Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nahum--The Character of God and the Reason for our Salvation

The Character of God and the Reason for Salvation
The Cross of Christ in the Book of Nahum

On January 7, 1855 a young man of 20 years old stepped into a pulpit in England and said the following words:

It has been said by someone that “the proper study of mankind is man”. I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.
There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in [thinking about God]. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise”. But when we come to this master science, finding that we [cannot reach to its depth], and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain main would be wise… [To say] with solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God…
But while the subject humbles the mind it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe…The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of [God].
And [while this subject is humbling and expanding it is also soothing]. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy [Spirit], there is [healing] for every sore. [Do you want] to lose your sorrow? [Do you desire] to drown your cares? Then go, plunged yourself in God’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as form a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout [meditation] upon the subject of [God].[1]

Tonight we are going to look at the book of Nahum. It is about Nineveh; and it about God’s wrath against it. You remember Nineveh from last week when we covered Jonah. Last week Nineveh repented and God spared the calamity that He was going to bring upon them. Then we have Nahum; written about 150 years after Jonah. This is a message of the all out distribution of God’s wrath upon the nation of Nineveh. The change that we read about in Jonah was only a generational thing. The next generations after Jonah had apparently turned away and began again to embrace their foreign gods and became wicked in their ways of warfare. Therefore God is going to pour His wrath out upon them. But Nahum is also about Judah. Surprisingly Nahum does not deal with Judah’s guilt only her restoration and God’s protection and blessing of her. These two things will serve as our points for this evening. 1) God judges all sin with His holy wrath and 2) He restores and protects His people. But before we do that I think there is something that Nahum does here that is very important: notice where Nahum starts. He is going to level charges against Nineveh and give terrifying descriptions of their judgment--but notice where he starts. He starts with God. He starts with the character of God. That is where that young man—Charles Spurgeon—began. It is where Nahum began. And it is where we will begin tonight and actually spend most of our time here.

Read Nahum 1:2:8

Nahum begins by telling us that God is a jealous God. That simply means that God “continually seeks to protect his own honor.”[2] Does this strike anyone as weird? When we say that God is a jealous God does it sound like an undesirable trait? Does the image of a jealous person come to mind? Nobody like a Jealous Judy. Does it make God sound a little pathetic to hear things like, “The Lord is jealous in the sense that he demands an exclusive relationship, zealously protects that relationship, and desires the worship that belongs to him alone. He cannot be worshipped alongside any other.” Does this sound a little like the husband that will not let his wife have any friends because he is jealous? Does it sound like the wife that will not let her husband have any hobbies?

But I think that we should look at this in another way. Imagine that a man decided to start hitting on my wife. He wants to take her out to supper. He wants to ask for her hand in marriage. Me, being a good husband, am going to do what? Pop him in the teeth! I am going to fight for my wife. If I felt no jealousy, and it is jealousy, at the intrusion of a lover or adulterer in my home then surely something is wrong with me.[3]

Now if we think of jealousy this way we can get a little better understanding of God’s jealousy, but it is still not complete. We must look at it in respect of covenant love but where my jealousy is different than the jealousy of God is that God has every right to be jealous—I do not. Or to put that another way the jealousy of God is the most loving things that he can do for us. For God to be jealous and passionate to protect His own honor is a beautiful thing and it benefits us. For me to be jealous and passionate to protect my own honor is a disgusting thing. We saw last week that we were created for God’s glory. We know that God does all things for His glory and for His name’s sake.

The fact that every one of us are not in hell this moment can be attributed to God’s passion for His glory. As he says in Isaiah 48:9-11, “for my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off…for my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”

Every action of God in the Old and New Testament flows from this truth. If you ever have a question of God you can answer it with this. Why did God…? Because of His glory. God does everything for His glory. EVERYTHING springs from this! Even the Cross is not about us. It’s a display of the glory of God. We reap the benefits, oh, do we reap the benefits!! But everything that God does is to “preserve and display His infinite and awesome greatness and wroth, that is, His glory.”[4]

But does this make God a selfish ego-maniac? John Piper helps us to see 2 reasons why this is not so. First of all, “God’s zeal to seek His own glory and to be praised by men cannot be owing to His need to shore up some weakness or compensate for some deficiency”[5]. That means that in being passionate for His glory and bringing forth His justice upon us whenever we are not as similarly passionate is not because God is insecure and His feelings are hurt. Secondly, “Because God is unique as an all-glorious, totally sufficient Being, He must be for Himself if He is to be for us. The rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its Creator. If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry”.[6] Therefore it is a necessity that God might glorify Himself. And finally Piper culminates all of this by saying, “For Him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When He does all things, “for the praise of His glory,” He preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in the entire world that can satisfy our longings. God for us! And the foundation of this love is that God has been, is now, and always will be for Himself.”[7]

Therefore, when Nahum begins by stating that God is jealous he is saying much. It is this jealousy of God from which all else will spring. God is passionate about preserving and protecting His own honor. And because of this we see Nahum’s second thing about God.

God is an avenging God. Again to think of our God as vengeful might seem inappropriate. Do we not disapprove of those who seek vengeance? Did not Jesus teach us to turn the other cheek? How then can we say that God is avenging?

