Like all the prophets of God, He was to call the people to return to God or face the consequences of God’s just and righteous wrath. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 722 B.C., but their demise had done nothing to persuade the people of Judah to change their ways. In fact, God had some serious charges that He leveled against them:

“Have you seen what fickle Israel has done? Like a wife who commits adultery, Israel has worshiped other gods on every hill and under every green tree. I thought, ‘After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return, and her faithless sister Judah saw this. She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery. But that treacherous sister Judah had no fear, and now she, too, has left me and given herself to prostitution. Israel treated it all so lightly—she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. But despite all this, her faithless sister Judah has never sincerely returned to me. She has only pretended to be sorry. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 3:6-10 ESV

Israel had refused to return to the Lord and had been delivered into the hands of the Babylonians by God. Now, Judah and the royal city of Jerusalem was facing a similar fate if they did not repent of their sins and return to God. More than likely, Habakkuk ministered during the reign of King Jehoiakim. During that time, the people of Judah knew that they were facing the threat of attack by Babylon because they had made their presence known throughout the region. But rather than return to God and place their faith in Him, the people had decided to place their trust in other nations, seeking the help of Assyria and Egypt.

Habakkuk provides us with an unparalleled glimpse into the heart of a prophet of God. Like the other prophets, his ministry had met with little success. The people were stubbornly refusing to listen to his message. They remained obstinate and stuck in their sinful ways. And Habakkuk was frustrated and angry. So, he took his concerns to God in the form of a very blunt and heart-felt prayer.

What is especially revealing about this man’s prayer is its boldness. He pull no punches, even though He is addressing God Almighty. In essence, he accuses God of apathy and indifference. He asks God, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2 ESV). This was not Habakkuk’s first prayer to God. He had expressed his need for help on more than one occasion, but he had not received what he was looking for. He felt like God was ignoring his pleas for help. From his perspective, God was deaf to his cries for help or didn’t fully understand how bad things really were. So, Habakkuk attempted to bring God up to speed. He lets God know that violence is everywhere. Judah has become a wicked place where sin is rampant and the people. The Hebrew word for “violence” that Habakkuk used is hamas and it refers to cruelty, injustice and oppression. Habakkuk will use this word six times in this book. What he saw taking place in Judah was a rampant disregard for the laws of God. The people saw no repercussions for their sins. They were practicing all kinds of injustice and immorality. They were oppressing the needy and the weak. From Habakkuk’s perspective, there was an overwhelming flood of injustice taking place in Judah, and as far as he could tell, God was doing nothing about it. He has reached the breaking point.

Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise. – Habakkuk 1:3 ESV

It’s all more than he can bear. He wants to see change. He longs to see God do something. God’s law is powerless to stop the people. They simply ignore it. Justice is nowhere to be found. The wicked get away with murder, both figuratively and literally. The wicked outnumber the righteous and any kind of justice that does occur is a twisted, ungodly version that leaves the righteous on the wrong side of the ledger.

Habakkuk’s prayer is not unique. His cry is not an isolated one and his questions for God are not unprecedented. Even King David had expressed similar complaints to God.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

Abraham and Sarah struggled with how long was going to wait until He fulfilled His promise to give them a son and an heir. Moses struggled with how long he was going to have to put up with the people of Israel as they bickered, whined and complained their way through the wilderness. The other prophets of God wrestled with the seeming futility of their roles, wondering when God would do something deliver His people. We all struggle with what appears to be God’s indifference and invisibility at times. We call out and He doesn’t seem to hear us. We share our hurts, needs and concerns, and it feels like He is ignoring us. The wicked seem to prosper while the righteous appear to be in the minority and on the receiving end of all the injustice. And God sits idly by.

But one of the things that Habakkuk will learn is that God has a different perspective on things. He has a different viewpoint on what is going on, because He has a divine awareness of the outcome to which Habakkuk is oblivious. There is a method to God’s seeming madness. There is a purpose behind His apparent delay. He knows what He is doing. But Habakkuk was stuck on a horizontal plane, seeing things from his limited, earth-bound perspective. He could not see what God saw. He did not know what God knew. It reminds me of the prophet Elijah when he faced wicked King Ahaz and his queen, Jezebel. He had to go up against these two evil individuals and face off with their false prophets. And when he did, Elijah complained, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets” (1 Kings 18:22 NLT). God gave Elijah victory that day and he defeated the prophets of Baal, but then, out of fear of Jezebel’s revenge, he ran for his life. And when God confronted him, Elijah said to God, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too” (1 Kings 19:10 NLT). From Elijah’s perspective, he was all alone. He was the last righteous man left standing. But God let him know that he was wrong. He told Elijah to go and anoint his replacement: Elisha. Not only that, God told him, “Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” (1 Kings 19:18 NLT). He had not been alone. There had been others all along.

Habakkuk was frustrated. He was confused. And he was more than a little angry with God over His seeming indifference to all that was going on. But perception is not always reality, especially when it comes to God and His ways. Habakkuk was going to learn an invaluable lesson regarding God and His faithfulness. What appeared to be a delay from Habakkuk’s perspective was all part of God’s sovereign plan. God’s awareness of what was going on in Judah was comprehensive and complete. And His plans regarding them were flawless and right on time. Peter provides us with a timely reminder regarding the ways of God and our frustration over what appear to be His delays or indifference.

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:8-9 NLT 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Lousy Leadership.

Multiply yourselves like the locust;
    multiply like the grasshopper!
You increased your merchants
    more than the stars of the heavens.
    The locust spreads its wings and flies away.

Your princes are like grasshoppers,
    your scribes like clouds of locusts
settling on the fences
    in a day of cold—
when the sun rises, they fly away;
    no one knows where they are.

Your shepherds are asleep,
    O king of Assyria;
    your nobles slumber.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
    with none to gather them.
There is no easing your hurt;
    your wound is grievous.
All who hear the news about you
    clap their hands over you.
For upon whom has not come
    your unceasing evil?Nahum 3:15b-19 ESV

 

Nineveh was a wealthy city full of prosperous people who had benefited from the global expansion of the Assyrian empire. Along with tremendous amounts of plunder, the city of Nineveh had become a powerful trading hub, with merchants coming and going all the time, bringing in commodities from all around the known world. It was a great time to be alive if you lived in Nineveh. You had a powerful king with an army that was second to none. You lived in a city that was well-fortified and the envy of all your enemies. Every imaginable produce was available for purchase or trade within its walls. The signs of affluence were everywhere. You were surrounded by elaborate temples, sumptuous palaces, and fine homes. Wealthy and influential individuals walked the streets. Dignitaries from all around the world flocked to Nineveh to strike alliances and bring tribute to the king. As a result of all the Assyrian conquests, there were so many slaves, virtually anybody could have one. It was a great time to be alive.

But not for long. Nahum sarcastically tells the Assyrians to keep on multiplying. It is as if he is saying, “Keep it up. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Enjoy your moment in the sun, because it is about to get very dark, very quickly.” Nahum has no problem if their army keeps on expanding and their population continues to increase, because it won’t do them any good. Their many military victories had brought financial success. Business was booming, with the number of merchants plying their trade growing daily. They were like locusts. Too many to count. Their army was massive in size. In fact, Nahum refers to them in verse 17. The word translated as “princes” is actually the Hebrew word for “captains” and it most likely refers to the military leaders who oversaw the vast Assyrian army. The term translated as “scribes” literally means “crowned ones” and probably refers to the large number of princes and royal officials who helped oversee the administration of the massive bureaucracy of the Assyrian government. He compares these two groups to locusts and grasshoppers. They were everywhere and their numbers were too many to count. But Nahum warns that the day is coming when they will all disappear and no one will know where they all went. The merchants, princes and captains will be no more. Like locusts that cover the land, they will suddenly vanish. Here today, gone tomorrow.

