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Online Text Sermon - Survey of Nahum, Nahum ch.1 v.1-ch.3 v.19

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleSurvey of Nahum
TextNahum ch.1 v.1-ch.3 v.19
Sermon ID342

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"God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet" (Nahum 1, 2-3).

Let us turn to the prophecy of Nahum. We have over a number of weeks been looking at the prophets, taking one prophet per Thursday evening, and so we have come in the course of our studies now to consider Nahum. Our motive in doing this is not least in order to try to give ourselves a little more understanding of these Minor Prophets, which are not frequently read, with a view that we should understand better in our own private studies. Our trust and expectation is that we will gather some further information in addition to what we've had before.

We come then to Nahum, and I explain at once that he tells us in the opening words of his prophecy what his burden of concern is: "The burden of Nineveh" (Nahum 1, 1). This word 'burden' is an inspired word which God chose and put in the mouths of these prophets in order that they might bring a judgement upon the objects of this burden. In this case the burden is against a certain city, the city whose name is written down as Nineveh. I explain to you that Nineveh was the capital city of a vast empire, the Assyrian empire. The entire prophecy here of Nahum is an oracle of doom; it is a prediction of the downfall, the destruction, the overthrow, the collapse and the divine judgement upon this city and civilisation. It was a vast city. Many thousands of persons were there, and you will remember that as we were looking at the Book of Jonah just a few weeks ago, when Jonah in his conversation with God was informed, at the close of his prophecy, by God, that there were six-score thousand persons who could not discern between their right hand and their left living in Nineveh. So it must have been a city in which we presume there were all those number of children, over half a million of them. We imagine therefore there must have been at least a million inhabitants of that city. It was a huge city, quite comparable with modern cities today.

The question then comes to us: Why should this book be in the Bible? Why are we, today, interested in Nineveh and what happened to it? Were there not many cities which rose and fell? Why did God put this burden and oracle of Nineveh in the Bible? The answer is because Nineveh was one of the notorious centres of wickedness in the world. Of all the cities of old, this was one of the worst. Another such was Babylon. God has put into his Word these oracles of doom upon these cities - and they came to pass. Archaeologists and those who dig up the past have gone to Babylon and to this place, Nineveh. Today they are just heaps of rubble, nothing more. Sheep are grazing beside them. Babylon has a railway station, I am told, but it does not have a platform worth talking about. It is as insignificant as the tiniest village in the British Isles - nothing more than a heap and perhaps sheep and a few shepherds. All of this is necessary for you and me to know. When God pronounces against a city, a nation, a people, a kingdom, that He will judge it, it most assuredly comes to pass. This book therefore is in the Bible as a reassurance to God's people that just as Nineveh fell, so one day the whole world will fall. The God who smote Nineveh with a stroke of doom and judgement will in the end smite the entire world, and the whole world will be dealt with similarly. God is the enemy of all the enemies of His people. God is the friend of all those that help His people. Nineveh was one of the enemies.

It would be very easy for me to explain to you the division of this little book. There are, as you see, three chapters. These three chapters are themselves a very clear division of this prophecy. I want therefore now to give you some understanding as to what is to be found in each of the chapters.

In Nahum 1 the prophet tells us about the character of God himself. I'll come back to that of course.

In Nahum 2 he gives a vision of the siege of the city. He tells us of its coming overthrow. These things had not yet happened, you understand. It's not as if this is a writer of history - no, no. Nahum was a prophet and he foresaw, by prophetic inspiration, what would happen to these classic enemies of the people of God, the Ninevites. He foresaw. We know almost exactly the sort of time scale involved. You may be interested to know how we know. Well we know that Nineveh collapsed and fell and was destroyed in the month of August, and in the year of 612 BC. We know that this writer therefore - Nahum - was writing perhaps 50 years or so before that. The second chapter gives us a description of the siege and the overthrow of God's enemies.

Nahum 3 gives us the reason why. Why did God destroy this city? The answers to that are given in the third chapter.

That then is the outline of the book, and I think that should help us when we're studying this book on our own privately and reading through it. What we will discover as we do so is that in chapter 1 we have a picture of the character of God; in the second chapter a description as to what happened when in 612 BC the city was destroyed; then in the third chapter we have the reasons why it was destroyed, and the explanation for them, the necessity for it, and the reasons why God did it.

Let's look then at those three divisions which correspond with the chapters of this book as we have them before us. The first one, as I say, deals with the character of God. I'm going to read again the text: "God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet" (text).

