Monday, July 27, 2015

Nahum 3:8-13

“Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile…?” This section is a comparison of Nineveh to Thebes, which was destroyed by the Assyrians already by this point. This question is the lens through which the rest of the passage is to be viewed. Thebes was great too, you know, but she was destroyed, why do you think you will fare any better?

“Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with waters around her, her rampart a sea and water her wall? Cush was her strength; Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers.” Nahum says that this is what Thebes was like, and is implicitly saying that Nineveh is quite similar. I do not understand how Thebes had waters around her, her rampart a sea and water her wall, but evidently there is a way of looking at Thebes which rightly makes her appear that way. And Nahum looks at Thebes, and sees her defenses, and her fall, and then he looks at his present situation, and looks at Nineveh, and he sees that, since the first fell, so, too, might the latter, and, as a prophet, the LORD reveals to him that the latter will, in fact, fall.

“Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity;” so we have, then, Thebes was well protected too, and she had strong allies too, but in the end none of that saved her. “her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; for her honored men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in chains.” Thebes was publicly humiliated. Those who should have been safest, the infants, were dashed in pieces, and not on the highways, but at the head of every street. In the city itself, in the open, the were dashed to pieces. Thebes was shown to be impotent in this way: she could not even protect her infants. Well, one might say, infants can be hard to protect: they cannot defend themselves, after all. And so Nahum turns to the other end of the spectrum: her honored men, her great men, those who should have been able to defend themselves. Thebes was utterly humiliated on both ends: she could not protect those she would have most known to protect, nor those she should have been able to most easily protect. Her defenses did not defend, she was exposed to the invaders, in spite of all her power and allies.

And so, Nahum goes on to tell Nineveh, you cannot expect any of those defenses to save you either. As he says, “You also will be drunken; you will go into hiding; you will seek a refuge from the enemy.” This comparison, to make it more relatable, perhaps, is as if one were to respond to someone who was winning a tournament, who said “No one can beat me!” “Ah, you quote the last champion, who you are now beating! Why should I believe you, when he appears to have been wrong?” Look around, reader, what do you hear from the rich and powerful? Are they happy? Are they satisfied? Does it go well with them, or do they seem to have their lives under control? Do we not hear, again and again, of those who, through mistakes or misfortunes, fall from power? They had wealth, and friends in high places. They had successful careers and promising futures. Yet how many of them have fallen? How many have been publicly ridiculed? Do you trust in those things which you have seen fail others? Why should it be any different with you? Why should it not also go poorly with you? But trust in the LORD, not wealth, not fame, not friends, not your own power, but the LORD, and he will preserve you. I do not guarantee that he will give you wealth or fame or friends or power, but he will be to you wealth and fame—for being watched by the LORD is better than being watched by the whole world—and the greatest of friends, and the most powerful one. By drunk with the Spirit, hide your life in Christ, seek refuge in God.

But if you do not trust in the LORD, then what is said of Nineveh will, whether in this age or the one to come, be true of you, “All your fortresses”—all those things in which you trusted rather than trusting in the LORD—“All your fortresses,” Nahum says, “are like fig trees with first-ripe figs—if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater.” Those fortresses? They are ready to topple. What kind of fortresses are these, that fall as easily as ripe figs? We are not accustomed to picking figs, but the same may be said of apples: when you shake an apple tree with ripe apples on it—or even, sometimes, when you brush such a branch gently—the apple does not wait to picked, but falls to the ground. These fortresses will be as easily taken as that.

“Behold, your troops are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars.” Your troops are as good as troops, and your gates are as good as gates, as your fortresses are good as fortresses, which is to say: you may as well not have any of it. Your army is worthless, your gates may as well be wide open, and your fortresses will fall as easily as first-ripe figs.

“Your troops are as women in your midst.” The women, I take it, were not trained as warriors, or were not expected to be very good at fighting anyways. Your troops are untrained, and may well have never thought of fighting—or that is how good they are. Your defenses against this world are weak, you go out to fight with dull blades. Your bullets are confetti, your artillery is jammed. You think you keep the LORD away with these? They are as nothing to him. He will do as he wills, and nothing can stop him.

“The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars.” You may as well give the burglar the keys to your safe, if the LORD has chosen to have your safe burgled. His will is decisive—not that we ought not properly safeguard what the LORD has entrusted to us, but in the end, it is the LORD who decides what will happen to us and our things. We cannot keep him out of our lives. If we reject him, he will invade to destroy us. If we welcome him, he will enliven us. If he has determined to enliven us, we cannot stop him.

Your wealth is no safer now than it was just prior to the collapse of the housing bubble. Your job is no safer now than it was just prior to the Great Depression. Your home is not so safe that it might not be burgled or burn to the ground. Your health could deteriorate at any moment, you could be hit by a car today, or get cancer. Your friends could desert you. I do not seek to make you afraid, except if that should make you place your trust in the LORD who is sovereign over all these things rather than in created things. Your fortresses are really crummy fortresses, but “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble” (1:7). Your fortresses will not save you, you cannot fight for yourself,  you cannot save yourself, and you cannot keep God out of your life. Your only hope must be that the LORD will be your fortress, that Christ Jesus will fight for you, and that the Spirit will enter into your life to restore you to newness of life.

