Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nahum 1:3 (Part 2)

There is deliberateness to all that God does. Saying that he is slow to anger is not the same as saying that he represses his anger until he cannot control it and goes amok. It means that whenever we see God angry it has been well-planned – it is never a fit of rage. This is no doubt what is alluded to in the previous verse, which in Hebrew, explicitly calls God the “master of fury.” God is the master of fury, not mastered by it. Just like a master of the tongue, that is, "eloquent." The Dutch theologian Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) describes this as, "One who, if He pleases, can most readily give effect to His fury"

There is a frightening connection made in this verse between God’s anger and his power. Many people are angry yet impotent to do anything about it. God is all powerful; he is the Almighty. When he gets angry he has all power to do whatever he wills to those with whom he is angry. This epithet, “slow to anger” is used by God of himself in Exodus 34:6 when he passes before Moses. Yet it seems to bear the opposite connotation here as it does there. In Exodus the emphasis is on God’s grace and compassion. Here the emphasis is on his justice. The most severe cases given in Scripture of God’s wrath poured out are the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the death of Christ, all of which show deliberate action, premeditated and planned. The justice of God is highlighted particularly in the second clause of this word. It is God’s glory that he doesn’t leave the guilty unpunished. Whatever injustice may pervade the affairs of men, God will rectify all things: some of this lifetime the rest at the Judgment.

“He afterwards adds, that God possesses wrath I do not take חֵמָה‎, (chema), simply for wrath, but the passion or heat of wrath. We ought not indeed to suppose, as it has been often observed, that our passions belong to God; for he remains ever like himself. But yet God is said to be for a time angry, and forever towards the reprobate, for he is our and their Judge. Here, then, when the Prophet says, that God is the Lord of wrath, or that he possesses wrath, he means that he is armed with vengeance and that, though he connives at the sins of men, he is not yet indifferent, nor even delays because he is without power, or because he is idle and careless, but that he retains wraths as he afterwards repeats the same thing, He keeps for his enemies. In short, by these forms of speaking the Prophet intimates that God is not to be rashly judged of on account of his delay, when he does not immediately execute His judgments; for he waits for the seasonable opportunity. But, in the meantime there is no reason for us to think that he forgets his office when he suspends punishment, or for a season spares the ungodly. When, therefore, God does not hasten so very quickly, there is no ground for us to think that he is indifferent, because he delays his wrath, or retains it, as we have already said; for it is the same thing to retain wrath, as to be the Lord of wrath, and to possess it.” Calvin Commentary on Nahum 1:3

“He now adds, By clearing he will not clear. Some translate, “The innocent, he will not render innocent.” But the real meaning of this sentence is the same with that in Exodus 34; and what Moses meant was, that God is irreconcilable to the impenitent.” ibid

God will not acquit the wicked. Never once has He blotted out sin without punishment. Calvary proves the truth of that. The wonders of vengeance in the Old Testament and hell itself are proofs of the text. Trace this terrible attribute to its source. Why is this? God will not acquit the wicked, because He is good. Goodness itself demands the punishment of the sinner. The justice of God demands it.

Earlier we mentioned the scoffers of 2 Peter 3:4, “Where is the promise of His coming?” and Peter’s response 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.

The larger context, i.e., 2 Peter 3:4-9 says: This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the Day of Judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
We should note that God’s “patience” is not with the wicked; it is with the elect, whom Peter addresses as “you.” God’s attribute of being longsuffering is never directed at the ungodly. It is always directed at His covenant people. The wicked who aren’t punished instantly merely benefit from it, of you can call delayed damnation a “benefit.”

