Our Joyful Burden

I shared last week that the judgment of God should be a cause for both fear and rejoicingboth regret and comfort—for those who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But for those who have no relationship with God, the judgment of God is a cause for only fear and regret. 

How did Nahum respond to this word of judgment God spoke through him? His opening words say, “The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite” (NKJV). The Hebrew word for “burden” is almost always associated with a word God has spoken. It’s a realization of God’s weighty glory; it’s never, ever something we should trivialize! 

Prophets don’t just prophesy future events, they also announce in the present tense where people have departed from a lifestyle that robs God of His glory and how they can be forgiven of sins. 

“The prophets foretell (speak to what will happen in the future) and forth-tell (speak to what we should be doing in the present), both in the light of God’s heart for His own glory among all peoples of the world.” —Dick Brogden 

God never makes idle threats nor empty promises. Truly His Word is His bond. Through Nahum, God foretold that Assyria would be utterly destroyed, twice saying, “I am against you” (Nahum 2:13-3:7). 

The world may rejoice at God’s justice on evil (3:19), but how does God feel about carrying out His judgment? Ezekiel records God saying, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) 

And Jesus declared, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17)

The Bible shows that when I sin, God’s first response is not anger toward me but broken-hearted grief. This is the message that must be both foretold and forth-told by Christians. 

“But what can I do,” you might ask. “I’m just one person. I’m not a big-time evangelist.” That sounds a lot like Nahum. He was just a guy from Elkosh—no special family lineage, no large city to claim as his home. 

God is looking for just one that will speak out His words (Ezekiel 3:17-21). Just one who will be humble enough to search their own heart first and then both boldly and lovingly deliver a message of both judgment and escape (Matthew 7:1-5; James 5:20). 

Foretelling God’s judgment is a burden. Forth-telling God’s forgiveness is a joy. All Christians have been given the joyful burden of this both-and ministry! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series called Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

The Fear And The Comfort Of God’s Judgment

Near the end of the movie The Princess Bride, the grandson learns that Wesley, the hero of the story, has apparently died. He asks his grandfather, “Who kills Prince Humperdink,” the arch-villain in the story. 

His grandfather replies, “No one. He lives.” 

“You mean he wins!?” blurts out the exasperated boy, “Grandpa, why did you read me this story??” 

We love to see bad guys get what’s coming to them, don’t we? Some of the baddest bad guys—perhaps in all of history—are the kings of Assyria. When the Assyrians in Nineveh repented and God’s judgment didn’t fall on them, Jonah’s response was much like the grandson in The Princess Bride, “God, why did You send me here?!” 

Sennacherib was the king of Assyria who was threatening Judah. Nahum writes a short, scathing prophecy about the destruction that is headed Assyria’s way. This is fulfilled in a small part when God defeats Sennacherib’s army, which leads to Sennacherib then being assassinated by two of his sons.

For Judah, this is a short-lived victory because the two kings which follow Sennacherib turn out to be two of the evilest and ruthless kings of Assyria. Yet Nahum’s prophecy still stands: an ultimate destruction is coming. In 605 BC Assyria was defeated by the Babylonians, and the destruction was so complete that Nineveh’s very existence was questioned until archeological discoveries were made in the 19th century. 

Why is this prophecy given to us? What are we New Testament Christians supposed to do with this promise of judgment? 

Nahum’s name means comfort, so it seems like God’s justice should comfort us. But, interestingly, the root word of his name means to regret or to feel sorry

Why is this? Think about it: You cannot really know what peace is unless you have been through a period of turmoil. Likewise, you cannot truly understand the relief of being spared God’s judgment unless you fully understand the weight and totality of God’s judgment that should fall on you.  

Nahum reminds us that God will never let the guilty go unpunished, and yet in the very next breath he tells us that the Lord is a refuge for those who trust in Him.

God is Just. This is a cause for…

  • …BOTH fear of God’s anger AND rejoicing that He is good 
  • …BOTH humility for our sin AND confidence that He forgives our sin 
  • …BOTH regret that we fall short of God’s righteous standard AND relief that Christ’s blood makes us righteous in God’s sight 

It’s amazing to think that it was MY sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross, but it was HIS love that allowed that to happen so that I could be forgiven! 