This is good news. Your fundamental insecurity in yourself is good news. We do not usually hear it as good news, we usually hear our insecurity as bad news and try to do something about it. Just the other day I saw an advertisement or infomercial for generators which had several testimonies of how people had lost food in their fridges, or their basements had flooded when the power went out, and how they used to worry when they left their house for fear that the power would go out and that would happen again, but who now feel safe because of this generator. Now, it may well be reasonable to buy a generator, but this advertisement appealed to our fears, our worries, our desire for earthly security. There are ads telling us to stock up on food, to take self-defense classes, to learn first-aid and CPR, so that we or our friends and family won’t die when bad things happen. Thousands of advertisements appeal to our desire for security, telling us that if we buy this product or take that course we will be able to better ensure our own or our family’s safety. Now, protecting our safety and the safety of others is good, but it is not ultimate, and, ultimately, we cannot ensure it. Why is this good news? It is good news in the same way that it is good news to hear that you and I are sinners, that we can do nothing to save ourselves. If we cannot make ourselves secure, if we cannot save ourselves, then we do not need to worry about saving ourselves. If we cannot save ourselves, then our failure thus far to save ourselves makes sense. If we are sinners, if we are fundamentally insecure in ourselves, then we have no reason to be concerned with making ourselves more secure in ourselves. If we recognize that, as far as what the LORD can do to us, our generators have dead batteries, our sump pumps are as hoses turned full blast, our refrigerators are as boxes of moldy bread, in short all our works are rubbish, then we will have no reason to be concerned with our lack of generators, sump pumps, refrigerators, or good works, insofar as none of these can save us from the wrath of God. We are all wretched sinners, separated from God and meriting his just condemnation.

The gospel goes further, of course, it does not leave us all separated from God. It says not only that you cannot save yourself, but also that Jesus Christ, God become flesh, has died so that whoever believes in him will be saved. The sin which separates you from God has been dealt with in Christ Jesus if you have been joined to him in his death. You cannot save yourself—only God can. The gospel is both that you do not need to save yourself because Christ has already done it all, and also that you cannot save yourself, so that you must trust wholly on Jesus death and resurrection, hoping in his righteousness applied to your own account. And this enables us to let go of our own protections: if God saves us, if God is for us, then who can be against us? What can mortal man do to me? If God has numbered my days, then why should I be concerned about the time of my death? If God is God, then I do not need to fill that position, if I trust him. And the gospel is that if we do trust him to save us, then he will save us, and all things will work together for our good. In Christ we are preserved from the wrath of God, and we are no longer judged for our sins, but we are disciplined and pruned, for our heavenly Father is good to chastise us and teach us. So we do not now say, “I do not, really, need a generator, for it cannot save me,” but, since the question of whether it can save me or not is no longer here nor there, “I do not, really, need a generator, for if the LORD my God sees fit to deprive me of electricity, then it will be for my good, and if it would not be good for me to be deprived of electricity, then I will not be deprived of electricity” and we can be confident of this because we know that if God did not spare his own Son for us, but gave him up for us, how shall he not with him give us all good things? But I am not saying to be foolhardy with what the LORD has entrusted to us, generators are not bad. It is the worry that is bad, for it betrays a lack of trust in the LORD. A generator bought for the glory of God is not bad, but good, just as when the exiles returned they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem for God’s glory. If the LORD would preserve your electricity through a generator, so be it, for he has similarly preserved your life through the preaching of men, by which you heard the gospel. Yet it is, in the final analysis, fully and only by grace that you have been saved. The preaching was given you by the will of the LORD, and your generator is only able to work because the LORD sustains it. If you buy a generator in worry, then it may well fail you in order that you might learn to trust the LORD. This would be good: to trust the LORD is better than anything else, it is better than food in the fridge, it is better than whatever is in your basement, it is better than light, and internet, and the reading of books. Read the Word of the LORD, meditate on it day and night, lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge him. Read it now, while it is still light, that when darkness comes you may remember it, and meditate on it, and so grow in the Word of the LORD, and thus grow in true wisdom and knowledge and understanding.

What of Nineveh? She is destroyed. She is flooded by her false protection, she is drunk. Is this good news? Yes. It is good because we must have Christ alone for our salvation. Nineveh rejected the only possible protection: the LORD. We must desire, then, that her fake protections be shown fake. We are glad to see that what we have said is true: that salvation belongs to the LORD, and to the LORD alone. Nineveh falls because she stood on her own defenses, her own works, and they must fail her, just as they will fail anyone who trusts in them. If our works could save us, then we would not need Christ, nor would we have to trust in him alone. If the enemies of God stood, then could we reasonably say that their trust was false? Could we say that one ought not trust in human devices, but only on God? If everything turned out just fine for everyone, then what advantage would there be in Christ Jesus? Nineveh must fall that Jerusalem might stand. And there must be a Nineveh, that we may see, that we may behold, that we might exalt in the wrath and justice of the LORD our God, that we may see that he is good to call us to trust in him alone, that we may see that apart from him we would die. This glorifies the LORD our God, and in that we rejoice.

