How familiar are you with the book of Nahum? Not so much, is my guess, and neither am I. For some reason last week, I read through this 3-chapter book. This morning, I returned to it and for no reason other than what might now, in hindsight, be a prompting of the Spirit. Let me set the stage.
Last night, I had a meeting with a couple contemplating marriage. After it was over, I had a significant bout with insecurity. Had I been too blunt? Was my mood one of impatience? Several other questions pecked away at my heart. I had been aided in the meeting by two other individuals, one I know well and another whom I didn’t know at all, an old pastor friend of the man considering marriage. Afterward, while driving home, I considered calling the individual I knew, mostly hoping for some reassurance. I resisted. I could tell that I would be pulling for something that wasn’t really necessary and doing so with a pretense of concern about the overall meeting. Now what is ironic is what happened at the conclusion of the meeting. The individual I didn’t know offered a bit of parting wisdom that I found intriguing. He said to the couple that given the circumstances transpiring in their lives, they should pay attention to their dreams. I don’t know why he said it. I found it curious, not something to be dismissed.
A short time later and now late in the evening, I remained plagued by all that I was feeling. I finally went to bed, fell asleep and then dreamed two dreams, one I can’t recall and the other of which I could. Both woke me up during the night. Both dreams were loaded with anger directed at me. At 2 am in the morning, I wondered if I would get back to sleep given the unnerving nature of the dreams. But I did and when I awoke, I was still troubled about my part in the past evening's meeting as well as perplexed by the dream. I sat quietly for a while praying and listening for what God might say to me, if anything. Nothing. I went to work.
At work, I felt inclined once again to read Nahum. I did. The message of the book is singular and repetitive. The great enemy of Israel and Judah--Assyria and its capital, Nineveh—would, according to Nahum, meet their demise. Recall a hundred years earlier, Jonah’s story involved a different message to the same people. Reluctantly, Jonah went to Nineveh per God's instruction preaching repentance and mercy to Israel's cruelest enemy. The people of Assyria's capital heard and responded. But now, Nahum's message was different. This time, there would be no second chance. Judgment was coming upon this terribly wicked and arrogant nation, perhaps the cruelest nation to have risen to power in that day. No matter how powerful they appeared to be, they could not, would not withstand God’s wrath. This isn’t necessarily an aspect of God’s character that we are all that comfortable with in today’s culture. We prefer not to think of God as rageful, rather as loving, his wrath appeased by Jesus’ death and resurrection (BTW, is that even a biblical idea?). But perhaps we should find comfort in His wrath not only because it originates from His love but also because it is intended to destroy anything that stands in the way of His love for his name and his people. I don’t think I will ever have to endure his wrath. I do believe that his fiery judgment will burn out of me whatever remains that obscures his glory and leads to misplaced loyalty. And while that sounds unpleasant and painful, it is also good news.
So, as I am reading chapter 1 about God’s wrath that nothing can withstand (vv2-8) and then the impending destruction of Judah’s enemy (vv9-14), I arrive at the last verse, v15: Behold upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! It is the image of a herald bouncing light-footed with joy across the mountains announcing the good news for those with ears to hear and eyes to see: Peace! That same image is painted for us in Isaiah 52:7 and attached to Isaiah’s version are these hopeful words: Your God reigns! Peace! Peace to you, Kent. God is in charge even in a meeting where perhaps you did or didn’t handle things all that well. God is still in charge. God is still publishing peace and salvation. Perhaps our minds go to Jesus, rightfully so, the author of our peace. Are these words intended to point us forward to a coming Messiah?
To the disciples in John 14, Jesus offered peace (v26) while they were troubled. Upon the announcement of his birth, amidst troubled shepherds, the angels declared peace. The Apostle Paul would later describe Jesus as the one tearing down the wall of hostility, he himself being our peace. I am grateful for peace with God. I had to remind myself last night and again this morning of the peace afforded me, God’s son, despite what I felt and feel.
But there is more. I sat pondering why this 3-chapter prophecy of impending doom is in our Bibles. Why did God want his people to know that Nineveh would pay? Why is that hopeful? First of all, it occurs to me that all of us possess a keen sense of justice, a deep desire for fairness. My mind drifts over to Psalm 73, one of my favorites, where the psalmist is plagued by a sense of injustice. He is trying to follow a God he knows is good but he looks around and the wicked seem to be getting away with it. They are carefree while he lives troubled. They prosper while he struggles. I can recall my first taste of life's unfairness in high school. I played baseball. I worked hard to become a better hitter, driving an hour to a batting cage and spending $5-10 of my hard-earned yard mowing money. It was a commitment. But there was another guy on the team that we all knew took drugs, even the day of games. He would go out and get three hits while I struggled, hoping to manage at least one. It didn’t seem fair. He was getting away with it, I recall thinking even at the age of sixteen or seventeen.
I think we get our keen sense of justice honestly. It's in our DNA. We get it from our Father. I watched a movie the other night, one of those "B" movies on some no-name station. The plot was familiar, involving the abused wife starting over somewhere else in the country, hiding from her cruel husband who is using all his resources to determine her whereabouts. Of course, he will find her. Of course, she has now fallen in love with a kind and gentle man. A confrontation is inevitable. It played out just as I expected. Sounds cheesy. But I couldn’t turn it off. And at its conclusion, I rolled over in bed and wept uncontrollably for several minutes. Why? Because I want things to be right. I want pain and fear to be gone, for women to be protected and men to use their power for good. I want those who are unkind, who terrorize others, to pay.
Nahum now makes sense to me. The strong message with which I walk away, at least from chapter 1, is this: the enemy that threatens our lives, our hearts, that has been cruel to us, terrorizing and torturing our souls will someday be decimated, never to rise again…just like Nineveh and Assyria. The enemy may seem powerful and overwhelming at times, but it will meet its end. Bank it! Our God reigns! Peace will rule. Only bits and pieces now but it is coming. We don’t know when. We can’t make it happen. But be assured that it will happen and nothing will stop it from happening. And because it will happen, we are invited to live now in light of what is certain, not seeking revenge, not succumbing to futility and not giving in to living for the here-and-now. Instead, we heed the words of Micah reminding us what God desires: seek justice and fairness where it is in your power to do so; be kind, especially in the face of unkindness and mean-spiritedness; and walk humbly with God, which is to say, be open to what God wants at any moment or in any given situation, not simply what you want or what you might first be inclined to do. What would matter to my God here in this moment or circumstance? And then do what Nahum records in verse 7: take refuge in the goodness of the Lord in the days of trouble.
The best is yet to come. Until then, grace upon grace to you. Our God reigns!