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Nahum 1-3

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34 Nahum - 2005

Join Skip Heitzig for this study through the Minor Prophet book of Nahum, in which the prophet delivered a message of judgment on the wicked city of Nineveh shortly before its destruction.

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Nahum 1. Whenever a city is destroyed it is an awesome, sobering moment. Some of you will recall the first time that Baghdad was bombed under George Bush-- the first-- and how everyone, whether they were shopping and there was a television in the stores, they just froze. It was surreal to see a city that historical magnitude being destroyed, virtually.

Well, the Book of Nineveh-- the Book of Nahum, pardon me, there is no Book of Nineveh, but there is a Book of Nahum-- which is solely devoted to the destruction of the city of Nineveh. In fact, as you read through this book you discover this would have been a message Jonah would have loved to preach. It's all detailing that kind of destruction that God would bring on the city.

In fact, the Book of Nahum is the sequel to the Book of Jonah. Jonah preached to that city with great success, the kind of success he did not want to have, you remember. He complained to the Lord. He was so distraught and angry that the city repented and God was so gracious to forgive. But since then, since that time, since that greatest, most unprecedented revival in history, which happened under the preaching of Jonah, the city has reverted back to its old ways, its old practices, and has now become worse than ever before.

In fact, so amazing was the repentance of Nineveh that every Yom Kippur, the story of Jonah is read in the synagogues and the ancient rabbis, as well as modern rabbis, look at the repentance of Nineveh under Jonah's ministry as the paradigm, the example, the model, of what true repentance would look like. Sackcloth and ashes, bemoaning their sins, asking God to forgive them. Those days are long gone. The city is back to its old practices.

And now, chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the prophet Nahum are devoted to its destruction. In chapter 1, the destruction of Nineveh is decreed. In chapter 2, the destruction of Nineveh is described in more detail. Then, chapter 3, the destruction of Nineveh is deserved. That's how the book flows, with that kind of an outline.

So 1:1, "The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum, the Elkoshite." We know that he is from Alqosh. He is an Elkoshite. The problem is, we don't know where Alqosh is. We can only guess. There are three possibilities. One, that it was about 24, 25 miles away from ancient Nineveh. Guess number two, that it was somewhere down in Judah. Guess number three, that it was up in the Galilee region.

Now it's interesting if you go to the city where Jesus had his earthly headquarters in the Galilee, it's called Capernaum. And Capernaum is our pronunciation of the Hebrew Kafarnaouvm, the village of Nahum. And there is a longstanding tradition that from that village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, that northern shore, the prophet Nahum emerged. And that was his village, that was his town and from there he preached this destruction that was decreed for Nineveh.

As we go through it, it begins by describing the character of God and Pastor Chuck preached on that this morning, that God is good. His character is what the prophet begins with for a very important reason because the rest of the prophecy of Nahum that includes God's decreed destruction upon the city is based upon that character. Because God is good, because God is a jealous, or a zealous God, wanting no rival because of his uniqueness. Therefore the judgment is decreed upon the city.

Now, the city of Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. It had its beginnings back in Genesis chapter 10 when the great-grandson of Noah, Nimrod, built that city-- it is attributed to his building. Though it is an ancient city, the reason that it's in the Bible, the reason that it is to be destroyed, isn't just because of its wickedness, but because of the grace that God, once extended to it through the prophet Jonah, and because of the way that empire treated God's chosen people, the Jews.

It was from Nineveh that Shalmaneser III staged his attacks against the northern capital, Samaria, and the northern 10 tribes of Israel. In fact, if you go to the British Museum today, you can see the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser. It's right there in London and it's deciphered for you. And all of the details of the raids and the attacks on the Northern Kingdom are detailed on that black obelisk in the British Museum. In fact, three of the kings of Israel are mentioned: Jehu, and Omri, and King Ahab.

Then, in 722 BC that Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrian Empire after those staged attacks. And that Northern Kingdom went into captivity. Then a few years later, Sennacherib the Assyrian approached Jerusalem to destroy it. And he sent his field officer called the Rabshakeh, who stood in front of the walls of and threatened the King and threatened the people and said, basically, "Don't you think that you can trust in the gods or your own God, Yahweh, to deliver you. Look at all of the other nations that we have captured. We're going to capture you. We're going to destroy you."

And so Sennacherib even sent a letter to King Hezekiah and Hezekiah did the smart thing. He spread it out before the Lord. I love that. Instead of having a cabinet meeting, "What are we going to do? How are we going to defend our city?" He knew that they-- the enemy-- were more numerable and more formidable than those in Judah, so he spread it before the Lord, asking God to intervene. And the Lord did.

The prophet Isaiah said, "You've got nothing to worry about Hezekiah. God is in complete control." And God did bring his judgment on the Assyrians. In one evening, 185,000 of them were destroyed. And that sent Sennacherib all the way back to Assyria. And there he was in Nineveh and he continued to live there and rebuild the city, and it became more powerful.