In an essay called “The Scriptural Presentation of God’s Hatred,” published in 1967, Homer C. Hoeksema writes, “We must understand, in this connection, that the Word of God throughout draws a very sharp line of demarcation between the godly and the ungodly, the righteous and the wicked, the church and the world, the children of light and the children of darkness. We must not fall into the error that is so common today, and that sounds so piously evangelistic, of speaking simply of the ‘unconverted,’ conceiving then of the unconverted from our own point of view, not as God sees and knows and views them. When Scripture makes the distinction between the godly and the ungodly, it always refers principally to the ungodly that will never be converted, the ungodly that will persist in his ungodliness until he is cast into everlasting destruction. Nor must we say that we cannot very well make these the object of our contemplation for the simple the reason that we do not know who they are. For, in the first place, while it may be true that the individual identity of the ungodly to a certain extent may belong to the realm of the secret things, nevertheless the fact that there are such men belongs to the revealed things of God. This must be reckoned with, both as far as the preaching of the gospel is concerned, lest the preacher delude himself that all men are potential converts, and as far as the life and calling of God's people in the midst of the world are concerned, lest they make common course with the wicked. In the second place, we must not forget the principal truth: by their fruits ye shall know them. And, in the third place, the question is not whether we in every case can individually distinguish the ungodly, but whether God knows them, and what is His attitude toward them. And then the fact is that God does not have before His divine eyes a mass of unconverted men who are possible candidates for conversion; but there are before Him the righteous and the unrighteous, the godly and the ungodly,—two distinct classes of men.”

All of this simply means that reprobation serves election. As Lorraine Boettner put it:

This decree of reprobation also serves subordinate purposes in regard to the elect; for, in beholding the rejection and final state of the wicked,
(1) they learn what they too would have suffered had not grace stepped in to their relief, and they appreciate more deeply the riches of divine love which raised them from sin and brought them into eternal life while others no more guilty or unworthy than they were left to eternal destruction.
(2) It furnishes a most powerful motive for thankfulness that they have received such high blessings.
(3) They are led to a deeper trust of their heavenly Father who supplies all their needs in this life and the next.
(4) The sense of what they have received furnishes the strongest possible motive for them to love their heavenly Father, and to live as pure lives as possible.
(5) It leads them to a greater abhorrence of sin.
(6) It leads them to a closer walk with God and with each other as specially chosen heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
(7) In regard to the sovereign rejection of the Jews, Paul destroys at the source any accusation that they were cast off without reason. “Did they stumble that they might fall? God forbid: for by their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy,” Rom. 11:11. Thus we see that God’s rejection of the Jews was for a very wise and definite purpose; namely, that salvation might be given to the Gentiles, and that in such a way that it would react for the salvation of the Jews themselves. Historically we see that the Christian Church has been almost exclusively a Gentile Church. But in every age some Jews have been converted to Christianity, and we believe that as time goes on much larger numbers will be “provoked to jealousy” and caused to turn to God. Several verses in the eleventh chapter of Romans indicate that considerable numbers are to be converted and that they will be extremely zealous for righteousness.        

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:1-3 ESV)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nahum 1:3 (Part 1)

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nahum 1:1-2 (Part 3)

In composing his hymn, Nahum has drawn upon familiar motifs long used in the worship of Yahweh. His indebtedness – (I almost don’t want to say that as if I were implying that his writing was not effected by the Holy Spirit) – to earlier OT literature utilized in the worship of God can be seen by comparing the hymn with other ascriptions of praise to the Lord. It is evident, for example, that vv. 2-6 are dependent on images and phrases drawn from passages commemorating the Exodus (a compositional plan also followed by Habakkuk [3:3-15]):

God is a jealous God
Ex. 30:5; Josh. 24:19
God’s long-suffering patience
Ex. 34:6, 7
Theophany in the storm
2 Sam. 22:10; Ps. 68:4
God rebukes the sea & dries it up
2 Sam. 22:16; Ps. 77:16; Hab. 3:15; Ex. 14:21-22
Violent shaking of nature
Jdg. 5:4-5; 2 Sam. 22:8; Ps 38:8; 77:18;114:6;  Hab. 3:6
God’s wrath topples the enemy
Ex. 15:14ff.; Hab. 3:10
Even rocks burnt
Deut. 32:22

1:2 Nahum begins with the nature of God and ties this to the message of the destruction of Nineveh. By tying these two subjects together the message is weightier and produces a greater impression on the hearers. “We now apprehend the design of the Prophet. He might indeed have spoken of the fall of the city Nineveh: but if he had referred to this abruptly, profane men might have regarded him with disdain; and even the Israelites would have been perhaps less affected. This is the reason why he shows, in a general way, what sort of Being God is. And he takes his words from Moses; and the Prophets are wont to borrow from him their doctrine: and it is from that most memorable vision, when God appeared to Moses after the breaking of the tables. I have therefore no doubt but that Nahum had taken from Exodus 34 what we read here: he does not, indeed, give literally what is found there; but it is sufficiently evident that he paints, as it were, to the life, the image of God, by which his nature may be seen.” Calvin on Nahum 1:2

The LORD is Jealous should probably be viewed as one of the Divine names or title of the Deity. In Hebrew, whenever it occurs it is always in the form The LORD is “Al Qana,” as if it were a title or name for God. Jeremiah 2 paints a vivid picture of God as a jealous husband; so does Hosea (Malachi and Ephesians 5 verifies this as the correct way to view God’s covenant with His people).

The fact that God’s jealousy is highlighted right out of the shoot reinforces what we’ve pointed out already, that this prophecy is not for Nineveh but for God’s covenant people. The Bible frequently depicts God’s people as His bride (Isa. 54:4-7; Jer. 3:1; 31:32; Mat. 25:1; Mark 2:19; John 3:29; Eph. 5:25, 31-32; Rev. 21:9). The motif of jealousy is no doubt intended to make us understand how seriously God takes His covenant with us. No one was ever chosen by God because of foreseen faithfulness. 2 Timothy 2:13 clearly indicates this. God has always foreseen that only He is faithful and that we are prone to wander. He committed to love His people simply out of His sovereign pleasure, fully aware of how faithless and prodigal we will always be. He didn’t choose us because we were holy, faithful and loveable, but in order to make us so (1 Pet. 1:2).

So when we read in the middle of this verse that God takes vengeance on His enemies, we are intended to understand this of God acting for our benefit as a jealous husband who works tirelessly to remove everything that might be a temptation and occasion of stumbling to His adulterous bride.

Our society’s unbalanced and undefined concept of the love of God gives sinners courage to sin with impunity because there appears to be no reason to fear God. Nahum anticipates the objection of evildoers that God could not possibly punish them because He is merciful. Calvin writes, “He says here that God is slow to wrath. Though this saying is taken also from Moses yet the Prophet speaks here for the purpose of anticipating an objection; for he obviates the audacity of the ungodly who daringly derided God, when any evil was denounced on them, — ‘Where is the mercy of God?’ Thus profane men, under the pretense of honoring God, cast on him the most atrocious slander, for they deprive him of his own power and office: and there is no doubt but that this was commonly done by many of the ungodly in the age of our Prophet. Hence he anticipates this objection, and concedes that God is slow to wrath. There is then a concession here; but at the same time he says that God is great in strength, and this he says, that the ungodly may not flatter and deceive themselves, when they hear these high attributes given to God, that he is patient, slow to wrath, merciful, full of kindness.”

The Lord is a jealous God. This is one of the first descriptions he gave of himself to the Israelite nation. He is jealous for his own glory and honor. His anger, vengeance, wrath and judgment are the negative manifestations of his jealousy for his own glory and honor.

(The fire to light Israel’s way and the cloud of darkness to obscure the Egyptians’ way – Matthew Henry) His glory is displayed and his honor is preserved when he pours out wrath, vengeance and destruction upon his enemies – those who do not know him nor glorify his name. It is in the giving of the 10 Commandments that God first refers to his jealousy. Interestingly enough, it is in the 2nd Commandment that we find this. I say that is interesting because this is the commandment which deals explicitly and specifically with the purity of the worship of God. And it is also in this passage were God declares his wrath and vengeance against those who defile his worship with images. If there is any attribute of God which is underrated, undervalued and underappreciated this is it: The wrath of God.

“Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. His own challenge is, ‘See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live forever, If I whet My glittering sword, and Mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me’ (Deut. 32:39-41).

“A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness. Because God is holy, He hates all sin; and because He hates all sin, His anger burns against the sinner: Psalm 7:11.

“Now the wrath of God is as much a Divine perfection as is His faithfulness, power, or mercy. It must be so, for there is no blemish whatever, not the slightest defect in the character of God; yet there would be if ‘wrath’ were absent from Him! Indifference to sin is a moral blemish, and he who hates it not is a moral leper. How could He who is the Sum of all excellency look with equal satisfaction upon virtue and vice, wisdom and folly? How could He who is infinitely holy disregard sin and refuse to manifest His "severity" (Rom. 9:12) toward it? How could He who delights only in that which is pure and lovely, loathe and hate not that which is impure and vile? The very nature of God makes Hell as real a necessity, as imperatively and eternally requisite as Heaven is. Not only is there no imperfection in God, but there is no perfection in Him that is less perfect than another.

