In the history of preaching, I doubt there is any section of the Bible more neglected than the minor prophets; among the minor prophets none is as ignored as the Book of Nahum. Elizabeth Achtemier says of the book, “We often wish Nahum were not in the canon, and the book has been almost totally ignored in the modern church.”1 If you will take about 15 minute to read the book, you quickly will see why. The message Nahum delivers is one of judgment, and the picture of God given in the book is one of vengeance, wrath and anger. Consider the second verse of the opening chapter: “The Lord is a jealous, and avenging Go; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries and keeps earth for His enemies”(v. 1:2). Such a picture of God’s nature doesn’t isn’t received well in the modern church. We like to focus on the more positive, heartwarming attributes of God; but I would like to suggest there’s more to Nahum than what we see at first glance. There are hidden nuggets of truth buried within this book that the modern church desperately needs to hear. Let me mention a few of the important themes that make Nahum one of the most relevant books for our times.
Nahum Reminds Us that God’s Justice and Loving Kindness Are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Another way of saying this is that God is sovereign, showing justice and wrath to the doers of evil and simultaneously displaying mercy and love to His people. We’ve already noted that Nahum 1:2 teaches us that God is jealous and avenges evil, but we also need to note verse 3 says, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power…” Throughout this book, Nahum reminds the people of Judah that while God will judge the city of Nineveh for the atrocities it committed, He will at the same time show His covenant people mercy. In 1:15, for instance, he writes, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who published peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through yowl he is utterly cut off.” In other words, the people of Judah could be confident in worshiping God because He would restore them and deal with their enemies.
God’s justice and His loving-kindness are not separate natures but are attributes that coexist perfectly within His divine character. In the modern church, we have so overemphasized the grace and mercy of God that we have neglected to teach about His justice and wrath, but we never can understand God without coming face to face with all aspects of His character. These two aspects of God’s character are displayed most vividly through the cross of Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus met the righteous demands of God’s justice by bearing the punishment for our sin while at the same time displaying God’s love and grace by becoming the ultimate sacrifice for our sin.
Nahum reminds us that God’s justice provides comfort because He neither has forgotten His promises, nor will He ignore those who do evil. People living in Judah may have thought God had been harsh with them while at the same time letting the Assyrians and their capital city of Nineveh off the hook. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Nahum Reminds Us that God Is Faithful to His Promises
Nahum 1:12-13 says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Though they are at full strength and man, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.’” In these verses, God reminds Judah that He has not forgotten about them and that He is going to be faithful to all of His promises. He may have temporarily afflicted the people in order to discipline them, but He had not forgotten them. God had made a promise “never to leave or forsake them” (Deut. 31:6), and He would carry out that promise in Nahum’s day.
This is a message believers in every age need to hear. Similar to the ancient residents of Judah, we often find ourselves wondering if God is ever going to intervene to bring about justice. In those moments, Nahum speaks to us and reminds us that God is faithful to His promises. He will judge evil and He will restore the righteous, but there is another theme in Nahum that modern believers need to hear.
Nahum Reminds Us that Our Only Security Is in God
The Assyrian Empire was the mightiest military force on the face of the earth in Nahum’s day. Under the leadership of Tiglath-Pileser, the Assyrians dominated the Ancient Near East, including Israel and Judah, forcing the conquered nations to pay him homage. The Assyrians were a fierce, militaristic, conquering people who lived by the philosophy that “might makes right.” They had conquered every major power in their part of the world and must have felt invincible, but God said, “Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at you nakedness and kingdoms at your shame.” In other words, God was announcing that He was about to humble the greatest, most powerful nation on the earth at that time. In their commentary, Kenneth Barker and Waylon Bailey say, “Nahum shows that when the military might of a nation becomes its security and its god, then sin has conquered the nation, and it will fall. Sin is not limited to those with specific instructions from God’s book about it. Every person knows basic human rights and values. Any person or nation who refuses to follow these rights and values is condemned as a sinner and faces God’s judgment.”2
As a people we need to be reminded that our strength is not in our military might, economic power or advanced technology. In the end, none of these will stand the test of time. The only true source of security we have is in God. Nations, churches and individuals who trust in anything other than God will find their lives are built on sinking sand. Our security is found in God and God alone!
As preachers, we are charged with the sacred task of preaching the entire council of God’s Word, which includes the Book of Nahum. My prayer is that God will use this brief survey of the themes in Nahum to encourage you to preach through/from this neglected book of the Bible.
1 Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum—Malachi: Interpretation— A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: Knox, 1986), 5.
2 Kenneth Barker and Waylon Bailey, Micah—Nahum—Habakkuk—Zephaniah in the New American Commentary, vol.20 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 155.