Who is the Lord? The book of Nahum will speak to the nature and character of the Lord. The book of Nahum can be considered a sequel to the book of Jonah. Both of them are prophetic messages to Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrian Empire was a vicious empire, considered one of the most cruel in ancient world history. We will see some of the things that they did as we study this book. Nahum prophecies against Nineveh about 100-150 years after Jonah preached there. But there is something a little different about the two prophets. While Jonah went to the city of Nineveh and preached against the city, Nahum is preaching against Nineveh in Judah, to God’s people. This is an important context to keep in mind. Nahum is not preaching to Ninevah. Nahum is preaching to Judah about Ninevah. As the Lord gives his prophecy through Nahum, he is going to teach who he is. As we begin this lesson I would like for you to answer this question in your mind: who is the Lord?
Before God gives four pictures showing who he is in the first chapter, the introduction to this prophecy already gives a preview of the kind of answer he will give. Look at the first verse of Nahum. We are told that this is the book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. You might wonder what the preview is in this first verse. If we knew Hebrew we would have heard something seemingly contradictory. Nahum’s name means compassion or comfort. The name of the city Elkosh means God is severe. The opening seems to introduce the prophecy as saying the comfort of God’s severity. This book is going to reveal God’s compassion as it reveals his severity. This opening quickly makes us wonder what God is going to say about himself. How can there be comfort and compassion in God’s severity? Let’s look at chapter 1 of Nahum and see what God says about himself.
The Lord Is Jealous and Avenging (1:2)
The first picture given through this prophecy is that the Lord is a jealous and avenging God. The Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps his wrath for his enemies. This is a powerful start to picturing the Lord. I don’t know that when I asked us to think about who the Lord is that we first thought about the Lord being jealous and avenging. Now we might initially bristle at this picture. Sometimes unbelievers will point to this character that we see in the Lord and think that if this is who God is, then it cannot be right and they refuse to believe. But I would like to argue the opposite. Here is what I mean: if the Lord is not jealous and avenging then he is nothing at all.
Let me explain why this is an important characteristic of the Lord. Everyone wants the Lord to love them with a deep, caring love. But part of a passionate deep love is being jealous. If we truly love someone, then we will defend them. If you love your spouse or love your children, you are not going to let someone harm them without doing something about it. You are going to do what you can to make them stop because you are jealous for your family relationships. Deep love means that you cannot bear to see them harmed.
I want us to see that this is what God is saying in verse 2. The Lord keeps his wrath for his enemies because he is jealous for his people and will avenge them. If God’s love is real, then that love requires God to act. If he is not jealous, then he does not love. If he does not avenge, then he does not love.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19 ESV)
This is the answer to when people question how God to could punish people or send people to eternal punishment. If God does not do this, then he does not love. God’s love requires God’s jealousy. God’s love requires God’s vengeance. This is the point of this text because Israel has suffered from the cruelty of the Assyrians. The Lord is jealous and avenging. Please think about how he is jealous for you which means he has a deep passionate love for you. This is why our idolatry is so offensive to him.
The Lord Is Slow to Anger (1:3-6)
After speaking about how the Lord is jealous and avenging, we now must see that the Lord is slow to anger, which is how God first described himself to Israel in Exodus 34:6. So think about what this means. If the Lord is avenging and wrathful, but slow to anger, then when God’s wrath comes, it must have been a long time coming. When God brings judgment, it must be because of a lengthy and significant sinning. The Lord does not just snap with wrath. You do not have to walk on eggshells with God because he is slow to anger. His wrath is not irrational, but is thoughtful and necessary. Further, God’s wrath never comes without an opportunity to repent. Because he is slow to anger then there is ample opportunity for everyone to turn away from their sins before experiencing his wrath. This is the balance of verse 3. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished. God’s love demands justice. The Lord is patient but eventually there must be justice. When judgment comes, then this means that there is no more that can be done to bring people back into relationship with him.
