What do you know about the book of Nahum? I didn’t know much about it until a recent prompting to read it and then, study it. I have spent the past month plus in the book and I love it. I love its singular and repetitive message, which I hear as this: the enemy that has plagued your heart and soul will soon be destroyed, never again to threaten you. I would classify that message as one of hope and comfort, which is what Nahum’s name means: comfort.
I warn you: the book is not pleasant. So how is it meant to provide comfort to the people of God despite its terse and somewhat terrifying depiction of destruction? I mentioned some of this in a past writing. Nahum does not warm us up before striking. He jumps right in, pointing out the coming wrath of God. That is not a topic we think much about, nor do we like to. I have but one comment to consider regarding a topic mentioned countless times in the Bible: God’s wrath does not sit awkwardly next to His love. Instead, his wrath is part of his love because he cares deeply. He is not indifferent. For that, we are grateful, because it is His wrath that will eventually destroy every enemy that plagues our hearts.
But it is another truth I wish to focus on today. Tucked in the first chapter, toward the end are three words of great hope. It is a command of God through the prophet Nahum that seem to be unfitting at first glance. Have you ever gotten a bit of advice that seems backward, something rather odd to what you might at first assume would be the better way to go? For example, as a freshman in college, coming off the bench for the first time in my career as a basketball player, an assistance coach advised me to initially engage with the action opposite of the way the game was unfolding. If the game was going slowly, I should play faster, he suggested. If the game was going at a rapid pace, I should play slower until acclimated. That didn’t initially strike me as wise nor did it make much sense to me, but later I would discover the accuracy and helpfulness of his advice.
God has some advice for his people. First, understand the context. Assyria, with its capital city of Nineveh, was a pain in the side of Israel. Their cruelty was unparalleled in that day. The northern nation of Israel, who retained the nation’s original name, would eventually go into captivity at the hands of the Assyrians, a ruthless people. Israel would never recover. Don’t forget that Jonah was sent to Nineveh to invite them to repent years before Nahum’s writing. No wonder he balked. Now, it isn’t repentance being offered Nineveh. Instead, comfort is being offered God’s people based on the impending destruction of this bitter empire whose capital is Nineveh. But presently, things weren’t good for the people of God. Suffering had been immense. Their nation, capital city and temple lying in ruin. Into this context, Nahum shows up with the words of God. God is angry. Nineveh is about to get what they deserve. Good news. But in the middle of the current conditions, this is God’s seemingly backward advice to his people: Keep your feasts! (v15)
What does it mean to keep your feasts? What is Nahum talking about? Exodus 23 tells us that 3 times a year the people of God were to gather for a feast. In fact, we read identical words in 23:14) Three times a year you shall keep a feast to me, says the Lord. But Lord, one might protest, don’t you see what we see? Don’t you know how hard life is right now? We’ve lost our nation and our identity and you want us to celebrate?
Ethyl Kennedy contacted the maker of the frisbee back in the ‘60s hoping to ship some of those new toys to Angola and a particular orphanage with which she had worked. The frisbees arrived and later Mrs. Kennedy received a thank you note: We are grateful for the plastic plates. The kids use them all the time. By the way, did you know that they make an interesting toy as well? The ways of God are upside down and backward to the ways of man. God makes little sense to us. He warned us through Isaiah that this would be the case: My thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
Keep your feasts when things are bad, really bad? Why?
First consider this: when things are bad, perhaps that is all the more reason to celebrate. I am not encouraging denial. But understand that when we celebrate in this life we are not ultimately celebrating what is now but rather what is to come! Every celebration now, if properly understood, is but a foreshadowing of a greater celebration yet to come. For example, when we celebrate a good meal with family and friends, it points to a day when we will partake of a banquet without concern for our waistlines and with the absence of tensions big or small with those we eat. When we celebrate a marriage or an anniversary, we are ultimately celebrating a day when we will be united with Christ in oneness as it was intended from the beginning. When we gather on a Sunday to celebrate God and what He has done, it is a dress rehearsal for the grand celebration depicted in Revelation. And when we celebrate a graduation or a ritual marking the entrance into adulthood or some deeper level of maturity, we celebrate the day when we will be fully mature in Christ! Keep your feasts, because your celebrations point forward with great hope!
One more idea that adds a beauty to this truth. Did you know that when the seamstresses were given the instructions for the making of the high priestly garments, the collar was to be double-stitched? Why? The one privilege belonging solely to the high priest was entrance into the presence of God and in the presence of God there is never a reason to tear your robe, as many freely did in times of sorrow and despair (see Job or Jacob as an example). But not the high priest. With the privilege of being in God’s presence, he was never to tear his robe because the ultimate reality is never despair. It is always hope. Now, we are all priests. We remind each other that there is never a reason to lose hope. God is in our midst. God is inside of us. Don’t lose hope. Keep your feasts! Things will end well. That is a promise. And the enemy that has plagued your heart (what is it for you?) will someday be destroyed and it will never again rise up and threaten your well-being.
And so the passage ends with the messenger bounding from mountain top to mountain top announcing the good news that peace is on the way. Isaiah records nearly the exact same words in chapter 52 of his prophecy except there is one additional thought worth capturing. To conclude the good news he says, Our God reigns. Indeed He does, despite what we see or are experiencing at any moment and because He reigns, we are invited, commanded to celebrate: Keep your feasts!
Patience and peace to you,