Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, July 31, 2022

Text: Nahum 1:12-15

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Dear Friends in Christ, We’ve now reached the halfway point in our summer sermon series on the minor prophets. Six down, and including today, six to go. One of the things we’ve learned thus far is just how little personal information we’re given about these men of God.

This is undoubtedly by God’s design. With a few exceptions, the focus is on what they say rather than who they are. So they make their cameo appearance as God’s spokesmen for a particular time and, having fulfilled their role, disappear from the pages of Scripture.

Today’s featured prophet follows this pattern. We are told his hometown (although Bible scholars don’t know exactly where it was), and based on his prophecy, we can determine a time range when he worked. Other than that, we know little about him.

What we do know, of course, is his name. Maybe it was given to him at birth by his parents, or maybe it was bestowed upon him later in life by God. Either way, his name is telling. In Hebrew, Nahum means “comfort.” And what we will find as we work through this word from God is how

NAHUM’S MESSAGE IS TRUE TO HIS NAME

It brought comfort to God’s people back then, and it brings comfort to us today.

For this text to make sense, we need to set it up with its historical background. The book of Nahum is really a sequel to the book of Jonah. He was our focus a couple of weeks ago. We’ll need to revisit his story.

You may recall that God commissioned Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, the foremost city in the country of Assyria. Because God has great compassion for all the people of his world, he asked Jonah to confront them with their sin and then proclaim God’s judgment upon them if they failed to repent.

Jonah didn’t want the job. Assyria was known throughout the ancient world as a bloodthirsty, pagan and cruel nation – and one which historically always posed a threat to the people of God. In his mind Jonah obviously felt Nineveh was unworthy of God’s grace. So he immediately booked passage on a ship going the opposite direction. We all know how God intervened.

When God commissioned him to go to Nineveh a second time, Jonah complied. And his preaching had the desired effect. The people of Nineveh repented and came to faith in the One True God. The final chapter of Jonah ends with Jonah being unhappy about this. He’s still rooting for Nineveh’s destruction. Hopefully that changed, but that’s the way his book ends.

Fast forward approximately 100 years or so. Nineveh’s repentance and relationship with God was apparently short lived. They went back to their evil ways. Now we see that God’s patience and compassion, deep and wide as it is, eventually comes to an end. Especially when it comes to those who trouble God’s people. In a sense, Jonah would be getting his wish.

This brings us to our text. The people of God chafed under the nation of Assyria, but God comforts them with the promise that he will soon bring this to an end. Nahum predicts the demise of Israel’s long-standing enemy with these words:

“Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be destroyed and pass away.
Although I have afflicted you, Judah, I will afflict you no more. Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away.”

Nahum’s prophecy continues in the form of a direct address to Nineveh, which the people of God are allowed to overhear:

The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods.
I will prepare your grave…

In other words, their destruction will be complete and enduring. Soon Nineveh will be dead and buried. And now the ultimate and overriding reason for God’s actions toward them is given:

… for you are vile.”

This is a key to understanding this and some of the other historical portions of Scripture, so we should develop this a little further.

We mentioned earlier that ancient Assyria had hall of fame credentials when it came to cruel and inhumane treatment toward their enemies. Their political leaders possessed that lethal combination of unchecked ambition and indifference (even delight) to human suffering. Their religion was steeped in sorcery, witchcraft, and idolatry. The single word “vile” is an apt description of their entire culture.

And it was offensive to God. Especially after he had reached out to them through Jonah. Especially since they had obviously rejected God’s compassionate overtures.

Bible critics and sometimes even professing Christians find the wrath and judgment of God troublesome and inconsistent with his nature. God is love, is he not? Then how are we to understand sections of Scripture like this? Or, for instance, when Joshua entered the Promised Land with the instruction to wipe out the nations that were currently inhabiting it?

Yes, God is love. And in his love he is long-suffering and patient with the people of earth in bringing them into a relationship with him. His desire, as stated by Paul, is that all people might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. And as we search the Scriptures we find he always gives fair warning before he acts.

But love is not to be equated with the tolerance of evil – especially when that evil and sin has been repeatedly warned against and brought to the attention of the people who were committing such moral atrocities. Nineveh is a case in point. And in the year 612 BC Nineveh was defeated and completely destroyed by a coalition of the next ascending world superpowers.

Yes, God is love. But love consistently spurned ultimately brings God’s judgment. Not in a vindictive or capricious manner. Because God, who is the God of history, always acts in a way that is consistent with his perfect righteousness and love.

The ultimate act of God’s love, of course, is so beautifully described by John in his first letter: “This is love; not that we loved God, that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” More on this in just a minute.

But back to our text. The people of God, having been told that Nineveh will no longer be a threat to them, could be comforted by anticipating (at least for a while) a time of peace and renewal. So Nahum sums it all up by saying:

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

How everything played out is all very interesting. But does this obscure minor prophet and his little three-chapter book have relevance for us today? Very much so. So let’s now consider what Nahum’s message means to us today. It brings us comfort in three areas.

First, it means that God, who is the God of history, will take care of matters according to his way and according to his timetable.

We live in a world where it seems like evil is prevailing and bad people are prospering, and anti-Christian forces and influences are gaining the upper hand. We look on the world scene and see what is happening in Ukraine, the saber-rattling going on between the U.S. and China, the political divisiveness which seems to be reaching epic proportions, and people getting away with stuff they shouldn’t be getting away with.

And as much as we try to tune things out or rise above them or console ourselves with the knowledge that God is in control, we can find ourselves getting just a bit depressed.

Well, God knows what we know, and God sees what we see. And what the Book of Nahum tells us is that in the end no one “gets away” with anything. There will be a reckoning. There will be a time when everyone will give an account. We may just have to live with what we consider injustices in this world while God works things out according to his timetable and not ours.

But of this we can be sure: those who trouble the world and others and have no regard for God or God’s people will one day find themselves in the courtroom of God. And this is what they will learn: “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked,” writes Paul.

It brings us comfort to know that God really is in control.

A second lesson from Nahum is the assurance that God always has our back, even when it may seem otherwise.

We know from the Old Testament Psalms and the prophets that oftentimes the people of God felt like God was distant from them, or maybe even uncaring. This was particularly true when they found themselves dealing not only with world events that had an impact on them, but also with various personal issues that weighed heavily on them. The people of Nahum’s time also felt that way.

So God told them, I’m here. I hear your prayers. I see your situation. And I will respond. In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that I’ll never leave you or forsake you. Or as God told Paul when he was in a down time, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Note, not my grace will be sufficient for you (future tense), but present tense. The grace to endure is already here. It’s ours to appropriate now.

And of course, we take comfort in knowing that the cross of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of our sins is the ultimate act of God “having our back.” Everything else flows from that cross. Here we see the length and depth and width of God’s love for us. Indeed, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

The cross of Christ and the assurance of God’s eternal love and presence in our lives brings us comfort.

A final and related truth that Nahum teaches us is to always take the long view. Whatever God asks us to endure here on this earth is light and momentary, and whatever our present sufferings may be are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us, says the Apostle Paul.

So, in the words of the hymnist, Nahum reminds us to keep our eyes on “that bright shore where we weep no more.”

At the beginning of this sermon we mentioned we are half-way through the minor prophets. While there are differences, there is also a satisfying sameness in the messages of hope and confidence and divine justice they all convey regardless of our circumstances in life.

Today is, gratefully and happily, more of the same. May the message of a man whose name means “comfort” bring us just that as we continue our journey through life and to eternal life. Amen.