Tag Archives: Nahum

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.

 

The prophet Nahum in four voices

I ‘wrote’ this for my bible study group as a way to engage with the whole book and to avoid just taking it verse by verse. Nahum is especially relevant to this approach; it is almost entirely Hebrew poetry and its thrust can easily be lost if you only read a few verses; this is true of other books of the bible as well, but it’s especially blatant here. This approach can ensure that the sheer impact of the material is felt.

The text is from the Living Bible, a paraphrase that doesn’t try to replicate the poetic structure that tends to be a burden for English readers, with the word order very slightly to allow the different voice. The divisions are at time arbitrary, to provide some variety rather than one voice for the whole of the detailed description of the fall of Nineveh.

Narrator

Prophet

The Lord

Messengers

This is the vision God gave to Nahum, who lived in Elkosh, concerning the impending doom of Nineveh:

God is jealous over those he loves; that is why he takes vengeance on those who hurt them. He furiously destroys their enemies. He is slow in getting angry, but when aroused, his power is incredible, and he does not easily forgive. He shows his power in the terrors of the cyclone and the raging storms; clouds are billowing dust beneath his feet! At his command the oceans and rivers become dry sand; the lush pastures of Bashan and Carmel fade away; the green forests of Lebanon wilt. In his presence mountains quake and hills melt; the earth crumbles, and its people are destroyed.

Who can stand before an angry God? His fury is like fire; the mountains tumble down before his anger.

The Lord is good. When trouble comes, he is the place to go! And he knows everyone who trusts in him! But he sweeps away his enemies with an overwhelming flood; he pursues them all night long.

What are you thinking of, Nineveh, to defy the Lord? He will stop you with one blow; he won’t need to strike again. He tosses his enemies into the fire like a tangled mass of thorns. They burst into flames like straw. Who is this king of yours who dares to plot against the Lord? But the Lord is not afraid of him!

The Lord declares: ”Though he build his army millions strong, it will vanish. O my people, I have punished you enough! Now I will break your chains and release you from the yoke of slavery to this Assyrian king”.

And to the king he says, “I have ordered an end to your dynasty; your sons will never sit upon your throne. And I will destroy your gods and temples, and I will bury you! For how you stink with sin!”

See, the messengers come running down the mountains with glad news: “The invaders have been wiped out and we are safe!” O Judah, proclaim a day of thanksgiving and worship only the Lord, as you have vowed. For this enemy from Nineveh will never come again. He is cut off forever; he will never be seen again.

(Chapter 2) Nineveh, you are finished! You are already surrounded by enemy armies! Sound the alarm! Man the ramparts! Muster your defenses, full force, and keep a sharp watch for the enemy attack to begin! For the land of the people of God lies empty and broken after your attacks, but the Lord will restore their honor and power again!

Shields flash red in the sunlight! The attack begins! See their scarlet uniforms! See their glittering chariots moving forward side by side, pulled by prancing steeds! Your own chariots race recklessly along the streets and through the squares, darting like lightning, gleaming like torches. The king shouts for his officers; they stumble in their haste, rushing to the walls to set up their defenses. But too late! The river gates are open! The enemy has entered! The palace is in panic!

The queen of Nineveh is brought out naked to the streets and led away, a slave, with all her maidens weeping after her; listen to them mourn like doves and beat their breasts! Nineveh is like a leaking water tank! Her soldiers slip away, deserting her; she cannot hold them back. “Stop, stop,” she shouts, but they keep on running.

Loot the silver! Loot the gold! There seems to be no end of treasures. Her vast, uncounted wealth is stripped away. Soon the city is an empty shambles; hearts melt in horror; knees quake; her people stand aghast, pale-faced and trembling.

Where now is that great Nineveh, lion of the nations, full of fight and boldness, where even the old and feeble, as well as the young and tender, lived unafraid?