The rest of this paragraph visualizes how the power and majesty of God. Listen to the pictures that are given regarding the Lord and his power in verses 3-6. His path is in the whirlwind and the storm. The clouds are the dust of his feet. What a visual! As you look at the clouds and see the storm, you are to see God walking through the earth, reminding us of God’s glory and power. The Lord rebukes the sea and makes it dry up. Just think about this. God dries up rivers with his voice. Mountains quake before him. The hills melt and the earth shakes at his presence. So who can stand before him? Who can stand and endure when his wrath does come? Verse 6 concludes with a terrifying picture. His wrath is poured out like fire and rocks are shattered before him. But as you read those words, do not forget how this picture started. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power. God’s wrath is powerful but he is slow to anger.
The Lord Is Good (1:7)
Now this description is so important for us to press into. The Lord is jealous. The Lord is avenging. The Lord is wrathful. The Lord is slow to anger. The Lord is great in power. The Lord is good. He does not do wrong by anyone. The Lord always does what is right and good. He is a refuge and stronghold in the day of trouble. He knows those who take refuge in him. He cares for those who trust in him. He uses all of this glory and power to be the place of refuge when life is difficult. When you wonder if the Lord can be trusted, the answer is a resounding yes! The Lord is good. He knows who trust in him. He is your hope and strength in the day of trouble and distress. For those who are truly God’s people, God’s wrath is nothing to fear because the Lord is good.
The Lord Is Victorious (1:8-14)
The rest of the chapter shows how the Lord is victorious. The Lord is jealous and powerful. He will not clear the guilty but is a refuge for those who trust in him because he is good. In verse 8 we read that the Lord will make a complete end of his enemies like an overflowing flood. So verse 9 brings to light an important reality. What do you plot against the Lord? He will make it a complete end. Do you think you can resist the Lord and win? You will not be victorious against him. Whatever you plot, the Lord will put a complete end to it. What plan do you think you have against him? Look at verse 12. It does not matter how powerful you are, the Lord’s enemies will be cut down and pass away. The Lord is victorious and he fights for his people. I love the picture in verse 12. Though the enemies are at full strength and have a full number, they will be destroyed and pass away. When have the numbers mattered to God? God is not concerned that the enemies are many. In fact, think about how many times he will lower the numbers on his side so that there are more enemies just to show his power and greatness to destroy. No one can stand against the Lord. No one can win against the Lord. All that God has to do is say the word and it is the end of the nation. With his word he can dry up the seas and make the mountains quake. Look at verse 14. Now God has given the word that the name of Ninevah will no longer continue. The Lord says, “I will make your grave, for you are vile” (Nahum 1:14 ESV). When God says that it is the end of Ninevah and that it will not be perpetuated, then that is what will happen. Friends, Ninevah was so utterly destroyed that unbelievers used to discredit the scriptures because this ancient city could not be found. Ninevah fell in 612 BC and we did not find any ruins until about 1847. It took over 2400 years to find the ruins of the capital city of the world empire, Assyria. God brought the city to such a complete end that its name was no longer perpetuated.
So what was God doing? Look at verse 13. God had used Ninevah and the Assyrian Empire to afflict his people for their sins in an effort to bring them to repentance. Now the Lord proclaims that he will no longer afflict his people but will break the yoke of Assyria from their necks. God is showing that he will fight for his people and rescue those who put their trust in him. He will cut off his enemies and bring justice on evil and wickedness because he is good.
So who is the Lord? How do you look at him? How do you see him? The Lord is jealous for his people which means that he must act. The Lord is slow to anger, patiently waiting for your repentance. The Lord is good and can be trusted to do good in the world and in your life. He is a refuge and strength in the day of trouble. The Lord is victorious, destroying his enemies by his word. God sees, knows, and is able to confront our problems and obstacles regardless of their size and power. Friends, the clouds are the dust of his feet and he walks through the storm and the whirlwind. What is too great for the Lord to do? Who is strong enough to resist him? Judgment is coming on sin and wickedness because the Lord is good and because he loves his people. When we wonder when justice and judgment will come on the evil we see, do not forget the character of God. He is slow to anger. He is waiting to bring as many as possible to repentance. But just because he is slow to anger does not mean he is not good. He will by no means clear the guilty. So let us do what verse 7 says when we are troubled or do not understand what is going on in the world or in our lives. Run to the Lord in faith as our refuge. Trust in the Lord to act. The Lord is always good and he will always do good.