If you are looking for a pick-me-up, then perhaps your reading travels shouldn’t stop at Nahum. I haven’t met too many Nahums. Come to think of it, I haven’t met any. I know folks named Joshua, Matthew, and Isaiah. Two or three Jeremiahs come to mind. But no Nahums. If you take the time to read his book, then it may become clear why Nahum doesn’t even rank on onomastic charts.
This obscure prophetic book barks and bites. Nestled in the middle of the so-called Minor Prophets, Nahum’s prophetic word is anything but “minor.” Readers with an overly domestic view of God will be challenged herein. Why? Because God roars against his enemies in Nahum. He’s furious.
The players in Nahum’s prophecy are Yahweh, the God of Israel, Judah, and the Neo-Assyrian Empire. “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God,” so Nahum begins: not quite the opening lines one might expect from a religious sales pitch. But God’s kingdom and his righteousness are no commodities of exchange. He is God and there is no other.
Those who set themselves over against God and his kingdom will meet a sure end. From an historical standpoint, the Neo-Babylonian Empire put an end to Assyria’s long and tyrannical reign. But the forward looking character of the prophets does not relegate Nahum’s prophetic warning to ancient Assyria alone. The startling images in the Book of Revelation come to mind.
What perplexes interpreters most about Nahum is its relation to Jonah: same Ninevah, same problems addressed, two completely different accounts of Assyria’s reaction. In Jonah, Assyria repents en masse, leading to the repentance of God concerning his judgment against them. If you recall, Jonah was none-too-happy about this. I call this Jonah as Elder Brother.
In Nahum, we read of judgment alone. Of course, interpreters for some time have reasoned through this by historical means. The repentant Ninevah of Jonah in time becomes the recalcitrant Ninevah of Nahum. And while the historical argument has its merit and may in fact be true, no such narrative is given in Scripture. We’re left with Jonah and Nahum, split by Micah, registering their seemingly competitive tones.
Without giving this subject matter its full due, I’ll suggest the following. Jonah and Nahum stand now as canonical witnesses to the potential of the nations in their relation to the God of Israel, the God we properly identify as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The repentant who turn by faith in full trust of God’s infinite grace will always meet the God of Jonah: full of mercy and steadfast love, slow to anger, and quick to forgive (Exod. 34:6-7). The Father runs off the porch for them.
But there is a flip side, a message whose power and difficulty have been with us for a long time. For those who stiffen their necks and set themselves against God and his kingdom, the God of Nahum awaits them. These “anti-elect” will certainly know in time that God is no tame lion. He is patient, but Nahum teaches us that his patience has a limit. Can you see the fiery eyes of Jesus as he flips the tables in the Temple Yard? Jesus meek and mild, well, yes, sometimes; one could say even most of the time. But not all the time.
Nahum has a gospel word: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (Nah. 1:7). For those who take refuge in him, safety, security, and peace await. For those who don’t, “the crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel” (Nah. 3:2).
Maybe the next time we sing together the Venite and come to the line: “Oh that today you would harken to his voice,” we will remember Nahum’s warning and his gospel hope.