Nahum 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
This verse contains what Hebrew grammar experts refer to as a “conjunctive waw.” This is the use of the Hebrew letter waw as a conjunction, either to equate two separate nouns or modifiers. On some occasions the conjunctive waw functions to indicate hendiadys. Hendiadys is the expression of an idea by the use of two usually independent words connected by and (as nice and warm) instead of the usual combination of independent word and its modifier (as nicely warm). Other examples of hendiadys are: “The cold and the wind blew down the hall,” and “She stared with eyes and envy.” This conveys a more complex idea that “cold wind” or “envious eyes.”
As it is utilized in this verse, the conjunctive waw means that to say The Lord is “slow to anger” and to say “great in power” is to say the exact same thing. The conjunctive waw is used again in verse 7 in exactly the same stylistic way as it is used here. This is significant when you compare vv 3-6 with 7-10 and note the exact correspondence the two sides have to each other and that they both have to the two-fold declaration of God’s character in verse 2, i.e., jealous for His people and wrathful on His enemies.
If, as I have continuously contended, this message is for God’s people, not Nineveh, then “The LORD is slow to wrath,” should be understood as have primary reference to God’s people. This means that the whole book has this undercurrent to it. The passage is not, then, primarily an answer to the question of Job 21:7; Psalm 37 and Psalm 73, i.e., “Why do the wicked prosper?”
How then do we understand this statement: “The LORD is slow to wrath”? There is no doubt in my mind that God intended Judah to understand this:
(1) With reference to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and
(2) With reference to themselves, and finally,
(3) With reference to Nineveh.
(1). With reference to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Assyrian had been God’s tool for disciplining the wayward Northern Kingdom of Israel. This occurred circa 722 BC, roughly 70 years before the writing of this prophecy. From the start of the divided kingdom until the Assyrian captivity of the Northern Kingdom (210 years), Israel did not have a single good king; every one of them was evil. In saying that God is slow to wrath, Judah should have understood that rebellious Israel was long deserving of chastisement. Had God not been slow to wrath, they would have been dealt with quite a bit sooner and with far greater severity.
(2) With reference to themselves. Remembering that this is addresses to God’s people, the words “slow to anger” are intended to assure us that God is not ignorant of our plight. This is reminiscent of the statement of the scoffers in 2 Peter 3:4, “Where is the promise of His coming?” To which Peter replies that the slowness in punishing the evil that we may be tempted to ascribe unto God is actually for our benefit because God is waiting until everyone of His elect come unto Him: He is patient toward us, this is the reason for the imaginary delay in punishing the wicked.
Judah should have taken God’s discipline of Israel as a warning for themselves. God had patiently dealt with a rebellious people for over 200 years. Notwithstanding, He had actually done what He had threatened and now Israel (i.e., the Northern Kingdom) was no more. Judah, while having at least 5 good kings (out of 20 monarchs [including evil Queen Athaliah]), was mediocre at best in its faithfulness to God’s covenant. Therefore there is an undercurrent of warning to the unfaithful among Judah that God can and will chastise them as He had done to Israel. This comes in the exact same words which comfort the faithful remnant of Judah. What greater comfort is there to struggling believers than “The LORD is slow to wrath”?
Psalm 103:8 -19 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
The uniform testimony of Scripture about God’s wrath is that:
(a) it is aimed at His enemies.
Lamentations 3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
Hosea 11:9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
(b) sinners have no recourse against it.
Zephaniah 1:18 Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
Proverbs 11:4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.
(c) Christ shields the elect from it.
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Romans 5:9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
All of this adds up to the truth that God’s wrath, as far as God’s people are concerned, is a preservative attribute which functions subservient to their salvation. This is the uniform testimony of Scripture. This leads us to the third point:
(3) With reference to Nineveh. Assyria was simply God’s tool for disciplining His people. He had no other use for them. They were reprobate. He had not chosen them; He had neither given them His word, nor the means of grace. They had been excluded from salvation, which is what reprobate means. However, their damnation was not simply an end in itself: it was a means to an end. That end is two-fold, just like election: The ultimate aim is God’s glory, only secondarily is it for our salvation.
Proverbs 16:4 The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. KJV (Reprobation is for God. He made the reprobate for His purpose.)
Romans 9:22-24a What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called ESV
Proverbs 21:18 The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the treacherous is in the place of the upright. NASB (This verse and the preceding, teach the subservience of Reprobation to Election.)
Isaiah 43:3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
“[T]he work of redemption itself was ordained principally for Christ's glory, more than for our salvation. In Phil. 2:7, the Apostle tells us, that Jesus Christ took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient to the death (there is the work of redemption); ‘wherefore,' saith he, 'God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name,' etc. The plot of redemption therefore was subjected to the glory of Christ, and not Christ to it.”
“God's glory therefore is more interested in our salvation than our own good is, for not our benefit comes in here, in the mention of what moved God, but the praise of the glory of his grace only.” Thomas Goodwin, Commentary on Ephesians 1
“God had a definite reason why He created men, a specific purpose why He created this and that individual, and in view of the eternal destination of His creatures, He purposed either that this one should spend eternity in Heaven or that this one should spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. If then He foresaw that in creating a certain person that that person would despise and reject the Saviour, yet knowing this beforehand He, nevertheless, brought that person into existence, then it is clear He designed and ordained that that person should be eternally lost. Again; faith is God’s gift, and the purpose to give it only to some, involves the purpose not to give it to others. Without faith there is no salvation—‘He that believeth not shall be damned’— hence if there were some of Adam’s descendants to whom He purposed not to give faith, it must be because He ordained that they should be damned.” A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God
“He who occasionally preaches only on election, without relating it whatsoever to reprobation, is not preaching election. This is still more true of reprobation, which is the antithetical counterpart of election. It belongs with election. It can be understood only in the light of election. It must accordingly be presented in its relation to election.
“It is also evident that, when preaching on election and reprobation, we must not place them dualistically over against each other. They are not on the same level. They are not corresponding halves of the same thing, but together they form a unity. Reprobation should always be presented as subordinate to election, as serving the latter according to God's counsel. From this it follows that reprobation should not be preached with a certain delight in the doctrine. He who is forever preaching reprobation shows not only that he is harsh and cruel, but also that he has not understood the work of the Lord God. God's love remains the central thought. He has chosen in His eternal love; and, for the sake of this love, He has also reprobated. Thus all God's work becomes a beautiful organic unity. In this way He is and remains God, and He alone. Thus, at the conclusion of all this, we exclaim in adoration with the apostle, ‘Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; for of him and through him and to him are all things! To him be glory forever!’ “ – Herman Hoeksema, The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel