Nahum: a study guide – sort of.

My bible study group was foolish kind enough to allow me to lead two sessions on the book of Nahum. Rather than focus on the detail, I chose to use the opportunity first to engage with the material as a whole, getting us to read through the whole of the book as a dramatic reading in four voices twice, with a chance to begin to react in general, but seeking to avoid looking too much at the precise detail.

For the second week I allowed the book to trigger a couple of questions:

1) The Old Testament clearly presents a God who actively punishes in the here and now. How many examples of this can you find in the New Testament? (I’m ignoring the depths of Revelation – after chapter 3 – to avoid that swamp on this occasion).

a) Immediate, direct, ‘in your face’.

Luke 1:5f Zechariah struck dumb for refusing to believe Gabriel’s promise of a son for him and his wife

Acts 5:1f Ananias and Sapphira fall dead for lying to the church

Acts 12:20f Herod struck by an angel and eaten by worms until he dies.

Acts 13:6f Elymas struck blind for opposing Paul’s teaching before the provincial governor.

b) Warnings about what may happen or has happened to individuals

1 Corinthians 11:30f People are ill or even have died because they failed to ‘discern the body’ in the Lord’s supper.

Hebrews 12:5 God disciplines us as a father does his children.

Revelation 2:20f A false prophet and her children are warned of impending illness and death because of their teachings.

c) ‘Area effects’ reminiscent of the Old Testament

Luke 10:13 ‘Woe to Chorazim’ and elsewhere. In Jesus’ time these were thriving towns; now they are small or all but lost to history

Mt 23:36f Reading across the chapter divide into 24, it’s clear that Jesus is warning Jerusalem of its fate (in AD 70) as a result of its failure to respond to him.

d) A contra indication that we need to hear

Luke 9:51f sees James and John propose the destruction by fire from heaven of a Samaritan town that had refused them hospitality. Jesus rebukes them: ‘“You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” (though it’s interesting to note that the words are not accepted as part of the text)

2) Nahum offers us a poetic description of a theophany – a revealing of God’s power, but it’s not literal. What examples does the Old Testament offer of God being revealed in power:

Job 37: It’s not quite clear when the speaker turns from a theoretical discussion of God’s power to a description of what he’s now seeing – a powerful storm – from which God then speaks to Job in the subsequent chapters.

Exodus 19 God descends on Mount Sinai with smoke, earthquakes and a loud trumpet.

Exodus 33 Moses only gets to see God from behind.

2 Chronicles 5:14 and 7:1f The glory of God descends and makes it impossible to enter the temple.

1 Kings 19:12 Elijah’s still small voice. This is the favourite of those who are uncomfortable with the blatant displays of power elsewhere, but we need to note the phrasing carefully:

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.’

Even in this encounter, the presence of God is overwhelmingly powerful, but for Elijah the conversation starts when he hears a ‘low whisper’. God is gracious to us and will address us in a way that suits us, but don’t assume that’s the only way he operates!

Some serious stuff here; on the whole we tend to prefer a more comfortable version of God! Please feel free to add to the examples I’ve given in the comments section.

 

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