The prophecy of Nahum ends with the Lord twice proclaiming some of the most terrifying words that you would never want to hear in your life. “I am against you.” The Lord says this against Nineveh in Nahum 2:13 and Nahum 3:5. The third chapter of Nahum is going to show us what this means for the Lord to be against you. Further, Nahum is going to tell us why the Lord is against them. Finally, we will consider some important lessons from the conclusion of this prophecy thinking about what we learn for our lives today. As we come back into this prophecy I want us to remember that this book is revealing the just love of the Lord. In the first lesson we saw this pictured as the comforting severity of God. In the second lesson we saw this pictured as God’s people trust in the Lord because they have heard the good news that God reigns and he will bring his judgments in his time. In this third chapter we are going to see God continue the images of final judgment on the Assyrians and then consider the wasted repentance from the people of Nineveh.
Judgment Justified (3:1-7)
Nahum 3 begins with the Lord justifying the judgment that is coming against the city and the Assyrian Empire. They are a city that is full of blood, lies, and plunder. There is no end to the prey that they have consumed. Verses 2-3 reveal that the Lord will do to them as they have done to the world. The Assyrians have heaped up the slain and the corpses as a bloodthirsty people. So God will also do to them in judgment. This is a concept that needs to govern our thinking that is easy to forget about especially in our careless world. The Lord says that he will repay for what we do as a nation and as individuals. The apostle Paul declares in Romans 12:19 that vengeance belongs to the Lord and he will repay. I want us to think about the idea of repayment. God is going to repay our actions. God will repay a nation for its wickedness on its people and its wickedness on other people. God will repay what we have done to others. If you have been ruthless and lacked mercy toward others, then God will do the same toward you. If you have refused to be generous, then God will not be generous with you. If you have not been forgiving of others, then God will not be forgiving toward you. God’s judgments are always justified and he warns us that what we do toward others will be repaid.
Further, because of Nineveh’s cruelty, Nahum proclaims that no one is going to care when the city falls. In verse 7 he says that the city will be wasted but no one is going to grieve for it. No one in the world is going to be sad to see the city be destroyed. The city will receive the consequences for its wicked ways. This is an interesting way to look at our lives. If we have been harsh and merciless toward people, do you think people will care about us? How sad is it when children do not care about what happens to their parents because they have lived so selfishly and so wickedly against their children? I knew an older woman many years ago who faithfully came to worship until her health did not allow her to do so any longer. In all of her years here, I never met any of her family members. As she made arrangements for her passing, she knew that no one was going to be coming for her death. I only knew her toward the end of her life. But it made me wonder how she lived her life so that there was no one who would grieve for her. The question of verse 7 is thought-provoking. “Where shall I seek comforters for you?” No one is going to care when you are going because your wickedness was so great.
Useless Strength (3:8-19)
The rest of the chapter gives pictures of how the power of Nineveh will be useless. It does not matter that they are a great empire. God is going to bring them to an end. In verse 8 God reminds about how Assyria was able to conquer Thebes in Egypt and the cruelty of their conquest (3:9-10). Why do you think it will be any different for you? You too will also have your fortresses destroyed (3:11-13). You can try to prepare for your coming fall, but it will not matter (3:14-19). Your strength will not help. Your armies will not matter. Your leaders will not be your rescue. Your wealth will not save you. Nothing can save you when the Lord proclaims, “I am against you.” Listen to the weighty words of how this prophecy ends in verse 19.
Nothing can heal you; your wound is fatal. All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty? (Nahum 3:19 NIV)
Everyone is going to clap their hands when you fall because everyone has experienced your evil cruelty. No one in the world shed a tear for Assyria’s fall. God’s judgment is just and the whole world will know it.
So what has happened? This is a very important question considering what he see in the book of Jonah. About 150 years earlier Jonah preached to Nineveh bringing about a complete repentance of the city. But now the city is going to be completely destroyed. It did not take long for there to be a complete turn from their evil ways (Jonah 3:8-10) to returning to their wicked ways. How can that happen? To ask the question another way, why is it that our repentance does not stick?
