Sermon on Nahum 1:1-8 – “The Comfort of God’s Wrath”

Sermon on Nahum 1:1-8 – “The Comfort of God’s Wrath”

Sermon for Sunday Evening, June 30, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text

[Nah 1:1-8 ESV] 1 An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. 2 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. 3 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. 4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. 5 The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. 6 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. 7 The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. 8 But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.

Introduction

I have a single unfulfilled desire in life. Someday—just once—I’d love for this to happen. Not any of your typical bucket-list items. I just want to see—just once—when a car recklessly passes me on the highway that immediately he gets pulled over for speeding. JUSTICE!

We all desire justice; the criminal to be caught, the guilty to be punished for their actions.

There is, rightfully, great discourse in the Christian world about God’s grace and mercy. This is the Gospel. God loves his people in this way: He sent His son to die for our sins.

But there is another aspect of God’s nature that the Scriptures speak about even more than His love. It is His justice, and the wrath of God that proceeds from His justice.

Now there are two great minor prophet books about the city of Nineveh in Assyria.

In the book of Jonah we see emphasis on God’s grace. He sends a preacher (the prophet Jonah) to Nineveh to cry out “Repent.” “Turn away from your evil.” “Turn to the Lord, for if not, in 40 days Nineveh shall be overthrown.” And, they did so. The people of Nineveh, from the King on down to the common man, “turned from their evil” and so “God relented of the disaster that he said he would do to them.”

That is Jonah. God’s grace. His holding back of His wrath that was due to Nineveh. And Jonah himself is seen not to have such grace as God; Jonah desired the destruction of Nineveh, that great and evil enemy of Israel. And he was more concerned about the plant outside the city that was giving him shade than he was about the people (children included) in Nineveh.

Now, Jonah is the end was sitting outside of Nineveh, hoping that the people would “repent of their repentance.” He had a front row seat to the destruction of Nineveh, had they lost the favor of God.

And, well, the thing is, Jonah was 100 years too early.

Now, in the book of Nahum, we find that other great aspect of God; not his love and grace, but his justice and wrath.

I. The Nature of God Shown in His Wrath

God is not only a God of Love, but a God of wrath.

This is the truth we must learn. God is love. But also God is wrath. The text says “the Lord is avenging and wrathful.” We accept that truth, so that we have a proper Biblical view of God. We mustn’t make up God to be what we desire Him to be, but rather we must see what the Scriptures tells us He is. And He is full of wrath against His enemies.

While one generation of Ninevites repented, they soon turned back to evil, away from the Lord.

And they went back to their cruelty. That is what Nineveh and the Assyrians are most known for: utter cruelty. Tortuous, evil practices.

Application: Beware how quickly a people can fall away from the Lord.

A whole nation repented. Then a whole nation fell from the Lord. We can never take confidence in the fact that “this is a Christian nation,” or, as I heard so often in the South “my granddad was a Baptist preacher.” We must have faith for ourselves. And we must teach that faith to our children, and pray for the Lord to give his grace to all our generations. I study the history of this area, and like many other places in America, the churches were once much more thriving. At Unionville the peak attendance was around the time of the first world war. In many churches, the 1950s were peak years. And there have been revivals at other times. But today, by in large, there is decline in the churches. Even more so from Covid. And we have to be all the more vigilant that our children do not fall away from the Lord. We must teach them up in the ways of the Lord.

The Ninevites did not do this. Or if they tried, it didn’t stick.

And so the Lord tells us about the wrath to come upon Nineveh through another prophet, Nahum of Elkosh.

It is not known exactly where “Elkosh” is. Some think it was in Northern Israel, which means Nahum is of the people who have seen the Assyrian destruction upon Israel. Others have said Elkosh was in Judah. In this case Nahum would be writing to the people who have not been conquered by the Assyrians, but are afraid of that happening. (This I think is perhaps the most likely location). Yet others think Elkosh is in Assyria.

“Nahum” means “comfort.” And you might think “that is an ill-fitting name, when this destruction and wrath upon Nineveh is being prophesied.” But it is not so ill-fitting indeed. It is that very wrath of God upon Nineveh that is a comfort to the people of God.

For, while God is “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,” He is not without anger; not without justice, and not without wrath. And upon these continued evil of Nineveh, God says he takes “takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.”

I have found it valuable to outline a short chronology of Nineveh as it relates to Biblical events. This is just the shortest outline possible, but might help give us context.

760 BC.

Around 760 BC Jonah goes to Nineveh and they repent. This was then a strong empire, and Jonah knew it. That’s why he was hoping for their destruction, because they were a threat to Israel.

722 BC

That threat comes to reality in 722 BC when the Assyrians conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel and take away those ten tribes. Presumably the repentance of the Ninevites had ceased sometime before this.

663 BC

Then we find the Fall of Thebes (in Egypt); destroyed at the hands of the Assyrians. This was perhaps the height of the Assyrian empire.

660 BC

We then have Nahum coming in with his prophesy sometime perhaps just a few years later. And if you were around you’d say “Yeah, right.” “There’s no way that this powerful empire will fall.”