But avenging we mean the “[disciplinary retribution of God, who as the sovereign King—faithful to his covenant—stands up for the vindication of his glorious name in a judging and fighting mode, while watching over the maintenance of his justice and acting to save his people.”

What that means is simply this. God is so passionate and so jealous about His glory that He will not give it to another. In fact He will rise up and fight any who try to usurp Him. Again we must see this as the most loving thing He could do. When we decide to worship the creature instead of the Creator is a pitiful exchange. We see this is the problem in Romans 1:18-32.

This is why sin becomes so terrible. We see in Romans 1 that God has revealed Himself in nature. But men decided to, “not honor Him as God or give thanks to him”. So what is the result of that? What happens when we trample the glory of God and decide upon this foolish exchange? We, “become futile in [our] thinking, and [our] foolish hearts [become] darkened.” As Paul continues, while claiming to be wise we became fools. And in the stupidest thing that man has ever done we, “exchanged the glory of the immortal God (that which never fades, never perishes, that which is our joy and our crown) for that which is mortal and fades.” If you really want to get at the meat of what Paul is saying it is this: we trade the glory of God for a copy of a copy. We become like Esau who traded the glory of God for a bowl of soup.

Then Paul levels the charge. Because of this God “gives them up”. From this foolish exchange comes all impurity. Homosexuality. Covetousness. Malice. Envy. Murder. Strife. Deceit. Gossiping. Hateful, Proud. Inventors of Evil. Foolishness. Faithfulness. We become heartless. And worse of all we continue in our idolatry and try to get others to join us. We exchange the glory of God for bowls of soup and try to convince other people that this is the way to go.

So what do you think a holy God is going to do whenever men communicate with their lives and lips that bowls of soup (sin) is more precious than Him? What do you expect a jealous God to do? He avenges them. Perhaps that seems unfair. Or perhaps fear rises up within you. But note this about the God of vengeance it is a “threatening picture only to those who want to be their own gods and rule the earth in their own ways, but to those who trust God it is a comfort and an affirmation that he is truly sovereign”. [8]
How then does God avenge His holy name? How does He avenge His honor? He does so by Nahum’s third description.

God is wrathful. Again this is not a pretty picture. But the Bible does not allow us to escape this aspect of God. It speaks unashamedly of the passion of God. The word here for wrathful is one of “inner emotion, the inner fire of anger”.[9] It is a deep, passionate word. In fact this is so inescapable that if you were to do a word study you would find more references to God’s anger, fury and wrath than you would His love and tenderness.[10]

This wrath is not some mere temper-tantrum. It is a settled disposition toward both sin and the sinner. God is going to punish sin. But where does He find that sin? In the sinner. Therefore, God’s wrath is not going to be merely poured out upon sin as if it is some outward virus that has taken us over. Sin is an inward condition. Sin is who we are. Therefore, his wrath is going to be poured out upon sinful humanity—upon sinners.

I cannot spend much time here on wrath because it is a concept of which I am unfamiliar. None of us have felt the fierce wrath of God that we should. You can read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. But Edwards cannot paint a picture dreadful enough. You can read Joel and his locusts plague and just imagine the horrors of a dreaded hell, where the wrath of God will be fully kindled. You can listen to what God is going to do to Nineveh as you read through Nahum but that too cannot give a full picture of the awfulness of God’s wrath. You can think of Sodom and Gomorrah being utterly destroyed but that picture is but a drop in the bucket of the outpouring of God’s unmitigated wrath when it is fully poured out.

Oh, what a horrible picture it is of those who are without God. What a horrible thing awaits those of you who are not in Jesus Christ. Every day that your heart grows harder you are, “storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed”. But this is not all that Nahum has to say about God; thankfully for us sinners.

God is also slow to anger. That phrase there, “slow to anger” is actually quite a funny expression it means “long of nose”. So those of you who struggle with insecurity because you think God has given you a big nose—take heart; He has one too. It means that God is patient. This can be both a sweet truth and an unwelcome one. It is sweet whenever we would be on the receiving end of His wrath. It is unwelcome when God is patient with our enemies.

Because He is slow to anger do not think that He will not plead your cause. God might seem slow as we would define it. But His timing is always perfect. Do not worry; He will by no means clear the guilty. We have discussed this in a prior sermon on Amos. We noted that God’s justice and God’s patience is both a comforting and discomforting fact.

Oh, the greatness of God in being slow to anger. If it were not for his grace we would all be consumed! But we must know that God’s kindness (his slowness to anger) is not meant to give us more time to keep sinning and keep storing up wrath for ourselves. God’s slowness to anger is meant to lead us to repentance. Do not misinterpret God’s slowness to avenge his holiness in wrath as a sign that He is not powerful enough to do it? Do not even think it is a sign that He is not going to do it. God is powerful enough to stop every heart in here tonight. And that is the next truth Nahum wants us to see.

