Trusting the Judge
So the lesson we learn from comparing Nahum and Jonah is not that God loves the Ninevites in one book and hates them in another; it is that God’s people cannot be the blessing God intends them to be to nations like Assyria if they cannot trust him to be in charge of disciplining the nations without them interfering. Jonah needed to be written not to correct Nahum, as if Nahum got something wrong, but to correct God’s people for not learning the lesson of Nahum; namely, that the damnation and/or salvation of Nineveh is God’s responsibility, not theirs. If God’s people are going to become a blessing to the nations and a demonstration plot of his peaceful reign, they are going to have to leave the judging to God. They must trust, with Nahum, that God’s vengeance will be meted out when God sees fit, how God sees fit. As Nahum puts it in 1:15, this is “good news” for Israel. Only a nation that has been relieved of the responsibility of ruling and judging other nations can come to see people of all nations as Jesus does: completely lost, in need of a savior, and in need of the good news that they don’t have to rule or judge the world either; for Israel and the Church’s all-seeing, all-powerful God is on his throne and vengeance belongs to him.
So how does this apply to us? At the very least, it means that we need to have faith. It takes a lot of faith to stay on the path that Jesus set before us. He has called us to be in this world the way he was in this world, to walk as he walked. Of course, in the multiple places where Scripture teaches us to be like Jesus, we are not taught to imitate his maleness, Jewishness, messianic status, or lordship over the nations. Instead we are taught to love with a suffering love, to love in the face of hatred and injustice, to love from the posture of cruciformed power and not coercion. It means hanging in there in a marriage gone bad without giving up on the possibility that God might change the heart of an adulterous spouse. It means humbly serving ungrateful people day in and day out even when they don’t appreciate it and bad mouth you behind your back. It means not using whatever leverage you have over people to get your way when that would involve running them over, even in their stubbornness or blindness to the truth. It means faithfully carrying out God’s strategy for being a blessing in this world and not exchanging it with a worldly strategy with an impressive track-record of bearing quick and easy fruit.
In Nahum’s day and Jesus’ day, it didn’t take great faith to believe that there was one god or even many gods who created this world and who oversee it somehow. Belief in the existence of deity was common, even if there were widespread debates over which god or gods were the right ones to worship. It did take great faith, however, to believe that the God of Israel and of Jesus was in charge of the cosmos, that he has given his people a specific mission to accomplish that only they can accomplish, that this mission comes with a specific sort of power that the world regards as weakness, that it comes with a specific sort of wisdom that the world regards as foolishness, and that accomplishing that specific mission means leaving other really important activities up to God—activities that the world thinks are the most worthwhile and honorable activities to pursue. That is the type of faith to which God calls his people today. That is the type of faith that Nahum was beginning to instill in God’s people way back in the seventh century BC.
Some people worship the god of Nahum as if he were a distinct god from that of Jonah or of Jesus. Some worship the god of Jonah and Jesus as if he were a distinct god from that of Nahum. Let us worship the God of Nahum, Jonah, and Jesus, for this God is one and the same God, or he is not a God worthy of our worship.
Lord God, we thank you for so loving this world that you sent Nahum to remind us that vengeance belongs to you. For if our faith ancestors took it upon themselves to bring your damnation to the nations, then our ethnic ancestors would not have stood a chance and we would not be here today confessing your name. And if we who believe now take it upon ourselves to bring your damnation to all who deserve it, we would be quick to anger and many who would have learned to confess your name would not see your love in us and would not be drawn to you through us. So help us, Lord, to embrace the truth that in Jesus of Nazareth your word has been revealed to us most fully and that every word that you have spoken and written to us, and every word that you will speak until his return, is pointing to him and to your saving purposes for this world. Grant us, O God, the grace and faith to accept this word that we may be the agents of peace and reconciliation that you have called us to be. Amen.