You’re driving at night along a rain-soaked coastal highway. From the hillside above you comes the sound of tree roots breaking, and suddenly the road ahead of you fills with mud and rock. There is devastating power in a flood or landslide. Nahum 1 shows you that God is both refuge and flood, judging his enemies and protecting those who trust him.
The Lord sweeps away his foes. The Lord overwhelms Nineveh with judgment. Nahum, c. 650 B.C., prophesied against Nineveh. Nineveh’s brutality richly deserved judgment. Assyria, with its capital, Nineveh, would fall to the Babylonian empire. The historic destruction of this empire anticipates the greater day of judgment that all of us face. The overwhelming flood that sweeps away the city of Nineveh is ultimately the triumph of the kingdom of God. He may use various empires and powers, but the Lord is building his kingdom.
Why does this judgment come? The Lord’s judgment reflects his character. The holy character of God requires that he punish sin, Nahum 1:2. He is slow to anger, Nahum 1:3. At the time of Jonah, the Lord had shown mercy to Nineveh, but its repentance was apparently short-lived. Don’t look at those characteristics of God as contradictory or even in tension.
“Scripture and the church emphatically assert the unsearchable majesty and sovereign highness of God. There is no knowledge of God as he is in himself. We are human and he is the Lord our God. There is no name that fully expresses his being, no definition that captures him. He infinitely transcends our picture of him, our ideas of him, our language concerning him. He is not comparable to any creature.”Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, p. 47
And don’t make the mistake of imagining that because God is merciful he’s just going to ignore you, no matter what you do or what your relationship with him is. It may seem puzzling that Nahum speaks only of judgment against Nineveh. Although 1:12,13,15 are addressed to Judah, he does not rebuke his own people for their sins. Remember that around this time Judah was subject to Assyria, 2 Chronicles 33:10-13. Judgment against pagan Nineveh spoke also to similar attitudes and actions by God’s covenant people. “There was an Assyrian wind blowing in the land of Yahweh,” C. Vandderwaal. The church today needs to heed God’s warnings against the rebellious world. Too often the church, in an effort to be “relevant” has adopted the attitudes and standards of the world. The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 4, makes the point that God’s judgment must come on disobedience—and it comes on all, for all have sinned.
“Yahweh is a jealous God, an avenger. Today’s church should take a long, hard look at Nineveh, for she may suffer even greater judgment (Matt. 12:41; Rev. 17:2, 16). Blessed are those who take refuge in Yahweh (1:7).”C. Vanderwaal, Search the Scriptures, Vol. 6, p. 75
To escape this judgment, trust the Lord, who is your refuge. The Lord is your refuge. Although world events seemed out of control, Nahum reassures you that God continues to be the refuge of his people. The next section of the HC will go on to point you to God’s work of redemption in his Son. Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, might seem about to wipe God’s people from the earth. But the Lord still is in control. He is the refuge of his people. The Lord being the refuge of his people rests on his character, his nature, specifically on his goodness. Thus, he continues to be your refuge as you face the floods and landslides of your life. Your survival, your triumph, rests, not on your own resources, but on the covenantal faithfulness of your God. Because the Lord is the refuge of his people, peace is proclaimed, verse 15. Note the parallel with Isaiah 52:7, and the New Testament reference in Romans 10:15. Peace came in a preliminary way as the news of Nineveh’s fall was proclaimed in Jerusalem. It came more fully as the angel proclaimed God’s peace at the birth of the Messiah. It came as the Savior pronounced peace on his troubled disciples. It comes wherever the good news of the risen Savior is proclaimed. And it will come, in all of its fullness and glory, when the final judgment washes, not just Nineveh, but every proud, rebellious sinner, into the darkness of judgment, and the glory of the kingdom of God reigns without opposition.
Trust the One who knows you. The Lord really knows you. The verb translated “cares” in the NIV is the verb, “to know.” It is a knowledge that is far deeper than intellectual awareness. The Lord knows you and your needs far better than you do.
“God is said to know them who hope in him, because he always watches over them, and takes care of their safety: in short, this knowledge is nothing else but the care of God, or his providence in preserving the faithful.”John Calvin, Commentary on the Minor Prophets at Nahum 1:7
His care comes to its ultimate expression in the gift of his Son. He knows your guilt, and instead of overlooking it, pours out his eternal judgment on the Messiah. He understands your anxiety and concern. He reassures you that he is the refuge for you from those fears as well. This morning you have heard the confession of faith of three of our young people. Their confession is one that each of us ought to be making each day. The Lord summons you to trust him, to rest in him, to rely, not on your strength and wisdom, but on his grace. The call of Nahum is echoed in the language Paul uses in Romans 10. The temptation to rest in our own righteousness continues to be a temptation, the solution to which is to focus on the glorious work of the Savior in your place.
Nahum calls you to know your God, both that he is jealous and avenging, and that he is slow to anger. He is the whelming flood and your refuge as you trust him.