Graceful Victors

by Justin Craft

“The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.”  (Nahum 1:7-8)

Read: Nahum 1

The book of Nahum is a prophesy that is directed at Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Yet, this prophesy was given to, and for, the people of Judah. But if the prophecy is about the judgment that was going to fall upon Nineveh for their idolatry and sin, why didn’t Nahum see the same success as Jonah when he preached to the people of Nineveh and they repented in sackcloth and ashes (Jonah 3:6-10)?

The answer is because the purpose of the two prophesies was different. The purpose of Jonah’s prophesy was produce the repentance and salvation of Nineveh at that time—a purpose that was fulfilled. However, after that generation passed, Nineveh quickly returned to its idolatrous and sinful ways. Indeed, just before God gave Nahum this message, Assyria destroyed the nation of Israel, taking their populace into exile, and ravaging the nation of Judah to the point of Jerusalem’s near demise. Though Assyria was providentially used by God to discipline his people, remove idolatry from the land, and turn their hearts back to him, Assyria was motivated to attack God’s people by a sinful delight in theft, death, destruction, and to show that their gods and kings were superior to Israel and Judah’s God and kings. Assyria had reached the end of God’s patience toward them, as he says in verse 3, The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.” He had been slow to anger as they amassed wealth and power through their vicious and violent acts throughout the ages, but the time has come for them to reap what they had sown. It was time for God’s judgment to pour out on all the sins of that wicked nation.

At the time, Assyria was the world superpower. They were the ancient equivalent of today’s Russia, China, or United States. As Nahum wrote, they were at full strength and many” (1:12). Judah, however, was still reeling from Assyria’s invasion. The land was devastated. Many of their people had been killed or taken captive. Their armies were decimated, and even the capital was on the verge of falling. Assyria could, at any moment, just march their armies back over and finish the job. What was the hope of God’s people? That is what the book of Nahum is about.

Nahum is a book of hope and rejoicing. The prophesy begins, The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies” (Nahum 1:2). To attack the Lord’s people is to attack the Lord himself; to be enemies toward God’s people is to be enemies with the Lord —and God will certainly avenge. Judah can have confidence and sleep well at night knowing that God is on his throne above all the nations, he has seen what Nineveh has done to them, he will repay Nineveh back for every sin that they’ve committed, and utterly destroy them so that they never threaten God’s people again. Thus, the command: “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off” (1:15). Celebrate! For vengeance is the Lord’s, and he will repay! Celebrate! For Yahweh is your refuge and fortress and will protect you! Celebrate! For the wicked will be destroyed!

We are saved wholly by God’s grace, and that changes everything about how we are to view our enemies and our hope in the destruction of the wicked.

This celebration, though, is not a celebration of Judah’s superiority over Assyria. It is not a celebration that Judah was deserving of God’s protection and mercy while Assyria wasn’t. Judah deserved to be wiped out in the Assyrian invasion, just as Assyria was going to be wiped out by God’s wrath. God did not choose Israel or show them mercy because they were greater than any other nation. He chose them because of his own love (Deut 7:7-8).

The same is true for us. God has shown his mercy to us in Christ and has given us the gift of faith to take hold of that sacrifice and make it effective for ourselves—not because we were smart enough to figure out that we had a sin problem and that Jesus is the only solution to that problem. As Jesus tells the disciples in John 15:16, You did not choose me, but I chose you.” We are saved wholly by God’s grace, and that changes everything about how we are to view our enemies and our hope in the destruction of the wicked.

Should Christians long for the last day and the final judgment when Christ himself will judge the world and cast Satan, his demons, and all of evil humanity into the lake of fire where they will remain for all eternity? Yes! Come, Lord Jesus! But our hope in that day, and in the destruction of the wicked, isn’t a vindictive hope—a hope of, “I hope that guy who wronged me the other day enjoys hell!” Our hope and our rejoicing in that day is in Christ’s victory over his enemies and his justice being poured out on the world. Our hope and our desire for the wicked until we get to that day should be aligned with God’s desire for them which he states in Ezekiel 33:11: “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? “ And as Paul commands in Romans 12:19-21: “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.’ To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God’s people are able to live like this because they have been shown undeserved mercy, and having been forgiven much, we can forgive much and hope for the salvation of our enemies.

Discuss and Pray Together: Discuss this balance between longing for God’s justice to right all wrongs and having a love for those who have wronged you. Finish by praying for your enemies (those who you don’t particularly like or who have sinned against you).

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