It is important for us to see that although this prophecy deals with the destruction of the city of the Ninevites it doesn't begin like that. It begins with God, the character of God, the being of God, and the attributes of God. Many people might say, 'Why does he take all this time - the whole of the chapter - talking about God, when really what he's going to talk about is the destruction of these people and their city and their civilisation? Why does this prophet deal at such length with the character of God?' The answer is of course that all events have their source and origin in the decrees of God - His eternal purpose, that is. The decrees of God are written by a God whose character determines what those decrees will be. So that all events, both great and small, are ultimately traceable to one source, and that is to the character of God. There is a very foolish expression which people sometimes madly use when they're referring to Christians. They write Christians off and say that they're so spiritually minded and so heavenly minded they're of no earthly use. That is exactly the opposite to the Bible's view of truth. The more heavenly minded people are, the more earthly good they will be. In better days, even in our own country, men, who weren't necessarily Christians, had much more of a Christian outlook towards the circumstances of this world. There was a notable case, for instance, in the Second World War where one of the British generals, General Alexander, was holding an earnest conversation with other people - not about the war, not about Hitler, not about the Nazis. What were they talking about, these high-power generals? Well the answer was that they were talking about the Providence of God. You see, even amongst those who weren't necessarily Christians themselves, they wanted heavenly minds. They realised that all earthly events - Hitler and Nazism and Germany and the war - it was all part of a providence, part of a plan, part of God's architectonic and structured control of the universe. Even Mr Churchill himself, Sir Winston Churchill as he became known - though for all I know not a personal Christian - he also had a similar attitude in those days to the Providence of God. He put it, interestingly, like this. He said when he left Buckingham Palace and the late king (His Majesty King George V had commissioned him to be the head of the War Department and the Head of Supreme Control and Intelligence for the war), Churchill said as he walked away from the palace, that he knew in himself that all his previous experience in life was a preparation for that hour. That is the correct way to look at life. Life is not haphazard, and circumstances don't happen fortuitously or accidentally. They come about because of the plan of God. The plan of God is superintended and created by the God who is over the plan and over its outworking.

We now understand why it is that as he is about to give this description of the overthrow of this evil city of Nineveh that Nahum, the servant of God, begins where we should all begin in all things, with God. Don't for a moment imagine that there is no practical value and application to our times. There are things happening in our country and in our world today which are very disturbing indeed. Let me give you an example or two. It is very disturbing indeed that our parliamentary leaders are likely to put their 'Amen' and their blessing to this Treaty of Nice. It is altogether conceivable that the royal signature will be placed to this Treaty of Nice, which will give away still further concessions to European powers, weaken still more the government of our own nation, and threaten still further the security of Protestantism and Bible-based religion in this country. It would be not only worrying and unnerving, it would be dementing were we not to trace all these things up to their source - to God. The Bible tells us we are "in nothing terrified by your adversaries" (Philippians 1, 28). "Though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea" (Psalm 46, 2), says the Bible, God is with his people. That is why you must have this heavenly mind. Even political matters, economic matters, matters of state, the day-to-day things which people are writing about in newspapers and so on - they are all under the control of such a God as the Bible portrays Him to be. We must remember that.

If that's not disturbing enough, to refer to what may happen with the Treaty of Nice, I am also told that some of these Church of England bishops now are part of a scheme to try to recommend the breaking down of England into small parts. These parts, these regions, will be more and more under European control, making our centralised government and our constitution, which is a Protestant constitution, more and more irrelevant. Church of England bishops are pushing that forward. Just as they're trying to break up Great Britain into smaller parts and control it, so we're told these Church of England bishops are helping it forward. Good men who love the Bible, and who love the land we live in, and who are jealous for the souls of the people in the land, you might say we would go off our heads, as we say, we would go mad and be demented by this information, by the stupidity of it and the criminality of it, and the spiritual folly of it, were it not that, like Nahum, we must go above all earthly things and all sublunary powers, and we must remember the divine decree, the divine purpose and the divine character..

So it is that Nahum gives us this perfect example as to how we should conduct our affairs in this world and how we should think. He begins at the beginning by setting before us this character of God.

What are we to say about the character of God as set forth here in Scripture? Many things, and I confine myself to two. First, notice my friends, how dynamic this picture of God is, which we are given here. Look again: "God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth" (text). If there are two statements which are given to us about God which would be deeply unpopular today in the popular religious mind, it would be these two statements. People today do not have a dynamic view of God. People today have what we may call a negative view of God. The average view of God is that he is like Father Christmas - passive. If he does anything He gives a gift, He smiles, He's of no great importance, any more than the Father Christmases in the superstores at Christmas time. He's there to cheer up the children and make them smile, to put a laugh on their faces, and He may give them a bar of chocolate or something. But he's of no importance; he's of no significance to the real activity of life. That's the view of God, that religion and God is of no importance whatsoever to the real world. The real world is about money, buying, spending, economics and politics, but the real world has nothing to do with God, and He has nothing to do with it. You don't need me to tell you that that's the truth - that's the way people are thinking of God. It is a negative view of God. God is irrelevant to them today.