God is not willing that any should be separated from Him, but we do have to choose to receive the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for us. 

Assyria’s utter destruction is less than a drop in the bucket compared to eternal separation from God. As C.S. Lewis commented about the end of time: 

“For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.” 

Today (and every day) is the day for heart-searching, acutely feeling the regret of our sin, and then knowing that our forgiven sins are forgotten sins! 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here.

Doing Justice The Right Way

Once I was asked to teach a class on business ethics but I said, “I can’t because there’s no such thing as ‘business ethics.’ There is only ethics: Either something is right or it’s not.” 

I think the same concept holds true for “social justice.” There is no such thing: Either something is just or it’s not. 

For those situations that are truly unjust, the Bible tells us how to handle them. But first, let’s get a sense of what the Bible actually means by the word “justice.” 

Psalm 50 is a courtroom scene, with God Himself presiding as the Judge, summoning all of creation into His presence (see Psalm 50:1-6). Just before The Judge begins to speak, the psalmist Asaph calls on us to Selah—or pause to consider—after saying, “The heavens proclaim God’s righteousness.” 

The New Living Translation has this verse saying, “The heavens proclaim His justice…” and the Amplified Bible uses both words: “The heavens declare His righteousness (rightness and justice)….” So which word is it: righteousness or justice? 

The Hebrew word (tsedeq) means something that is ethically right. In other words, something for which God sets the objective standard for rightness and wrongness. There is another Hebrew word that is often very closely associated with tsedeq, and that is justice (mishpat): that is the penalty for violating tsedeq. 

But here’s where things get really interesting. We usually associate the idea of justice with retribution (or payback), but God’s justice is usually portrayed as restoration. 

In other words, God’s mercy is so strong and His desire for us to be restored into right standing with Him is so passionate, that His default is restorative mercy. 

God’s response to our acts of unrighteousness wasn’t to rain down retributive justice on us, but to send His Son to earth to make restorative mercy available! 

In his first public sermon, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah. The last words Jesus read about His mission on earth were “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He left off the last phrase in Isaiah which said, “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Favor (restoration) now; judgment (retribution) later for those who would not accept the restoration Jesus made available. 

Back in the Psalm 50 courtroom, God tells us the wrong way to address injustice: with angry, demeaning words (Psalm 50:19-20).  

We CANNOT do justice God’s way without two things: 

  1. Personal righteousness which comes from Jesus in us (Romans 5:1); otherwise, we’re just hypocrites pointing out the exact same injustice that’s in ourselves. 
  2. Kindness. “But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24)

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

The darkness of injustice is the absence of light. Jesus says to us, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). 

The hate of injustice is the absence of love. Jesus says to us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). 

Here are my takeaways—

  1. Let God be The Judge. 
  2. Make sure I am in right standing with God through my relationship with Jesus Christ. 
  3. If I see injustice, address it with kindness, light, and love.

If you have missed any messages in this current series in the Selahs in the Psalms, you can get caught up by clicking here.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—You Cannot Hide Your Heart From God

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

You Cannot Hide Your Heart From God

Hell and destruction are before the Lord: how much more then the hearts of the children of men? (Proverbs 15:11 KJV) 

     God knows the burial places of all His people. He notes as well the resting place of the man who is buried tombless and alone as the man over home a mighty mausoleum has been raised. He saw the traveler who fell in the barren desert, whose body became the prey of vultures and whose bones were bleach in the sun. He saw the mariner, who was wrecked far out at sea and over whose corpse no dirge was ever wailed, except the howling of the winds and the murmuring of the wild waves. God knows the thousands who have perished in battle, unnumbered and unnoticed; the many who have died alone amid dreary forests, frozen seas, and devouring snowstorms; all these and the places of their sepulcher. God has marked that silent grotto within the sea, where pearls lie deep, where now the shipwrecked one is sleeping, as the death place of one of His redeemed. …

     Yes, hell, horrible as it is and veiled in many clouds and covered over with darkness, is naked before the vision of the Most High. There is the grand fact stated: “Hell and destruction are before the Lord.” After this the inference seems to be easy: “How much more, then, the hearts of the children of men?” … 

