It’s advent season, and I’m teaching through the book of Nahum. I know. It’s weird, right? I didn’t particularly plan to teach through this book during advent, but things just happened that way. The even stranger thing is it has kind of made sense.
Nahum’s name means comfort, which dovetails nicely with advent, comforting Christmas carols, and looking forward to Jesus coming into the world. The difficult part is the book of Nahum is a prophecy that is all about wrath and judgment—two topics no one wants to talk about, especially at Christmas. If we’re being honest, those two topics are completely offensive to western therapeutic culture, which holds self as the highest authority.
However, justice is a hot topic and buzzword these days. In order to have justice, there has to be a judgment of what’s right and wrong to begin with. In order for things to be made right, judgment has to take place.
A stronghold and refuge
When Nahum writes this prophecy, the Assyrians have been terrorizing the Israelites for hundreds of years. In fact they had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and taken them into exile. Nahum’s message of God’s judgment and wrath on Nineveh and the Assyrians brings the Israelites comfort. God is setting things right. He is giving them justice.
Nahum doesn’t begin with wrath and judgment. He begins with who God is, and the entire first chapter is dedicated to explaining God’s characteristics versus the Assyrians. God is Jealous and avenging (Something else we don’t like to talk about and find offensive, but that’s another discussion.) God is slow to anger. He is great in power. He will not clear the guilty. No one can stand before His indignation, because he is magnificent. And the culminating and comforting characteristic—The Lord is good. He is a stronghold and a refuge in times of trouble.
Setting things right
Chapter 2 of Nahum describes in vivid detail the destruction of the city of Nineveh, and chapter 3 describes the fall of the Assyrian empire. God brings the cruelty of the Assyrians to an end. Their powerful empire melts away right in front of their eyes. They can’t believe it. They’re in shock.
Tim Mackie says one of the big takeaways from the book is that Nahum presents Nineveh as an example of how God will not allow violent, arrogant empires who refuse to humble themselves to endure. We see that throughout history—Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Rome, the Mongols, the Ottomans, the Spanish empire, the Portuguese empire, the British, on and on. Yes, maybe even America. We don’t know. In His time, God will set things right by His standard, not ours, because His standard is perfect and holy.
The reversal in fortune the Assyrians experience should sound familiar. We shouldn’t be surprised. Read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. Jesus takes what the world thinks makes a mighty and powerful kingdom and flips it on its head.
That doesn’t just apply to pagan nations or empires. When the Israelites turn from God and refuse to humble themselves, God brings judgement and justice with the intention of bringing them to repentance, so He can show them grace and bring them back into relationship with Him. Having a relationship with God is the ultimate good. It also applies to our own little empires we build in our private circles and in our minds.
Ultimately, what kingdom is God interested in? He’s interested in the Kingdom of God. He wants us to be citizens of His Kingdom, but in order for that to happen things have to be set right. Judgment has to take place.
He flips the idea of what the world thinks makes a mighty kingdom on its head again. Advent is looking forward to the coming of the King. He doesn’t come as a mighty warrior, like the Assyrians. He comes as baby. The King comes down from his throne, becoming man. He is tempted, but lives a perfect life, so that He could pay the price for us to be set free from the slavery of sin. On the cross, He takes the judgment on Himself. Three days later, He rose from the grave, conquering sin and death—setting all things right once and for all.
As Christians, adopted into the family of God, we are not called to be part of any earthly empire. Earthy empires will fail. We can mourn the state of society, and we should prayerfully intercede for it. But ultimately, we are called to be part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the only way into that Kingdom, because He is the King.