And so this burden, this prophecy continues. verse 2, "God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; The Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for his enemies." Some people wrongly imagine God to be weak, sentimental, indulgent, kind of sappy, but God is described here, and throughout the Bible, as active, and strong, and unique.

Described here as jealous, and the Lord avenges, he reserves wrath for His enemies. Eight times in the Bible, God is referred to as a "jealous" God. Now, don't think in your mind in terms of the human vice. We are jealous because we're selfish. God is jealous because He is God and unequaled, and God wants no rivals.

The Hebrew word that gives us the English word "jealous" means to be zealous for one's own possession. God is saying, "You're mine. I want no rivals." That's what He said to Israel when He gave the Ten Commandments and he said, "I am the Lord, your God. You will have no other gods before me," or besides me. He describes Himself as a jealous God. God wants no rival. He is unequaled.

So God is described here as one who is jealous and He reserves wrath for His enemies. Well, that's the key then, because you always want to be friends with God and not His enemy. Why would anyone ever want to be God's enemy? It was Jesus who said to his disciples, "I don't call you my servants anymore. I call you my friends."

It's a wonderful thing to be friends with God. Abraham was called the Friend of God, but to be the enemy of God, not a great position. And I would much rather have-- and I'm sure you would, too-- God as my friend and all the world as my enemy, rather than to have all the world as my friend and God as my enemy.

They became God's enemies because after that great revival. They pushed God aside. They pushed God out. And I wonder if on their coins even, they didn't have "In God We Trust" at one time. There was a massive revival, a whole-sail turning, and that is only in their past-- in their history.

Verse 3 balances out God's wrath and vengeance. It says "The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked. The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet." So now we get a fuller picture of God. God is vengeful. God is just. God will execute judgment, but it takes a long time to get God in that position where He's going to act on that. He is slow to anger.

Peter describes God as longsuffering. Same idea, slow to anger, longsuffering. "Not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." But in the next verse, where Peter writes that, he says that "The day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night. The heavens, the earth, will be ultimately destroyed."

So both pictures, even in the New Testament of God, are put together. "He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, and dries up all the rivers." Bashan-- that's up in northern Galilee on the eastern side-- and Carmel-- up in Galilee on the western side-- very verdant, lush areas for growth. "Bashan and Carmel wither, and the flower of Lebanon wilts." So if God can punish those areas of His own land, which are so beautiful and so vibrant, if God can punish them-- and He did, using the Assyrian as his rod of chastisement-- then certainly, He can punish and even destroy, the Assyrian Empire itself.

"The mountains quake before Him, the hills melt, and the earth heaves at His presence. Yes, the world and all who dwell in it." God as the creator of the material universe reserves the right to do whatever He wants with it. Because God formed it, because God made it, God can then destroy it. And what God will do to Nineveh, from this vantage point of prophecy-- it's now past tense, of course-- is but a microcosm of what God will do in the great tribulation period. Creator of the universe will reserve the right to destroy His creation. If you think we've messed up the Earth, wait until you see what God does with it.

I often think about that whenever there is a show on or somebody protesting. There's so many groups out there, environmental atheists, who worship Mother Nature rather than Father God, and it's all on, "Let's keep our Earth pristine and perfect." And, yes, we are stewards of what God gave us, but again, if you think what we've done to it is bad, God is going to trash it in the tribulation period. The rivers will dry up. People will be dying. The sun will scorch the flesh of humankind, et cetera, et cetera, as the plagues are poured upon the Earth, and again, the mountains quake the world and all who dwell in it.

"Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him." That's the same question that they will ask, you remember, in the tribulation period, in Revelation chapter 6. The same ideas, verse 6, "Who can stand before his indignation?" They will say, "Great is the day of his wrath and who is able to stand?"

But then verse 7, the character and nature of God is even more fully described, more well-rounded. "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knows those who trust in Him." Martin Luther said that during the Great Reformation when he was going through the trials and the struggles of that era in his own life, and he was being hounded and persecuted, he found this verse a particular consolation. He called it, "an overwhelming consolation." God is good. The Lord knows those who trust in Him.

Now, that's an important premise to begin with whenever you discuss the judgment, the wrath, the vengeance, of God. God is good. When Asaph wrote Psalms 73, there were things that troubled him. He was hot and bothered because he noticed that so many of the wicked people in the world seemed to have it so well, and so many godly people were suffering.

But he begins with the right premise. "Truly God is good to Israel, and as such as have an upright or pure heart." God is always good, or as we'd like to say and sing, God is good all the time. All the time, God is good. A basic, true premise. It's important to live our lives with that premise firmly fixed and to go through our lives, go through our days because you'll find God's goodness everywhere.

It's like finding iron in a handful of sand. If you try to run your fingers through a bunch of sand you'll be hard-pressed to find any metal particles, but if you run a magnet through it, you'll find a lot. An unthankful heart goes through life like fingers running through the sand. A thankful heart is like a magnet, goes through the day picking up everywhere those blessings. "Oh, God is so good."

In the midst of any trial I love the story about the woman who stepped out of her house, she survived the great San Francisco earthquake, buildings were burning and falling all around her. And she looked around, she said, "God is good." And somebody said, "How can you thank God or say that at a time like this?" She said, "I'm just thrilled that I serve a God who can shake the world." She had that perspective, as does this prophet during this time.

God is good. You say, well, how can such a good God judge, destroy a city? If God is so good, how can a loving God bring this kind of destruction? Listen, it's because God is good that He brings destruction. If God did not destroy or bring judgment, He would be amoral. He would be immoral. He wouldn't be good. He wouldn't be loving.

I mean, what kind of a God would say to Adolph Hitler, "Oh, you know you're just a product of your environment, Adolph. You tried hard. You meant well. You believe this sincerely. So come on into my heaven." You'd say, "Wait, a minute. That's not fair," and you'd be right. And if God did that He wouldn't be good. Because God is good, He is the ultimate judge of men's actions, character.

Verse 8, "But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place, and darkness will pursue His enemies." If you and I were to take a tour of the city of Nineveh, we would be impressed because the walls were 100 feet from the ground up. There were 1,200 towers that went around the city. And the city had an inner city and an outer city. It was quite impressive.

The inner city was about eight miles in circumference. The outer walls of that city, which were protected by the Tigris River, were even more impressive, 1,200 towers that went around a 60-mile circumference. Remember back in the Book of Jonah, it says in chapter 3 that the city of Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-days' journey in extent. The ancient reckoning was, by foot, about 20 miles per day, so to go around Nineveh by foot would take you three days.

The walls were wide enough to accommodate three chariots abreast. They could have a race on top of that 100-foot wall. 15 gates brought outside visitors to the inside of Nineveh. Each gate was named after one of the different gods of the Assyrian pantheon. Very, very impressive.

But notice it says, "with an overflowing flood he will make an utter end of it." While Nineveh was at its height there was a coalition of a few different armies that came together. The Medes came from the north, the Babylonians came from the south, and they formed a coalition with both the Persians and the Arabians. So it was a sort of a mixture of four armies with the Medes and the Babylonians being the predominant two.

The Ninevites were strong. They did have the defenses and they did have the fortifications, so the Ninevites were able, successfully, to fend off this coalition army for a number of years. Until one year, in particular, it rained in unusual amounts. And in the spring of that year, as the rainfall kept coming and coming and the Tigris River kept rising and rising, it weakened the foundations of the walls.

And a section of about 21 furlongs-- the ancient historians tell us-- collapsed. It fell. The overflowing flood destroyed the integrity of the foundations of the walls and it allowed the enemies to eventually get inside and destroy the city. So it's an amazing prophecy. "With an overflowing flood, he will make an utter end of its place and darkness will pursue His enemies."

"What do you conspire against the Lord? He will make an utter end of it. Affliction will not rise up a second time." In other words, God will finish His work the first time. He doesn't need take two on the city of Nineveh. He'll destroy it, and it will be utterly destroyed, and it would not rise again.

"For while tangled like thorns, and while drunken like drunkards, they shall be devoured like stubble fully dried." Now that's sort of interesting. "Like stubble fully dried," but the previous verse talks about an overflowing flood. If you have a flood that destroys the wall and inundates the city, how do you have something as dry as stubble? Well, once they got into the city the enemies started setting it afire. And anything that was able to burn, burned. And so that the archaeologists have found great ash deposits that bring evidence to a fire that helped consume the city of Nineveh. Destroyed by a flood, and then subsequently, by fire.

Verse 11, "From you comes forth one who plots evil against the Lord, a wicked counselor. For thus says the Lord: 'Though they are safe, and likewise many, yet in this manner, they will be cut down when he passes through. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more; for I will break off his yoke from you, and burst your bonds apart.'"

Now here, the Lord-- through the prophet-- is speaking to Judah. Remember, Judah witnessed the fall in 722 BC of her northern neighbor, Israel, and then Sennacherib came later on and surrounded the city and Rabshakeh gave that announcement of "You're going to be wiped out. We're going to do it to you." But though those threats came, 185,000 of the Assyrian army died in one evening.

They were slain on the ground. And so the rest of the armies that were left, they went back home. And thus, the chastening rod was over. As far as Assyria was concerned, their threats of Judah never stood. So Judah was never conquered by the Assyrians, though they were by the Babylonians years later.

"The Lord," verse 14, "has given a command concerning you: 'Your name shall be perpetuated no longer. Out of the house of your gods, I will cut off the carved image and the molded image. I will dig your grave, for you are vile.'" In verse 12, the prediction that they will be cut down and then now in verse 14, your name will be perpetuated no more.