“The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evil-doers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded. Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as the Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive.” – A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God

When it is objected that Love and Wrath are incompatible, we must remind our objector that God is just as well as merciful. Rectitude is as essential a feature of the divine Being as is love. If the Scriptures represent God as a loving Father 'in whom compassions flow,' (Psalm 86:13) they no less conspicuously reveal Him as a Lawgiver 'who will by no means clear the guilty' (Exodus 34:7). These two things must never be set in opposition to each other. Rather they must be considered as equally essential, coexistent, cooperative, and congruent. It is a huge mistake to think of God as acting sometimes from the one attribute and at other times acting from the other. In other words, we must not imagine God at one time acting according to mercy, and at another according to justice. He acts in harmony with both at all times. Exercising the one never entails suspending the other. When God punishes the guilty, it is not at the expense of mercy. When God forgives the sinner, it is not at the expense of justice. Mercy operates on a principle that agrees with justice. So while mercy inclines God to forgive, justice must receive satisfaction in order for forgiveness to be given. Deny this, and you place in clashing opposition two essential attributes of God’s nature. But admit this, and the objection we are considering falls dead to the ground. The satisfaction which the doctrine of atonement supposes to be made by Christ is necessary, not to awaken the feeling of mercy in God’s heart, but to reconcile the merciful forgiveness of sin with the impartial demands of justice.

If there is any attribute of God which is underrated, undervalued and underappreciated this is it: The wrath of God. The wrath of God should be a deterrent to sin and a comfort for our hearts. We hereby know that God will destroy all our enemies and rectify all wrongs. Individual Christians and the church as a whole triumph just as much because of God’s wrath as they do because of his love.

Jealousy and wrath are almost always sinful in human beings because of our sinful nature’s affinity for anger and revenge. But note that I said “almost always.” It is not true to say that wrath and jealousy are always sinful. The story of Aaron’s grandson, Phinehas, (Numbers 25:1-15), and Jesus’ cleansing of the temple sufficiently demonstrate this. They are pure emotions, that is, godly, when there is no hint of self interest in them. In John’s account of the cleansing of the temple (2:13-17) there is a quote from Psalm 69:9. Compare this with Psalm 119:139 and we see this lack of self interest and total preoccupation with God’s glory. The word “consumed” in the latter passage, at least, literally says in the Hebrew, “put an end to me.” Only when zeal for God’s glory puts an end to us will we possess holy jealousy and wrath. John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Augustin wrote, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” Martin Luther said, “I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.”

Furious – literally, "a master of fury." God is the master of fury, not mastered by it. Just like a master of the tongue, that is, "eloquent." "One who, if He pleases, can most readily give effect to His fury" [Grotius]. Nahum has in view the provocation to fury given to God by the Assyrians, after having carried away the ten tribes, now proceeding to invade Judea under Hezekiah.

reserveth wrath for his enemies – reserves it against His own appointed time (2Pe 2:9). After long waiting for their repentance in vain, at length punishing them. A wrong estimate of Jehovah is formed from His suspending punishment: it is not that He is insensible or dilatory, but He reserves wrath for His own fit time. In the case of the penitent, He does not reserve or retain His anger (Ps 103:9Jer 3:512Mic 7:18).

2 Peter 2:9 the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment
Psalm 103:9 He will not always chide;
Neither will he keep his anger for ever.
Jeremiah 3:5 Will he retain his anger for ever? will he keep it to the end? Behold, thou hast spoken and hast done evil things, and hast had thy way.
Jeremiah 3:12 Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith Jehovah; I will not look in anger upon you; for I am merciful, saith Jehovah, I will not keep anger for ever.
Micah 7:18 Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth over the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in lovingkindness.