And Nahum has a special word for the leaders of Nineveh. He compares them to shepherds who are responsible for the care of the sheep, but accuses them of being asleep on the job. They are negligent. The king and his officials are so busy building an empire, that they have forgotten to care about the common man. Global expansion had taken precedence over everything else. These men believed that surrounding their people with military might and financial success was all that was needed. They had the fortifications and the army to defend them. No one would dare attack the impregnable city of Nineveh. They had grown cocky and overconfident, drunk on their own success. They wouldn’t see the disaster until it was upon them.

But the word translated as “slumber” has another meaning. It was used as a figurative expression of someone dying. It is as if Nahum is warning that the day is fast approaching when all the princes, captains, royal officials, and the king himself, will all be dead. And the result will be that the sheep, those under their care, will end up scattered. No longer safe within the walls of Nineveh, they will flee to the mountains and try to escape capture at the hands of the Medes and Babylonians.

And there is nothing that can be done to stop what is going to happen. Nahum warns them, “There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous” (Nahum 3:19 ESV). This is going to be terminal. There is no escaping what God is bringing upon them. So, they could keep on growing and expanding, trading and doing business around the world, but none of it would prevent the inevitable. God’s judgment was coming and there was nothing they could do to stop it.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who puts kings on their thrones. He is the one who established kingdoms. And in every case, He expects those in authority to rule justly and care for those under their authority. Paul reminds us, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1 NLT). And he says that, “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good” (Romans 13:4 NLT). It is important to remember that, when Paul wrote this, he was addressing Christians who were living under the heavy-handed rule of the Roman government. But God has established the role of all government to provide rule and order and to protect and provide for those under its care. And He will hold all governments responsible for the role He has given them. He will hold to account each and every king, dictator, despot, president, government official, senator or member of congress. God even held the leaders of Israel accountable for their leadership over those under their care. Take a look at what He had to say to the shepherds of Israel:

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people–the shepherds of my sheep–for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 32:1 NLT

God takes leadership seriously. He allows men and women to enjoy roles of responsibility, but He expects them to wield their power and influence for the good of their people. Even pagan kings and communist dictators are expected by God to provide their people with protection and the provision of their needs. But in so many instances, we have seen governments spend more money on their military than they do on meeting the needs of their people. They build vast military complexes while their people suffer from a lack of the basic necessities of life. God will not allow that to go on forever. He will hold all leaders accountable, regardless of their political ideology or spiritual philosophy.

And lousy leaders are never missed. Their untimely exit from the stage of life is applauded, not mourned. Everyone loves to see the bad guys get their just desserts. As Nahum so aptly puts it: “All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you” (Nahum 3:19 ESV). Eventually, everyone says good riddance to bad leadership.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Who Can Stand Before God?

Are you better than Thebes
    that sat by the Nile,
with water around her,
    her rampart a sea,
    and water her wall?
Cush was her strength;
    Egypt too, and that without limit;
    Put and the Libyans were her helpers.

Yet she became an exile;
    she went into captivity;
her infants were dashed in pieces
    at the head of every street;
for her honored men lots were cast,
    and all her great men were bound in chains.
You also will be drunken;
    you will go into hiding;
you will seek a refuge from the enemy.
All your fortresses are like fig trees
    with first-ripe figs—
if shaken they fall
    into the mouth of the eater.
Behold, your troops
    are women in your midst.
The gates of your land
    are wide open to your enemies;
    fire has devoured your bars.

Draw water for the siege;
    strengthen your forts;
go into the clay;
    tread the mortar;
    take hold of the brick mold!
There will the fire devour you;
    the sword will cut you off.
    It will devour you like the locust.
Nahum 3:8-15a ESV

 

Nahum is unrelenting in his description of Nineveh’s fall. You would think that, by now, he had made his point. But he is far from done. He continues to drive home the point that mighty Nineveh would fall, because God had ordained it. He even reminds them that the fall of great nations was not an uncommon thing to happen in that day and age. He uses the great city of Thebes as an example. Thebes had been the capital of upper Egypt and was similar to Nineveh in that it was surrounded by a protective barrier of water. But this powerful and well-protected city fell at the hands of the Sargon and the Assyrians in 663 B.C. And the Prophet Jeremiah predicted its coming destruction by the Babylonians:

The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, said: “Behold, I am bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him. I will deliver them into the hand of those who seek their life, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his officers” – Jeremiah 46:25-26 ESV

If Thebes could fall, so could Nineveh. And while Thebes had plenty of allies to assist her, they would prove helpless to provide her with adequate defense. Her superior forces, formidable defenses and more-than-adequate alliances, would prove to be insufficient. And the same would be true for Nineveh. In a sense, Nahum is warning the Assyrians that it is futile to put their trust in material or earthly things. It was King David who wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7 ESV). Nothing is an adequate defense against the wrath of God. Large armies, impregnable defenses, powerful allies, deep moats, massive walls, and the most state-of-the-art weapons are no match for God.

Nahum goes on to describe in graphic detail the fate of Thebes. The city fell and its people were captured and taken into exile. Innocent babies were murdered in its streets. Its powerful and prominent citizens were sold as slaves. And Nahum warns that the same fate is in store for the people of Nineveh. When the Medes and Babylonians show up and lay siege to the city, the Assyrians will spend their days drinking in order to escape the fear of destruction. They will seek places to hide within the walls of the city. But Nahum compares their fortifications to over-ripe fruit hanging on a tree. One shake of the trunk and the fruit falls to the ground. In other words, Nineveh was ripe for the picking. He compares the mighty Assyrian warriors to weak and defenseless women, incapable of standing up to the forces of the Medes and Babylonians. In the end, their wall and gates would be as if they were non-existent. The enemy troops will swarm into the city as if the gates had been opened wide to receive them.

All of this would have been difficult for the Assyrians to believe. Even the Jews to whom Nahum was writing this oracle would have had a difficult time believing that what he was saying would actually happen. He was describing the fall of the most powerful nation in the world at that time. No one had been able to stand up to the Assyrians. There were no powers comparable to them. The thought of their capital city being defeated by anyone was hard to believe. But Nahum was a prophet of God. He spoke on behalf of God. And what he was saying, while difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to believe, was going to happen. It was God-ordained, not wishful thinking. It was not a matter of if, but when.

What is amazing about what Nahum is predicting regarding Nineveh and the nation of Assyria is not only that it will happen just as he says it will, but that the Assyrian Empire will disappear off the face of the earth. A nation that had existed for more than 2,000 years, will suddenly vanish from the scene. It will become a historical footnote. And the once great city of Nineveh will become a heap of rubble and a lost kingdom. It would not be until 1842 that the remains of the city were discovered. When God decided to destroy Nineveh, He would do so in a no-holds-barred fashion. They would not live to repeat their sins of the past. They would not rise from the ashes to fight another day. Their destruction would be comprehensive and complete.

They would prepare for the siege. They could make more bricks and fortify their defenses. But it would all prove hopeless in the face of God’s wrath. No amount of chariots, soldiers, allies, walls, or military strategies would save them.

Nahum wants his readers to understand that Yahweh is a great and mighty God. He is all-powerful and no one can stand against Him. He wants the people of Judah to fear and reverence God, to show Him the glory and honor He deserves. There is a story in the book of 1 Samuel about the return of the Ark of the Covenant which had been captured in battle by the Philistines. God had punished them by sending a plaque on them as long as they held the ark. So, in fear of God’s continued vengeance, they returned it to the Israelites. And when the men of Beth-shemesh saw it, they made the mistake of looking inside the ark. For doing so, 70 of them were stuck dead. And their response was, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” (1 Samuel 6:20 ESV). The Philistines had not been able to stand before God. The disobedient men of Beth-shemesh had not been able to stand before God. And they had suffered the consequences.

But there is another passage, found in the book of Malachi, that also speaks of man’s inability to stand before God. It tells of a time when God shows up on the scene, but not to judge, but to refine. He will appear to the people of Israel, not as a burning fire of judgment, but a refining fire that will purge them once and for all of their sins.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.” – Malachi 3:2-4 NLT

God is a mighty, all-consuming fire. But His fire is not just destructive in nature. It can be purifying and redeeming. God would consume the Assyrians in His wrath. But there is a day coming when He will refine the people of Israel in His mercy and grace. He will keep the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He will fulfill His covenant with His people. And in spite of their sin and rebellion, in spite of their rejection of His Son as their Messiah and Savior, He will redeem a remnant of the people of Israel as His own. When God decides to judge, who can stand before Him? When God determines to redeem, who can stand before Him? He is the sovereign God of the universe. He does as He sees fit. He accomplishes what He desires. And no one can stand before Him. The book of Revelation tells of the coming day of judgment, when God will accomplish His final will concerning those who have refused to bend the knee to Him and acknowledge Him as God.

Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” – Revelation 6:14-16 ESV

No one can stand before God. No one can stand up to God and live to tell about it. His will will be done. His kingdom will come. His Son will reign. And His chosen people will be there to reign at His side.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When God Says, “Enough!”

Woe to the bloody city,
    all full of lies and plunder—
    no end to the prey!
The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,
    galloping horse and bounding chariot!
Horsemen charging,
    flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,
    heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
    they stumble over the bodies!
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
    graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
    and peoples with her charms.

Behold, I am against you,
    declares the Lord of hosts,
    and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
    and kingdoms at your shame.
I will throw filth at you
    and treat you with contempt
    and make you a spectacle.
And all who look at you will shrink from you and say,
“Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?”
    Where shall I seek comforters for you? Nahum 3:1-7 ESV

 

For the third time since he started his oracle, Nahum will describe the fall of Nineveh, but this time he will provide the reason for the fall. He begins this section with the word, “woe”, which signals that what follows contains a warning of impending doom. The prophet, Isaiah, would use the same word when speaking of the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.

“Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.” – Isaiah 3:9 ESV

Their impending doom is directly tied to their guilt. They were a people known for shedding blood. They had conquered countless cities and captured or slaughtered their citizens. As a result of the victories, they had taken much plunder and moved it to their capital, Nineveh. But their appetite was insatiable. There was no end to their need for conquest and so there was no end to their prey. They were never satisfied. But God had had His fill of the Assyrians. He would no longer put up with their exploits, so Nahum uses very graphic terms to describe their fall: “hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies!” (Nahum 3:3 ESV). The chariots and horsemen of the Medes and Persians were going to do to Nineveh what the Assyrians had done to countless other cities. The citizens of Nineveh were going to know the fear and terror of a siege as enemy soldiers attacked their city day after day, month after month. They would know what it was like to live under the constant threat that each day could bring the city’s fall and their own deaths.

And Nahum provides us with the “why.” He lets us know the reason for their coming destruction.

And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
    graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
    and peoples with her charms. – Nahum 3:6 ESV

Nahum compares the Assyrians to a prostitute. In some sense their probably refers to the role they often played as an ally to more defenseless nations. They would offer their services to those under threat by other powers, and agree to come to their aid should they be needed – all for money or tribute. King Ahaz of Judah, would turn to the Assyrians for aid against the combined forces of Syria and Israel.

So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. – 2 Kings 16:7-8 ESV

But on many occasions, they would turn on those they had agreed to help. That’s exactly what they did to Judah. Years later, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria surrounded Jerusalem and sent a message to the king.

Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. – Isaiah 36:16-17 ESV

Sennacherib was lying to Hezekiah. He offered to take them to Assyria and provide them with fine land and to treat them fairly. But he had nothing of the sort in mind. They were deceitful and motivated by conquest. And they were willing to use military might or cunning deception to get what they wanted. Not only that, Nahum accuses them of witchcraft and sorcery. The Hebrew word translated as “deadly charms” is the word kesheph and it refers to the practice of witchcraft. The Assyrians were pagans who mixed sorcery and witchcraft with their religious practices, and sought the aid and direction of the spirit world to determine their fate. This, coupled with their military success, made them highly attractive to the nations around them. Even King Ahaz of Judah, when he met with King Tiglath-pileser, was enamored by their temple and its altar. So he “sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus” (2 Kings 16:10-11 ESV). Not only that, Ahaz had the bronze altar, the one that was prescribed by God as the place to offer all the sacrifices, moved from its place of prominence. And then Ahaz began to use to as a tool of divination, saying, “the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by” (2 Kings 16:15 ESV).

The power and success of Assyrian had made them attractive to other nations. They became the nation to emulate. Their power was great, so their gods must be great as well. Their methods had been successful, so other nations began to model themselves after Assyrian, adopting their ways, both militarily and spiritually. But many of these nations would become the victims of Assyria and end up being sold into slavery.

But God was about to bring all that to an end. He tells them, “Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame” (Nahum 3:5 ESV). God was going to expose them for what they really were. But not only that, He was going to judge them for all that they had done. One of the things the Assyrians were known for was mocking the gods of the nations they conquered. Sennacherib did so when he surrounded Jerusalem.

Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’” – Isaiah 36:18-20 ESV

But God would have the last laugh. He would be the one to mock the Assyrians.

“I will cover you with filth
    and show the world how vile you really are.
All who see you will shrink back and say,
    ‘Nineveh lies in ruins.
Where are the mourners?’
    Does anyone regret your destruction?” – Nahum 3:6-7 NLT

Mighty Nineveh would be no match for the might of Yahweh. Their track record of success would be brought to an abrupt end. Their tenure of violence and destruction was coming to come to a screeching halt, all because God deemed it so. And the nations would rejoice over the demise of Assyria. There would be no mourners at their wake. No one would cry over the destruction of the once mighty nation of Assyria. Their day in the sun would end with darkness and anonymity. No king or nation can stand before God Almighty. No individual or people group is immune from His power or can escape His judgment. Like the Assyrians, they may face the music in their own lifetimes, but all will face the coming judgment of God. No one will be able to escape His righteous indignation and avoid His future punishment reserved for all those who rebel against Him and refuse His Son as the only means by which they might be saved. The Assyrians would hear the “woe” of God and live to regret it. But the day is coming when all mankind will hear God’s declaration of either judgment or acceptance. All will have to answer for their sins one day. But for those who have placed their faith in His Son as their sin substitute and Savior, they will face no judgment, because their sin debt has been paid for once and for all.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Divine Opposition.

Desolate! Desolation and ruin!
    Hearts melt and knees tremble;
anguish is in all loins;
    all faces grow pale!
Where is the lions’ den,
    the feeding place of the young lions,
where the lion and lioness went,
    where his cubs were, with none to disturb?
The lion tore enough for his cubs
    and strangled prey for his lionesses;
he filled his caves with prey
    and his dens with torn flesh.

 Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard. Nahum 2:10-13 ESV

 

You don’t want to be on God’s bad side. You don’t want Him for an enemy. And the one thing no human being should ever want to hear God say is, “I am against you.” Any time we see that statement, it is usually followed by some very unpleasant circumstances. The people of Judah themselves would eventually hear God say those same words:

“Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley,
    O rock of the plain,
declares the Lord;
you who say, ‘Who shall come down against us,
    or who shall enter our habitations?’
14 I will punish you according to the fruit of your deeds,
declares the Lord;
    I will kindle a fire in her forest,
    and it shall devour all that is around her.” – Jeremiah 21:13-14 ESV

Babylon, one of the nations that God would use to defeat the Assyrians, would also hear those four words:

“Behold, I am against you, O proud one,
    declares the Lord God of hosts,
for your day has come,
    the time when I will punish you.
The proud one shall stumble and fall,
    with none to raise him up,
and I will kindle a fire in his cities,
    and it will devour all that is around him.” – Jeremiah 50:30-31 ESV

God would one day say of the great city of Tyre:

“Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock.” – Ezekiel 26:3-4 ESV

God makes a great friend, but He is a formidable enemy. And Nahum, speaking on behalf of God, makes it quite clear that the Assyrians had overstepped their bounds and exceeded the limits of God’s patience. The Assyrians had more than met their match. While they were known for leaving a wake of destruction in their path, God was going to completely annihilate them. Their fall would leave nothing but desolation behind. Their once great city would be reduced to rubble, their vast horde of plunder and treasure would be removed. Their citizens would be taken captive or scattered to the four winds. And even their infamous chariots would be burned to ashes.

People will be left wondering what ever happened to Nineveh. Comparing the Assyrian king to a lion and Nineveh to his den, Nahum sarcastically asks, “Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb?” (Nahum 2:11 ESV). In time, the rubble of the city will look like just another part of the landscape. It will be difficult to tell that it was once the great capital of the mighty Assyrian empire. There had been a day when the king of Assyrian had “filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh” (Nahum 2:12 ESV), but that was about to change. Because God was against him. He had made an enemy of the Lord of Hosts. That term, Lord of Hosts, is a title for God that refers to His military might. It “pictures God as the sovereign king who has at his disposal a multitude of attendants, messengers, and warriors to do his bidding” (NET Study Bible notes). God commands the hosts of heaven, a countless force made up of angelic beings.

There is a wonderful story chronicled for us in the book of 1 Kings. It involves the prophet Elisha. It seems that the King of Aram had been setting traps and ambushes for the forces of Israel, and Elisha was prophetically warning the King of Israel about these situations before they happened. Of course, when the King of Aram found out what Elisha had been doing, it enraged him, so he sent troops to capture Elisha. One morning, Elisha’s servant woke up to find they were surrounded by troops.

When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha. – 2 Kings 6:15 ESV

But rather than panic, Elisha simply told his servant, “Don’t be afraid!” Then he calmed his anxious servant with the news: “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” (1 Kings 6: 16 ESV). But he could tell that his servant’s sense of panic was not exactly assuaged by this announcement. Because all his servant could see was one thing: The armies of Aram. There was nobody else in sight. What was Elisha talking about? And then Elisha prayed: “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” (1 Kings 6:17 ESV). And we’re told that God opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. In other words, he got a glimpse of the host of heaven.

God has more than enough resources to enforce His will and to accomplish His sovereign plan. In the case of Elisha and his servant, God used the hosts of heaven to rescue them. In the case of the Assyrians, God would call upon the Medes and the Babylonians to attack and destroy the Assyrians. God used the waters of the Red Sea to destroy the armies of Pharaoh. He brought down fire and brimstone to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is no limit to God’s capabilities. That is why it is a dangerous thing to find yourself on the receiving end of His wrath. In the case of Egypt, God sent a single angel to take the lives of all the first born males in the nation. God can use His heavenly host or He can utilize human resources to accomplish His will. But the bottom line is, once the Assyrians found themselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath, their days were numbered. Daniel reminds us:

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding… – Daniel 2:21 ESV

The Assyrians were no match for God. And those who would set themselves against the people of God will always find themselves as the enemies of God. It is one thing for God to sovereignly choose to use a nation to accomplish His divine will and mete out His just judgment on His own people. But when a nation independently assumes the right to attack what rightly belongs to God, they will find themselves opposed by Him. There will always be nations like Assyria to wreak havoc and demand their way in the world. Wicked nations will rise up and force their will on others. Their will be dictators and tyrants. There will be always be despots and megalomaniacs who use force to build and maintain their empires. And from our human perspective, it will always look to use as it did to Elisha’s servant. We will see ourselves surrounded by the forces of evil. We will feel like the odds are against us, and we will cry out to God, “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” But God would have us remember that we have the Lord of Hosts on our side. He is in control. As bad as things might appear, our God is still on His throne. He is still the Lord of Hosts and has the resources of heaven at His disposal. Not only that, He is in full and ultimate control of all that goes on around us, whether it seems like it or not. Nothing happens outside of His sovereign will. No king, president, or dictator ascends to power without His permission. We may not understand why God does what He does, but we should never question His motives. All those who stand opposed to His will eventually find themselves hearing those very same words the Assyrians heard: “I am against you.” And the apostle Paul would have us remember: “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31 NLT). Not only that, but, “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God, the Scatterer.

The scatterer has come up against you.
    Man the ramparts;
    watch the road;
dress for battle;
    collect all your strength.

For the Lord is restoring the majesty of Jacob
    as the majesty of Israel,
for plunderers have plundered them
    and ruined their branches.

The shield of his mighty men is red;
    his soldiers are clothed in scarlet.
The chariots come with flashing metal
    on the day he musters them;
    the cypress spears are brandished.
The chariots race madly through the streets;
    they rush to and fro through the squares;
they gleam like torches;
    they dart like lightning.
He remembers his officers;
    they stumble as they go,
they hasten to the wall;
    the siege tower is set up.
The river gates are opened;
    the palace melts away;
its mistress is stripped; she is carried off,
    her slave girls lamenting,
moaning like doves
    and beating their breasts.
Nineveh is like a pool
    whose waters run away.
“Halt! Halt!” they cry,
    but none turns back.
Plunder the silver,
    plunder the gold!
There is no end of the treasure
    or of the wealth of all precious things. Nahum 2:1-9 ESV

The Assyrians were powerful. They were feared. And rightly so, because their military might was second to none. No one had been able to resist their armies and oppose their will. When they determined to take a city, its walls eventually crumbled under the onslaught of the Assyrian siege engines, and the inhabitants were either killed or taken captive. This scene had been repeated time and time again throughout the known world as the Assyrian empire slowly and methodically spread, consuming everything in its path. But Nahum has news for the Assyrians. They are about to meet “the scatterer”. All the other nations they conquered and consumed had been protected by false gods made of stone or precious metals. But this time, they had chosen to attack a nation whose God was real. He did not need to be carried around and placed on a shelf. He was not mute and deaf. He did not have arms that hung lifeless at His side and eyes that were incapable of seeing. He was Yahweh, the God of the universe and the protector of the people of Judah. They were His people. He had chosen them and He would be faithful to protect them. Yes, they were disobedient and rebellious and undeserving of His grace and mercy, but God had made a covenant with them, and He would keep it. And He had not ordained the Assyrians to act as His agents of punishment. They had been His chosen instrument of destruction when He finally chose to punish the northern kingdom of Israel. He had sovereignly commissioned the Assyrians to attack Israel, sack their capital and take their people captive. This tragic event and the explanation for it, is described in the book of 2 Kings:

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger, and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”

But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. – 2 Kings 17:6-14 ESV

God had used the Assyrians before, but He had not called on them this time. They were out of bounds and outside the will of God. So, Nahum, speaking on behalf of God, warns the Assyrians of what is about to happen. Speaking prophetically, Nahum describes for them the scene that is going to take place within the walls of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. The scatterer has come. That term was a common one in that day and was used of a conquering king. But in this case, Nahum is using it to speak of Yahweh. He will be the driving force behind the fall of Nineveh. While God will use other nations to accomplish His will, their efforts will be ordained and sanctioned by Him. And their victory will be the result of His sovereign will. The Assyrians and their capital will fall because they defied the will of God.