And back in verse 12, there is that reference to the wicked counselor, or literally the counselor of Belial, probably a reference to King Sennacherib, the Assyrian king-- the Assyrian prince who came and threatened the city of Jerusalem. But when Nineveh fell, the entire dynasty of Sennacherib was wiped out. In fact, for that matter, the whole city was wiped out.

And for years, people even doubted the existence of Nineveh until about 1840, That's how recent the archaeological excavations of Nineveh came about. It was wiped out, buried underneath the sand. until some archaeologists from Europe dug around and they found great evidence of the city of Nineveh that existed and the kings who were there.

"Behold, on the mountain the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace. O, Judah! Keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows, for the wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off." What good tidings? Nineveh is destroyed. How could that be good news? Well, to those in Judah it was great news.

Sometimes people point to the name of Nahum and they say I think this guy had the wrong name. His name means consolation or comforter, and yet, look at the message of judgment that he brings against this city. And so some commentators have even suggested that he really had the wrong name. I think he had a perfect name. He was such a consolation, such a comfort, to those Jews in Judah and, for that matter, those who were left in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Why? Because their persecutor, their antagonist, is gone.

It's like in The Wizard of Oz "Ding dong the witch is dead. Which old witch? The wicked witch." Assyria has fallen. Good news, good tidings. And so it's a proclamation to those Jews who are left who would hear the enemy is destroyed. Certainly, if Jonah would have been alive he'd throw a party at his house.

Now this verse, verse 15, sounds very similar to a passage in Isaiah 52, which reads "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaim peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaim salvation. Who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" Now, when Isaiah wrote that passage, as the Spirit of God moved upon him to do so, it was good tidings that Babylon had fallen. Here in Nahum, it's good tidings that Assyria-- Nineveh in particular-- had fallen.

Of course, Paul will take that verse, Isaiah 52, and he'll repeat it in Romans 10 as referring to the reign of the Messiah who will come. That's the good tidings, that's the good news that will be proclaimed. So what a comfort. What a consolation to the people of Judah. Their enemy is destroyed. Good news, good tidings. Hallelujah.

I had a brother who was 6 foot 8 inches tall. And I loved having a brother that was 6 foot 8 inches tall because whenever the bullies at school picked on me, I'd go get Bob. And I loved it because Bob would say "Don't worry about a thing, I'll take care of it." And he would come back. "I took care of it." It was always good tidings. It was great news. The bullies are out of business, Bob has returned victoriously.

So the destruction of Nineveh has been decreed. Now we get into chapter 2 where the destruction of Nineveh is now described. And up to this point, it hasn't been described in the detail that it will be in chapter 2. "He who scatters has come up before your face. Man the fort! Watch the road! Strengthen your flanks! Fortify your power mightily." Very descriptive, in fact, this is considered-- this chapter-- one of the masterpieces in ancient literature.

It's what happens upon the first sighting of the enemy. What do we do? We see the enemy approaching the great city of Nineveh. They're trying to take it and these are the calls that would go out in response. The idea here is that every defense will be in vain. And it's not that they didn't have a strong army. All of their defenses will be in vain because God has decided to judge and destroy the city.

Remember Psalm 127, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman waketh, but in vain." And all of the attempts to save the city of Nineveh, though they were successful at first, would finally be taken away from them.

"For the Lord will restore the excellence of Jacob like the excellence of Israel, for the emptiers have emptied them out and ruined their vine branches." This is a reference to what happened with the 10 northern tribes in Israel. They were wiped out by these guys, but that's over with. One day they will return from the captivity when Babylon will overtake Judah and the entire world-- and eventually the Jews-- will go back under the Medo-Persian Empire.

"The Shields of his mighty men are made red, the valiant men are in scarlet. The chariots come with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the spears are brandished. The chariots rage in the streets, they jostle one another in the broad roads; they seem like torches, they run like lightning."

Now there's an interesting reference that we just read to their shields being made red. We are told by the ancient historians, especially some of the Greek historians, that the Medes and the Babylonians were fond of the color red because they thought it was an intimidating kind of a color. So sometimes they would take their shields and overlay them with copper, which when the sun reflects upon it, you'll make your eyes squint, but it has a red appearance.

But then sometimes they would take and paint the leather shields, they'd paint them red. Two reasons, it was an intimidating color to see a whole bunch of red shields coming out at you. Number two, they did it in case any of their own blood would splatter on the shield, the enemy wouldn't be able to see it, thus encouraging them. It's like oh, we've inflicted some wounds, great. I see their blood on their shields. So in order to prevent that kind of sighting they were fond of painting their armaments red, lest their enemies have confidence in the battle.

"He remembers his nobles; they stumble in their walk; they make haste to her walls, and the defense is prepared." In any siege of an ancient city, the defense of the walls were paramount because the enemy would surround the city and build siege mounds and use huge stone and wooden armaments, battering rams to break through the wall. Any kind of breach at all would be met with those who were making adobe or stone wall bricks to be put in those breaches. So that was always a paramount defense.