For God’s covenant people, He does not retain His anger forever. For the reprobate He does. Compare Micah 7:18 & Nahum 1:2

Monday, February 18, 2013

Nahum 1:1-2 (Part 2)

The superscription of this prophecy has actually raised suspicion among the higher critics because it is doubled (as if this is a forbidden procedure). Generally speaking prophecies always start out with a singular title. The rejection of part of the superscription because it is a double title flies in the face of the same phenomenon elsewhere (e.g., Hos. 1:1, 2; Amos 1:1; Mic. 1:1; cf. Isa. 13:1). This book however has two titles. It calls itself “the burden of Nineveh,” and then it calls itself “the vision of Nahum.” There’s really nothing suspicious about this. It just goes to show you that when a person has an anti-Christian presupposition, no excuse is too flimsy to be marshaled in against God’s word.

Throughout my life I have had countless conversations with cynics and skeptics, and whenever they take their best shot, it always astounds me that people who seem otherwise intelligent should put such great stock in such weak arguments. Modern atheist cosmologists, such as Francis Crick, scoff at the notion of the divine origin of the universe. They treat it as an insult to their intelligence to be asked to believe in God, and yet their explanation for the existence of life on earth is a theory called cosmic panspermia. This theory holds that extraterrestrial civilizations have purposely sent microorganisms (as sort of the seeds of life) throughout the universe, but to earth in particular, with the deliberate purpose of seeding new life here on earth. If we can demonstrate that this is, in fact, the origin of life on earth, then we can forever discount the creation myth of the Bible. Never mind the obvious question this raises: What is the origin of these extraterrestrial life forms?” Adding more cars to a train does not account for its movement; you need an engine for that. This theory still does not account for the engine. And this theory, mind you, is meant to be an intelligent alternative to the biblical doctrine that God created all things. As I said, when one rejects God presuppositionally, no idea is too flimsy, nor is any excuse too weak. St. Augustin wrote, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you don’t, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”

1:2ff Having drawn the reader’s attention to a sovereign and just God who deals in judgment with the ungodly (v. 2), Nahum develops this theme in a twofold hymn to Yahweh concerning the character and work of God: (1) although the Lord is long-suffering, He will assuredly judge the guilty with all the force that a sovereign God can muster (1:3-6); and (2) although the Lord is good and tenderly cares for the righteous (particularly in times of affliction), He will destroy those who plot against Him (1:7-10).

Verse 2 is simultaneously theme and opening hymnic expression, is doubly indicated in the Outline (see introduction) and in the present discussion (i.e., 1:2-6; 1:7-10). After the statement of the thesis, the hymn is developed around two nonverbal sentences setting forth two aspects of Yahweh’s character: (1) “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power” (v. 3, NIV); (2) “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (v. 7, NIV). These two statements serve as headings to units that amplify the thematic sentiment in v. 2. The two sections thus formed are likewise composed in a similar format:
(1) descriptive statement(s) followed by conjunctive waw;*
(2) further development given in controlling introductory forms: prepositional phrase (v. 3b), emphatic accusative (v. 8b);
(3) conclusion marked by rhetorical questions (vv. 6a, 9) and figurative reinforcement (vv. 6b, 10).
3a & 7a the and (3a) and the comma (7a) are conjunctive waw’s that equate two modifiers.
3b & 8 use prepositional phrases and accusatives (the grammatical case that marks the direct object of a verb or the object of any of several prepositions) for developing the introductory forms
4 & 8 share the water motif
6a & 9 - Rhetorical questions
6b & 10 - Figurative reinforcement

3a corresponds to 7a; 3b corresponds to 8b; 4a corresponds to 8a; 6a corresponds to 9a and 6b corresponds to 10.

The following color-coded presentation of the passage should serve to demonstrate the point being made about the parallel structure of the two halves of the hymn of 1:2-10.

2. The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.

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.
4. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers.
5. The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it.
6. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
7. The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.
8. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
9. What do you plot against the LORD? He will make a complete end; trouble will not rise up a second time.
10. For they are like entangled thorns, like drunkards as they drink; they are consumed like stubble fully dried.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Nahum 1:1-2 (Part 1)

Nahum 1:1-2 – An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.