God was going to send Cyaxeres the Mede and Nabopolassar the Babylonian against Nineveh. And Nahum warns the people of Nineveh to make preparations for their arrival.

Man the ramparts;
    watch the road;
dress for battle;
    collect all your strength. – Nahum 2:1 ESV

They were to prepare for battle and arm themselves for war. Now, they were going to be on the receiving end of an enemy attack. This time, it would be the walls of mighty Nineveh that would be surrounded by enemy troops and pounded by siege engines. And Nahum tells the Assyrians why this is going to happen:

For the Lord is restoring the majesty of Jacob
    as the majesty of Israel,
for plunderers have plundered them
    and ruined their branches. – Nahum 2:2 ESV

God had not forgotten His people. He had not abandoned them. Even though He had allowed some of their cities to be plundered and destroyed by the Assyrians, He had not forsaken them completely. Now, He was going to put an end to Assyria’s onslaught against His people.

The following verses provide a graphic depiction of what was going to happen. This description of the coming events was intended to provide encouragement for the people of Judah and instill fear in the Assyrians. Nahum provides a scene-by-scene summary of what is going to happen within the walls of Ninevah. The enemy’s soldiers with their gleaming shields and spears will appear on the streets of the city. Chariots complete with scythe-like blades attached to their wheels will careen through the city, wreaking havoc and scattering the people before them. The Assyrians will attempt to muster a defense, but will fail. During the siege of Nineveh, which would last three years, there would be storms that would cause the rivers running through the city to flood. Historians believe these natural events were part of the cause of the city’s eventual fall. The flooded rivers ended up washing away the foundations under some of the walls and causing them to fall. Many of the cities buildings, along with its palaces, were also destroyed by the flooding. So, God, the creator of the universe, would not only marshal enemy armies against Nineveh, He would utilize His creation to bring and end to the once-mighty Assyrians.

And all of this would leave the people of Nineveh running for their lives. But the city and its great wealth would be plundered by the Medes and Persians. It’s gods would be taken as booty. It palaces would be stripped of their gold and silver. Nothing of value would be left. And Nahum warns that the end result will be total desolation.

Desolate! Desolation and ruin!
    Hearts melt and knees tremble;
anguish is in all loins;
    all faces grow pale! – Nahum 2:10 ESV

Nobles and slaves alike, would all be taken captive. They would be marched out of Ninevah, mourning and wailing over their defeat. One day they would be on top of the world, the next they would be demoralized and defeated captives, walking in chains to face their God-ordained fate.

This entire passage is designed to portray God as sovereign. He is not just the God of Judah, He is the God of the universe and everyone who lives in it. Whether the Assyrians, Medes, Babylonians or any other people group acknowledge Him as God is beside the point. He is God. The world is His and all who live on this planet do so at His pleasure. There is a sense in which all men believe they are self-made and self-determinative. We want to believe that we are the masters of our own fates and in control of our own destinies. But God, speaking through His prophet, Nahum, would have us remember that it is He who is in control. And while there will be those days when it appears as if God is distant and His power has somehow waned or diminished, we must always remember that He alone is God. He is not done yet. His will is not yet completely fulfilled. In the case of the nation of Judah, they would have additional experiences of defeat and demoralization. They would be spared from the attack of the Assyrians, but would eventually fall at the hands of the Babylonians. But it would be all according to God’s will. And the prophet Joel reminds us that God has an even greater fate in store for His people, and it will come about in His perfect, sovereign timing.

“Egypt shall become a desolation
    and Edom a desolate wilderness,
for the violence done to the people of Judah,
    because they have shed innocent blood in their land.
But Judah shall be inhabited forever,
    and Jerusalem to all generations.
I will avenge their blood,
    blood I have not avenged,
    for the Lord dwells in Zion.” – Joel 3:19-21 ESV

The Scatterer will also be the Gatherer. He will return His people to their land and place His Son on the throne of David. The Kingdom of God will reign on earth, with the King of kings and the Lord of lords ruling in righteousness over all the world.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Wake-Up Call.

Thus says the Lord,
“Though they are at full strength and many,
    they will be cut down and pass away.
Though I have afflicted you,
    I will afflict you no more.
And now I will break his yoke from off you
    and will burst your bonds apart.”

The Lord has given commandment about you:
    “No more shall your name be perpetuated;
from the house of your gods I will cut off
    the carved image and the metal image.
I will make your grave, for you are vile.”

Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him
    who brings good news,
    who publishes peace!
Keep your feasts, O Judah;
    fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the worthless pass through you;
    he is utterly cut off. Nahum 1:12-15 ESV

Nahum now addresses the people of Judah directly. Despite the overwhelming power of the Assyrians and their seemingly limitless numbers, God assures the people of Judah that He is going to deal with this centuries-old menace once and for all. The Hebrew literally says, they will “trickle away” like the last remnants of a great flood that has done its damage, but has slowly receded to nothing. Their power will be no match for God. While He has allowed them their moment in the sun, He will also see that this once great nation is judged for its many atrocities and condemned to defeat at the hands of other nations. They will go from a once great nation-state to virtual oblivion, all because God has deemed it so.

But as for the people of Judah, God tells them that He is going to provide them with a break from the affliction brought upon them by the Assyrians. It must be noted that God’s promise to the people of Judah to bring an end to their affliction, only referred to their suffering at the hands of the Assyrians. Because it is clear from Scripture that God continued to bring affliction on the people of Judah from other sources, including the nation of Babylon, which, in 586 B.C., destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took many of the people of Judah captive. But God promised to eliminate Assyria as a threat, and He did so. This should have caught the attention of the people of Judah. They should have realized that their God is all-powerful and incredibly merciful. They had done nothing to deserve this reprieve, yet God had brought it about. They should have recognized that “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:7 ESV). But the sad reality will be, that the people of Judah, who will see the hand of God move on their behalf, will continue their stubborn rejection of Him as their God. Yes, they will continue to worship Him, but as God said through the prophet Isaiah:

They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Their deliverance at the hand of God should have been a wake-up call. It should have driven them to their knees in gratitude and reverence to God for His mercy and grace. But God will be forced to replace the Assyrians with yet another foreign power that will act as His instrument of judgment upon His disobedient people.

But as for the present problem of the Assyrians, God assures the people of Judah, “now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart” (Nahum 1:13 ESV). What a bold claim for God to make. This seemingly impossible claim would have been hard for the people of God to accept. It would have seemed far-fetched and too good to be true. The Assyrians had been around for centuries. They were a powerful dynasty and the alpha predator of their era, with no known competitor strong enough to unseat them. How was God going to accomplish what Nahum was saying? This all sounded great, but it would have seemed like such an impossibility. But as Nahum has already reminded them:

His way is in whirlwind and storm,
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
    he dries up all the rivers
– Nahum 1:3-4 ESV

God was all-powerful. He was the God of the universe, the creator of all things. The Assyrians would be no problem for him. And so, Nahum changes his focus yet again and addresses the Assyrians directly.