"The gates of the river are opened, and the palace is dissolved." Now, camp on that verse for just a couple of minutes because it truly is an amazing verse. It's very short and in a very succinct way, it is a prophecy of the fall of Nineveh. It was the year 612 that Nineveh fell. And I mentioned that there was a coalition of different forces-- the Medes and the Babylonians. Cyaxares was the leader of the Median army. Nabopolassar was the leader of the Babylonian army. Nabopolassar was the father of Nebuchadnezzar.

Nabopolassar and Cyaxares the Mede became friends because the daughter of Cyaxares married the son of Nabopolassar, so it sort of cemented their relationship. They were now related. There was an alliance formed. So they formed a strong military alliance and attacked the city of Nineveh, and for a number of years, they were very unsuccessful to the point of saying, "We can't breach the walls."

But in the spring of 612 BC, this army flanked the city on the left bank of the Tigris River. The river was rising, and as we mentioned, the flood waters came and compromised the city walls. And the gates of the city that allowed the waterways to be opened up, were taken off because of the rising flood, dismantled and destroyed. So that there was a breach in the wall by land and by sea. And the palace itself-- it mentions here-- the palace is dissolved.

When the King of Nineveh saw what was happening and he believed that it was the fate of the gods now that the city would fall, he locked himself in the palace, built a huge funeral pyre out of wood, got on top of it-- with implements of gold and silver and some of his royal robes-- put his family on it, his concubines, his eunuchs, and set at afire-- killing himself in that huge blaze. The city fell. It was with a flood. "The gates of the rivers were opened, and the palace is dissolved." An amazing verse, describing the downfall of the city.

"It is decreed:" verse 7, "She shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up; and her maidservants shall lead her as with the voice of doves, beating their breasts. Though Nineveh of old was like a pool of water, now they flee away. Halt! Halt! They cry, but no one turns back. Take the spoil of silver! Take the spoil of gold! There is no end of treasure, or wealth of every desirable prize." Now there was a Greek historian by the name of Diodorus who wrote about Nineveh, its wealth, its treasures, its military might, and its destruction. And Diodorus said, "They plundered the spoil of the city a quantity beyond counting."

Once the enemy was able to go inside, they discovered that this city was wealthier than anything they had ever seen because the Ninevites-- when they conquered their other territories-- they brought all of the wealth into the city of Nineveh-- didn't even distribute it to the other townships, the other areas of the country. Absolutely decadent with wealth. And so those who came and spoiled Nineveh found, man, have we cashed in here. This place has got it all. And they took it with them, a quantity beyond counting.

Verse 10, "She is empty, desolate, and waste! The heart melts, the knees shake; much pain is in every side, and all their faces are drained of color." You see those three words at the beginning in the description of its fall? Empty, desolate, and waste? In Hebrew, those words are words that sound very similar and it's like a play on words, but the words themselves make a sound. And the sound would sound like the breaking of bottles. It was put there for a purpose.

So the Hebrew words for empty, desolate, and waste are buqah, mebuqah, mebullaqah. That's how it reads in the Hebrew. Just like we have in English what we call onomatopoeia, the word itself sounds like the experience. This is sort of Hebraic onomatopoeia. The words themselves sound like the breaking of the walls or the breaking of clay pots. Empty, desolate, and waste.

"Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion walked, the lioness and the lion's cub, and no one made them afraid? The lion tore in pieces enough for his cubs, killed for his lionesses, filled his caves with prey, and his dens with flesh." The ancient city of Nineveh is replete with reliefs and etchings of winged lions. It was always a symbol of the great Assyrian conquests. Like a lion, they would take over and destroy, utterly, as the king of the jungle. They were king of the hill.

"'Behold, I am against you,' says the Lord of hosts, 'I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more.'" Assyria-- as the country-- was famous for its chariots, but they were infamous for their practices-- their military practices.

They would come into a city-- and I'll describe it a little more in detail in the next chapter-- they would so utterly destroy and mangle people, cutting off parts of their bodies and piling them up and then burning the city, utterly, and being so proud of it. Coming in so quickly with their chariots and so utterly destroying that city. But the Lord says "I'll devour your chariots, I'll burn them in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more."

The troubling thing of verse 13 is when God says, "Behold, I am against you." Again, I'd rather have God as my friend and the whole world against me than the whole world for me, and God against me. "Behold, I am against you." And because of that God will annihilate them, destroy them. I believe that when Assyria went against Israel, displaced them, took them captive, and destroyed them, moreover, when they turned from all of that great revival brought under the preaching of Jonah, God said: "I am against you."