612 BC

But the prophesy of God comes to pass in 612 BC when Assyria falls to the Babylonias, with the help of the Medes and Scythians.

Their fall could have come sooner, but God relented of the disaster He had said he would do to Nineveh in the time of Jonah. The Lord allowed Nineveh to continue. But then, with Nahum, he says “I will allow this no longer.” Evil must be punished. Justice must be met. His wrath will soon come upon Nineveh.

This book of Nahum is not another call to repentance like Jonah was to Nineveh. Rather, it is written to the people of Judah, telling them not to despair because God has pronounced judgment upon Assyria for their evil.

This is a great comfort for the people of Judah. That enemy (Assyria) that had conquered the Norther Kingdom of Israel, they too shall have their end.

If someone were to think “this is a gloomy book” I must disagree. This is all about comfort. The destruction of Nineveh, the punishment of evil, is Good for Judah. This is comforting, good news. “The Lord will be no means clear the guilty.”

Application: To have a complete view of God, we must understand that He is just.

Our view of God is incomplete if we say only “God is love.” We must understand Him more fully as He is revealed in Scripture, and recognize that God is Just. He is a God of justice and wrath.

There are many churches that preach “love.” But this can easily be misguided. If we preach only “love” and not “justice” we might become Universalists or accepting of sin.

This is why healthy churches have three marks: Word, sacrament, and DISCIPLINE.

And a church is imbalanced if it does not have all three. I think there is a correlation here with old so-called mainline churches. Some (not all) preach the Gospel. Most, probably all of them, have sacraments. But few, very few have church discipline.

And the correlation is this: they don’t give the full message; they might preach love, but they don’t preach justice. Well, they preach “social justice” and all formed of what ill’s they see in society, but they often overlook the fact that God will bring down His wrath upon evil.

But we must understand that. And it is for our comfort; the speeder on the road will be arrested. The murderer will have his due.

But God’s wrath is also so important for us to understand his grace. For because His Wrath is what we deserve, we are so much more appreciative of his grace!

The reality is that we are sinners. So when Nahum says “Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger?” We know, we cannot do so!

Only, by the grace of God do we have salvation from His wrath through Jesus Christ.

And there is that Gospel too in our text. First we have comfort in knowing that God will punish evil. But then we have comfort in knowing that God is good and saves his people.

Not only does the wrath of God miss us like an arrow flying past its target, but even more God is a refuge for us.

“The Lord is GOOD, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.”

Praise the Lord that He knows us! Praise the Lord that He is our stronghold. Praise the Lord that through his spirit we take refuge in him. For there is no other way to escape his wrath, but to run into the arms of our savior Jesus Christ.

II. The Power of God Shown in His Wrath

Really the bulk of this passage is focused on the power of God shown in his wrath.

While there is the Great Nineveh, seemingly unconquerable, there is the much greater God.

And so we see the futility of all of Nineveh’s plans, when set against the Lord. None can “stand before his indignation.”

Nations and kingdoms rise and fall on God’s timing. The Fall of Nineveh is an example of how God is at work in every age. He won’t allow violent empire to endures forever. Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, etc.

And here is the description of his wrath and power:

His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; [Think of the Red Sea in the Exodus]

he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; [places famous for frutiful meadows, fail to produce anything if the Lord wrath is upon them]

the bloom of Lebanon withers. [Those great cedars, nothing compared to the Lord]

5 The [very] mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him,

the world and all who dwell in it.

6 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.

Absolute devastating end to Nineveh. Never rebuilt.

And this is comforting.

Hundreds of years of Assyria domination, but it comes to an end.

God is in control.

It was 100 years for Sarah without child, but the Lord intervened.

Today – a 100 years of church decline, but the Lord is still working in our midst and may bring revival to these lands.

III. Our Comfort Found in God’s Wrath

a positive encouragement and “message of comfort for Israel, Judah, and others who had experienced the “endless cruelty”[30] of the Assyrians.

To hear from God “you are safe.”

Not comfort for the criminal, but comfort for the law-abiding of society.

We have this craving for Justice.

And if someone has committed a crime against you or a loved one, you want to see them pay the fine or serve the time for their crime.

God is glorious in mercy

God is glorious in justice

Conclusion: There is Gospel Even Here

And comfort too in that Gospel.

7 The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.

This is the good news of deliverance, not from Assyria but from the Wrath of God.

The wrath of God does not fall upon those who trust in the Lord; it fall only upon His enemies. The Lord is a refuge to His people.

And knowing of God’s wrath, his mercy for us is all the more remarkable.

We are saved from the wrath of God by Jesus Christ.

If you say “Jesus Saves” and a person doesn’t know what it is that he saves you from, then they are lost. But wrath is what we deserve, and yet Christ saves us from that wrath. For no one can stand before his indignation. But in Christ is our refuge.

There are many advertisements that try to get you sold on a product saying “Go ahead, you deserve it.” Be good to yourself, you deserve it. And we are supposed to think, “Yeah, I work hard, I deserve it.”

No, no. We deserve nothing. Nothing but God’s wrath for our sins. But everything good that we get is grace from God.