The Lord has given commandment about you:
    “No more shall your name be perpetuated;
from the house of your gods I will cut off
    the carved image and the metal image.
I will make your grave, for you are vile.” – Nahum 1:14 ESV

Their false gods will prove to be no match for the one true God. They will be exposed for what they are: false and powerless. God will see to it that their posterity of the Assyrians ends. They will cease to exist as a nation-state. Their rise to power was great, but their fall will be even greater. Their seeming invincibility will end with with their virtual invisibility. They will cease to be. Again, what a bold claim. But what is interesting to note is that the Medes, who would be part of the coalition force that conquered the Assyrians, would see to it that the gods of the Assyrians, found in the capital city of Nineveh, were completely destroyed. The Assyrians had a policy of collecting the images of all the gods of the nations they defeated. They would bring them back to their capital and put them on display as an illustration of the superiority of their own gods. But when the time came for Nineveh to fall, all the gods of Assyria would be captured and destroyed, just as God had promised.

As Nahum prepares to transition to a new train of thought, he appeals to the people of Judah directly, calling them to rejoice in the inevitable salvation of God. He speaks as if the destruction of Nineveh has already happened and the deliverance of the people of Judah is complete. He calls them to “Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off” (Nahum 1:15 ESV). God’s word is so powerful, that you can go ahead and celebrate before it has even been fulfilled.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
 – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God will bring about what He has promised. He will accomplish what He has said. And He is calling the people of Judah to do their part. They are to remain obedience to Him, keeping His appointed feasts and fulfilling the vows they had made to Him. God will do His part, but they must do theirs. God will remove the false gods of the Assyrians, but the people of Judah must remove the false gods they worship and return to faithful, unadulterated allegiance to Yahweh. After all God has promised to do, you would think that this would have been easy for the people of Judah to pull off. But they would prove to be ungrateful to God for His undeserved mercy and grace. He would do exactly what He promised, removing the yoke of the Assyrians, but they would continue to live their lives in open rebellion to Him. They would worship them with their lips, but their hearts would be far from Him. And God would be forced to bring yet another nation against His people, to prove to them that He is serious about their holiness. He not only demands obedience, He will do what He has to do to see that it happens.

This entire section of Nahum’s oracle, should have been a stark reminder to the people of Judah that their God was actively involved in their lives. He was blind to their spiritual condition or oblivious to their suffering at the hands of their enemies. As a matter of fact, the Assyrians were nothing more than tools in His hands, accomplishing His divine will concerning His judgment against the people of Judah. But God had promised to defeat the Assyrians and deliver the people of Judah. All He wanted in return was their faithfulness. He wanted their obedience and willful submission to His sovereign will concerning their lives. He had promised them blessing after blessing if they would only remain faithful to Him. And to prove both His power and mercy, God promised to destroy the very ones He had sent to persecute His people. He would remove the threat of destruction, but He desired the repentance of His people in return.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Match For God.

The Lord is good,
    a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
    But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
    and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
What do you plot against the Lord?
    He will make a complete end;
    trouble will not rise up a second time.
For they are like entangled thorns,
    like drunkards as they drink;
    they are consumed like stubble fully dried.
From you came one
    who plotted evil against the Lord,
    a worthless counselor.
Nahum 1:7-11 ESV

Nahum’s primary subject would appear to be the city of Nineveh, but upon closer examination, it is really God. While Nahum’s oracle deals extensively with what is going to happen to the city of Nineveh, it is God who will be the cause behind everything that takes place. Nahum’s message was intended for the people of Judah, not Nineveh. Unlike Jonah, Nahum was not commissioned by God to warn the people of Nineveh. His words were meant to encourage the nation of Judah and remind them that their God was still in control. As vast and mighty as the Assyrians might have been, their God was greater and more powerful. He could be trusted.
The Lord is good—
indeed, he is a fortress in time of distress,
and he protects those who seek refuge in him. – Jonah 1:7 NET
There is a stark contrast between the opening six verses and verse seven. In terms of His relationship with the Assyrians, God was a jealous and wrathful God who takes vengeance on His enemies. He will deal with the guilty.
Who can stand before his fierce anger?
    Who can survive his burning fury?
His rage blazes forth like fire,
    and the mountains crumble to dust in his presence. – Nahum 1:6 NLT
When it comes to His righteous indignation, no one can stand before Him. He is the God who can make mountains quake and the rivers dry up. He controls all the forces of nature. So, no human army is a match for Him. And yet, at the same time, God is good to those who seek refuge in Him. He is like a fortress that provides shelter to all those who seem safety in the midst of trouble. The people of Nineveh would seek safety within the fortified walls of their city, but they would find no protection from God’s fierce anger. But the Jews could, if they so chose, seek safety within the loving arms of God and find Him more than capable of protecting them from the onslaught of the Assyrians or any other human foe.
In fact, Nahum goes on to contrast once again God’s love and wrath. While He is a reliable source of refuge for all who seek safety from trouble and come to Him, He is also an overwhelming flood, sweeping away His enemies and destroying all those in His path who stand opposed to Him and His people. His wrath will come like a tsunami, overpowering all that stand in His way. And God, because He is sovereign, is fully capable of fulfilling His wrath and bringing about destruction in any of a number of ways. In the case of Nineveh, they would fall to a combined force made up of Medes, Babylonians, and Scythians. This alliance of pagan nations would destroy the city and during the siege, the rivers surrounding the city would overflow, flooding the city and destroying part of its walls. God can use nature or He can utilize other nations to accomplish His will. His resources are boundless. His creativity is limitless when it comes to how He brings about His will regarding those who stand against Him.
One of the points Nahum is making through this oracle is the tremendous value God puts on justice. He is a God of mercy and justice, and one of the great indictments He will lodge against the Assyrians is their reputation for injustice and oppression. They are cruel and unjust in their treatment of their foes. They are arrogant and prideful, believing they can do what they want to any nation they conquer and have to answer to no one for their actions. But God will prove them wrong. He sees all that they are doing. He is well aware of their injustices, and He will deal with them.
The Assyrians saw themselves as unstoppable. No one could stand in their way. Not even the God of the Israelites. When Sennacherib and the forces of Assyria had attempted to lay siege to Jerusalem in 701 B.C., they had failed. They had attempted to destroy the people of God without the permission of God. He had not called them to do what they had done. In essence, as Nahum writes, they had plotted against God Himself. Their attack against His people was unprovoked, unwarranted and unsanctioned by God. And they failed. Not only that, Nahum warns that they will never do it a second time, because God would destroy them before they could even try.
Like a wall of tangles thorns that appear impossible to penetrate, the Assyrians appear mighty and formidable. But thorns are no match for fire. Like helpless drunks, the Assyrians would prove hopeless and helpless before God. Dry dry stalks standing in a field, they will prove to be no match for the fiery wrath of God.
Nahum also makes reference to “one who plotted evil against the Lord, a worthless counselor” (Nahum 1:11 ESV). This is probably a reference to King Sennacherib of Assyria. When he had come against the city of Jerusalem, he had sent a message to the king of Judah, telling him:

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!

 “But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem?

“I’ll tell you what! Strike a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria. I will give you 2,000 horses if you can find that many men to ride on them! With your tiny army, how can you think of challenging even the weakest contingent of my master’s troops, even with the help of Egypt’s chariots and charioteers? What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’” – 2 Kings 18:19-25 NLT

God has not sent the Assyrians. This was a lie meant to confuse the king of Judah and cause him to surrender the city without a fight. God would thwart the plans of Sennacherib and put an end to his ambitious plans to defeat the people of Judah. God would eventually allow Nebuchadnezzar and the nation of Babylon to conquer Judah, as a part of His judgment against them for having failed to heed His calls to repentance. But that was not something He had asked the Assyrians to do. They were out of line with their efforts to defeat the people of Judah, and they were unsuccessful. Not because Judah was powerful, but because their God is great.