Here is one more thing to notice: Nahum is concerned about Assyria conquering Judah, and he is able to look around at the nations and see that Egypt fell. He draws from this the conclusion that Assyria, too, may fall. Assyria was a wicked and powerful kingdom, she did not expect to fall. Nahum looks and sees that other nations have been just as strong, yet fell. What is the power of nations before God? He is the one who raises up rulers, and brings them low. Nahum knows that he need not fear Assyria because he can see the similarities between Nineveh and Thebes well enough to recognize that the LORD is powerful enough in Nineveh’s case, just as in Thebes’s, to send her into exile. Here is the point: we do not need to worry about what the kingdoms of this world will do to us. It doesn’t really matter, ultimately, whether we are ostracized or persecuted or anything, God is still in control, and he still has our best interests in mind. The Supreme Court of the USA is just the highest human court in the land, it is not that powerful. The LORD has their hearts like rivers in his hands, he directs how they shall go. And, as utterly unthinkable and unlikely as it is, America could fall tomorrow, just like Assyria fell. Rome fell, Alexander the Great’s empire fell, Hitler’s Germany fell, the English fell as a superpower. Or America could stand for eons, if the LORD wills. In either case, what is that to you? You, follow Christ. Christ who conquered sin and death by his death on the cross. There is the ultimate enemy of Christianity defeated. The devil’s head has been crushed. If God could destroy the devil by the death of his Son, Jesus Christ, then why not bring down the lies and iniquities of today by the troubles of his children, the Church? And would this not be a glorious opportunity? We would be imaging Christ! The servants are not greater than the master; we would rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake, however mediocre the suffering.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


The Lord's Supper is the most regular sacrament. Baptism being the other, and it only being celebrated when someone professes turning to Jesus Christ in faith for the forgiveness of sins. The Lord's Supper is a formational element of worship. In it, we proclaim Christ's death until he comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26).

In Communion, with whom do we commune? Do we really commune? "This is my body" "This is my blood" so Jesus said. I do not intend to debate regarding the meaning of the linking verb--doctrines should not be built on such by themselves. Look, rather, at what follows. The blood is the blood of the covenant. It is the blood by which we are brought into a covenantal relationship with God. The body of Christ, broken for us on the cross is that body to which we are joined by the Holy Spirit.

Let us try the idea that the Lord's Supper is merely a representation, that the cup merely signifies Christ's blood, and that the bread merely signifies his body. Okay, I'm a bit of a philosophy geek, so the question I am inclined to ask is, "what does it mean that A signifies B?" And plenty has been written about signifiers, but let me just point out two things:1. words are signs, they signify, as it were, meanings (and the Wittgensteinian in me requires that I put caution tape around that word, "meaning"--a word by itself means nothing, it only means things in contexts) 2. we eat our words when we want to take back what we mean. Conclusion? Signs basically are, or at least may be treated the same as, what they signify. If the cup signifies Jesus Christ's blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins, then, when I drink of it, I am engaged in drinking the blood of Christ. I do not mean this in any metaphysically weird way, as in transubstantiation, nor is it necessary to invoke Christ's infinite spiritual body and blood, nor need we say that the Spirit spans the distance between us and heaven so that Christ's body and blood are present in that way. Simply because the bread and the cup signify Christ's body and blood, we are partaking of Christ's body and blood, receiving from his death. And since God has ordained this sacrament, so that the signification is, necessarily, true, that is, what we say by partaking of the elements is true, we will receive from his death either the benefits or the curse thereof. The benefit is communion with God, received by faith; the curse is judgement (1 Corinthians 11:29).

It is sometimes said that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. By that it is meant that in Christianity we have a person rather than rules. This seems like an odd dichotomy, for people give rules, after all. Growing up, was my being-raised a relationship or rules? Certainly the former, and the latter would have been worthless at best without the former, but both existed. I was raised in a relationship partially structured by rules. The Lord's Supper is something we are commanded to do, and it is one of those things which appears most religious about Christianity. It is also one of the focal points of the relationship of Christianity.

Finally, who should receive the Lord's Supper? From 1 Corinthians 11:28 we have: only the one who examines himself and from the nature of the act we know that only the one who professes faith ought to partake of it, lest we encourage lying. This latter entails that only the baptized should receive communion, for all those who have professed faith should be baptized. Lastly, we know that all of those who so qualify and are present should receive both the bread and the cup since Jesus says "Drink of it, all of you" Matthew 26:27, and since nowhere is a distinction made between those who receive the bread and those who receive the cup, but rather those who should desire to drink the cup are those who know that they need the blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, and those who should desire the bread are those who desire to remember Christ, and both are said to proclaim Christ's death until he comes again, by Paul. Therefore, as those who would proclaim Christ's death unto life to a dying world, we should desire to partake of communion often. We should feel denied our right as Christians if ever communion is served and we are retrained without good reason from partaking of it. We should care because we want to be those who proclaim Jesus's death to the world until he comes again.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Incomplete Reductio on Free Will

Let worlds be partial. A complete world is a set of all possibly true and possibly false propositions, together with their truth values. A partial world does not specify truth values for some of the propositions. In a partial world W, p is not either true or false, but either both possible true and possibly false, or either true or false. For every partial world, every possible (i.e., logically coherent) completion of it, whether complete or partial, is also a possible world. Thus, if in W = {p is F, q is T, r is both possibly T and possibly F} then {p is F, q is T, and r is T}  is a possible world, and {p is F, q is T, and r is F} are both also possible worlds. Any proposition which is specified in the same way in every possible completion is considered specified in that way in the original partial world.
Assume that there exists a possible (partial) world where the proposition ‘x is saved’ is unspecified for all x where x is a human, and that there are no propositions of the form “if p, then a is saved” (where a is some human) where p is unspecified (it cannot be true without specifying the truth of a is saved), and where there is no corresponding proposition “if not-p, then a is saved” (where a is some human). In that case, in some possible world, the proposition ‘x is saved’ would be false for all x where x is a human.
The original possible world, call it W, corresponds to a world where individuals have the capacity in themselves to determine, to some extent, their eternal destiny. The argument is not dependent on the actual unspecifiedness of truth values (and thus, granting God’s complete foreknowledge does not get one out of the conclusion). The unspecifiedness of the truth values of all ‘x is saved’ where x is human is intended to model LFW. So long as my salvation or damnation are not dependent on external forces, or at least so long as my damnation cannot be precluded by external forces, the argument should follow. Even assuming a Calmenian approach, where eternal security is granted with irresistible grace, the conclusion will follow, since each human has some choice over whether to enter into that state where they are stuck saved. The only way that the conclusion may be resisted is if propositions in the original partial world require that some people be saved, in which case the salvation of some will be based on external forces.