Now again, God is slow to anger. It took God a long time before he finally acted. But now the Lord says, "I'm against you." I love what Paul tells us in the Book of Romans, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" But the reverse is also true. If God is against us it doesn't matter who's for us. It doesn't matter what allies you have. It doesn't matter what friends you have. It doesn't matter how popular you are. "But if God is for us, who can be against us?"

So here's the good news. Tonight, God is for you. He's not against you. Yes, there is that inevitability of judgment that hangs out there if you reject God's gift of the Savior, but because of the cross and because of the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed for your sins and mine, at this moment in time, at this hour, God is for you.

In northern England, a police officer was keeping his beat one evening. And as he was walking through the streets he heard a crying child and he found this child. And the child said, "I'm lost. I can't find my way home." The police officer said, "Don't worry, we'll get you home."

And so this British police officer started naming streets, "Do you live by that street? By the street?" "No, I don't know what that is." "What about this building? In that building?" and the little child was unaware of any of those buildings. Finally, the police officer pointed into the distance where there was a cross on a cathedral-- big, white cross. And he said, "Do you live anywhere near that?" The boy said, "Oh, yes. Take me to the cross, I can find my way home from there."

Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, God is for you. You can find your way home-- His home-- at the cross. But how sad, how utterly desperate and desolate, when God finally says, "I'm against you." Again, it's staggering that this city of Nineveh, the very one we're reading about, was the very city that saw the world's greatest revival, at one time. Virtually everyone-- about 600,000 people at the time of Jonah, we figure-- all turned to God, in sackcloth and ashes. And now the Lord said, "I am against you."

Well, that brings us to chapter 3 of Nahum, the final chapter. We saw in chapter 1 the destruction of Nineveh is decreed. Chapter 2, the destruction of Nineveh is described. And now we see the destruction of Nineveh is deserved.

And up to this point, we haven't seen any of the real reasons-- the charges-- that God brings forth. And now we see three in this chapter. Number one, brutality, number two, idolatry, and number three, prideful superiority. All three are seen as this chapter takes us through it.

"Woe to the bloody city!" Whenever you see "woe" it's never a good word, but it should make you slow down like, whoa. Stop. Think. Consider your ways. Woe, city of Nineveh.

"Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs. The noise of a whip the noise of the rattling wheels, of galloping horses, of clattering chariots! Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear. There is a multitude of slain, a great number of bodies, countless corpses-- they stumble over the corpses."

"Woe to the bloody city!" I would say that is an understatement. The brutality for which the Ninevites were infamous for is well-recorded in history. You remember that God told Jonah the prophet, "Go to Nineveh and cry out against it because their wickedness has come up before me." The reason Jonah was so resistant to go there was because, of course, God would forgive them because he's merciful if they turned. The reason Jonah didn't want them to turn and God to forgive them is because of their wickedness and their brutality. And I'll describe that as we go through.

There were a few kings that were known for their bloody brutality. One was Ashurbanipal. And there were several, Ashurbanipal I, II, III, et cetera. Ashurbanipal II would so boast about the way he took over cities and describe in great detail the kind of atrocities that he committed, that on one monument commemorating the first 18 years of Ashurbanipal II's reign over Assyria this was written: He said, "Great numbers of them in the land of Kirhi I slew. 260 of their fighting men I cut down with the sword. I cut off their heads and I formed them into pillars. I flayed or skinned all of the chief men of the city who revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skin. From some, I cut off their hands and their fingers. From others, I cut off their noses and ears. And many I put out their eyes. I bound their heads to posts, tree trunks, round about the city."

That's the kind of brutality this city was known for. A city that one time had repented and now had reverted back to this. Another emperor by the name of Tiglath Pileser boasted he said, "I have covered an entire mountain, dying it red with the blood of my enemies." And still another emperor of Assyria named Tiglath Pileser III bragged because of the men he impaled upon posts.

Now, we think-- most scholars feel, at least-- that crucifixion was started by the Persians and developed by the Assyrians before the Romans ever picked it up. There was this odd belief that the ground itself was sacred, they were pantheistic, and thus instead of having a person die on the ground, it was better to put them above the ground that they would die there. So they would impale men on poles and eventually crosses. They boasted of all the ones they had killed in this manner. So God says, "Woe to the bloody city!"

In verse 4, "Because of the multitude of harlotries," here's the second charge against them, "Of the seductive harlot, the mistress of sorceries, who sells nations through her harlotries, and families through her sorceries. 'Behold, I am against you,' says the Lord of hosts; 'I will lift your skirts over your face, and show the nations your nakedness, and the kingdoms your shame.'"

Second charge is idolatry. And here, she is pictured as a prostitute seducing the nations with her harlotries. Nineveh was an attractive city from a human vantage point. Beautiful city. Had a lot of wealth, lots to attract a person to its borders. Great for commerce, great for trading. Dotted with many temples.

