Thursday, March 21, 2013

Nahum 1:14-15

The LORD has given commandment about you: “No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile.” Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.  Nahum 1:14-15

We previously observed that God views an attack on His people as an attack upon Himself. As Zechariah 2:8 puts it: “For thus said the LORD of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye:” Christ took persecution of His church personally, as Paul found out on the road to Damascus.

We see another interesting insinuation here: God sees idolatry as a direct attack on Himself. Nineveh is said to have plotted evil against the Lord; now God is commanding her destruction because of idolatry. God commanded that the King’s name be no longer perpetuated. This implies a couple of things. It likely means that his line of offspring will end. But it is also interesting that apart from Sargon and Sennacherib, whose names are mentioned in Scripture, there is no other familiar name of any Assyrian king. Ancient kings saw it as an honor to be buried with images of their gods. God deems it the mark of contempt – against the kings! It is a testimony to how poor your state truly is if the best thing you’ve got going for you is your stone idol graven image. The Hebrew literally speaks of graven images and cast metal images. Not only was paganism the religion of Nineveh, it was a business as well. This is one of the true hallmarks of all false religion. And woe be unto us if we be guilty of trafficking the things of God.

The opening line of verse 15 is found in Isaiah 52:7 and there is likely an allusion in it as well as to Isaiah 40:9. Paul repeats Nahum 1:15 in Romans 10:15 in regard to the Messiah and His ministry, as well as the apostles of Christ in His time. It may also be understood of any minister of the Gospel whose business it is to "preach the Gospel of peace." God has made peace with sinners by the blood of Christ, and has given to His people the peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). The preacher’s work is also to "bring glad tidings of good things" (KJV), such as reconciliation, righteousness, pardon, life, and eternal salvation by a crucified Christ. The preaching of such a Gospel, and bringing such news, makes their feet beautiful.

Isaiah 54:3-7 For thus says the LORD: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord GOD: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here,” declares the LORD, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the LORD, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.” How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Isaiah 40:9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”

Isaiah 40:1-4 is a prediction about John the Baptist. So the larger context is obviously Messianic. So when you come to verses 9ff (Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”) this is clearly about Christ’s Incarnation. So when the language is repeated in Isaiah 52:7, it becomes clear that even in the OT, Israel’s plight (problems with Egypt, Assyria and Babylon) was seen as typical of spiritual truths about the deliverance of God’s covenant people from sin and God’s wrath against it. Hence one clear implication of Nahum’s message against Nineveh is: Judgment is all that the reprobate have to look forward to. In other words, God’s covenant people are the only ones who are safe from the prospect of Divine wrath.

Comparing Nahum 1:15 with Isaiah 52:7 we see something very interesting. Isaiah’s typical “good news” is the return of God’s people from their Babylonian exile. Nahum’s “good news” is the destruction of Nineveh, which relieved God’s people from the fear of Assyrian oppression. What is fascinating about these passages is the (1) Babylon rises to world prominence only after the “good news” Nahum predicts of Nineveh’s downfall. (2) Isaiah was written first. (3) Both are viewed by the New Testament as typical of God’s deliverance of His people from their sins by the Atonement. The Exodus of Israel from Egypt, the fall of Nineveh, the return of the exiles from Babylon are all literally true factual, historical events; yet they are not ends in themselves: they point to a deeper, yet equally true spiritual meaning about God’s salvation of His people. So what if God merely provides temporal, sociological salvation from political enemies? Eternal salvation from sin and the wrath of God is what we truly need. These ‘salvations,’ while completely factually real, are intended to point our attention and hope forward to the true deliverance God has worked for His people in Christ.

The context of Isaiah 52 is the return of the exiles out of Babylon, which must be taken as typical as well because that is how Paul cites it. The same Holy Spirit who breathed out Isaiah 40:9, 52:7 and Nahum 1:15 also breathed out Romans 10:15. Since the New Testament expounds the Old, we understand that the salvation of the Church is what is ultimately in view behind all these figures. On Isaiah 52:7 Matthew Henry writes, “The removal of the Jews from Babylon to their own land again is here spoken of both as a mercy and as a duty; and the application of verse 7 to the preaching of the gospel (by the apostle, Romans 10:15) plainly intimates that that deliverance was a type and figure of the redemption of mankind by Jesus Christ, to which what is here said of their redemption out of Babylon ought to be accommodated.

            For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:11-17 ESV)

The promise of salvation referenced in Romans 10 is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham that Gentiles would be included in the Covenant. That is what is in view in verse 13 where it says that “whoever” calls on the name of the Lord…” Salvation as per the Covenant of Grace is to both Jew and Gentile Paul expects his readers to not be surprised by this since it was foretold by Joel (2:32). Paul illustrates how this should be fulfilled:

1. The Gospel needed to be preached to the Gentiles (vss 14, 15). This is what the Jews were so angry with Paul for. But Paul says that since they were included in the promise to Abraham, then they had to be informed by the preaching of the Gospel.

(1.) They cannot call on him in whom they have not believed. Except they believe that he is God, they will not call upon him by prayer; to what purpose should they? The grace of faith is absolutely necessary to the duty of prayer; we cannot pray aright, nor pray to acceptation, without it. He that comes to God by prayer must believe, Heb. 11:6. Till they believed the true God, they were calling upon idols, O Baal, hear us.