There are a variety of ways to modify the original world so as to more closely model views of our actual initial position. One may specify that certain special individuals are predestined, but so long as there are not too many of them, the conclusion retains its force. One may specify that the damnation of some is specified in the original world on account of a lack of opportunity, but this does not change the conclusion. One may specify that there are propositions in W of the form “if p, then a is saved” (where a is some human) where p is unspecified, and where there is a corresponding proposition “if not-p, then a is saved” (where a is some human), but in this case the specification of p will either be up to God, in which case he will be choosing sets of humans, rather than individual humans, and a kind of determination is included (I have suggested this as a kind of deterministic Arminianism before), or p is up to humans (or chance). In the case where it is up to humans (because humans have LFW) or chance, human freedom over one’s own salvation is still not retained, although neither is particular election—which strikes me as a worst of both worlds option, although intriguing. There is a plausible exception to the loss of human freedom where p is determined by humans in very restricted cases where p is a moral decision by some human, such as seeking God, but it is difficult to imagine many cases where it would intuitively be of the sort desired here, where either p or not-p will result in someone’s salvation. One further modification is to specify that the world will not end until some minimum number of humans have been saved. This last modification results in some world never ending, and having a number of humans approaching infinity, while others will be front loaded with damned people. It does not, however, evade the conclusion.

Given the argument, then, we effectively have
Premise: humans have LFW
Conclusion: There is some possible world where no one is saved.

The above modifications either limit LFW or change no one to almost no one. In the latter case, the modification does not seem to be of the sort which would alter our consideration of the argument. The argument is intended as a reduction on LFW, and so the first kind of modification is the intended result of the argument. The remaining option is to acknowledge the argument, claim that both the premise and conclusion are true, albeit not in our world. In this last case God could not guarantee that he would save a people for himself. He could know that, as it happens, he would save a people for himself, however, which may be enough. There would be no guarantee that, if God created a world, any of the humans would be saved as opposed to damned. He could create the world knowing how it would turn out, however, but could not constrain the worlds at his disposal to create to include worlds with humans who would be saved as a people for himself. We would expect, in that case, that, had there been no worlds where anyone was saved, God would not have created. We might likewise suppose that of the worlds available to God, on account of LFW, this was the one with, say, the least evil and the most saved people.

We also result in an order of creation as follows:
1.       God exists, and imagines all possible worlds.
2.       God’s foreknowledge of these worlds includes how people would behave in each of these beginning worlds.
3.       God determines how he would interact with each of the possible worlds (and foreknows the humans’ free responses to any of his possible interactions with them, to which he determines his interactions, etc., knowing how each possible action on his part would affect the worlds).
4.       God selects a (best, according to some measure) world, together with the foreknown free actions of humans and of himself.
5.       God creates the world, lets it run, and interacts with it and the humans in it, as foreknown.

Effectively, this appears to be a variety of Molinism. Placing divine choice where the above order places it, that is, above/outside of time, avoids the issue of God being determined by having foreknowledge (which I have argued for before). If we eliminate divine foreknowledge, however, there is no guarantee that the world God creates ends up being one in which anyone at all is saved.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Nahum 3:1-7

“Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder—no end to the prey!” The previous chapter ended with the promise of the utter destruction of Nineveh. We might, having finished chapter 2, have thought Nahum was done, but no, with chapter 3 he continues to emphasize what the LORD said through him in the last verse of chapter 2, “Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts,” which is repeated in 3:5. There is a shift now, however, Nahum is now going on to detail the  Where we ended in chapter 2, with desolation and ruin, we now back up to see Nineveh’s present strength, and to see her evil for which she is being judged and her true weakness. In a way, we are travelling back over ground covered in chapter 1:12, “Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away,” but the emphasis has changed. There, the emphasis was that the enemies of God’s people would be cut down—that Judah would be safe, here the emphasis is more on the fact that Nineveh will be destroyed, that she will be judged. It is not only for the safety of Judah that the LORD judges Nineveh, but also because the LORD is just. This justice benefits Judah, and that benefit to Judah is not incidental, but it is also not the whole story. So we can also say that the LORD does not vanquish the devil merely for our sake, but also for his name’s sake. He is just, and cannot permit sin to go unpunished. We are benefitted by the LORD’s just destruction of evil if we are those whose enemy is thereby destroyed, that is, if we place our joy in the LORD, and know and recognize that he is good. If we make the enemies of the LORD our enemies, if we hate what the LORD hates and love what he loves, then his justice will be beautiful in our eyes.
So we have, here, “Woe to the city,” that is, woe to Nineveh. Why? Because she is “all full of lies and plunder—no end to the prey!” She lies, deceives nations, and plunders them. She conquers, not with justice, but with deception. Here the point is the evil that Nineveh has done, not merely the particular threat she is to Judah. It is because the LORD is just, as well as jealous, and here the justice is foregrounded. So we should see, here, that our good is bound up with the LORD’s justice. Our hope in heaven is bound together with a healthy fear of hell. You simply do not get salvation of the LORD’s people without the damnation of his enemies. “The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing word and glittering spear,” again, we have the chariots which the LORD has promised to burn, this strength that Nineveh trusts in. “hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies!” Indeed, as the first verse said, “no end to the prey!” Here, then, is what caused Judah to fear. Here is the strength of the enemy. We might compare this to the Church in places where she is obviously oppressed, and the masses of martyrs which are often produced when the Church is most visibly oppressed. There, too, we find “dead bodies without end” and there, too, our enemies stumbles over the bodies. Our deaths are an impediment to the spread of lies because whether we live or die we do so to the glory of God, and so our deaths pronounce the truth of the beauty of the glory of the LORD, and often makes people think, “who are these, that they die like this?” But we need not restrict these thoughts to where the Church is most visibly oppressed, for the Church is always more or less oppressed, and more or less visibly—sometimes greatly, yet invisibly, oppressed, sometimes mildly but quite visibly, often both visibly and greatly—and so always stands out and suffers for Christ’s sake. Indeed, the Church is always visibly persecuted from her point of view, whether others get it or not, because we can feel how poorly this world fits our new frame. We no longer fit the mold of this world, we are not of it, but we are in it, and so we suffer as those who were not made for our environs, and this suffering serves to magnify the fact that we find our highest pleasure and greatest happiness in the LORD. We are a holy, a unique, people, and that is often visible as we are persecuted.
And what lies behind the strength of Nineveh? What motivates these soldiers? “And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings and peoples with her charms.” It is not the love of God, it is not a righteous motive. Why do the nations fall before Nineveh? She deceives them, tricks them. Her soldiers are hers by means of her grace and charms, and so, when those charms are gone, so too will all her strength. When the going gets tough, the soldiers will desert. There is nothing substantial to keep them on Nineveh’s side. Nineveh’ beauties are accidental to her, that is, there is no beauty to Nineveh, but she has adorned herself to appear beautiful when she is not. But we, the people of God, why do we stand? Is it for some fleeting pleasure? No, it is for the LORD, we stand as a holy nation because we have been called out by God. We do not cower and flee when trials come, because we know that the LORD intends them for good, as he intends all things for good. Our pleasure is in the LORD, who is unchangeable, unlike the nations which pass away. We cling to the LORD because we see his true and absolute beauty. The LORD’s beauty is not accidental to him, but a necessary attribute—God is beautiful, and always beautiful, and necessarily must be beautiful. That is what is seen in the deaths of the martyrs, and that is why the enemy stumbles over their bodies. If we are allied with the LORD, then his justice is for our good, but if we are not allied with the LORD, if we are instead allied with his enemies, then we will flee. As the allies of Nineveh fled when she fell, so the unbelievers will flee when the justice of the LORD comes down like rain.
This stark contrast is what makes us as Christians, and particularly the martyrs, stand out: those who live, as it were, in Nineveh, those who remain in Satan’s realm and love his rule, are there because they believe that that is the most pleasurable thing for them. So when they see us so obviously living for another ruler, seeking something different, not the fleeting pleasures of this life, but the eternal and full pleasures of joy in the LORD, our lives—our deaths—suggest that there is more pleasure in the LORD than anything this world can offer. We all live for what we believe will make us the most happy, and so when we live for the LORD above everything else, in spite of every trial we are faced with, even death, we show that we believe and find the LORD to be the greatest source of pleasure and happiness and joy there is.
Nineveh is a whore, Nahum says. In what way? Often, Israel and Judah are compared to a whore because they whore after other gods, departing from their appointed husband, the LORD. It is unclear whether or not the same meaning is meant here as there, that is, whether Nineveh’s whoredom is her idolatry. It may be that the whoredom refers merely to Nineveh’s trickery, that she seduces nations by her charms, and it is certainly meant in at least that way, as it says that she “betrays nations with her whorings and peoples with her charms.” But, of course, her trickery was a form of idolatry, for she trusted in her deceptions rather than in the LORD. This links Nineveh very strongly to the devil, who is called the father of lies.