The temple to Ishtar-- the goddess of sexual love, the goddess of war. The god Nabu had his temple there, regarded by the Ninevites as the great god who would give wisdom to any of the worshippers who entered the temple. And so with all of the wealth, all of the commerce, all of the education-- because of the great universities that were there-- all of that, was a seduction to get people involved in pagan worship.

"'I will cast abominable filth upon you,'" verse 6, "'Make you vile and make you a spectacle. It shall come to pass that all who look upon you will flee from you, and say, "Nineveh is laid waste! Who will bemoan her?" Where shall I seek comforters for you?' Are you better than No Amon," which is the Hebrew for the Egyptian city of Thebes on the lower Nile, "That was situated by the river," that is the Nile River in Egypt.

"That had the waters around, her whose rampart was the sea, whose wall was the sea? Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was boundless; Put and Lubin were your helpers." Put is the general vicinity of North Africa and Lubin is modern Libya. So those were the neighbors, the allies, of this great ancient city in Egypt. "Yet she was carried away, she went into captivity; her young children also were dashed to pieces at the head of every street; they cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains."

This is the third charge against the city of Nineveh. They had a prideful superiority. "We are invincible," they thought, "We are impregnable. Nobody can take our great city. All of the false gods and goddesses whose temple we have in our city will protect us." That is the first time that any other geographic place besides Nineveh is mentioned.

The city of No Amon-- or Thebes-- is mentioned for a very important reason. All of the Ninevites would know this city very well because their own King Ashurbanipal destroyed it. But the city of No Amon-- or Thebes, lower Egypt-- was very similar to Nineveh, in that, it was the Nile River that went around it and protected it like the Tigris River that protected Nineveh. It had impressive walls, impressive towers, impressive gates, impressive temples, unrivaled in Egypt.

Very, very similar to the city of Nineveh that was destroyed, yet Thebes-- or No Amon fell. Here's the point. Why should you Ninevites think that you are superior when another city that thought it was superior and invincible fell? And who would know better than you because you caused it to fall? You conquered it. So, in their pride, God is giving them an example of another prideful city that fell.

Now I think the same could be said of the United States of America. For us here, at this stage of our history, to imagine, "Well, we're invincible. We're unconquerable. Our money still says 'In God We Trust.'" And to think that what happened to these ancient cities could never happen to America is a fallacy. This is the age of grace. This is the day of grace. This is the day to seek the Lord.

And I always go back to, "If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, turn from their wicked ways, seek my face," you know that verse. The Lord said he will heal the land, and this land needs healing. This land is in dire straits and deep need. And it's a nation that needs to turn back to God in repentance. It's the only hope for America as is the only hope for any city, any country.

Verse 11, "You will also be drunk; you will be hidden; you will also seek refuge from the enemy. All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs: if they are shaken, they fall into the mouth of the eater." So these walls that have been compromised by the floods, and the stones were falling down, they were so weakened. And they would fall easily like figs.

"Surely, your people in your midst are women!" Now, you can read the sarcasm in that, right? Imagine telling a bunch of soldiers clad in all of their gear, You" guys are women. You guys couldn't stand up to anything." It's a holy, sanctified sarcasm, they frighten easily in the battle.

"The gates of your land are wide open for your enemies; fire shall devour the bars of your gates. Draw your water for this siege! Fortify your strongholds! Go into the clay and tread the mortar! Make strong the brick kiln!" Here's what was happening, when the siege was going on and the walls were compromised and the breach was open, there were people inside the cities in that brick kilns, madly making replacement bricks to put in the holes of the walls. They weren't able to patch it. The enemy came and they were destroyed.

"There the fire will devour you, the sword will cut you off; it will eat you up like a locust. Make yourself many-- like the locust! Make yourself many-- like the swarming locusts! You have multiplied your merchants more than the stars of heaven. The locust plunders and flies away. Your commanders are like swarming locusts, your generals like great grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges on a cold day; when the sun rises they flee away, and the place where they are is not known."

So again just the sarcasm of, "You can try as you may but unsuccessfully will you try to stave off the attack." "Your shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria; your nobles rest in the dust. Your people are scattered on the mountains, and no one gathers them." When the city of Nineveh fell-- and by the way, during Jonah's time, you remember, God said that in Nineveh there were 120,000 people who couldn't tell their right hand from their left hand-- that's children, below the age of accountability-- so at least 600,000 upward was the population during the time of Jonah, and it had grown since then.

But no one was strong. All of them lacked courage, even the greatest among them. And it said that people fled up to the mountains, Nineveh was destroyed. The dynasties were over. It never was rebuilt again. "Your injury," verse 19 is the conclusion, "Has no healing, your wound is severe. All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you, for upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually?"

So history tells us 612 BC, the city of Nineveh-- second in grandeur only to the city of Babylon, historically, in the ancient times-- fell to the Medes in the Babylonians. It was overtaken. But God, as it's stated in the beginning of the book, is slow to anger. It was a century and a half, from the preaching of Jonah to the Ninevites to the fall of Nineveh as predicted by Nahum. A century and a half, 150 years. "God is slow to anger."

