Thursday, April 11, 2013

Nahum 2:3-6 (Part 3)

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)

If we were to read this description in any other context we would be very likely feel sympathy for the people experiencing what is described in this passage. It speaks of soldiers covered in blood, spears brandished on every side, chariots rushing wildly through the city square, walls being destroyed, and protective barriers of water being crossed, palaces being demolished, people being stripped and carried away, groaning, moaning, and beating on their breasts.

2:6 Nineveh had moats on three sides of the city and the Tigris River on the west side, with gates, like sluices, that opened to fill the moats. The river wall on the western side was 4,530 yards long. These served as a protective barrier around the city. The weakest side, which was the east side, had a double rampart with a moat 200 feet wide between the two parts, cut into the rocky ground. Any enemy that attacked always knew that they were going to have to overcome this obstacle. Previous enemies had partially succeeded at times because they dug trenches to re-route the water out of the moats. 

Accounts of the era inform us that Nineveh had an underground waterway which allowed them to sneak supplies in and out of the city even while they were under siege. We are also told that some sort of natural event, a natural disaster, flooded this system allowing the enemies to gain access to the city. Thus, the prophecy of Nahum was fulfilled in exact detail. There is no doubt that much of the language here is poetic. Because the language is poetic it is intended to evoke strong emotions. But just because it is poetic and just because it is meant to evoke strong emotions does not mean that it is not accurate.

It is important remember that we are not supposed to feel sympathy for these people. When Nahum wrote this, he was not being blindly patriotic. He was declaring the impending destruction of God’s enemies. It is precisely at this point that Nahum has an application to us. All of redemption history has been fulfilled. We are now living in the era in which we are commanded by Christ to occupy till he come. When Christ does return, he will return as the Judge seated on the throne of the universe. And this must be part of our gospel presentation. When Paul stood before Felix, we are told that Paul’s gospel presentation was a reasoned argument about righteousness, self-control, and of the coming judgment. To feel sympathy for Nineveh would be like feeling sympathy for the goats whom Christ sends into eternal hell.

What does the destruction of Nineveh teach us about the coming judgment? To answer this question, we can look at the prevalent sins of Nineveh. At the top of this list was their barbaric violence. Now, violence is a difficult subject to handle as a Christian because not all violence is created equal, yet this is the popular view. I can’t imagine that any of us consider an act of violence in the defense of our wives and children to be on par with an act of violence while robbing a bank. Not all wars are created equal.

Our society has such an aversion to violence that we find it very hard to see anything to rejoice about in the scenario described in this passage. Our society’s aversion to violence, of course, is hypocritical to the nth degree. I recently read of a famous movie director (whose films are always replete with violence, especially gun violence), and an actor (who has made millions portraying killers without heart or conscience), protest that the conservative defense of the Second Amendment is to blame for the recent shooting at the school in Newport, Connecticut. Movie stars and celebrities without number shed great big crocodile tears at the fact that so many “innocent” children were killed in this shooting. But none of them shed a tear at the fact that millions of children are murdered in the womb every year. This is a hypocrisy which defies description. The cardinal virtue of our generation seems to be niceness or kindness, and we somehow think that God will give us a free pass on all of our vices simply on account of our virtue of niceness. During the Middle Ages, people behaved in a very barbaric way, but they excelled in chastity. Do we think that God will give them a free pass on their violence because they were chaste? Do we think that God will overlook our unchastity simply because we’re not barbarically violent? In spite of all of our pretence of niceness, our society is addicted to violence. The very news programs that deplore violence make their fortune by constantly reporting violence: violence sells.

Mind you, I’m not advocating violence for violence’s sake. I’m simply saying that we must always look at the context. I used to work at a Christian bookstore which also rented Christian movies. We have very large selection of animated Bible stories. I remember a mother returning a video set one time, angrily protesting the fact that we even carried such a video. She complained that the video was violent because it depicted war. I asked her what the video is about, and she replied, “The Conquest of Canaan.” Here was someone who evidently had a higher moral standard than God. She was offended that a Bible story should tell about a war or battle. You can read the book of Joshua from cover to cover, without ever finding a single verse of which it may be said that it glorifies violence. The conquest of Canaan, all the battles, sieges and ambushes, were, despite all our modern sensibilities, God’s ordained way to both punish the wicked and fulfill his covenant promise to his people. I recall a quote by Matthew Henry, “God is either your best friend or your worst enemy.” There is no possibility for ambivalence.

I would like to ask a few questions regarding what has been addressed so far in our look at Nahum, and especially in regard to the subject of the last few posts.

1. Why does the Church stay away from teaching on books like Nahum?
2. How can its value be communicated?
3. Who are some of God’s enemies?
4. How do we handle those who oppose God’s kingdom and its values?
5. How does the message of Judgment affect your view of sin and of the unregenerate?

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