Our God is a great God. He is sovereign over any and all. He answers to no one, and no one can stand against Him. He is righteous and wrathful, merciful and vengeful. He is gracious and loving, but can also be a formidable enemy against those who would stand in His way or who would attempt to thwart His will. History is full of stories of great nations and powerful kingdoms. There have countless empires that have risen up and attempted to force their will on the world. Kings and dictators have ascended to places of power with grand plans to conquer the world with their armies, but each has ultimately failed. This world belongs to God, and He has a divine plan for it. He will use nations. He will appoint kings. He will raise up leaders of all kinds. But they will all be answerable to Him. Their power is limited. Their plans are temporary. Their reigns are short-lived. But God remains on His throne for all time. His power is limitless and His plans are unavoidable and unstoppable. And all who would find refuge and safety from the storms of this life, brought on by the Sennacheribs of this world, can run to God and find Him to be a strong fortress, against which no one and nothing can prevail.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our Great God.

An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
    the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
    and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
    he dries up all the rivers;
Bashan and Carmel wither;
    the bloom of Lebanon withers.
The mountains quake before him;
    the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
    the world and all who dwell in it.

Who can stand before his indignation?
    Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
    and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
Nahum 1:1-6 ESV

Nahum was an unknown man from an unknown town. Other than what we read about him in the book that bears his name, we know very little about him. He was simply Naham of Elkosh, but the one thing that sets him apart from all his peers is that he was chosen by God to be a prophet. Nahum was most likely a contemporary of Jonah. We have some idea of when he penned this information, because he mentions the fall of Thebes in chapter three, verse 8. Historically, we know that took place in 663 B.C. So his writing had to have taken place after that. Most of this book predicts the fall of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, which occurred in 612 B.C., when Nineveh fell to a combined force of Medes, Babylonians, and Scythians. So, that puts the date of his prophecy and writing somewhere between 663 and 612 B.C. Most scholars put the date closer to 660 and 650 B.C. So, it is likely that Nahum prophesied during the reign of King Manasseh of Judah.

Nahum was a Jew and, while the majority of his message concerned the Assyrians and their capital city of Nineveh, it was intended for the Jewish people. It is interesting to note that Jonah was given a message of judgment for the people of Nineveh, but God spared them when they repented. Jonah was required by God to take that message directly into the heart of enemy territory, within the walls of the city of Nineveh itself. And he did so under great duress, having tried to escape from the task by running from God. And even when he saw that the people of Nineveh repented and God spared them from judgment, he was angry with God, and even accused God of evil. But at virtually the very same time, Nahum was writing an oracle concerning the Assyrians and their great capital city. He also had a word of warning from God concerning them. But his was very descriptive and specific as to exactly what was going to happen to them.

This message, while dealing with the coming fall of Nineveh, was meant to bring comfort to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah. The Assyrians were a powerful force in the region, having already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. The Assyrian troops remained in the area and had conquered many Judean cities and had even besieged Jerusalem, the capital of Judah in 701 B.C. While their efforts to take the city had failed, their presence had left its mark on the people of Judah. They were scared and demoralized. They felt it was only a matter of time before they were the next victims of the all-powerful Assyrians.

It is interesting to note that God had been warning the people of Judah that their destruction would come, and that He would use the Assyrians to accomplish it. He had warned of this very thing to King Ahaz of Judah through the prophet, Isaiah.

“The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!” – Isaiah 7:17 ESV

Unless the people of Judah repented of their rebellion against God, He would send judgment upon them. He would use godless nations like the Assyrians and Babylonians to harass and defeat them. But God also assured the people of Judah that He would bring justice to those same pagan nations.

“What sorrow awaits Assyria, the rod of my anger.
    I use it as a club to express my anger.
I am sending Assyria against a godless nation,
    against a people with whom I am angry.
Assyria will plunder them,
    trampling them like dirt beneath its feet.
But the king of Assyria will not understand that he is my tool;
    his mind does not work that way.
His plan is simply to destroy,
    to cut down nation after nation.
He will say,
    ‘Each of my princes will soon be a king.
We destroyed Calno just as we did Carchemish.
    Hamath fell before us as Arpad did.
    And we destroyed Samaria just as we did Damascus.
Yes, we have finished off many a kingdom
    whose gods were greater than those in Jerusalem and Samaria.
So we will defeat Jerusalem and her gods,
    just as we destroyed Samaria with hers.’” – Isaiah 10:5-11 NLT

Ultimately, the book of Nahum is a book about the sovereignty of God. He is in control of all things, including all nations and kings. He has the power to lift up and tear down. He can make a nation great, like He had done for Judah, and He can bring a nation to its knees. As Daniel wrote:

…he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT

While God had sovereignly used Assyria to punish the sins of Israel, He would also hold them accountable for their own sins and for their pride and arrogance. The Assyrians would not acknowledge God as the source of their strength or power. They would never acknowledge that they were instruments in His hands. Instead, they would see themselves as all-powerful and a force to be reckoned in the world of their day. They were arrogant and self-assured, believing themselves to be invincible. But God had other plans for the nation of Assyrian. The prophet, Zephaniah would make those plans perfectly clear:

And the Lord will strike the lands of the north with his fist,
    destroying the land of Assyria.
He will make its great capital, Nineveh, a desolate wasteland,
    parched like a desert.
The proud city will become a pasture for flocks and herds,
    and all sorts of wild animals will settle there.
The desert owl and screech owl will roost on its ruined columns,
    their calls echoing through the gaping windows.
Rubble will block all the doorways,
    and the cedar paneling will be exposed to the weather.
This is the boisterous city,
    once so secure.
“I am the greatest!” it boasted.
    “No other city can compare with me!”
But now, look how it has become an utter ruin,
    a haven for wild animals.
Everyone passing by will laugh in derision
    and shake a defiant fist. – Zephaniah 2:13-15 NLT

The Assyrians were mighty warriors. And their military exploits were well-known and well-chronicled. They were brutal in battle and unmerciful to all those they conquered. Nahum graphically describes this powerful and fearful nation:

She is crammed with wealth
    and is never without victims.
Hear the crack of whips,
    the rumble of wheels!
Horses’ hooves pound,
    and chariots clatter wildly.
See the flashing swords and glittering spears
    as the charioteers charge past!
There are countless casualties,
    heaps of bodies—
so many bodies that
    people stumble over them. – Nahum 3:1-3 NLT

They had left a wake of destruction in their path. They had swept through that region of the world, reeking havoc and decimating city after city. But Nahum also assures the people of Judah that God is also a great power.

The Lord is a jealous God,
    filled with vengeance and rage.
He takes revenge on all who oppose him
    and continues to rage against his enemies! – Nahum 1:2 NLT

He too, is a force to be reckoned with. He may be slow to get angry, but that does not mean His anger will go unchecked forever. And He has the power to back up His anger with action. He will ultimately deal with the guilty and justly mete out exactly what they deserve.

The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great,
    and he never lets the guilty go unpunished.

He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm.
    The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet. – Nahum 1:3 NLT

God could and did use nations to accomplish His divine will. He had used Assyria to conquer Israel. He would eventually use Babylon to conquer Judah. But God was not dependent upon these nations. He had all of creation at His disposal. He could wipe out entire armies with a word. He could use the forces of nature to defeat the forces of Assyrian or any other nation.

At his command the oceans dry up,
    and the rivers disappear.
The lush pastures of Bashan and Carmel fade,
    and the green forests of Lebanon wither. – Nahum 1:4 NLT

Nahum is about to utter an oracle against Nineveh and the nation of Assyria. And he reminds the people of Judah that their God is great. He is all-powerful. He stands in judgment over all nations, and is equipped to enact justice against any and all, at any time.

