Nahum 1 – Reverse Joel Osteen, AKA Professor Nahum

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Today’s Passage: Nahum 1

You’ve probably heard countless pastors, speakers, authors, and other theologizers tell you, in one form or another, “Start with God,” and that’s exactly what Nahum does. Right off the bat, he paints us a prophetic picture of God: his character, his actions, and how he engages with his creation. But this isn’t a warm-and-fuzzy Joel-Osteen-style God. His primary aim is not your happiness, and insofar as he wants you to live your best life, that best life involves judgment, trial by fire, and grave consequences for any sins you may have committed. This God might conceivably be your friend, but he’s certainly not your buddy.

And he’s certainly not the King of Nineveh’s friend. Nahum begins by identifying his prophecy as “The oracle of Nineveh” (1), and when he says, “The Lord has issued a command concerning you: ‘Your name will no longer be perpetuated. I will cut off idol and image from the house of your gods'” (14), he’s talking to Nineveh’s king. The nation apparently has reverted to its old ways, or worse, in the generations since Jonah visited it. From Jonah we learned that Nineveh was an exceedingly violent and wicked place; in Nahum we learn that Nineveh also practiced polytheism and idolatry. Disrespecting God and disrespecting his human image-bearers seem to naturally accompany each other.

Opening words are important, and if there’s one thing Nahum wants to impress upon his hearers, it’s God’s impressiveness. He begins with a paraphrase of Exodus 34:6-7, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (3) and goes on to describe God in familiarly landscape-upheaving terms. The weather, the seas, the mountains all do what he says. He’s God over anything and everything that any one of Nineveh’s gods might claim to be god over. He’s an overturning of the pagan identification of divinity with singular natural forces; he’s a creative force subordinating the created world to himself. Or, to eschew the academic literary jargon, he’s the top God.

For Nahum, God’s strength, his anger against evil, and his goodness all go hand-in-hand-in-hand. Even as he describes God’s fury directed against those who oppose him, he states, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble” (7). God’s anger, in Nahum’s view, displays his goodness, in that he directs his power judiciously against those who do evil.

The problem of evil may loom large in our view of God, but for Nahum, evil doesn’t seem to be a problem at all. At the very least, it’s a problem that God deals with promptly and decisively. I wonder: what can I learn from Nahum? What has he seen that we haven’t?

2 thoughts on “Nahum 1 – Reverse Joel Osteen, AKA Professor Nahum

  1. It’s interesting to pair Nahum with a prophet like Habakkuk, who begins with a much more pessimistic view about God’s interest in dealing with evil. Perhaps Nahum is seeing further ahead than Habakkuk was able to? Compare also to dudes like Paul who spoke of Christ’s victory over death and sin as a done deal!

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    1. Darn it, Cody, quit preemptively stealing my thunder!

      In all seriousness, while I am planning to compare Habakkuk and Nahum as I continue through the minor prophets, I hadn’t thought to compare Nahum to Paul. I’m sympathetic to guys like Habakkuk, Jeremiah, David in those psalms of disorientation, and I think we all spend some time in our lives in that space of pain and unanswered questions. But at the same time, part of a healthy human life is going through those spaces, and coming out of them when the appropriate time comes. In what respects is Nahum writing from a place of re-orientation? In what respects is he writing from a place of mere orientation? What can we learn from the things he says from the place where he is?

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