The Gift of God’s Judgment
For God so loved the world that he refused to let his people—whether Old Testament Israelites or New Testament Christians—take justice into their own hands. Cleaning up the world’s injustices is a fulltime job, and it is a job that transforms a peer-to-peer relationship into a superior-to-subordinate relationship. Though this kind of relationship is necessary to keep order in a fallen world, which is why God has ordained the powers and principalities to carry out this task, it is not the posture that God gave Israel in the Old Testament or the Church in the New; and it’s a good thing, too, because it is also a fulltime job, and the exclusive responsibility of the believing community, to preach the good news that not everyone needs to be judged according to his or her misdeeds, that there is a way not only out of the judgment one deserves, but also out of the disorderly, death-dealing way of life that begets such misdeeds. No one is going to do that job if Christians don’t, and no one else has the gift of regeneration, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of the Scriptures, the disentanglement from worldly allegiances, and the support of the faith community—all of which are necessary for accomplishing the unique task to which God has called his people.
So in the Old Testament and the New, God uses rulers and authorities, fallen powers and principalities as his agents of order and judgment in this world. What readers seldom stop to remember is that Nahum’s prophecy of Nineveh’s fall was actually fulfilled in history in 612 BC. In that year, God did not personally strap on a sword, mount a heavenly steed, and lead a battalion of death angles throughout the land striking down every man, woman, and child. Rather, God used Scythians from the north, Medes from the east, and Babylonians from the south to beat Assyria down using the ordinary military strategies of ordinary kings and armies. Indeed, more often than not, God uses the desire for self-preservation that every nation instinctively has to keep in check the over-inflated egos and power-hungry nations that seek to dominate the earth. So when the Babylonians got too big for their britches, God used Egyptians, Medes, and Persians to whittle them down. After them, the Persians were overtaken by the Greeks, who themselves were taken down by the Romans, and the story goes on and on until this very day. Never in recorded history has God suffered from a shortage of kings, rulers, and nations whose desire is to punish the wicked and to prevent dangerous people from wielding too much influence. And this is God’s doing.
But the pagan sword, even when wielded at God’s behest, can only accomplish so much. The coercive threat of lethal justice can merely promote a bare bones measure of civility wherein the majority of people will avoid doing wrong when they fear they might get caught. It cannot encourage people to do what is right simply because it is right or because it is what the creator wills. Coerced justice cannot be the foundation of the new order that God seeks to bring—an order in which his word is inscribed upon all hearts and authority figures will not be needed anymore to remind people to do the right thing. The temporary justice that can be won by coercion can only be maintained by coercion and will ultimately end up surrendering to coercion. So unless God intervenes by ushering in a new kind of kingdom with a new kind of power and a fundamentally different vision of justice, then human history is doomed to repeat this deadly cycle.
Of course, we believers know that in Jesus of Nazareth, God began ushering in that new order. We have been baptized into that order and our primary vocation is to bear witness to that order by living it and leading others into it. But the foundation of that order was laid a long time ago with the descendants of Abraham. God taught them through the miracles of the Exodus that their deliverance from Egypt was in his hands. He taught them through Yahweh War conquest that their presence in the Promised Land was in his hands. And now in Nahum, like many other prophets, he is teaching his people that their cruel oppressors, who ransacked the northern kingdom and ravaged the southern kingdom, are also in God’s hands. He assures them that he has seen their wicked ways and plans to act decisively to bring about his justice. But he reminds them of his judgment not so they would imitate or participate in it, but to relieve them of the burden of having to engineer their own feeble attempts to administer it.