i say therefore that verse 2 enshrines two statements about God which would be monstrously offensive to the modern mind. Look at them, my friends: "God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth..." (text). Well, I can hear the tut-tutting - can't you? - of pious people in the pew today. You dear good people read the Bible still, that's why you can tolerate this, but if you were not Bible readers you would not tolerate what I'm saying to you now, and you would not tolerate what Nahum was saying to you. This is the true view of God - He is jealous! For what is He jealous? He is jealous for His glory, for His people, for His cause, for His church, for the souls of men, women and children, as He is for judgement to come. God 'revengeth, and is furious' - there is it. We would never dare write these things down if it were not to be found in the Bible, but God is said here to revenge His quarrel with men. Vengeance of course is something which we are not permitted to take. We are not allowed to avenge ourselves but God will most assuredly avenge Himself. I draw attention to that note here. It is a most dynamic, positive view of God which this prophet takes, and we must believe in this God. This is the true God. Don't try to change God. To try to change God is a great sin. It is idolatry. That's why people are turning away from the Bible. They don't like the God of the Bible. Yet, the tragedy is, they are going to have to deal with Him, sooner or later. They are going to have to face Him, sooner or later. All of us must stand before Him, sooner or later, so it is futility to change the character of God.

The second thing I say about the character of God, as set before us here, is: notice how wonderfully balanced it is. "The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet" m(text). You see, the Lord is slow to anger. It seems like a contradiction, doesn't it? On the one hand, in verse 2 the Lord is said to be furious; and in verse 3 he is slow to anger. Both of these things are true. We mustn't omit to say either. We get exactly the same thing, as you notice, in verses 6 and 7: "Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him. The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him" (Nahum 1, 6-7).

You see the balance there? Verses 6 and 7 - they give not a contradictory picture of God but a complementary picture of God. God is both love and life; God is both holiness and love. He is both of these. He is infinitely good, infinitely just. Whenever we move away from this picture of God then we have moved away from the true God. We have become idolaters. The greatest sin of the modern church is not careless worship, as many think; it is not so much unsound preaching, as you may suppose; the greatest sin of the modern church is idolatry. People are not worshipping the true God. The true God is the God presented here, the God who is both love and life, both holiness and goodness. Both, at the same time, always. Move away from one or the other and you only have an idol, and you only have a false God.

The second chapter deals, as I have said, with a description of the siege of Jerusalem. I want to give you a brief summary of what he is saying. God does not spare these wicked people: "He that dasheth in pieces is come up before thy face..." (God is talking, you see, to these people of Nineveh) "keep the munition, watch the way, make thy loins strong, fortify thy power mightily" (Nahum 2, 1). He is talking to the people ironically. God is being, if you like, sarcastic. He is saying to these people, 'You evil, wicked men, you idolatrous city, you godless people; the day of your punishment is coming. You have just a few short years to survive. I advise you to do this: to do everything you can to fortify yourselves. Build up the walls, fill bricks in where there are gaps, sharpen your swords, make sure that everything is in readiness for war.' Then God says 'Of course it's all a waste of time. It won't succeed.' Look at verse 3: "The shield of his mighty men is made red, the valiant men are in scarlet: the chariots shall be with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the fir trees shall be terribly shaken" (Nahum 2, 3). In other words, God is saying to these people, though they be never so careful in their preparation and defence, it's all a waste of time. Then he goes on, and he says to these people that they would be surrounded by their enemies. The Babylonians would come, and the Scythians would come, and other enemies would come, and they would destroy these wicked people.

There's a most interesting illustration used that I draw your attention to in verses 11 and following. It's a picture of the people living in this city: "Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feedingplace of the young lions, where the lion, even the old lion, walked, and the lion's whelp, and none made them afraid? The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for his lionesses, and filled his holes with prey, and his dens with ravin. Behold, [says God] I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will burn her chariots in the smoke..." (Nahum 2, 12-13). God is telling the people how He views their society. They were really like a pack of lions - savage, godless, unkind - this is the way these people were, living in that city. That's how our society is becoming, more and more. As the gospel declines, so people are becoming more and more like brute beasts: savage in their attitudes to one another; selfish in their treatment of others; cruel, barbarous, godless, irreligious; exactly the same things as were true of Nineveh of old. Nothing of course has changed. Only one thing can soften this cruel streak in human nature. It is the grace of God. Only one message can bring that grace of God to people's lives and this is the message of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course in Pagan times there was no such message. When Jonah went to Nineveh some time before this, he called upon the people to repent of their wicked ways, and they did, you remember, with fasting and with sackcloth and ashes, and they humbled themselves; and God postponed the judgement. He didn't bring the judgement on them then. He extended their time of tranquillity and peace. But God's patience doesn't last forever against his enemies. Now, this nation had come to the point in which their cup was full.

