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Lesson 3 Nahum 1:1-8

Lesson 3 - Nahum 1:1-8 - A JEALOUS AND AVENGING GOD

Last Week: In Micah 1:1-8, we heard Micah, a pre-exilic prophet of Judah, issue a warning to all the people of Judah that was delivered in the form of a lawsuit. Using the mountains and hills as a jury, the LORD first asked His people why they had become disillusioned with Him, then went to conclusively prove that He had honored all of His Covenant obligations to them, namely, leading them out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. In response, answering as their defense counsel,

Micah asked what kind of ritual offering might be enough to please the Lord, progressively raising it from a yearling calf to thousand of rams, rivers of oil, and finally to a firstborn child. These were all gross overstatements intended to show that ritual sacrifices were not the issue. What God wanted really wanted from them was that they would "do justice" and "love kindness" towards their fellow man and to "walk humbly" with God (Micah 6:8). The underlying principle, which applies equally to 21st Century Christians, is that no right relationship with God is possible unless we are faithful in our God-given responsibilities to our fellow human beings.

This Week: In Nahum 1:1-8, we'll hear from Nahum, another pre-exilic prophet whose origins and whereabouts are very obscure. The location of Elkosh, his hometown, is uncertain, but is thought to have been somewhere in Judah. The timeframe of his prophecy, due to internal evidence, was most likely the early to mid-600s B.C., which would place him in the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C, 2 Kings 21-22) and make him a contemporary of Zephaniah and young Jeremiah.  Like Obadiah earlier, his prophecy pertained to the downfall of one nation, in this instance, Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, which did in fact happen in 609 B.C. The Book of Jonah, written 150 years earlier, tells us that the people of Nineveh repented after hearing that prophecy; however, Nahum's prophecy isn't a call to repentance but a pronouncement of judgment on an enemy of the people of God.


1 The oracle of Nineveh.  The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

v. 1: A prophecy spoken as an "oracle" is a pronouncement that certain judgment is forthcoming, which, in this instance, God communicated to Nahum through a "vision." The recipient, "Nineveh," is intended as a metaphor for the nation of Assyria as a whole. As the dominant military power in the Ancient Near East (ca. 900-600 B.C.), the Assyrians were known to be an extremely cruel and wicked culture which treated its conquered victims with senseless brutality. Although they had repented back in Jonah's day (ca. 750-760 B.C.), in Nahum's time they had reverted to a way of life that was characterized by idolatry, violence, and arrogance. And added to that, they had been a heartless enemy of God's people. In 721 B.C., they had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and forced its people into exile, and during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, had required Judah to pay tribute in order to forestall an attack on Jerusalem, which virtually bankrupted the nation's economy. You might recall our lesson two quarters back from Isaiah 37, which was 50 or 60 years before this time, when the Assyrian army under Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem after king Hezekiah refused to pay further tribute to them. In that lesson, after Hezekiah humbled himself before God and begged for deliverance, God sent an avenging angel of death that destroyed an entire Assyrian army of 180,000.


2 A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful.  The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies.  3 The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.  In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.  4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
He dries up all the rivers.  Bashan and Carmel wither; The blossoms of Lebanon wither.  5 Mountains quake because of Him And the hills dissolve; Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, The world and all the inhabitants in it.  6 Who can stand before His indignation?  Who can endure the burning of His anger?  His wrath is poured out like fire And the rocks are broken up by Him.

v. 2: "A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; The LORD is avenging and wrathful.  The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies." - This verse lays the foundation for the entire prophecy: the revelation of God's eternal power and His divine nature in all of creation, which at times is expressed as God's justice in the form of retribution and wrath.  In this pronouncement, Nahum first draws a picture of a God who is jealous for His chosen people, a God who cares for them and their welfare. Second, He's also seen as an avenging God who takes retribution on all who violate His standards of what is right (though not with human spitefulness or meanness). And third, He is full of wrath against those who oppose Him and disregard His grace, especially those who (like Assyria) set themselves up as his enemies and adversaries. The repetition of avenging, taking vengeance, and wrath in this verse gives a strong impression of a very angry God, yes? The word "wrath" (Heb. hemah) means to be red hot and burning with rage. So we ask, why is God so angry? The rest of the oracle explains that it was the behavior of the Ninevites that did it.

v. 3a: "The LORD is slow to anger and great in power," - God's righteous anger is never out of control, and such control (which is impossible for humans) is further evidence of His great power. In fact, His anger was very slow in reaching the boiling point as shown when He sent Jonah to warn the Ninevites 150 years earlier. God holds back venting His anger until exactly the right time. God's patience explains why wicked cultures do not immediately receive the judgment they deserve and accounts, in this case, why He had allowed the Assyrians to abuse His people for so long.

v. 3b: "And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished." - While God might wait to mete out judgment for what seems to us as a very long time, He never excuses nations or individuals guilty of evil and is certain to bring them to justice eventually-He forgets nothing.

v. 3c: "In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet." - In this sentence, Nahum describes the "LORD" (YHWH) as the one GOD and Creator who controls all the forces of nature, which utterly contradicts the pagan ideas of cultures like the Assyrians who believed that nature was controlled by various and sundry local deities. In vv. 2-3, Nahum repeats the name "LORD" (YHWH) five times as a literary device to emphasize the fact that he serves and speaks for the one true GOD who is the sovereign Creator in control of all history, past, present, and future.