And here's why, because though God is a God of wrath and vengeance, he doesn't like to judge. He doesn't want to judge. The Lord would much rather pardon, much rather extend mercy, not willing that any should perish, but as Peter said, that all should come to repentance. Tonight, if you are not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, your position is very similar to Nineveh. You're in a very strategic point in your life. God has spared you thus far, here you are, either at church or listening via radio or internet.

And you've got some choices to make. Your life has been spared. Great, but judgment looms in your future. Unless you allow Jesus Christ to take that judgment for you-- which he has done-- but you, personally, must make it your own. If you refuse that offer-- honestly, it's the best deal ever-- because God will give you total forgiveness of your past, write your name in the Lamb's Book of Life, and you'll be forever and ever in heaven with Him.

"Oh, I don't know if that's a good deal or not, I don't know if I want to do that." What? Now, for you to turn down that is foolish. And for you to turn down that, for you to walk away from that offer, will guarantee you the future wrath of God. How long will it last? Forever and ever and ever, without end. I like the alternative. Life forever and ever and ever. Joy forever and ever and ever.

I'm going to close with something that I found from a book called Straightforward by Larry Tomczak that I think sums up this book and the stance, theologically, very well. He said, At the end of time billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God's throne. Some of the groups near the front talked heatedly, not with cringing shame, but with belligerence. "How can God judge us?" "What a rip-off." "How can He know anything about suffering," snapped a cynical brunette. She jerked back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. "We endured terror, beatings, torture, and death."

In another group a black man lowered his collar, "What about this?" he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. "I was lynched for no crime but being black. We have suffocated in slave ships. We have been wrenched from loved ones. We have toiled until only death gave us release." Far out across the plain where hundreds of such oppressed minorities. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in the world. How privileged God was to live up in heaven where there was no repression. All was sweetness and light. No weeping, no fear, no hunger, no hatred. Indeed, what did God know about all the hassles that man had in his world?

So each of these oppressed minorities sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. There was a Jew, a black, and untouchable from India, an illegitimate son, a prisoner of war, an Indian, and one from a Siberian slave camp. In the center of the plain, they consulted with each other. At last, they were ready to present their case.

It was a rather simple case. Before God would be qualified to be their judge He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on Earth, as a man. But because he was God, they set certain safeguards to be sure He did not use His divine powers to help Himself.

"Let Him be born a minority-- a Jew. Let the legitimacy of His birth be doubted so that many will question who His father really is. Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, that it brings down upon Him the hate, condemnation, and eliminating efforts of the establishment and every major traditional and established religious authority. Let Him be the object of put-downs and ridicule. Be spat upon and labeled mad.

Let Him be betrayed by His dearest friends. Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced jury, convicted by a cowardly judge. Let Him experience what it is to be terribly alone, utterly abandoned, by every living thing. Let Him be tortured, and let Him die. Let Him die the most humiliating death. And let His name live on so that for centuries it will be used as a common curse word in moments of rage."

Well, as each leader stepped forward and announced his portion of the sentence, loud approval went up from the great throng of people. When the last one had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly, they all knew, God had already served His sentence.

At Judgment Day, God will be the judge and the jury. He is the only one qualified to judge because of what He already has done in becoming a man and coming to this Earth. So whenever you read about the judgment of God, it's because God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.

Heavenly Father you are good. We declare it, we worship you because of it, and we are recipients of your great goodness. Thank you. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your mercy. In Jesus' name, Amen. Let's all stand.

If I had asked you at the beginning of the service, how much do you really know about the Book of Nahum? Don't you know a lot more now? And I understand a lot more how wonderful it is to be able to go through these books and to get background and understanding so that when we go away, we have a better understanding of the Word of God. The Truth of God. And thus, better equipped to deal with this life.

Because that's what the Bible's all about, teaching us how to live with one another and how to live with God. So it's a real blessing to be able to go through the scriptures and next week it will be Habakkuk. And so another interesting prophet, and one that, as you read, you surely will enjoy. The lessons that are to be taught to us, and basically, in the Book of Habakkuk, that most important lesson of all, "The just shall live by faith." The scripture that brought us the reformation and the scripture that has spoken to Paul the Apostle. It speaks to us today of our relationship with God. "The just shall live by faith."

Tonight, again, the pastors are down here at the front to minister to you, so that if you have particular needs, you'd just like someone to share with you in prayer-- "Where two or three agree on Earth as touching any one thing, the Lord said it would be done." And so they're here for the purpose of agreeing with you in prayer that God will work in your situation, the difficulties that you might be going through at this time, the problems you might be facing, to experience tonight that wonderful work of the Eternal God, who is for you, and how thankful we are that he's not against us.

(SINGING) Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory the. forever. Amen.
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