God is great in power. Because God is great in power we need not worry that it is because of his inability that we do not see His justice prevail. It is not because God is lacking in power that we are not before His throne tonight. It is because of His grace. Nahum is simply stating what all biblical writers state in one way or another. God is all-powerful. He is sovereign. He is in control. His power is infinite. That means He can do what He wants, when He wants and how He wants. There is one last thing that we must see about God’s character.

The Lord is good a stronghold in the day of trouble

God is a good God. Wrapped up in this definition of the idea of God’s goodness is not only all that we have already said but also that He is perfect, but He is also merciful and gracious; and loving. God is also generous.

This in many ways is the climax of the story of Nahum. It will move us forward. We have considered a few of God’s infinite perfections and it would take an eternity for us to exhaust Him, we cannot—obviously—do that here tonight. But we can see how the character of God meets with two truths.

I. Because of the character of God He will judge all adversaries with His holy wrath

We have already seen this earlier and need not spend a long time on this here. We see that because God is jealous and because God is avenging and because God is wrathful He is going to judge all sin. He is slow to anger that is true—and because of that we are not all being judged today. But he is also great in power. His slowness to bring us to justice is not a display of His weakness.

The statement is that God is going to judge all of His adversaries with His holy wrath. Who then are His adversaries? It is me. In my pride and in my self sufficiency I have exchanged the glory of God for images of images. I have been just like Esau and have traded the glory of God for a bowl of soup. I stand guilty before a holy God. Oh, we must feel this. I know it seems like we preach this every week—and I will continue to preach this every week. But we must understand that because God is so passionate about His name He is going to judge all sin. We will not and cannot get away with trampling God’s glory under our feet. We will not. We have but one hope. And that is that we might become His people

II. Because of the character of God He will restore and protect His people

We see that the book of Nahum is sweet to all those who live in Judah. Their great adversary the Assyrians are about to be destroyed; they will be brought to justice. This means restoration and blessing for the people of God. We see form this text that God knows all those who take refuge in Him. That means that if we are to take refuge in God then we will not be overcome by His wrath. It will not be poured out upon us.

Oh, if we could grasp this. If we could understand more of the character of God. As Spurgeon said some 150 years ago if we would “plunge ourselves in this deepest sea” then we could understand the Cross better. Because at the Cross these two truths meet.

We see in the Cross that the wrath of God is poured out. The wrath that should be mine and should be yours was poured out upon Jesus Christ. For every sin we commit is against an infinite King. Therefore our sin is infinite. It requires an infinite sacrifice. It must be atoned for. God’s wrath will come flooding against it. Oh, this is serious. We must not miss the seriousness and the extent of God’s wrath. We can catch a glimpse in Nahum. We read in Nahum 3:2-7 what the Lord will do. We see in 2:13 that He is utterly against them. All of us stand before God with that same judgment. All of us have whored after other lovers. We have not treasured God as He ought. And for His name’s sake He is going to punish sin.

If we can see that this is what happened on the Cross. It is a display of the ugliness of sin and the awesome might, power, and wrath of God. He poured out His wrath upon Jesus. His wrath to the full!

Can you see what that means for those of us who are in Christ? There is NO more of God’s wrath to be poured out! It has been poured out upon Jesus Christ. That means that His wrath will not come against your sin. Every ounce of sin you have committed and ever will commit is covered by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Oh, what precious blood it is. It covers it. That is what the word atone me. Covers. And because the sacrifice of Christ is infinite and infinitely precious it covers it completely—forever.

And now God has restored us in such a way and will continue to restore us in such a way that we might forever enjoy Him and treasure Him and rejoice before Him as we ought. Oh, He has given us the greatest gift of all—the gift of Himself. Oh what grace. The Cross is a display of the wrath of God and it is also a display of His love. I close by reading you the lyrics of a hymn—or a worship song.
How deep the Father’s love for usHow vast beyond all measureThat He would give His only SonTo make a wretch His treasureHow great the pain of searing lossThe Father turns His face awayAs wounds which mar the chosen OneBring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a crossMy guilt upon His shouldersAshamed, I hear my mocking voiceCall out among the scoffersIt was my sin that held Him thereUntil it was accomplishedHis dying breath has brought me lifeI know that it is finished
I will not boast in anythingNo gifts, no powr’s, no wisdomBut I will boast in Jesus ChristHis death and resurrectionWhy should I gain from His reward?I cannot give an answerBut this I know with all my heartHis wounds have paid my ransom[11]

Have they paid yours? Does the blood of Jesus Christ cover you? Can you say that His wounds have ransomed you? Are you His?


[1] Packer. J.I. Knowing God. p17-18
[2] Grudem, Wayne. Bible Doctrine. p
[3] Packer, J.I. Knowing God. p170
[4] Piper, John. Desiring God. p42
[5] Ibid, p46
[6] Ibid, 47
[7] Ibid, 47
[8] Baker, Kenneth. NAC Commentary. Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. p168.
[9] Ibid, 170
[10] Packer, 149
[11] Stuart Townsend. “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us”.

6 comments:

TammyIsBlessed said...

Thank you for this sermon! I hope you don't mind, I quoted from it and linked to it from my blog here. http://bibleinayearandbeyond.blogspot.com/2010/08/august-1st.html
Thanks again!

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