Who can stand before his fierce anger?
    Who can survive his burning fury?
His rage blazes forth like fire,
    and the mountains crumble to dust in his presence. – Nahum 1:6 NLT

The news of the day was filled with stories of the atrocities being committed by the Assyrians. Conversations at the water wells of Judah were all about what was going on in the surrounding regions. News of destruction and devastation was everywhere. The people had begun to fear the Assyrians. But Nahum wanted them to know that they need not fear their enemies. Their God was still in control. It was He they should fear. It was His power they should be talking about. It was His sovereignty they should be concerned with.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Dead Plant and a Dead Heart.

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Jonah 4:5-11 ESV

Having spoken his mind with God, Jonah left the city and made himself a temporary lean-too under which he could rest. But he also anticipated being able to watch something happen back in the city. The text says that he wanted to “see what would become of the city” (Jonah 4:65 ESV). Perhaps Jonah believed that he had persuaded God to change His mind and destroy the city after all, because God had not taken him up on his request to kill him. Jonah was still alive and so he probably had hopes that their destruction might still come true. Or he could have been waiting to see if the Ninevites’ repentance would run its course and they would for right back to their evil ways. If that happened, he probably assumed God would either destroy them or send him back with another message of impending doom. Either way, Jonah was wanting to see God bring down His wrath on the people of Nineveh. But as before, Jonah was to learn some things about the God he thought he knew so well.

God created a plant to grow up around Jonah’s little shelter, to provide him with shade from the intense heat of the day. In the Hebrew, the word for “plant” is very specific. It refers to a gourd or cucumber-like plant that begins very small, but grows very quickly. According to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, it was “a tall biennial plant, beautiful and quick-growing, with a soft and succulent stalk, a slight injury of which would cause the plant to die.” In what was probably a miraculously short period of time, the plant had grown to such a degree that it provided Jonah with shade and what is described as salvation “from his discomfort.” What is interesting to note is that the word translated “discomfort” is actually the Hebrew word, ra`, which can be translated, “evil” or “wickedness”. The plant, small and insignificant as it started out to be, had become a source of God-ordained salvation from wickedness for Jonah. This point should not be overlooked. This was going to be part of God’s divine lesson for the stubborn, hate-filled prophet.

But what was the wickedness or evil from which the plant rescued Jonah? His own anger and hate. Jonah despised the Ninevites. He had from the very beginning and I believe it was for this very reason that God called Jonah to be the one to take the message to them. God knew full well the condition of Jonah’s heart when He commissioned him. He was aware of Jonah’s feelings for the people of Nineveh and the nation of Assyria in general. And it is just like God to take someone like Jonah and make him the messenger to a people he can’t stand. In a similar way, God took Paul, who had begun his career as a persecutor of the followers of Christ and made him the primary messenger of the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul had been a faithful Jew committed to the Hebrew faith and commissioned by the high priest to hunt down and arrest Christians. But God would convert Paul and recommission him, giving him a new job to perform: Taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to Jews and Gentiles alike. God saved Paul from his wickedness and gave him a new heart and a new mission in life.

So, God sent the plant for Jonah, and he was very glad. But Jonah’s pleasure was based on his relief from physical discomfort alone. He was happy to have the shade and a break from the scorching heat. But Jonah was still oblivious to his real problem: His own evil attitude. Jonah had been guilty of accusing God of evil. Verse one of this chapter tells us of Jonah’s anger with God over His sparing of the people of Nineveh, and that verse could actually be translated, “It was evil to Jonah, a great evil.” According to Jonah, what God had done was wicked. And yet, God is trying to show Jonah that he is the one with the evil, wicked heart. God’s decision to spare Nineveh had left Jonah “exceedingly angry”. The arrival of the plant had made Jonah “exceedingly glad”. What an interesting and insightful contrast.

And when God sends a worm to attack the plant and destroy it, Jonah loses his shade and his will to live. We’re told that “he asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live’” (Jonah 4:8 ESV). This would be the third time for Jonah to have a death wish. He had commanded the sailors to throw him overboard in order that he might die. When God had spared the Ninevites, he had asked God to take his life. And once again, he sees death as preferable to living with what he deems as unacceptable conditions. Jonah was a man who didn’t like it when things failed to go his way. I don’t think Jonah had a death wish, it is just that he had a strong aversion to having his will resisted or his desires fulfilled. 

So, God asks him a question that is very similar to one He had asked before: “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” (Jonah 4:9 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” He is once again asking Jonah if his anger is justified. Did he have a right to be angry about the plant? And Jonah responded, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die” (Jonah 4:9 ESV). Jonah had lost his shade and he was ready to die because of it. I would say that is a bit of an overreaction. Yes, he was suffering from the scorching wind and sun, sent by God, and he was feint from the experience, but was it enough reason to prefer death over life?

And God cuts to the chase, exposing Jonah’s real problem. He says, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly” (Jonah 4:10 NLT). Most likely, Jonah had been staring at the withered plant, his former protector from the sun, and was troubled with its demise. He lamented its untimely destruction. And God reveals to Jonah the absurdity of his emotions. Jonah was more upset over a dead plant than he would have been about the destruction of hundreds of thousands of people. He would have rejoiced at their deaths, but he mourned over the withering of a simple plant. And God puts it all in perspective for Jonah, telling him:

“But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” – Jonah 4:11 NLT

God confronted Jonah about the condition of his evil heart. He had no compassion for the people of Nineveh. In fact, Jonah didn’t even care about all the livestock within the walls of the city that would have died as a result of any destruction God had brought. It is as if God was saying, “You didn’t care about the people of Nineveh, but couldn’t you have at least asked for the livestock to be spared?” No, Jonah wanted everyone and everything within the walls of Nineveh destroyed. He wanted the entire city wiped out. He had no pity, mercy, or love for them. But God did. The people of Nineveh didn’t know their right hand from their left. In other words, they were morally ignorant. They were not the people of God. They didn’t know any better. They had not been given the laws of God. They had no Levitical priesthood or sacrificial system. They were pagans who were ignorant of the ways of God, and yet, they had believed God and repented of their wickedness. And God had showed them mercy.

Jonah had been willing to weep over the death of a plant, but had no problem wishing for the deaths of more than 100,000 people. He had a wrong perspective. He had a wicked and evil heart. He was not seeing things as God does. And yet, Jonah was the one who had admitted that God was “a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people” (Jonah 4:2 NLT). Jonah just wanted to be the one to decide who would be the beneficiaries of God’s mercy, compassion and kindness. He wanted to be the one who determined who got saved and who got destroyed. But that was God’s job. It was God who had told Moses, “For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose” (Exodus 33:19 NLT). And the apostle Paul would quote from that very same passage, when he wrote, “For God said to Moses, ‘I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.’ So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it” (Romans 9:15-16 NLT). It is up to God to decide who will receive His mercy. It is not earned or deserved. Jonah had done nothing to deserve the plant that had provided him with shade. In fact, what he had deserved was the wrath of God for his rebellion, insubordination and accusations of evil against God. But God had shown Him mercy. And God had shown mercy to the undeserving people of Nineveh.

The real message of the book of Jonah is not the repentance of the people of Nineveh. That was really an object lesson for Jonah and the people of Israel. They had been reluctant to listen to the prophets of God, refusing their warnings of coming destruction and calls to repentance. And yet, the wicked Assyrians, including their king, had heard the message of God, repented of their wickedness and mourned before Him in sorrow and fear. The people of Israel were no less deserving of God’s judgment, but they somehow felt they were immune from destruction. They were God’s chosen people. But God will show mercy on whom He will show mercy. He will spare those whom He chooses to spare. What He is looking for are repentant, broken hearts. As the great king, David, wrote after his sin with Bathsheba:

“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” – Psalm 51:17 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson