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The Fly Over Books – Nahum 2 – Court is in Session pt. 2


Court Is In Session pt. 2

Nahum 2


Americans are angry. The country erupted into the worst civil unrest in decades after the death of George Floyd, and anger about police violence and the country’s legacy of racism is still running high. At the same time, we’re dealing with anger provoked by the coronavirus pandemic: anger at public officials because they’ve shut down parts of society, or anger because they aren’t doing enough to curb the virus. Anger about being required to wear a mask, or anger toward people who refuse to wear a mask. Anger at anyone who doesn’t see things the “right” way.


“We’re living, in effect, in a big anger incubator,” said Raymond Novaco, a psychology professor at UC Irvine. According to psychiatrist Joshua Morganstein, the country is now dealing with “three disasters superimposed on top of one another”: the pandemic, the economic fallout, and civil unrest. He said, “Certainly, one way of responding, and a common way of responding, is anger.” Mental health professionals tend to view anger as a secondary emotion. In other words, there’s another emotion, a primary emotion, below the anger, causing the anger. It’s usually fear or sadness. Being tired or overwhelmed can add to anger too. The key to understanding anger is to ask myself, “Why am I angry?” and then to be willing to honestly explore possible answers to that question. And then I need to learn positive ways of expressing my anger, ways that don’t cross the boundaries of verbally or physically or emotionally hurting myself or someone else.


And anger is certainly on the rise. Surveys over the past few years suggest that anger had risen in here in America even before the 2020 crises. A Gallup poll conducted in 2018, for example, concluded that Americans’ stress, worry, and anger had intensified that year. Twenty-two percent of Americans had felt anger the previous day, up from 17 percent a year earlier.[i]


Now, a lot of the anger we feel is in appropriate and unhealthy. When I’m angry at the person doodling across M-72 at 40 mph when I’m on my way home today and just want to be home after a busy Sunday morning, that anger isn’t appropriate. I can curse. I can pound my steering wheel. I can flash my headlights angrily. But there’s not much I can do about it, other than offer a cold stare when I shoot by them when we hit the next passing lane. We as human beings get inappropriately angry quite often.


But there are times when anger is justified. There are times when anger is a good thing. Jesus got angry, right? When Peter tried to stop Jesus from talking about the things that would happen to him in Jerusalem, quite bluntly in fact, and Peter rebuked him for it, Jesus yelled, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (Matt. 16:33). When Jesus did that, he didn’t place a gentle hand on Peter’s shoulder and gently say, “Now Peter. I need you to let me do this. It’s kind of important. You don’t understand now, but someday you will.” No! He yelled. He was angry. He was direct. Jesus didn’t gently cleanse the temple, turning over tables and driving people out with a whip, did he? No! He was a tornado of fury!


John 2:14-16 says, “In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”


Anger, in and of itself, isn’t wrong. The life of Christ is evidence that even God gets angry. The key is to become angry about the right things, in the right way, to the right degree, and as human beings, that’s hard. But as followers of Jesus Christ, and that’s what a Christian is supposed to be – a follower of Jesus – we are to seek to bring our anger into alignment with God’s anger. There are some things we SHOULD be angry about. There are things that SHOULD bring out our outrage. God is a God of love, and appropriate anger is an important component of love.


Sterling is my son, and I love him, right? So let’s say he’s a really bad driver. He isn’t, I don’t think. He actually won’t drive if I’m with him, so who knows, he could be a terror. So for the sake of illustration, lets say that Sterling is a really bad driver. That he tends to cut people off and go speeding around them if he thinks they’re driving too slow, even if there isn’t a passing lane or zone. Now, if I say, “I know Sterling shouldn’t drive that way. He puts himself, his passengers, and the people in oncoming traffic in danger a lot. But I don’t want to say anything about it because I’m afraid he’ll be mad at me and unfriend me on Facebook. So I’ll just keep it to myself” am I loving him? No, I’m not. My THOUGHTS about the issue are right. My EMOTIONS about the issue might be right. But I’m not loving him until I act to make things right, whether that be limiting his driving, or insisting he drive with me and allow me to coach, or his handing over his keys and license for a while. THAT would be the loving thing to do, right?


The Old Testament prophets come across as angry a lot of the time. And that’s because they are. They are communicating to the people of God God’s anger at the way they are living and therefore his discipline of them. Discipline is always intended to bring about growth and a change in behavior, whether its coming from a parent, or a teacher, or a boss, or God. And the prophets are announcing God’s judgment of and discipline of his people. So yeah, they come across as angry. The prophet Nahum is no exception. The only difference is that God’s words through Nahum are targeted not to the people of God but to the Assyrian capitol city of Ninevah and to the Assyrians themselves, whom God had actually used in the past to discipline his people. But they went from being a tool in the hand of God to the enemy of God in short order, and God was going to deal with them. Turn with me to Nahum 2. We’ll start with Vv. 1-7.


N.T. Wright, the great Biblical scholar and Bishop of Durham in the Church of England says, “The biblical doctrine of God’s wrath is rooted in the doctrine of God as the good, wise and loving creator, who hates – yes, hates, and hates implacably – anything that spoils, defaces, distorts, or damages his beautiful creation, and in particular anything that does that to his image-bearing creatures. If God does not hate racial prejudice, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not wrathful at child abuse, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not utterly determined to root out from his creation, in an act of proper wrath and judgment, the arrogance that allows people to exploit, bomb, bully and enslave one another, he is neither loving, nor good, nor wise.”[ii]


Our outrage is evidence that we long to live in a just world. We want justice. Just not for ourselves. Not for the victims of our own behavior. We want grace there. But for the pedophiles abusing children, the sex traffickers, the murderers, the abusers, the leaders of gangs and drug cartels, maybe even for our own personal enemies, whoever they might be, we want justice.


The good news of Jesus Christ, and the good news proclaimed by the prophet Nahum is that God is a God of love, and therefore a God of justice, and he ACTS to bring justice to those in need of it. To the oppressed. The words of Nahum are words of comfort to an oppressed people. Assyria had brutally emptied Israel of every remnant of her glory as the people of God. And now, they would receive divine retribution through at the hands of the Babylonian empire. For 250 years, the Assyrians had ruled the middle east with an iron fist, brutally and without conscience in her treatment of others, and now her time had come. The one who had plundered and sacked so many other nations would now be plundered.


God fights on behalf of the oppressed, and he expects his people to do the same. The Old Testament prophets draw a direct line of connection between the quality of our worship, the quality of our relationship with God, and our treatment of the vulnerable and oppressed. God raises up, he does not beat down. And so the people of God are to raise up, not beat down. The most vulnerable in Nahum’s day were the poor, widows, and orphans. Widows and orphans are referenced 69 times in the Old Testament alone. Exodus 22:21-24 says “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”


Isaiah 1:17 says “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.


Psalm 68:5 describes God as “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.”


In the New Testament, James 1:27 says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.”


Hebrews 13:1-3 says, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”


Do you get the picture? We are not to live this way IN ORDER TO BE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD, but because God in his grace has forgiven us and we are to reflect the nature and character of his love to the world. When people begin to use and abuse others, God acts. Now, look at Vv. 8-10. Not only does God fight for the oppressed, the vulnerable, but he fights against the oppressor. And her strength doesn’t matter.


Assyria was a mighty people. Ninevah was a secure city. Her walls reached anywhere from 25 to 60 feet into the sky and enclosed an area of some 1,800 acres with a river flowing through it for a water supply for her 300,000 people. Her armies inside the city, standing at attention covered an area of 40 acres and was well-equipped with chariots covered in metal, wagons, horses and mules, bows and arrows and spears, and the main road through the city was 75’ wide to enable the army to move quickly and in order to any place needed. She was impenetrable and well defended, but she would fall. The verbs here are written in what is called the “prophetic perfect” tense, in which future events are viewed as being so certain to happen that they are written about as if they had already happened. And Ninevah did fall to Babylon, in exactly the way Nahum said. Look at Vv. 6-8.


Now hear the description of the fall of Ninevah by ancient historian Diodorus Siculus: “In the 3rd year, a succession of heavy downpours swelled the river, flooded part of the city, and cast down the wall to a length of 20 stades. Thereupon the king realized that the oracle had been fulfilled, and that the river had manifestly declared war upon the city. Despairing of his fate, but resolved not to fall into the hands of his enemies, he prepared a gigantic pyre in the royal precincts, heaped up all his gold and silver and his kingly raiment as well upon it, shut up his concubines and eunuchs in the chamber he had made in the midst of the pyre, and burnt himself and the palace together with all of them.”


Assyria sat there, arrogantly mocking God, thumbing her nose at God, treating the peoples she conquered brutally, secure in her wealth, in her defenses, in the power of her military that had conquered the entire Middle East. Never imagining that she could even stumble, much less fall. But fall she did. God does not allow evil and oppression to go unpunished. He does not allow injustice to carry on indefinitely.


But he is patient, and reaches out to the evildoer. One thing God does NOT do is come by sneak attack. 100 years before the time of Nahum he had sent another prophet, Jonah, to Ninevah. In fact, Jonah didn’t want to go because he wanted the Assyrians punished so God had to actually physically move Jonah there himself. And in the time of Jonah the people of Ninevah did repent and turn away from their oppression. But oppression is always grounded in selfishness, greed, and a desire for power, and those things run deep in the human heart. But before moving in judgment against Assyria, God sent Nahum to warn the people, and any who remained faithful to him within the city. God always warns the arrogant before he brings his judgment and justice. Even in God’s wrath there is mercy.


And God WILL bring justice, punish evil, regardless of who is involved. At the time of Nahum’s ministry, Jerusalem herself was 18 years from capture by Babylon and 29 years from complete destruction after a Jewish uprising against Babylon. Why did God discipline his own people Israel as he had the Assyrians? For the same reason. Oppression. Taking advantage of the vulnerable in society. A lack of justice. In fact, as Jerusalem was falling during the time of the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah’s words in the book of Lamentations reminds us of the words of Nahum, adding to them the truth that disaster will come upon the people of God if they no longer regard his law and ignore or take advantage of the poor in their midst.


Now, Look at Vv. 11-13. When I was a kid, Ronald Reagan ran for president as America was locked in a cold war arms race with the Soviet Union. And in Reagan’s television ads, Russia was pictured as a bear roaming the world looking to devour any who stood in her way. And of course America is most commonly pictured as an eagle, right? The Assyrians pictured themselves as a lion devouring its prey. Excavations of the site of Ninevah, near modern day Mosul in Iraq, show royally commissioned reliefs carved of lions. In their writings, Assyrian kings compared themselves to lions. But now the mighty lion has no place to go. God’s justice has reduced the roaring lion to nothing.


But something else is happening here to. The Assyrians are being compared to animals. “You view others a prey, and you yourselves are nothing but beasts.” Oppression, using the vulnerable and the weak as pawns, is animal-like behavior. It is sub-human. And God will avenge the oppressed. We, as the people of God, are to be a people of justice. We are to stand against oppression. Not just think it is wrong and say it is wrong, but to act to right the wrongs.


The truth is, every person we will ever meet is a person created in the image of God. Every person you meet is an image-bearer of God. Using people. Taking advantage of people. Taking people for granted. Looking down upon people in arrogance has no place among the people of God. We treat every person we meet as an image-bearer of God. That is why at Christ Church, on Saturday evenings, we don’t serve a meal TO the homeless, hungry, and lonely, we eat a meal WITH the homeless, hungry, and lonely. We seek to empower those who come through the food pantry. We don’t look down upon people in condescending ways or in judgment. We treat people as human beings created in the image of God. And God will bring justice to those who cannot and will not do that. Those who oppress. Those who use people. Those who take advantage of the vulnerable around them.


On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the judgment and justice of God against our injustice and oppression and sin. St. Paul in Galatians says “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20). I am either crucified with Christ by placing my faith in Christ, or I will one day be judged by Christ. Those are my only two alternatives, for God is a God of justice, and that is good news. Evil will not go unpunished. Injustice will not go uncorrected.


God gives his final warning to the oppressor in Revelation 18:6-8. “Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” Every person you meet bears the image of God, is created in the image of God, and is so loved by God that he is willing to take that person’s just punishment upon himself on the cross of Christ. That isn’t a gift to hoard, or assume is only for us. That is a gift to share with all. And so we must act in ways that are right and just. Let us pray.

[i] Elizabeth Chang, “Americans are living in a big ‘anger incubator,” The Washington Post (6-30-20)

[ii] N. T. Wright, The Cross and the Caricatures