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.

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).

A Minor Introduction

The minor prophets in the Bible are pretty cool! But we have to be careful with man-made titles. For example, the “old” in Old Testament doesn’t mean outdated; nor does the “new” in New Testament mean something updated to modern times. 

In the same way, the minor prophets are only called “minor” because of the volume of their writing, not the quality of their message. In fact, their messages are actually quite major! 

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760 BC (Amos) to 450 BC (Malachi). You can check out this side-by-side chart to see where these prophets fit in the history of Judah and Israel. 

Here are some interesting tidbits about the minor prophets:

  • In the Hebrew Bible, these books are referred to simply as “The Twelve.” 
  • All of these prophets identify themselves in the first verse of their writing except Jonah, but he is identified in 2 Kings 14:23-25. 
  • The only others of the Twelve that are mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament are Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah (see Jeremiah 26:16-19; 2 Kings 25:18-21; Ezra 5:1). 
  • The prophets consistently give us some historical context in their writings to help us place when, where, and to whom their ministry took place. 

The Twelve also show up quite liberally in the New Testament. Every one of them has either direct quotations or has their writings implicitly referred to throughout the New Testament. Here’s just a small sampling… 

  • Micah 5:2 tells us where Jesus would be born (Matthew 2:6)
  • Hosea 11:1 says Jesus would spend time in Egypt (Matthew 2:15)
  • Malachi 4:5 says an “Elijah” would precede Jesus (Matthew 17:10-11)
  • Zechariah 9:9 foretells Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-10)
  • Jonah 1:17 was used by Jesus to predict His own resurrection (Matthew 12:39-42)
  • Joel 2:28-32 was quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21)
  • Amos 9:11-12 foretold all peoples coming to Jesus (Acts 15:16-17)
  • Hosea 13:14 was quoted by Paul to show how death was defeated (1 Corinthians 15:53-57)
  • Habakkuk 2:4 was also quoted by Paul to tell how righteous people live (Galatians 3:11)
  • Haggai 2:6 foretells the end times (Hebrews 12:26-29)

I look forward to diving deep into the major lessons in the minor prophets over the next several weeks, but in preparation for that let me give you 3 overarching lessons for all Bible studies:

  1. Christianity is rooted in history. The Bible is a historical record of real people, saying and doing real things in real places in the world. It’s not a collection of fables, myths, or legends. 
  2. We need to study the whole counsel of God’s Word. All of Scripture is interdependent on all the other parts of Scripture, and every part reinforces and amplifies every other part. Don’t limit your Bible reading to just one or two parts.
  3. Looking back in wonder and gratitude builds faith for today and hope for tomorrow. When we see what God has done in the past, and we realize that He is still the same God today, it builds our faith for today. And when our faith today is strengthened, it gives us a bright hope for tomorrow. 

I look forward to having you join me on this journey of discovery through the minor prophets! 

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