Welcome to what I imagine has to be one of the least read books in the Bible. Nahum was a prophet, and right away we find out that he was talking to Nineveh. I did a little bit of background research online, and it appears that this was roughly one or two generations after the time of Jonah. If you recall, Nineveh had a major revival at that point, and God spared the city from destruction. It seems that the situation is a little bit different now.
Nah 1:2 God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.
Nah 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
This is an interesting way to begin. It seems to be of first importance here. God is not going to tolerate His enemies.
However, I think that this takes a certain level of nuance to address. It doesn’t seem that God has very much time for evil. He is not going to allow the wicked to get off the hook. However, how do we define who are these enemies of God? I bring that up because at one point in our lives, we were all enemies of God. We are all sinners saved by the grace of God, so before we received, we were in rebellion against God even if we were not actively participating in that conflict.
I think that the key here is that God is slow to anger. It does not deny the anger whatsoever. The wrath of God is certainly mighty. However, thinking through Biblical history for example, there are a lot of people who did things wrong but did not face imminent destruction. Think about Jonah again. God was patient with him, and Jonah eventually turned it around. Sure, Jonah was eaten by a fish, but it wasn’t as if he was utterly destroyed.
I point all of that out because it seems to me that there is a differentiation to be made. On some level, we all began as enemies of God, but it seems as if there is another level of enemy that we are talking about here in Nahum where judgment is coming immediately. Certainly, anyone who doesn’t receive salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is going to face judgment down the road, but it seems as if there is a level where earthly judgment comes into play if your actions are particularly egregious. Think of Sodom and Gomorrah. All those people will also face eternal judgment as well, but because they were particularly wicked, they experienced the power of God in a way they probably would have rather not.
Even with this differentiation, I think that we can all agree that it is better not to be an enemy of God in the first place.
Jonah is an interesting character because he seems to have done what a lot of us fall into. We have seen him run away from God, return to God, thrive through the power of God and now complain about God. In Jonah 4, Jonah is upset because God actually saved the people of Nineveh. Apparently, he did not want to see that happen.
Jon 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
Jon 4:2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
Jon 4:3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
Jonah knew what God was going to do. He knew that God was going to be gracious. He knew that God would allow the people of Nineveh to have another chance. That didn’t mean he was happy about it.
I think that we do this quite a bit. I think about the justice of God for example. We know that God is perfectly fair. We know that intellectually, but then circumstances come that we don’t like. All of a sudden we forget what we do know intellectually and basically complain. Just like Jonah, we know that God is fair, but we want to deny that characteristic. We want to think that God is unfair so that we have some right to complain.
However, that isn’t what should happen. We kind of see that from God in the next verse when He responds to Jonah.
Jon 4:4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
Was there really any purpose to the anger? Not really, and Jonah knew it. He still went outside the city and pouted for a while, but he didn’t make any more arguments like did above. He knew they didn’t hold up.
That is a point that a lot of us come to. In my above example, we realize that God is not being unfair, but we still want to carry on our feelings at the time. As a result, we don’t argue anymore, but we just moan for a while.
Given that it is New Year’s Day, maybe we all can make that our New Year’s resolution. Feelings happen, so it is not that we disregard them all together, but our reactions can be changed. Rather than continue with complaints, why don’t we channel that energy towards something that is actually constructive?
In Jonah 3, we are met with one of the greatest revivals of all time. Nineveh was such a wicked city that God was going to destroy it, but when they heard the words of Jonah, they immediately came to repentance.
Jon 3:4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
Jon 3:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
Jon 3:6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
I find it interesting that even the king repented. Before the prophecy came from Jonah, the king would have at least silently approved what was going on with his people. It wasn’t as if he was actively policing the city and trying to straighten out his people.
However, as soon as he heard about God, he realized that things had to change. I don’t know if perhaps the change was largely self-serving. Obviously, it would have been important to all of the people of Nineveh not to be destroyed. However, it seems as if there was a genuine repentance there. The people recognized that they were not doing what God needed them to do and that included the king.
Revival is something that people like to talk about, but here is a time where it actually worked. It worked because first of all Jonah was obedient to God. He was called to be a leader, and, eventually, he did what he had to do. Second, the people understood that they were not living in line with the will of God. As we see with the king, even people who previously had evidently no problem with what was going on recognized that it was important to do what God told them to do.
Both of these elements are important if we want revival to happen.
God truly is a God who doesn’t quit. He doesn’t give up on anyone, and He is always ready to bring us back. In chapter 1, Jonah decided that it would be a good idea to run directly opposite to the way that God wanted him to go. However, despite that rebellion, when we get to this part of chapter 2, Jonah cries out, and God is still willing to bring him back.
Jon 2:4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
Jon 2:5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.
Jon 2:6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.
When Jonah was ready to come back to God, God brought him back. God brought him up from corruption. The ESV says that God brought him up from the pit. This mercy is remarkable.
Just like all of us, Jonah was a sinner. We all deserve whatever condemnation we receive. However, the amazing part is that even though we constantly offend God and go against His will, just like Jonah, He will bring us back.
