Nahum: A prophet of . . . comfort?!?
Thomas D. Kock
Nahum means “comfort.”
But Nahum’s prophecy begins: “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath” (1:2).
That’s . . . comfort?
Let’s talk about it.
A messages of wrath
The book of Nahum is directed primarily against Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians built their empire by ferociously attacking other nations, killing, pillaging, then exacting exorbitant tribute. Indeed, Nineveh’s cruelty was breathtaking. History records the Ninevites flaying some of their prisoners or impaling captured peoples on sharpened poles. Their warfare was brutal.
Yet what did God do? In amazing grace, God sent Jonah to prophesy to the Ninevites, probably around 760 B.C. And amazingly, the people of Nineveh repented! Jonah’s book ends with a beautiful statement of God’s love even for Nineveh: “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?” (Jonah 3:11)
But it wasn’t long until Nineveh was back at it. About 40 years later, they would conquer the Northern Kingdom, killing or exiling most of its inhabitants. The Assyrians then imported other captured peoples into the conquered north, and the intermarriage between them and the remaining Israelites resulted in the people called Samaritans. Later (about 701 B.C.) they would invade Judah and decimate most of the country, but God miraculously intervened and preserved Judah (cf. Isaiah 37:36,37).
Now it’s Nahum’s time, and God’s patience with Nineveh had run out. Yes, God is “slow to anger,” but he also “will not leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:3). Although “the LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (1:7), it’s also true that “with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh” (1:8). God had been incredibly gracious! He’d even sent a prophet to Nineveh. But Nineveh had abused his patient grace. So, now they would feel God’s severe punishment: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses” (3:3). Naham concludes his prophecy: “All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?” (3:19).
Jonah taught us that God graciously cared for Nineveh; Nahum tells us that the Ninevites, who scorned God’s grace, would feel his wrath.
A message of comfort for believers
And this is comfort?
For the people of God, yes, it’s comfort, for it reminds us of important truths:
- God will not be mocked. Those who stand against God will eventually feel his wrath.
- God advanced his plan of salvation through the Ninevites. Their judgment meant God was serious about disobedience and rebellion, and that judgmentbrought the Southern Kingdom to its knees in repentance.
- Even in the middle of this great judgment, theLord held out grace and mercy to his faithful.
Yes, that’s comfort!
And, those comforts remain today. Those who stand against God will feel his wrath. God acts sometimes with brutal force to bring people to repentance. But we find comfort because “the LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (1:7).
And that’s a great comfort.
Contributing editor Thomas Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee.
This is the seventh article in a 12-part series on minor prophets
Home: Elkosh. Maybe in southern Judah?
Date: Sometime between 663 (fall of Thebes) and 612 B.C. (fall of Nineveh).
Unique feature: Almost completely directed against one nation—Assyria (and Nineveh, its capital).
Key verse: 2:13 and 3:5. “ ‘I am against you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”
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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018
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