(2.) They cannot believe in him of whom they have not heard. some way or other the divine revelation must be made known to us, before we can receive it and assent to it; it is not born with us. In hearing is included reading, which is tantamount, and by which many are brought to believe (Jn. 20:31): These things are written that you may believe. But hearing only is mentioned, as the more ordinary and natural way of receiving information.

(3.) They cannot hear without a preacher; how should they? Somebody must tell them what they are to believe. Preachers and hearers are correlates; it is a blessed thing when they mutually rejoice in each other-the hearers in the skill and faithfulness of the preacher, and the preacher in the willingness and obedience of the hearers.

(4.) They cannot preach except they be sent, except they be both commissioned and in some measure qualified for their preaching work. How shall a man act as an ambassador, unless he have both his credentials and his instructions from the prince that sends him? This proves that to the regular ministry there must be a regular mission and ordination. It is God's prerogative to send ministers; he is the Lord of the harvest, and therefore to him we must pray that he would send forth laborers, Mt. 9:38. He only can qualify men for, and incline them to, the work of the ministry. But the competency of that qualification, and the sincerity of that inclination, must not be left to the judgment of every man for himself: the nature of the thing will by no means admit this; but, for the preservation of due order in the church, this must needs be referred and submitted to the judgment of a competent number of those who are themselves in that office and of approved wisdom and experience in it, who, as in all other callings, are presumed the most able judges, and who are empowered to set apart such as they find so qualified and inclined to this work of the ministry, that by this preservation of the succession the name of Christ may endure forever and his throne as the days of heaven. And those that are thus set apart, not only may, but must preach, as those that are sent.

2. The Gospel should be welcomed by those to whom it was preached, because it showed the way to salvation, v. 15. And this is where Paul quotes both Isaiah 52:7 and Nahum 1:15. The two passages point at the glad tidings of the deliverance of Israel out of Babylon in type, yet look further to the Gospel, the good news of our salvation by Jesus Christ. We see:
     (1.) What the gospel is: It is the gospel of peace; it is the word of reconciliation between God and man. On earth peace, Lu. 2:14. “Peace” is used as a general term for good; so it is explained here; it is glad tidings of good things. The things of the Gospel are good things indeed, the best things; tidings concerning them are the most joyful tidings, the best news that ever came from heaven to earth.
     (2.) What the work of ministers is: To preach this gospel, to bring these glad tidings; to evangelize peace (as the Greek words it), to evangelize good things. Every good preacher is in this sense an evangelist: he is not only a messenger to carry the news, but an ambassador.  
     (3.) How much faithful Gospel preachers should be appreciated for their work's sake: How beautiful are the feet, that is, how welcome are they! Mary Magdalene expressed her love to Christ by kissing his feet, and afterwards by holding him by the feet, Mt. 28:9. And, when Christ was sending forth His disciples, He washed their feet.

3. He answers an objection against all this, which might be made from the little success which the Gospel had in many places (v. 16): But they have not all obeyed the gospel. Paul lets us know that God’s sovereignty removes all our fears and worries about the success of the Gospel. The success and growth of God’s kingdom are safely in His hands, not ours. This little success of the word was foretold by Isaiah (Isa. 53:1): “Who hath believed our report?” Very few have, few to what one would think should have believed it, considering how faithful a report it is and how well worthy of acceptance -very few to the many that persist in unbelief. It is no strange thing, but it is a very sad and uncomfortable thing, for the ministers of Christ to bring the report of the Gospel, and not to be believed in it. We should always remember this and encourage ourselves with the knowledge of His control over His kingdom’s success.

“When bad news is abroad this is good news, and when good news is abroad this is the best news, that Zion's God reigns, that God is Zion's God, in covenant with her, and as such He reigns, Ps. 146:10; Zec. 9:9. The Lord has founded Zion, ch. 14:32. All events have their rise in the disposal of the kingdom of His providence and all tend to the advancement of the kingdom of His grace. This must be applied to the preaching of the Gospel, which is a proclamation of peace and salvation; it is gospel indeed, good news, glad tidings, tidings of victory over our spiritual enemies and liberty from our spiritual bondage. The good news is that the Lord Jesus reigns and all power is given to Him. Christ himself brought these tidings first (Lu. 4:18 – The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach good news…, Heb. 2:3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord), and of him the text speaks: How beautiful are His feet! His feet that were nailed to the cross, how beautiful upon Mount Calvary!” Matthew Henry

Philippians 2:12-13 tells us that we “work out,” i.e., live in accord with that which God has “worked in” us. Since He has worked such a great salvation for us, the proper response is grateful service. Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows.

Verse 15 of chapter 1 is actually verse 1 of chapter 2 in the Hebrew. And looking at the following verses it seems to fit there better than at the end of chapter 1. The “good news” is in essence the news of the destruction of the enemies of God and the enemies of his people, who are one and the same. Nineveh is a type of this. The Gospel is the good news that God has conquered sin, and it, as His peoples’ greatest enemy, is no longer the threat and power that it once was. The King of Nineveh is presented as “Belial” (in the Hebrew – a type of Satan. With God’s triumph in Christ over sin, the devil cannot assail God’s people. His dominion is cut off forever.

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