1:1 “Oracle” in the Hebrew literally means burden. There are a couple of ways that this might be taken. One might say that the Oracle was a burden in the sense that the prophet carried with him everywhere he went, which is to say that it weighed heavily upon him until he discharged his duty proclaiming it. The more likely meaning, however, is that the message was a burden to its recipients. The term is used by many of the Old Testament prophets and carries with it a few different connotations. It generally implies that the message contained a burden, that is to say, something which distressed God about the people’s covenant-breaking behavior. This is the sense in which Jeremiah (Ch. 23) uses the term. By the time we get to Malachi, the term has become sarcastic. It has a two-way sarcasm: on God’s side, his burden is the disobedience of his people. On Israel’s side, every time a prophet proclaims a message from God to them, knowing that it is likely a message about their disobedience, they sarcastically complain, “What’s God’s burden now?” “What’s bugging Him now?” Jeremiah 23 has God saying, “When the people ask, ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ say ‘You are the Lord’s burden.’”

In this case however, the burden is clearly to be understood as the message of impending doom against Nineveh. What makes this message interesting, to me anyway, is the fact that it was not actually given to Nineveh. The recipients are actually God’s people. The target audience is not the target of the message’s threats. This can clearly be seen language of 1:12 when you pay attention to the pronouns. Nineveh, the subject of the prophecy is called “they;” whereas Judah, the beneficiary of the message is called “you.” (And God claims sovereignty over both sides.)

Every one of the forty-seven verses of this short prophecy has been attacked by higher critics as being spurious. Contemporary critical scholarship tends to hold that at least one-third of the material was written by someone other than Nahum. Special targets for this critical attack center on:
·          parts of the title,
·          the acrostic poem (1:2-10),
·          the “hopeful sayings” (1:12-13; 2:1, 3),
·          and the closing dirge (3:18-19).
The result has been a rather uniform denial of the unity of the book.

All of this, however, rests on the shakiest of premises.
·         The rejection of part of the superscription we will deal with in a minute.
·         The supposedly interpolated acrostic hymn of praise can be seen as part and parcel of the message and development of the entire book and integral to the words directed toward Nineveh and Judah that follow (1:11-15).
·         Rejecting the genuineness of the “hopeful sayings” would necessitate doing so in virtually every prophetic book, for the prophets uniformly combine condemnation and comfort in their messages. It must be added that the messages of hope in Nahum depend not only on the process of Nineveh/Assyria’s downfall but also on God’s use of nations, which He will ultimately judge, to bring about conditions favorable to Judah’s restoration. Judgment and hope are thus inextricably intertwined; both are integral to the theme, development, and applications found in the book. The ultimate spiritual restoration of God’s people is the true underlying purpose behind His judgment of the wicked, for He does all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.
·         The attempt of several critics to deny the closing dirge to Nahum is subjective at best and erroneous in fact, for it forms a proper ending refrain not only to the previous taunt song (3:8ff.) but also to the entire second half of the book (2:1-3:19).

The various denials of the unity of the book are thus arbitrary and without foundation. A demonstrable unity of theme and development is wedded to the structure of the entire prophecy. Further, there is thematic unity to the book in the author’s employment of several key words and at least ten literary motifs sprinkled throughout. Indeed, Nahum’s literary genius has enabled him to write a carefully composed and tightly structured prophecy that is unsurpassed by any of the writing prophets. The logical conclusion is that the book of Nahum is a unified literary piece, the product of the prophet Nahum.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nahum: Outline

Outline of Nahum

Nahum may in accordance with its theme, development, and structural guidelines, the book may be outlined as follows:

Superscription (1:1)
I. The Doom of Nineveh Declared (1:2-15)
A. Theme: God Is a God of Justice Who Will Punish the Wicked and Avenge His Own (1:2)
B. Development: A Hymn to the Sovereign God (1:2-10)
1. Who defeats His foes (1:2-6)
2. Who destroys the plotters (1:7-10)
C. Application: God’s Justice for Nineveh and Judah (1:11-15)
II. The Doom of Nineveh Described (2:1-3:19)
A. Theme: God Is a Just Governor of the Nations Who Will Punish Wicked Nineveh and Restore His Own (2:1-2 [HB 2:2-3])
B. Development: First Description of Nineveh’s Demise (2:3-10)
C. Application: The Discredited City (2:11-13)
D. Development: Second Description of Nineveh’s demise (3:1-7)
E. Application: The Defenseless Citadel (3:8-19)
1. A comparison of Nineveh and Thebes (3:8-13)
2. A concluding condemnation of Nineveh (3:14-19)

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