Forgiveness is something special. We cannot get it ourselves. It needs to come from the potentially offended party. For example, if I hurt someone, I cannot tell them that they forgive me. They need to forgive me on their own. No matter how much I want it to happen, it needs to come from them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen with people on earth. People aren’t always the most forgiving.
However, God is perfectly forgiving. It is incredible.
Jonah is a popular story wrapped in controversy. Right away in chapter 1, we have our friend Jonah running away from God and eventually being thrown off of the boat.
Jon 1:15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
Jon 1:16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
Jon 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
“There is no way that could’ve happened,” is a refrain that you often hear. This is not what normally happens. When there is a shark attack in the ocean, the person does not live inside of that shark. Even if you could survive the experience of being eaten, there is no oxygen inside of a giant fish. The objections go on and on.
I think about these objections, and I agree that this type of thing does not normally happen. In fact, I don’t know if this type of thing has ever even been proposed at other times in history. I don’t know of any other culture that has this type of story in its history. Even if there is another one, the main point is that this type of thing does not happen every day.
However, I’m hesitant to automatically say it did not happen like many people would want me to. I am hesitant because of who God is. I think that the better question to ask in that situation is whether or not God is capable of bringing about this type of situation, and the answer is clearly yes. God has the power to bring the dead to life, so I certainly don’t think that it is justifiable to say that God could not supernaturally influence this situation with Jonah. If God wanted to create a giant fish and have a person live inside of it for three days, God has the power to do that.
This statement applies to a lot more than just the story of Jonah. I think of Thomas Jefferson who decided to rewrite the Bible and remove the supernatural because it didn’t fit his sensibilities. That is clearly the wrong approach to take.
If God is everything that we believe He is, then I don’t think that there really is any way to sustain the argument that the miraculous is impossible. With God, this miracle would be just one of the billions that He has already done.
I think that it is easy to say that we will be bold and preach the gospel, but it is another to actually do it. I assume Ezekiel was not that far off from us in that respect, but here is what God told him in chapter 3 of his book.
Eze 3:17 Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
Eze 3:18 When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
Eze 3:19 Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
Eze 3:20 Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
Eze 3:21 Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.
On one hand, this might feel harsh. If Ezekiel did not fulfill his job, he was going to be held responsible for his actions just like the man who he didn’t warn. However, that really is justice, and it is also indicative of how serious the call of God is.
Ezekiel was called to be a prophet. It was something that God specifically chose and uniquely gifted him to do. I think that is why we see such harsh potential consequences. If Ezekiel had chosen not to be the watchman, he was denying the will of God. That is a serious offense, and it is not one that is taken lightly.
Think about Jonah as a kind of parallel. He tried to run away from the will of God, but he was brought right back. Similarly, even though Ezekiel did not run away, I would speculate that if he did, God would have done a very similar thing to what he did with Jonah.
Running away from what God has specifically called us to do is a serious thing. Granted, there are times where we may not know what God has called us to do, but that was certainly not the case with Ezekiel. After all, he told him exactly what his job was. I guess the application is rather straightforward for all of us. If God is truly calling us to do something, we need to do it. It is not optional.
In Jeremiah 46, we hear the ultimate reason that God did not want the people of Israel to go to Egypt. Babylon was going to come in and take over the land. While they were there, the people of Judah who had run there were going to be devastated as well. However, it was going to be okay for the people of Israel because God had been at work the whole time.
Jer 46:27 But fear not thou, O my servant Jacob, and be not dismayed, O Israel: for, behold, I will save thee from afar off, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and be in rest and at ease, and none shall make him afraid.
Jer 46:28 Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the LORD: for I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly unpunished.
From the beginning, God had been telling the people that the best course of action was to submit to Babylonian rule, and they didn’t listen. First, they decided to try to fight, and that didn’t go well. Then, the ones that were left behind in Judah to work the land decided that they wanted to run away and not submit.
The people were literally doing whatever they could to disobey what God had told them. Part of that might be because they did not want to be captives, and I can’t necessarily say I blame them on one level.
However, at the same time, when God tells us something, we need to be obedient. Think about Jonah. Think about the fact that Saul was supposed to wait for Samuel before making a sacrifice prior to battle. Actions have consequences, and people are responsible for the choices they make. However, one thing to notice about this particular situation is that God had everything already set for how the people were going to come back to Jerusalem. He was going to do it through the people who did what they had to do and submitted to Babylonian captivity.
Why don’t we dive into some controversy today? That is always fun, and Jeremiah 18 gives us a very good opportunity to begin to think about the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity.
Jer 18:3 Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
Jer 18:4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Jer 18:5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
Jer 18:6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
Jer 18:7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
Jer 18:8 If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
Jer 18:9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
Jer 18:10 If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
I think that this is a complicated issue on a few levels. A very basic reading of this passage almost implies that we as humans define the actions of God. If we act a certain way, then God will change His mind. One could argue that this is almost what you see in the story of Nineveh. God was going to destroy the city, but when the people repented, He decided not to. In the opposite direction, in the cases of Sodom and Gomorrah, if there was one righteous person to be found, God said that He was willing to call off His imminent destruction. Obviously the destruction came, but it does seem to imply that perhaps there was room for negotiation in that based upon the choices that humans made.
This is a difficult passage because at the same time, the clay of the world is entirely in the hands of God. God has control over what He does, so there is an interesting balance here. On one hand, He seems to take human actions into consideration, but He also holds the freedom of being the one who ultimately makes the decision.
However, there is another level to this discussion as well that needs to be taken into consideration. God is omniscient. He knows all things, and He even those things that have happened yet.
Isa 46:9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
Isa 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
Now we have a little bit of a dilemma. On one hand, God is indeed in charge of the world. He holds the world in hand, and He makes decisions that impact the world. On the other hand, He knows what is going to happen according to Isaiah, and that would include knowledge of who was going to repent and who was not going to repent. For example, God would have known that the people of Nineveh were going to repent. Even though Jonah did not know that, God would have. Therefore, God also knew that He was not going to destroy the city of Nineveh. I guess that raises the question then why He continually told Jonah that He was going to, and did God really change His mind?
It seems to me that an important way to look at this is to remember that the ways of God are not the ways of man. For us, it seems like God changes His mind. In the case of Nineveh, all indications were that God was going to destroy them, but then He did not. However, God knew all along that He would not destroy Nineveh because they would repent. In that sense, He did not change His mind whatsoever.
You might say that God was dishonest then. Why did He tell Jonah all of that about destruction if it really wasn’t necessary?
Dishonesty is not part of the equation here because God was not dishonest. If they did not repent, then they would have been destroyed. That is true. Their conduct deserved punishment as much as today we talk about people needing to come to the cross and be reconciled through the saving work of Jesus Christ. God was not dishonest about the consequences of disobedience.
Also, in the case of Jonah, God knew that He was going to use Jonah as the one to deliver the message of repentance to the people in Nineveh. Jonah was part of the metanarrative that God has written. Sure, God could have brought the people of Nineveh to repentance in a different way. He could have used a different messenger or method, but again we come back to this image of the master potter in Jeremiah. This was part of the plan.
I have already written more words then you probably want to read, and I don’t want to drag on forever, but I think the next step of the equation is to define this relationship between human free will and predestination. Today, we only scratched the surface by looking at how, whether or not humans have free will, God does not change. Even though it might seem that way from our human perspective, God is indeed sovereign. He is ultimately in charge of the universe, and even if humans do have free will (which I believe we do), we do not define His actions. He does not change His mind.
I know that is definitely not a popular topic, but there is no doubt that God uses problems to sometimes get us back on track. In 1 Chronicles 9, we very directly see that the Babylonian captivity was a result of the sins of the people of Israel.
1Ch 9:1 So all Israel were reckoned by genealogies; and, behold, they were written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah, who were carried away to Babylon for their transgression.
It is somewhat hard because we do know that God will forgive anything. However, if we continue to live in our sin, God might allow an obstacle to come into our lives to steer us back towards Him. This happened many times in the Bible, and two obvious examples are Jonah and Paul. They both were living in rebellion, and it took a giant fish or temporary blindness to bring them back to where they should have been.
As we will see, this is similar to what the people of Israel were going through at this time. They were in captivity because of their problems, but it helped to bring them back to where they needed to be.
Some people might wonder why there need to be troubles. After all, if God is so good, why are people not drawn to Him naturally? I would contend that people are drawn to God, but I think that they sometimes misplace where the source of their desire comes from. I think that most people want to be loved by other people. They want to have that feeling of acceptance. As Christians, we believe that love comes originally from God, and we know how to love other people because of how God loves us. Without God, you have to believe that that kind of feeling comes only from within yourself.
It isn’t that people doubt or don’t want love, but they don’t understand where it comes from. We are drawn to what God offers, but some people don’t want to acknowledge that it is from God.
I honestly do not know if God really wants to give us problems, but the fact of the matter is that He wants to bring us back onto the right path, and this is one of His methods of doing that.
We meet one of the minor prophets today in 2 Kings 14.
2Ki 14:25 He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher.
That isn’t really what I wanted to talk about today, but I thought it was a fun fact. I believe that he is the first of the minor prophets mentioned, but I could be wrong.
Anyway, here are a few verses that I want to talk a little bit more about with you today.
2Ki 14:5 And it came to pass, as soon as the kingdom was confirmed in his hand, that he slew his servants which had slain the king his father.
2Ki 14:6 But the children of the murderers he slew not: according unto that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein the LORD commanded, saying, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
We have all heard of guilt by association. Sometimes, you hang out with some people who do bad things, and everyone assumes that you did them as well. The Bible apparently warns against that in these passages.
Everyone is responsible for his or her own sins. It doesn’t matter who your parents were or who your children are. It doesn’t really matter what they did. You are responsible for your own decisions.
This is very similar to salvation. We can’t be saved by our parents or our neighbor or our pastor. It is strictly a personal relationship with Jesus that brings that about.
Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Joh 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.