v. 4: He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; The blossoms of Lebanon wither." - This verse showcases evidence of how the LORD (YHWH), with a simple word, can manifest His omnipotence, as demonstrated in History, as when He parted the Red Sea during the Exodus (Ex. 14:21) and stopped the Jordan River from flowing when His people entered the Promised land (Josh. 3:16). With a single word, He could take normally lush and plenteous regions like Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon instantly turn then into empty deserts.

v. 5:  "Mountains quake because of Him And the hills dissolve; Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, The world and all the inhabitants in it." - The vast mountain ranges-the Rockies, the Alps, the majestic Himalayas-to us seem to be the most stable and fixed features of this planet, yes? Yet, they only continue to exist from moment to moment at God's pleasure. You might remember that Mount Sinai trembled and quaked when God revealed His presence there (Ex. 19:18). Thus, if His mere presence can "upheave" (i.e., create turmoil, confusion, disruption) the entire earth and it inhabitants, destruction of the vast Assyrian Empire would be easy by comparison. In short, nothing in this universe can stand against the power of god. That is Nahum's point.

v. 6:  "Who can stand before His indignation?  Who can endure the burning of His anger?  His wrath is poured out like fire And the rocks are broken up by Him." - We see a progression is these verses that begins with two rhetorical questions," Who can stand?, Who can endure?," the implied answer to which is that no one, whether an individual, a culture, or an entire nation can stand before or endure God's indignation and anger. "Indignation" (Heb. za'am, lit. boiling) is behavior that offends God that, in turn, leads to "the burning of His anger." Now, if God were to use His power to instantly eliminate everyone who causes him offense, there wouldn't be a single person left on the face of the earth. Yet, God's patience will end when His indignation and anger reaches the point where His righteous "wrath" is poured-out on those who offend Him. The point Nahum makes here is that the Assyrians apparently have short memories. When Sennacharib and his vast armies and siege machines encircled the beleaguered city of Jerusalem 60 years before, God had intervened and completely vanquished them in one supernatural act. How could anyone forget that?  Yet, they are foolish: they think their empire is like a solid rock, impervious to destruction. But God will act; He will break them up and scatter them like so much dust.

APPLICATION 1:  People, cultures, and nations that ignore God's power and Grace are already in trouble. Nahum reminds us that GOD is patient and slow to anger on the one hand, but avenging and wrathful on the other. And He is especially wrathful toward those who are the enemies of His people. The time is coming when God's patience will end and His wrath will be poured-out on all of the people, cultures, false religions, and governments that are opposed to-i.e., offend Him. The Assyrian Empire forms an excellent case in point that shows how God deals with these things. In the first instance, He sent Jonah (who was very reluctant initially), to warn them, and they heeded it by repenting. This doesn't mean they became practicing Jews; they simply left Israel and Judah alone for the time being. Then in the second instance, about 100 years later, the Assyrians totally forgot God's previous warning and attacked Jerusalem.  God was using this incident to chasten His people, so that when King Hezekiah and the people humbled themselves in faith, God sent and avenging angel to destroy an entire Assyrian army. Yet, in Nahum's oracle, we see that any lesson learned by the Assyrian Empire and its leaders was soon forgotten. They were blinded by greed and arrogance.


7 The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him.
8 But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site, And will pursue His enemies into darkness. 

v. 7: "The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him." This is a verse of hope and encouragement which is the flip-side of the coin. The LORD is not only avenging and wrathful against those who offend Him. (vv. 2 and 6), He is equally "good," a "stronghold in the day of trouble" to those who seek and believe in Him. And "He knows" them in the sense of having a relationship, and when God knows people, it includes deep feelings of love and affection for them. When God's people seek "refuge in Him;" He will be their strength in times of trouble (Ps. 37:39).

v. 8a: "But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site," - Nahum now returns to the avenging and wrathful side of God's character because it is the main focus of the oracle.  Although not named, the "site" is Nineveh. The judgment "with an overflowing flood" was fulfilled both figuratively and literally: History records that in 609 B.C., during the final siege of Nineveh by the invading Medo-Babylonian armies, unusually heavy rains caused the rivers to flood and undermine the walls protecting the city, which collapsed and essentially allowed the invaders to walk in. And "a complete end of its site" was likewise fulfilled. By the time the victors were through, Nineveh had been reduced to an uninhabitable heap of rubble. The actual site of the city was not actually known until it was rediscovered by archeologists in the 1840s.

v. 8b: "And will pursue His enemies into darkness." - And this happened, too. Not only was the city of Nineveh literally scraped off the face of the earth, but the Assyrians ceased to exist as an identifiable people.

APPLICATION 2: For the people of God today, Nahum's prophecy offers a ray of hope. In our present day and age, which is a time when believing Christians seem to be facing increasing opposition, not just from nations like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea, but even in our own United States, it's easy to lose sight of God's sovereign hand at work. Nahum reminds us that our God is still "a stronghold in the day of trouble" who protects "those who take refuge in Him." And the prophet also informs us that our God will "pursue His enemies into darkness" (v. 7). As NT Christians, we should also remember what Jesus told His disciples during His last days on earth: "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left" (Mt. 25:31-33).