We must understand what the Bible means by that. Every nation and every people have allocated to it a certain time during which they are allowed to sin. It is like filling a cup with liquid. When their sins have reached a certain point then the cup will be full and overflow. When the cup of a nation is full then God will come down and destroy it. That is the picture the Bible gives. That was about to happen to this city of Nineveh.

My dear friends, I say it again: this is a great encouragement for prayer. This is the reason why we must not neglect prayer meetings and secret prayer, and the worship of God, because so long as there is a praying remnant in a wicked nation the wrath of God will be held back. As God said, you remember, in connection with Lot in Sodom, this is what the angel said to Lot: 'Haste thee, escape thither; for I can not do any thing till thou be come thither' (Genesis 19, 22). Fancy God saying that! He was saying: 'I can't do a thing until you've gone.' Why not? Well because he was a godly man, and God could not, as it were, pour down the wrath and vial of judgement upon the city of Sodom until this good man was gone. So you see, as long as he was there the city was safe. Isn't that what God was hearing from the lips of Abraham? Abraham said, 'Lord, if there are fifty in this city - righteous men - spare it for the fifty's sake,' and God said, 'I will.' And you recall how Abraham, as it were, bargained with God arithmetically, and brought it down to forty-five, and then forty, and thirty and twenty and then he said 'O let not the Lord be angry; supposing there are just ten righteous men in the city?' And God said, 'I will spare it for ten' (Genesis 18). But there weren't ten, there was one, as far as we know, just that one man, and God said to him, when the angels were sent, 'I can do nothing until you've cleared out of this place. Hurry, be gone!' That's how it is today. Whilst there are godly men and women lifting up their hands to heaven and crying against the judgement of God and against the wickedness of their day, it is as though you are binding God's hands, and He will not send the judgement. Hence the great need, my friends, for godly people to be stirring themselves up continually to prayer and to service and to worship lest the cup of our iniquity becomes full.

How was it that this judgement came upon the city? That's what I want to turn to now. The answer to that is found, very interestingly, further on: "Behold, thy people in the midst of thee are women: the gates of thy land shall be set wide open unto thine enemies: the fire shall devour thy bars" (Nahum 3, 13). I've turned to this third chapter and to this verse because here we have the exact prescription and description as to how it was that God was going to destroy these people. Look at these words at the end of verse13: "the gates of thy land shall be set wide open unto thine enemies." This in fact is exactly what happened. Nineveh was strongly defended with huge walls all round it, and it was built just beside the River Tigris in the Middle East, as you know. It was very strongly fortified and defended, both with the river and with its walls. It was almost impregnable, and the armies of the enemies - the Babylonians and the others who came to encircle it to destroy it at that period - they couldn't get in. But God did something to allow them in. It's an amazing fact that the waters rose up in a flood and they dashed against these great walls and smashed down about two-and-a-half miles of the wall. It was the easiest thing in the world for the enemies to come in. So you see, it was not simply the hand of man that executed this judgement; it was the hand of God.

A very similar thing happened many years later in the days of Belshazzar. Do you remember the feast of Belshazzar in which he was drinking with his lords in his feasting banqueting hall? The way that he called for the goblets and the cups and the plates from the Lord's house in Jerusalem which had been captured by Nebuchadnezzar to be brought in, and they drank out of them, and ate out of them, and praised the gods of silver and the gods of gold. Remember how the fingers of a man's hand were seen writing on the wall, and saying, "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" (Daniel 5, 25) - "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting'? (Daniel 5, 27). Well, that very night, his great city of Babylon collapsed and fell and the enemies came in and he was killed - that same night! How did that happen? It was an amazing providence there again. In the wisdom of God, the surrounding armies had encompassed this city. They diverted the course of the River Euphrates so that instead of running through the city - rather like the river that runs through Inverness - these clever enemies built a huge artificial canal right round and diverted the course of the river, leaving a dry river bed running through the city. All they had to do was to march through where the river had been.

You see, the lesson is this, that there is no fighting against God. God has ways and means of bringing down the strongest and the mightiest of those who oppose Him. On this occasion, as I say here, the way in which it was done was that the floodwaters rose up from the river itself and dashed against the walls, and about two-and-a-half miles of this wall were thrown down.

Well, that is how they were punished. It gives us just a few to say something about the reason why. In Nahum 3, why was it that this judgement came upon this people? The answer is, in one word: it was for their sin. "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14, 34). Let us hope there are some in our government who are listening to this message today.

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