O Nineveh, once mighty lion! You crushed your enemies to feed your children and your wives, and filled your city and your homes with captured goods and slaves.

But now the Lord Almighty has turned against you. He destroys your weapons. Your chariots stand there, silent and unused. Your finest youths lie dead. Never again will you bring back slaves from conquered nations; never again will you rule the earth.

(Chapter 3) Woe to Nineveh, City of Blood, full of lies, crammed with plunder. Listen! Hear the crack of the whips as the chariots rush forward against her, wheels rumbling, horses’ hoofs pounding, and chariots clattering as they bump wildly through the streets! See the flashing swords and glittering spears in the upraised arms of the cavalry! The dead are lying in the streets—bodies, heaps of bodies, everywhere. Men stumble over them, scramble to their feet, and fall again.

All this because Nineveh sold herself to the enemies of God. The beautiful and faithless city, mistress of deadly charms, enticed the nations with her beauty, then taught them all to worship her false gods, bewitching people everywhere.

The Lord Almighty says: No wonder I stand against you, and now all the earth will see your nakedness and shame. I will cover you with filth and show the world how really vile you are.” All who see you will shrink back in horror: “Nineveh lies in utter ruin.” Yet no one anywhere regrets your fate!

Are you any better than Thebes, straddling the Nile, protected on all sides by the river? Ethiopia and the whole land of Egypt were her mighty allies, and she could call on them for infinite assistance, as well as Put and Libya. Yet Thebes fell and her people were led off as slaves; her babies were dashed to death against the stones of the streets. Soldiers drew straws to see who would get her officers as servants. All her leaders were bound in chains.

Nineveh, too, will stagger like a drunkard and hide herself in fear. All your forts will fall. They will be devoured like first-ripe figs that fall into the mouths of those who shake the trees. Your troops will be weak and helpless as women. The gates of your land will be opened wide to the enemy and set on fire and burned. Get ready for the siege! Store up water! Strengthen the forts! Prepare many bricks for repairing your walls! Go into the pits to trample the clay, and pack it in the molds!

But in the middle of your preparations, the fire will devour you; the sword will cut you down; the enemy will consume you like young locusts that eat up everything before them. There is no escape, though you multiply like grasshoppers. Merchants, numerous as stars, filled your city with vast wealth, but your enemies swarm like locusts and carry it away. Your princes and officials crowd together like grasshoppers in the hedges in the cold, but all of them will flee away and disappear, like locusts when the sun comes up and warms the earth.

O Assyrian king, your princes lie dead in the dust; your people are scattered across the mountains; there is no shepherd now to gather them. There is no healing for your wound—it is far too deep to cure. All who hear your fate will clap their hands for joy, for where can one be found who has not suffered from your cruelty?

But I have this against you: you tolerate…

Jesus in Revelation 2, in His letter to the church at Thyatira, says:

But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.”

This is not a popular teaching today. It runs up against both our confusion over legitimacy of sexual activity outside marriage – and also presents a God who does act in judgement on his church. Yet such teaching is not unique to this passage; Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 11 that:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

The temptation is to join with the songwriter who claims ‘I could sing of your love forever’ – and never talk about this tough stuff. Yet that is to worship an idol as much as if we create one of gold and fall down in worship to it. As Nahum expresses it:

A jealous and avenging God is the Lord,
    the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
    and rages against his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger but great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.”

Much of the problem is that we don’t take sin seriously enough. Sin means we should die. As simple as that. We all deserve death. We all deserve Hell. God’s grace means that we can be saved from it because of Jesus’ death on the cross, but we don’t deserve to be. The right answer to the question ‘Why am I suffering’ is ‘Why not?’ (not to be used pastorally! in the face of suffering, but a perspective we need to present). It’s because we don’t really believe that – a view reflected in the claims of politicians that ‘You deserve better’ and advertisers that you ‘deserve’ this treat. We are called to share the truth of who God is; let’s not present an idol instead.