So, then, we have, repeated again, “Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts,” And how is this worked out? “and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations to look at your nakedness and kingdom at your shame.” That is, the LORD will expose Nineveh’s powerlessness, and will expose her real weakness. “I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle” all nations will see how foolish Nineveh has been in whoring, rather than in pursuing a true love in the LORD, and they will also see how foolish they have been in whoring with Nineveh. The LORD is not deceived, he watches and knows what Nineveh really is, and he responds to her as she is, and he will show us all who Nineveh really is. The LORD is not silently omniscient. He draws from his knowledge to work justice, and he shares his knowledge with his people, making us know how things truly are by revealing himself and truth thereby in his Word and finally as we see him in heaven.
The LORD who exposes Nineveh as a whore is the same LORD who exposes the deceitfulness of the devil. The LORD shows that what is truly beautiful is beautiful, and what is truly ugly is ugly. He exposes false hopes as false, and vindicates his righteousness in the end. He does this for his name’s sake, that he may be proven just. And so, too, with the liars of this age, those who say “you will not surely die, God doesn’t really love you,” they will be shown wrong, and the LORD will be shown to be the one true loving God. And this happens, often, through us. Through those mounting bodies of the martyrs for whom death is gain because to die is to go and be with the LORD, the lie that money or food or sex or anything in this world can fully satisfy apart from the LORD is destroyed because then we exhibit the truth that there is more pleasure in the LORD all by himself than there is in all the rest of creation.
The Assyrians were not wrong to seek their pleasure. They were wrong to seek it in vicious and deceitful conquest. Many of the things that we seek our happiness in are good, they make us happy to the extent they do because they are truly good, and we see the pleasure and think that these things are good—and we are not wrong! Where we go wrong is in thinking that these are ultimate pleasures. We see a bucket of pleasure and think it is the fullest pleasure in the world. We are wrong because we think that this piddling amount of pleasure is the greatest pleasure. We think these wading pools and puddles of pleasure are deep, but the LORD calls us to the ocean of his pleasure.
“And all who look on you will shrink from you and say, ‘Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?” that is, Nineveh, who had so many allies by her treachery, will be left alone. Not only will she be destroyed, desolate, but she will not be missed. She was powerful, but all the nations are glad to see her go. Likewise, we will rejoice at the fall of the wicked, because it vindicates the LORD, because their fall shows that the LORD is great, that the LORD loves us, for his Word has kept us from that evil.
So, then, in summary, we have, first, Nineveh, the bloody city, with a great, but false, hope, and she knowingly extends false hopes to others. Then we have the LORD, who has promised to expose these falsehoods. In contrast to Nineveh’s false hope, finally, we have placed our true hope: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But the end of Nineveh, “Wasted is Nineveh, who will grieve for her?” is not only the end of our enemies, but the end of those whom we love who are allied with Nineveh rather than Judah, and will fall with Nineveh rather than be protected with Judah. Do we rejoice when other human beings are cast into hell? On the one hand, we must not, for the LORD does not take pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32). On the other hand, our text implies that no one will grieve for Nineveh. One could, perhaps, suggest that we, as Christians who are called to love our enemies, should answer the call of the prophet, “Where shall I seek comforters for you?” with “Over here!” but that seems to ignore the literary trajectory and point of this passage. I am inclined to suspect, instead, that this is a point of difference between the devil and his hosts and those humans who will be cast into hell, that no one will grieve when the devil is cast into hell, but perhaps, perhaps, there will be when the lost are. So we should not, I think, be pleased at their perishing—though there has been disagreement about that—but we should, certainly, be pleased that the LORD’s judgment is revealed. We will rejoice at the revelation and confirmation of the truth of God. We ought not, however, be pleased by the fact that some like us have not been saved. But why are they not saved? We might point to their rejection of the Christ, and this would be accurate, but we may also say that, behind that, the LORD has ordained that some will be lost that he might receive more glory in evidencing his just wrath (Romans 9:22). We may not answer the question “why them and not me?” except by pointing to the grace of God, that he appointed them to be in Nineveh and us in Judah. And this is good, for all that the LORD does is good. Why is it good that the LORD should reveal his wrath on some humans who reject him? Because, as we see in this text the LORD reveals Nineveh as a prostitute, so he reveals all kinds of ungodliness as ungodliness in their particular expressions, so that not only are all sins paid for, whether in Christ or in hell, but every sin is exposed as sin, proved to be detrimental to our spiritual welfare, by revelation of what it has brought various individuals to, according to the justice of the LORD. It is so that we might behold how great our salvation is, and how horrible our end would otherwise have been, that the LORD condemns some to experience his wrath in addition to saving some of us by sending his Son, Jesus Christ the righteous, to die in our place.
So, how should we respond to hell? We should rejoice that the LORD’s justice is consummated. We should rejoice that the devil and his hosts are defeated. We should mourn the loss of created beings whom God loves, because we realize that it is only because of God’s grace toward us that we are not among them, and we should thus be motivated to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to all, before it is too late, for one day, when we stand before the judgment seat of the LORD, it will be too late, as Nahum concludes the book, speaking to Nineveh, “There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous,” so shall it be on that day for those who reject the LORD. We should rejoice in it as it exemplifies how great a salvation Jesus Christ bought for us by his death. And how will we respond, when some whom we have loved are cast into hell? We will unabashedly rejoice in and worship our good and loving God, who has preserved us from the evil one. And we will do this because our pleasure and happiness are in the LORD, not in those friends who may or may not have been saved. Our joy will be great as this world passes away, because then the kingdom of the Lord will come in all power and majesty. Heaven will be celebratory, even as the lost are finally lost, being cast into hell. Our joy, our hope, resides there, and that is what empowers us to endure whatever suffering may come to us.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Nahum 2:10-13

The last four verses of chapter two of Nahum fall into two sections. First, we have a description of the reaction to the fall of Nineveh, which was described in verses 5-9, then we have the LORD’s promise against Nineveh.
First, we have a description of what is left behind after Nineveh falls: “Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale!” Brave Nineveh has been reduced to ruins and anguish. She could not stand against the LORD. The people left have been left in fear, for they have no defense left against what their enemies might choose to do with them. As Judah was afraid of Nineveh, so Nineveh will be afraid of the army the LORD is sending against her. They will learn to fear the LORD, but it will be too late. This is the fate of all who trust in their own defenses. This is where we would all be headed apart from Jesus Christ. The LORD comes in the end, and they will all bow the knee, but it will be too late then. Those who trust in the LORD are victorious in the LORD; those who trust in themselves will see, in the end, that their trust was misplaced, and then their hearts, too, will melt, and their knees, too, will tremble. They will feel anguish, and their faces will grow pale in fear, for they will have nowhere to turn, no one will be able to save them from the righteous wrath of God. Yet there is hope now, that they might turn to the LORD, that they might be found in Judah. If they are found in Nineveh, then there is no hope for them, but they might yet run from Nineveh, run from the desolation which the LORD has promised, and run to Judah, run to the one in whom there is salvation, that is, to Christ.
We then move on to the next two verses where Nahum forms an analogy between the royal family and a family of lions, “Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb?” Where are they? They were just here, in Nineveh, but where are they now? “The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh.” The kingdom was successful, they had conquered many nations, they had plenty to eat. Where did they go? What became of them? They were doing so well, they were so successful, how did they come to such a quick end?
The allies of Nineveh are surprised by how quickly she fell, the people of Nineveh are disoriented. The LORD turns their world upside down. What others call success becomes failure when it is against the LORD. The LORD raises up and brings low, and he has done both to Nineveh. He judges Nineveh because she defied and belittled the LORD. This is what becomes of those who seek to defy the LORD: he avenges his glory against them. “How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:19). Yet the people of God have nothing to fear, those who love him and keep his commandments are not in any danger, for they take refuge in God himself (1:7). When Nineveh is turned upside down, Jerusalem is turned right side up. Nineveh’s allies thought they were making a sure bet by siding with Nineveh, the people of Nineveh thought all was well, thy had no worries, but they were deceived because they denied the LORD God. They thought power rested in the strength of armies, but now they find that power rests, finally, with the LORD.
This is the cause of a joyful fear of the LORD. We behold that our God is powerful over the mighty ones of our age, those whom we were afraid of, and so we fear God, we tremble before his majesty, yet we rejoice because his power and might and wrath is directed—not against us, though we deserve it—but on our enemies. His power is used on our behalf, to protect us, and to make us a people for the LORD’s own possession, and to make his name great, and in this we rejoice. As we look at the description of the aftermath of Nineveh’s fall, in 2:10-12, imagine what we would think. We would think “what did this?” as the disciples asked “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27) so we would ask “Who did this, that they could bring such utter desolation to such a successful kingdom?”
See, too, the threat that Nineveh was, “The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh.” They were not just successful, they were brutal. They filled their caves with prey. Conquered nations were their prey. They devoured them and enjoyed their spoils. Judah saw Nineveh as a lion, out seeking to devour some nation. Judah was prey, they could not defend themselves against Nineveh. And so, the chapter ends with the LORD’s declaration of hostility against Nineveh, and promise to do her harm, “Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.” Judah is prey, but the LORD is her shepherd. Again, Nahum moves us through: Nineveh is a great, strong lion, he is planning to consume Judah, and Judah is defenseless—you can imagine the cliffhanger, can’t you? And then you go on, and you see the LORD enter the scene. He comes against Nineveh, he says “I will destroy you” and so says to Judah, “I will save you.” This is our predicament and our salvation, do you see? “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Now, Peter does not say that we will be delivered from suffering, but, rather, that we should stand firm in our faith. The devil seeks to destroy us, but we are safe in Christ, because Christ has overcome the evil one. The lion which would have devoured us by our sins has been destroyed by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. We were like sheep, helpless, we could do nothing to save ourselves from such a lion, but the LORD enters right where we would otherwise be doomed and saves us.
The chariots, the strength of Nineveh’s army, will be destroyed. They will have no more strength. Here we see that the strength of armies does not lie in their chariots, in their military technology or their masses of soldiers. While Nahum emphasized the power of the LORD’s army by pointing to his chariots in 2:3-4, here we see that the chariots of Nineveh do not help them. And why is that? Why are the chariots of the LORD powerful, but the chariots of Nineveh get burned up? Because the power is the LORD’s. The reason that the chariots in 2:3-4 are strong, and these chariots are burned up is the same as the reason that those who are found in Israel, in Christ, on the last day will be strong, while those who are in Nineveh, in Babylon, those who rebel against the LORD, will be burned up. It is because the strength of armies and nations and people cannot stand against the strength of the LORD. It is because the LORD must, in the end, be shown to be the one true holy and awesome God of the universe. It is because those who are in Israel, those who trust in the LORD for salvation, already acknowledge that the power is the LORD’s. We have put our hope in this very fact, that only the LORD is unconquerable, that only the LORD can and should rule the universe. All other rulers and authorities will pass away, for they depend on the LORD for their existence, and the LORD will show himself to be the only eternal God.
“The sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth,” These two refer back to the preceding two verses where the metaphor of the family of lions in their den was developed. “Where is the lions’ den…where his cubs were, with none to disturb?” (2:11) The LORD says “The sword shall devour your young lions” (2:13). The cubs are disturbed by the LORD, who cannot be kept out when he wants to come in. The LORD will enter wherever he will, and he cannot be kept out. No one is safe from him. He can and he will have his way in every life. The question is whether he will show mercy or not. The question is whether we will be found in Christ, in Israel, or not. Whether we will flee to him, hold on to him, seek him, love him, as our only hope for safety, or whether we will fight him, rebel against him, try to keep him away, hate him, as if he were our enemy, and so make him our enemy and bring judgment on ourselves. These cubs hoped for a perishable inheritance, and received death. We hope for an imperishable inheritance, and we are sure to receive it. They hoped to save their lives, and they lost them. We who are willing to lose our lives for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the gospel have found our lives hid with Christ.