     God who sees death and hell sees our hearts, for they are far less extensive. … Scarcely have we time enough to tell the story before it comes to its end. Surely, then, God may easily understand the history of a man, when He knows the history of the monarchies of death and hell. [see Psalm 44:21; Jeremiah 23:24; Revelation 2:23] … 

     God does not judge by the appearance of a man’s great heart, or the outside appearance of a good heart. But He puts it in the scales and weighs it; puts His own Word in one scale and the heart in the other. He knows the exact weight. He knows whether we have grace in the heart, which makes us good weight, or only presence in the heart, which makes us weigh light when put into the scale. He searches the heart in every possible way. …

     Oh, you may endeavor as much as you can to hide your faults from God. But beyond a doubt, He will discover you.  

From God, The All-Seeing One

When—not if—God looks at your heart, what will He find? 

Yes, we should pray—Search me, O God, show me anything that is offensive to You [Psalm 139:23-24]—but then we must repent and ask forgiveness when the offense is revealed. No excuses, no covering up!

 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—God Will Not Acquit The Wicked

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

God Will Not Acquit The Wicked

     The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked [Nahum 1:3]. The Lord is slow to anger because He is great in power. ‘How say you so?’ says one. I answer: He who is great in power has power over himself. And he who can keep his own temper down and subdue himself is greater than he who rules the city, or can conquer nations. … When God’s power does restrain Himself, then it is power indeed—the power to curb power. The power that binds omnipotence is omnipotence surpassed. God is great in power, and therefore does He keep in His anger. … We bless God that the greatness of His power is just our protection! He is slow to anger because He is great in power. …  

     I have blotted out like a thick cloud your transgressions, and like a cloud your sins [Isaiah 44:22]. Not of one of all those sins that have been pardoned was pardoned without punishment. Do you ask me why and how such a thing as that can be the truth? I point you to yonder dreadful sight on Calvary. The punishment that fell not on the forgiven sinner fell there. … Sin is still punished, though the sinner is delivered. … 

     And now we trace this terrible attribute to its source. Why is this? We reply, God will not acquit the wicked, because He is good. What? Does goodness demand that sinners will be punished? It does. The judge must condemn the murderer because he loves his nation. …  

     Mercy, with her weeping eyes (for she has wept for sinners), when she finds they will not repent, looks more terribly stern in her loveliness than justice in all his majesty. She drops the white flag from her hand and says, “No. I called and they refused. I stretched out my hand and no man regarded. Let them die, let them die” and that terrible word from the lip of mercy’s self is harsher thunder then the very damnation of justice. Oh yes, the goodness of God demands that men should perish if they will sin. …  

     Can you by humble faith look to Jesus and say, “My substitute, my refuge, and my shield; You are my rock, my trust, in You I do confide”? Then, beloved, to you I have nothing to say except never be afraid when you see God’s power. For now that you are forgiven and accepted, now that by faith you have fled to Christ for refuge, the power of God need no more terrify you than the shield and sword of the warrior need terrify his wife or his child.

From Mercy, Omnipotence, And Justice

Have you looked in faith to the work Jesus did on Calvary so that your sins could be forgiven? If so, wonderful! You have nothing to fear from God’s justice. 

If not, I plead with you—look again. God’s mercy has been extended to you at least long enough for you to read this, but His justice must fall. Don’t procrastinate another moment: Allow the acquittal of your sins that Jesus purchased with His blood to be yours this very moment!

 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—God Is Slow To Anger

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

God Is Slow To Anger

     God is “slow to anger” [Nahum 1:3]. When mercy comes into the world, she drives winged steeds. The axles of her chariot wheels are glowing hot with speed. But when wrath comes, she walks with tardy footsteps. She is not in haste to slay; she is not swift to condemn. God’s rod of mercy is ever in His hands outstretched. God’s sword of justice is in its scabbard, not rusted in it. It can be easily withdrawn, but is held there by that hand that presses it back into its sheath, crying, “Sleep, O sword, sleep. For I will have mercy upon sinners and will forgive their transgressions.” … 

     God will not at once slay the man whose character is the vilest until He has first hewn him by the prophets. He will not hew him by judgments. He will warn the sinner before He condemns him. He will send His prophets, “rising up early” and late (Jeremiah 7:13, 25; 26:5; 29:19; 32:33; 33:15), giving him ‘precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little’ (Isaiah 28:13). … 

     God does not in grace, as in nature, send lightning first and thunder afterward, but He sends the thunder of His law first and the lightning of His execution follows it. … But best of all, when God threatens, how slow He is to sentence the criminal! When He has told them that He will punish unless they repent, how long a space He gives them in which to turn to Himself! …

     Although God is slow to anger, He is sure in it.

From Mercy, Omnipotence, And Justice

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives…. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation… (2 Peter 3:8-11, 14-15).

Let It Go

Scholars are unsure of the date that Obadiah wrote his book. We know that it took place after invaders had caused problems in Judah and Edom responded in a way that angered God. Some scholars place this date after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah in 586 BC, and others think it’s more likely to have occurred during the reign of Jehoram around 840 BC. The bottom line is that the date doesn’t matter because the underlying feud which led to God’s pronouncement of judgment had been smoldering for hundreds and hundreds of years! 

The feud was between Jacob (the father of the nation of Israel) and his twin brother Esau (the father of the nation of Edom). Esau was born first and should have received his father Isaac’s blessing, but Jacob took the birthright that was supposed to belong to Esau. 

As you might imagine, “Esau seethed in anger against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him; he brooded, ‘The time for mourning my father’s death is close. And then I’ll kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 27:41). Jacob escaped Esau’s initial rage, but 400+ years later, when the Israelites left Egypt and were on their way to Canaan, the Edomites—trying to even the score—refused to let the Israelites pass through their territory. 

Now another few hundred years have passed and when Judah was invaded, the Edomites not only didn’t do anything to help their brothers, but they piled on with the invaders (vv. 10-14). Once again, their rage at the descendants of Jacob exploded!  

For this, God pronounced judgment on the nation of Edom through His prophet Obadiah. 

Edom’s downfall is very instructive because we are ALL liable to the same fate! 

  1. It starts with pride. Pride keeps us from forgiving our offenders because we think WE have to be the one to even the score. As C.S. Lewis noted, “Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
  1. It then becomes thoughts of plotting our revenge. Jesus warned us of the dire consequences for dwelling on these kinds of thoughts (Matthew 5:21-22). 
  1. It next morphs into cheering on those who attack our offenders.
  1. It eventually becomes our revenge in action, which then brings God’s judgment against us!

Always remember this: It is God’s place to judge, but our place is to forgive our enemies and “get revenge” by blessing them beyond what they deserve (Romans 12:17-21). 

You might say, “But what they did to me is absolutely inexcusable!” You are probably right, but you are not going to make anything right. Making things right—handing out appropriate justice—is God’s business. Again, C.S. Lewis reminds us, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

There are three important words to remember when someone has wronged you: LET IT GO!

Carrying a grudge against someone who has inexcusably wronged you is toxic to your life and doesn’t leave room for God’s justice. LET IT GO!

If you missed any messages in our series called Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can check them out here. 

The Whole Story

When my father-in-law was still on his faith journey he asked me, “How can you reconcile the differences in God’s temperaments in the Bible? In the Old Testament He is full of judgment and in the New Testament He is all mercy.” 

Quite simply, both are God’s character. They are two sides of the same coin. In fact, we more dearly appreciate God’s mercy and grace when we’ve clearly seen how we are subject to His justice and wrath. 

Amos talked about both of these attributes, too, but he does so in a masterful way in which mercy and justice swirl around each other. It’s almost as if Amos can’t talk about justice without mentioning mercy or vice versa. 

How do we know God’s judgment is coming? Because God said so! Amos quotes God saying judgment is coming “because of three sins, even for four” (see these verses in Amos’ first and second chapters). Even as Amos uses that phrase he is pointing to God’s mercy. He’s stating, “God could have punished you the very first time you sinned, but He is giving you another chance, and another chance, and another chance….” 

But make no mistake: a day of judgment is coming. God concludes, “Now then I will crush you” (2:13). 

God tries to get people’s attention by sending famines and plagues and disasters, but after each one of these God sadly notes “yet you have not returned to Me”—five times He says this in Amos 4!

But even as God calls them out on their lack of repentance He reminds them twice of the solution—“Seek Me and live” (5:4-6). 

Finally, Amos concludes his book by letting us know God’s judgment IS coming, but so is God’s mercy (9:1-4, 11-15)!  

Dear Christians, our responsibility is to let people know that there is a Heaven to gain and a Hell to shun. We must boldly and lovingly tell people of…

  • … God’s justice AND His mercy 
  • … God’s wrath AND His grace 
  • … Heaven for the repentant AND Hell for the unrepentant 

God loves people AND He hates the sin that keeps people from Him. It’s a message people need to hear, although they may not like to hear it. Like Amos, can God use you to warn this world of His judgment AND to woo this world by His love? Our world needs to hear BOTH-AND. They need to hear the whole story. 

Join me next week as we continue our journey of learning the major lessons that the minor prophets teach us. 

Poetry Saturday—Hark! The Sound Of Jubilee

Hark! the song of jubilee,
Loud as mighty thunders roar,
Or the fullness of the sea,
When it breaks upon the shore:
“Hallelujah! for the Lord
God Omnipotent shall reign;
Hallelujah!” let the word
Echo round the earth and main.

Hallelujah! hark! the sound,
From the depths unto the skies.
Wakes above, beneath, around
All creation’s harmonies;
See Jehovah’s banner furled,
Sheathed His sword; He speaks; ‘tis done;
And the kingdoms of this world
Are the kingdoms of His Son.

He shall reign from pole to pole
With illimitable sway;
He shall reign when, like a scroll,
Yonder heavens have passed away.
Then the end; beneath His rod
Man’s last enemy shall fall:
Hallelujah! Christ in God,
God in Christ is All in All. —James Montgomery

The Day Of The Lord

All we know about the prophet Joel is that he is the son of Pethuel, and his name means Jehovah is God. He appears to be addressing the southern part of Israel (Judah/Jerusalem). 

What is interesting to note about Joel’s writing is a recurring theme that goes something like this: 

Foreshadowing (or prophetic foretelling) → Calling for a godly response → God’s blessing on a right response or God’s punishment on a wrong response → An outcome which foreshadows or foretells another more dire event → repeat…

For instance, in Joel’s prophesy the massive invasion of locusts was intended to get the Israelites to pay attention to their sins. Joel calls for fasting and repentance and warns (foreshadows/foretells) that an invading army at a later date would do even greater damage (1:2-14). 

Likewise, the invading army—which would do more damage than the invading locusts—should also call the Israelites to repentance and imploring God for His help. 

Jesus, just like Joel, taught that whether it was an evil man, an accident, or even a natural disaster, painful things should cause us to consider the state of our eternal soul (see Luke 13:1-5). And Jesus and Joel both foretell of the Day of the Lord when there will be no more opportunities for repentance. 

To prepare God-fearing people for this dreadful day of the Lord, Joel foretells if the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is the same empowering Spirit that Jesus said would equip His followers to take the message of salvation to all four points of the compass (Acts 1:4-8). And just as Joel foretold 800 years earlier, on the first Pentecost Sunday after Christ’s ascension back into heaven, the Christians were baptized in the Holy Spirit, prompting Peter to quote an extension passage from Joel (compare Joel 2:28-32 with Acts 2:14-21).

Joel’s final chapter talks about Judgment Day, and about the multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision. Peter confronted his audience as well about the decision they should make to turn to Jesus as their Savior and Lord. 

The Day of the Lord could come at any moment and millions around the world are still in the valley of decision. I find these words quite sobering—

“Someone asked, ‘Will the heathen who have never heard the Gospel be saved?’ It is more a question with me whether we—who have the Gospel and fail to give it to those who have not—can be saved.” —Charles Spurgeon 

We are even closer to the Day of the Lord today than we were yesterday. What will you do?

Please join me this Sunday as we continue our series learning the major lessons from the minor prophets.

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