A God of Love and Vengeance

Reflection: Nahum

The entire poetic book is characterized by a divine vision of retributive judgment on the city of Nineveh, which represented the Assyrian empire (1:1). Years later in 612 B.C., the combined armies of the Medes, the Babylonians, and the Scythians destroyed Nineveh. Whether Nahum’s prophecies were ever made public during his lifetime, we do not know, but it would certainly have taken an indomitable courage for him to openly articulate them, as Assyrian overlords governed the northern kingdom during the reign of Manasseh, while Judah had an alliance with Assyria. Nahum’s subordinate purpose was to encourage Judah, that her oppressive burden will soon be over and her glory will be restored (1:12b-13, 15; 2:2), but the principal proposition of the oracle concerned God’s perspective on unbridled atrocities and cultural corruption: What makes God angry? Does He ever get angry enough about violence to do something about it? What happens when God shows His anger? Although Nahum does not answer all these questions satisfactorily for us, witnessing the inevitability and reality of divine vengeance is sobering, as it portrayed a perspective of God that most of us would rather sidestep, in preference to majoring on His love.

The initial eight verses are descriptive of Yahweh’s attributes and power over nature and people: He is an almighty and jealous God. In fact, His name is ‘Jealous’ (Ex 34:14), and although He is good to those who trust Him, it does not preclude His wrath and vengeance against perpetrated evil, especially when they were directed towards His people, who remain ‘the apple of His eye’ (Zech 2:8). In an interesting preliminary prediction, God warned the spiritual principalities over Assyria that despite their scheming against Him, He would destroy them (1:9-11; cf. Eph 6:12), their religious paraphernalia, and their subjects (1:12a, 14). Although revenge is an infraction for us, God’s unfettered knowledge of every human heart justifies His equitable vengeance (Rom 12:17-19). The Assyrian kingdom lasted for 19 centuries, and it gained its empire status in the last 750 years. Through this judgment, the Assyrians learnt what it means to fear God, when His longsuffering patience for them had run out (after several hundred years of grace and forbearance). God’s patience facilitates our salvation (2 Peter 3:15), and is not to be taken for granted as Judah did, leading to the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians some time later.

The second chapter is dominated by Nahum’s graphic merciless siege and battle against ‘the city of blood’ (3:1). This great and wealthy city would become a ’desolation, devastation, and destruction’ (2:10), and the powerful and brutal ‘lion of Assyria’ will be put to death (Assyria is symbolized by the lion: 2:13). And all because God determined to be her enemy, thereby sealing her obliteration. In his final oracle, Nahum laid out God’s grounds for Nineveh’s judgment: because of (1) their sins in bloodthirsty savagery and oppressive conduct, trickery in diplomacy, immorality, and witchcraft (3:1-7); (2) their arrogance in the city’s invincible fortification (Like Thebes; 3:8-13); and (3) their pride and dependence on their mighty military war machine and national resources (3:14-19). Predictably, God holds nations and her leaders corporately responsible for their excesses, and in His season, will judge them accordingly.

In Nahum’s perspective, to throw themselves at God’s mercy and seek refuge in Him, who is their stronghold, is the only way to evade the wrath of God (1:7). The ‘stronghold’ salvation motif, which defined a position of faith in uncertain times in the Old Testament, corresponds with the believer’s secure and impregnable position in Christ (Col 3:3). Nahum is cognizant that violence promoted further violence, and there will be no end of it till God breaks the cycle, as He takes no pleasure in it (Ezek 18:23). In God’s economy, it seemed obvious that there will be no peace without the annihilation of His enemies (1:3, 9), and in Nahum’s microcosm, this involved the spiritual and earthly Assyrian powers viz., ‘your wicked enemies will never invade your land again’ (1:15). Ultimately, peace will be established once for all, when God will purge creation (Rev 21:8), where ‘nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:27).