Monday, April 8, 2013

Nahum 2:3-6 (Part 2)

The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet. The chariots come with flashing metal on the day he musters them; the cypress spears are brandished. The chariots race madly through the streets; they rush to and fro through the squares; they gleam like torches; they dart like lightning. He remembers his officers; they stumble as they go, they hasten to the wall; the siege tower is set up. The river gates are opened; the palace melts away; (Nahum 2:3-6 ESV)

In this passage we see God proclaiming to Nineveh a “fate worse than death,” as the saying goes. The second half of verse one is actually addressed to Israel. They are being told to prepare for their restoration. This raises another interesting point, something which is spoken of prominently among all American Christians who are saddened by the moral and spiritual decline of our nation. Much talk is abroad about national restoration and it is spoken of as if it were in man’s hands if he could only get the right man in office. But Scripture uniformly portrays restoration, especially spiritual restoration, which is the only restoration of interest to the people of God, as undertaken first and foremost by God. Once God begins the great work, then man is moved by the Spirit to partake of the grace of what is efficaciously already at work. Neither does the extent of the damage sustained by God’s people present a problem to him. One need only to look at the history of Israel and the spiritual degradation of the nation during the time of the Judges. Think for instance of the story, the vile, despicable, deplorable story recorded in Judges 19 of the Levite and his concubine. This story has all the obscene, horrid iniquity and profane behavior one would expect to read in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet this story takes place in Israel. Imagine the shock of reading an account of the villainous iniquity of Nero, only to find out that it was not Nero but someone who is supposedly a Christian! That is what we are supposed to feel when we read Judges 19. The Hebrew text of Judges 19 is striking when placed side-by-side with Genesis 19. The author of Judges has copied verbatim several pertinent lines from Moses’ account of Sodom and Gomorrah with the obvious intent of startling us by attributing to God’s people the very sins which brought down such fiery wrath against the Sodomites. Compare this deplorable state of affairs with the latter history of Israel during the reign of King David.

Those familiar with church history will also know how deplorable the state of the United Kingdom was, as well as the American colonies around the time of the First Great Awakening. This knowledge should be a cause of rejoicing among those of us who, as I said earlier, are troubled by the devastation we see at work in our society and in the church. The Church is God’s peculiar people and whenever he deigns to restore and revive her, no amount of devastation is too much for God’s power to overcome.

The Northern Kingdom had been chastised by God with the Assyrian rod, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been repeatedly threatened by them. If God had chastised Israel, favored by Him as they were (Psalm 47:4), how much more would God fatally punish Nineveh, an idolatrous, bloodthirsty heathen people?

2:3-6 At this point the chapter takes a decidedly dark turn. Nahum now begins to describe in very lucid detail the destruction of Nineveh. The whole tenor of the passage becomes very somber and gloomy. Remember, this is not written to Nineveh, but to Judah. Nineveh is never given the opportunity to repent. This is reminiscent of what Jesus says about Sodom not seeing the signs Bethsaida and Capernaum saw. God does not owe anyone the opportunity to repent.

2:3 The mighty men of V 3 are no doubt the Medo-Babylonian generals attacking Nineveh. The red shields and scarlet attire may be one of a couple of options: It could be that they are blood-stained, which is very likely. It is also possible that they were painted red to create the illusion of bloodiness to frighten the Ninevite enemies or to disguise the Medes’ and Babylonians’ own blood so that their soldiers wouldn’t be disheartened or the Ninevites emboldened. The Greek historian Xenophon of Athens (430-354 B.C.) actually mentions that the Medes were fond of red attire.

2:4 I am going to go off-topic for just a moment because of something I see in verse 4. Several years ago when I was a young kid, I remember reading a book by some self-proclaimed prophecy expert who prided himself on his ability to read Scripture literally and mocked those whom he thought were guilty of spiritualizing the text. I don’t really remember much about the book, I couldn’t even tell you the title, but I do remember that the author prided himself on being able to see the modern world described in the ancient prophecies of the Old Testament. For instance, he explained how automobiles were foretold of by the Old Testament prophets and he cited verse 4 as his proof. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that this is a ridiculous reading of the passage, especially considering the fact that he prided himself on his ability to read Scripture literally. This is the same type of guy, while priding himself on his literal reading of the Bible, will say that the locusts in the book of Revelation are prophetic portrayals of Huey helicopters. So I hope they pardon me when I take their expertise with a grain of salt. These self-appointed prophecy experts have done a great disservice to the church by their weird methods of interpreting Scripture. They have virtually destroyed any meaningful attempt at studying Old Testament prophecy.

One of the great principles of the Reformation was what is called the perspicacity of Scripture. Unfortunately that word is not very perspicacious. It means the understandability of Scripture. The Reformers never denied that there are obscure parts or passages of Scripture. They merely stated that whenever we find a part or passage of Scripture we should always interpret the more obscure passage in the light of the passages which are clearer. This is the Reformation principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture. What these self-appointed prophecy experts have done is turn perspicacity on its head. By taking a passage such as this which is clearly referring to the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BC, and seeing in it a reference to cars driving around on the streets with their headlights on, they have taken an otherwise clear passages Scripture and made it obscure, if not impossible, to understand. When the average Joe Christian opens his Bible and reads of the siege of Nineveh and clearly understands it to be a description of the destruction of Nineveh, only to find out that it’s actually talking about motorcars the 21st century, how is he to ever have confidence that he can read Scripture on his own without the help of the expert who has the secret code. This is no different than the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church with regard to Scripture. For centuries Rome forbade Christians to read the Bible for themselves. They said that because the Scriptures were so hard to understand it was safer to leave the reading and interpreting of it in the hands of the Pope and the Magisterium, which is the official teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church. You need not bother reading the Bible and running the risk of misunderstanding it and thereby endangering your soul; it is much safer to leave this all in the hands of the Pope and let him and his Cardinals tell you what to believe.

Now, let’s get back on track. The scene Nahum is describing here is one of pure chaos as God poured out destruction upon Nineveh. Chariots are depicted as running every which way, people are running around confusedly, the nobles stumbling; the soldiers – though prepared to march – are unprepared for this. The mantelet, that is the covering used in a siege, provided no protection, nor do the city’s great walls. You’ll remember that we discussed how big the city walls actually were. The walls of Nineveh were so thick that chariots could pass each other without falling off. Chariot races on top of the walls were actually a common occurrence. In some places the walls were reputed to be as high as 100 feet. But everything described in these verses was completely fulfilled when Nineveh fell. Its inclusion in Scripture serves as a demonstration of God’s all-encompassing sovereignty, his omniscience, his justice and his love for his people.

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