“I will cut off your prey from the earth” Nineveh will look about for some nation weaker than she, some nation she can plunder, but will not find any. Instead, Nineveh will become a prey. We all, prey to the enemy, will be, as far as prey goes, cut off from the earth. We will be in the world, but not of it. We are protected from Nineveh by the power of the LORD of hosts. Those who have been prey will be saved. Those who have been conquered by Nineveh, in whom Nineveh thought her power secure, they will be removed, they will not be at all useful to her. Indeed, some of the nations will become her oppressors, the Medes and the Babylonians will conquer her as she would have liked to conquer them. The LORD has power over the nations. He can turn them as he will, he can judge one with another, he can unite and divide, he is the single sovereign LORD, the God of the universe and God of the nations. This is our God.
And so, at the end, even the voice of her messengers, those who ridiculed Judah, who mocked the LORD, will no longer be heard. Think what this means: it means that those who came and told Judah that they should not trust the LORD their God not only are destroyed, but those messengers will no longer be heard. They have been proved utterly wrong. Judah did trust the LORD, and the LORD has promised to work this great victory for them, and then all those who said that Judah was foolish will be no more, but Judah will remain because she loves and trusts the LORD her God. It means this: that the tempter is silenced.
This passage should encourage us because it shows that those who oppose God, no matter how successful they may appear, cannot stand before the LORD’s indignation. No matter how strong the devil may appear to be in this world, God is the ruler yet, and he is our father, who is in heaven, hallowed be his name. We have confidence, then, to pray “your kingdom come!” “Come, Lord Jesus!” because we know that he will come when he chooses, and on that day no one will be able to stop him. Therefore we have nothing to fear now, because when our Lord, the LORD, comes, he will make all things right. Because he is our joy, his victory is our hope, and so we can continue in faith that he is in control.
We know what it is like to hear the messengers of Nineveh. When the world says to the Church, “if you would just compromise on this issue, and that one, then you could reach more people,” they ask us to doubt that our God is powerful and mighty to save. If we compromise what we have received from the LORD our God because we think we know how to save sinners better, then we are doubting his power in salvation. If we doubt that he can and will save those whom he has called, we will be like an Israelite doubting that God can save them from Assyria. If we have faith that God can save us from our sins, if we are trusting God to save us from our sins, then how can we suppose that there is anything besides God himself that might be needed for salvation?
The messengers shall no longer be heard. They will pass away, but the LORD endures forever. When this current culture has passed away, yet there will still be those who bring good news, who publish peace (1:15). The Church will stand, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, but it will prevail against the gates of hell, and the servants of the evil one will be made desolate (2:10). This is our hope and our confidence which enables us to go forth in joy and with love, to seek and to save that which was lost in the name and in the power of God, whose name is above all names, and whose power is mighty to save and the only power to save.
So we go to a world which has become a prey to the devil and call to them that there is hope, that they can be saved, that our God reigns in heaven and protects his people, and look, Christ has made a way that we can become the people of God. We who know the goodness of God and the horrors of the evil one rejoice at this: that the LORD has declared himself the enemy of the evil one. This is our hope for salvation from him. This is good news for the oppressed. The LORD has ransomed us from Nineveh, and we return to take more out of Nineveh, to free her prey from her jaws, for it is the LORD who does it, and he cannot be stopped. This is our God, whose majesty was the introductory theme of Nahum, and whose power resounds throughout the whole book. It is because the LORD is huge and massive, mighty and powerful, jealous and avenging, that Judah can trust him to save her, can call on him to enter the course of history here, when Judah is afraid of her enemy, and rescue her from the adversary. Because Judah knows that her God is this big, she is not, in the end, terrified of her enemy. She is calm, she calls on the name of the LORD and is saved. And that is what we all must do: call on the name of the LORD and you will be saved. The alternative is to be like Nineveh, trusting in your own power, and finally, in the last day, becoming desolate. Indeed, you are already desolate if you are not in Christ, you have no hope, really, only delusions. Nineveh may have been rich, but when the LORD makes her desolate, he only makes visible what was already the case: she was already dead without God. God is the giver of life, the source for life and joy, and without him we are dead, but in him we have life everlasting and overflowing.
Now, am I telling you to convert in order to escape hell? Yes. Hell is bad, and you should run away from it as quickly as possible. You must understand, however, that hell is bad because we were made for heaven, for communion with God. Hell is horrible because the LORD is not present to people there. He is there, but he is not present, his hand is heavy upon them, he is far off—these are two ways of saying the same thing. It is because God is absent that hell is bad, and therefore where God is will be excellent, awesome, overflowing with joy. We run from hell because God is not there, and only God can satisfy. So where must we run to? If we run away from hell because it is the absence of God, then we must run to heaven because it is where God is present. If we run away from Nineveh because the LORD is against her, then we must run to Judah because the LORD defends her. I say “Run from hell!” because only loving God will ever satisfy. So, yes, convert in order to escape hell, that is, convert in order to enjoy the greatest possible pleasure in the LORD God almighty. The desolation of Nineveh is what hell looks like, and so it is also what life apart from God really looks like, beneath all the self-deluding idolatry, beneath the excuses and self-esteem talks, beneath all the cover-ups which sinners are prone to use to hide the hideous appearance of themselves from themselves. Only grace, only safety in the LORD, can enable us to look on our sins as they are, as gruesome death and decay, and only then can we possibly have any hope to deal with them, and even then, only by the grace and the power of the LORD.