I want to begin by dismissing false repentance. It is certainly true that people can have a false repentance because they feel sorry for what they have done. The apostle Paul spoke about this in 2 Corinthians 7:10 where he mentions that there is a worldly grief that produces death rather than repentance. But, based on what we read in Jonah 3:8-10, the Lord accepts the repentance of the people of Nineveh. So I do not we can believe that we can say that this city had a false repentance. I do not believe the Lord would have relented from the proclaimed disaster if the people did not offer true repentance. This leads us back our question. What happened? How can disaster come after repenting? What changed? How did their repentance end up wasted?
First, there are so many instances in the scriptures where we see that future generations were not taught to love and fear the Lord. While Nineveh repents, the next generation does not follow in that repentance. We see in the life of the priest, Eli, whose children were rebellious to the Lord (1 Samuel 2:12). The generation that came after Joshua and the conquest of the land had the same outcome.
And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10 ESV)
This is an important reminder to us that our children will not follow the Lord simply because you follow the Lord. Future generations must be taught to love and fear the Lord. This is why the Lord instructed through Moses for Israel to diligently teach God’s word to their children at every opportunity (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). The primary message to teach your children is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). We cannot simply teach our children to go to church. We cannot simply teach our children a sample of the rules. We must teach our children to engage the Lord. We must teach our children to seek the things of God and show them the glorious beauty of God’s character and God’s ways. If you wait to teach, then it will be too late to teach. Even living in the love of Christ is not enough. You must explain your faith and teach your love for God to your children so they can understand what they see in your life. Teach your repentance to your children so that they will understand why you walk in the Lord.
But why else does repentance fail? I think the writer of Hebrews addresses this problem in Hebrews 6. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews proclaims.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Hebrews 6:1–3 ESV)
I want us to think about what the writer says should be happening but has not happened yet. The writer says that there needs to be a going on to maturity. What does moving on toward maturity look like? The author gives a number of pictures. But I want to focus on one of them. We are to go on to maturity “not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works.” What happens is that there is a true repentance but nothing happens after that. The spiritual walk stalls at repentance. I think this is a bigger problem than is often recognized. We turn to the Lord and seek him but then life returns to normal. I think this can happen frequently when people come to the Lord in baptism. They are convicted of their sins and give their lives to Jesus. But then the next day comes and life does not change. The next day life returns to what it always has been. I think this happens frequently when it comes to true repentance. We are convicted by our sins and plead to the Lord for forgiveness sincerely. But then tomorrow comes and we do not move forward toward maturity. We just keep laying the foundation of repentance over and over again. We are convicted by sin, we repent, but then we return to our sinful ways. In this way, our repentance is wasted because we never move forward. We keep spinning our wheels in the same place. Friends, if we do not move forward to maturity, then we will fall back into our old sinful ways. Faith cannot terminate at repentance or else you will waste your repentance. You will come to the Lord only to return to your sins. Listen to how Peter warned against this problem.
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. (2 Peter 2:20 ESV)
Why is the last state worse than the first? I think Peter gives a lot of answers to that question in his second letter. But one of the things he is pointing out is that you are dealing with people who think they are acceptable to God when they are not. We return to our old sinful lives but we think that we are acceptable to God because we repented. The people Peter is warning about are people who are following their fleshly desires and they think there is nothing wrong with that (in fact they call it freedom) when they are actually condemned (cf. 2 Peter 2:17-19).
So what do we need to move forward to maturity and away from laying over and over again the foundation of repentance? I think a good answer to this question is look at what God’s people did after they repented.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)
They devoted their lives to spending time in God’s word and listening to God’s teaching. They devoted their lives to spending time with other Christians working together in spiritual activities (fellowship). They devoted themselves to remembering the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus (Lord’s Supper/breaking bread). They devoted their lives to prayer. Friends, if we are not moving forward spiritually, then you are drifting backward. Repentance require making hard life changes or you are wasting your repentance. Repentance requires changing how we live or else we simply go back to the sinful things we were always doing. We can assume that Nineveh failed to go forward with the Lord. Because their repentance did not stick and did not last meant that judgment came. Repentance without life change means we will still remain under God’s wrath. So let us go on to maturity so that we do not waste our repentance.