Friday, July 3, 2015

Nahum 1:9-15

“What do you plot against the LORD? He will make a complete end; trouble will not rise up a second time.” Again, Nahum is addressing Nineveh, the enemies of God’s people, and thus the enemies of God. He says to them, “what are you plotting? God will stop you; you won’t even have a second chance.” Nahum goes on, “For they are like entangled thorns, like drunkards as they drink; they are consumed like stubble fully dried.” This is a support for the previous verse, which says that the Assyrians won’t have a second chance, as shown by the word “for”. How, then, does it support it? Nahum is saying that the Assyrians are ready for destruction, that the time has come. When thorns are entangled, removing one removes them all, drunkards drinking have no wits to defend themselves with, “they are consumed like stubble fully dried” that is, they go up in flame quickly. Judah need not worry, because their enemies are going to be destroyed as thoroughly as fully dried stubble is burned. Israel need not fear that this enemy will come against them again, because God is going to utterly defeat Nineveh. In our own fight against sin, we have this same promise: that God, on the last day, will put all things right so that our enemy, sin and death and the devil, will be utterly defeated, and will not rise up a second time.
We then have “From you came one who plotted evil against the LORD, a worthless counselor.” So we have, at the beginning of verse 9, “what do you plot against the LORD?” and now we have “From you came one who plotted evil against the LORD.” What is this evil? It is the destruction of God’s people, as we can tell be the correlation of Nineveh’s destruction with the LORD’s restoring the majesty of Jacob in 2:2. We have here, then, another place where Nineveh may be associated with the devil. The devil seeks to destroy God’s people, and particularly sought to destroy Jesus Christ. He is the archetypal “worthless counselor” who counseled Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
What, then, is the LORD’s response? “Thus says the LORD, ‘Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.’” Again, we have the gospel entering right where there seems little hope: “Though they are at full strength and many,” that is, though the devil appears to have the high ground, though he appears to be winning, “they will be cut down and pass away.” Just as the devil seemed to be winning when Jesus Christ was hanging on the cross, and when he was lying in the grave, so the Assyrians seemed to be about to conquer Judah, but in both cases the apparent strength of the enemy was the occasion for God to show his power and justice by destroying the enemy. The power of the devil should not be dumbed down in favor of the power of the LORD. That is backwards. Rather, it is in light of how powerful the devil was, and how great that power was exerted against us, that we behold how incredibly mighty our God is. The devil is not weak, sin is not easily overcome, rather, only God has the power to conquer the devil once and for all.
Though we were afflicted by sin and death, we will be afflicted no more. As the apostle writes, quoting a saying, in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 “’Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And this will happen, he says at the beginning of verse 54, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality.” And so, not only will we be afflicted no more, by the removal of sin, but also, because the power of sin is the law, Nahum says, “And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.” That is, even now, we are freed from being under the law, being instead under grace. The heavy yoke is removed, and we now bear Christ’s easy yoke.
God’s victory over the devil proves that his counsel was worthless. Had his counsel stood, had everything been fine after we ate the fruit, he would have appeared to be good. Had the yoke remained heavy on us, and not been removed, it would have appeared that we had to save ourselves, yet we cannot. So God says “From you came…a worthless counselor” and then he proves that the counsel was worthless, saying “No more shall your name be perpetuated.” We are not simply told not to believe the devil because God does not want us to, but also because it is bad for us—indeed, he does not want us to sin precisely because it is bad for us, or the devil could not be called our enemy. Sin is poison, but Christ has overcome it on our behalf.
There is still the fact that some are of Nineveh, some follow the worthless counselor into destruction. Those who are in Christ are Israel, here Judah. Those who are not in Christ are Nineveh, they shall be utterly cut off, he says in verse 15. There are those who plot against the LORD, and there are those who keep their feasts and their vows in joy to the LORD. The gospel is good news, but, if it is not efficacious in saving, the horrors of hell remain. The gospel is good news to a post-fall world. The fall, the very existence of Nineveh to Judah, is bad news. We live in this every day, often not recognizing that affliction and heavy yoke, but to those who recognize themselves as those who are afflicted under a heavy yoke, the LORD promises this hope, that he will remove the affliction and break the yoke.
Do you know that you were afflicted? Do you know that you bore a heavy yoke? Do you rejoice, then, to hear that the LORD lifts that affliction and breaks that yoke? Do you recognize that you were enslaved to sin? Do you have this hope, that Christ will return in victory? This whole book is nonsense to us if we do not realize that we have an enemy in the devil. There is no war against sin if there is no enemy to fight it, but until that day when we see our God face to face we will fight against sin. If you do not recognize the affliction of sin, then how will you recognize how beautiful the promise that sin is dead and will be fully dead is? If you have never beheld the law as a heavy yoke which you cannot keep, then how can you rejoice that it is broken off of us? If you have not hated sin, how can you rejoice in its conquest, and how can you see that it is good that we have the Holy Spirit in us to empower us in the way of righteousness?
What of our enemy? What of Nineveh? “The LORD has given commandment about you: ‘No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile.’” The hope for us is sandwiched between the promise of utter destruction for our enemies, and utter destruction for those who ally themselves with them. The first is directed to us, for our hope, verse 12, “they will be cut down and pass away.” The latter is directed to Nineveh, and Nineveh is told that the LORD has given a commandment that their name will not be perpetuated, that their idols will be cut off from them—they are false gods—that they will be utterly destroyed. Why? Because they are vile. There is no hope for a remnant for Nineveh, unlike Israel and Judah, who are always promised a remnant, that their name will be perpetuated. There is no hope for Nineveh, now or later. Unlike Judah, Nineveh trusts in idols who cannot save. The only hope for life is in the LORD, but Nineveh does not trust in him, and so suffers total destruction.
And so the chapter finishes with a song of praise and encouragement to Judah, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.” Who is Nahum talking about here? He is, first, extolling the LORD for bringing this message of good news to Judah, this message of defeat for Judah’s enemies. Again, however, this applies to Jesus who brought the climactic good news of the gospel of forgiveness for sins through his death. And then there isan encouragement, “Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill our vows.” Why? The reason given is not “out of thankfulness,” nor “because you owe it to God,” but, rather, “for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.” What is this reason? Why is the absence of the worthless motivation for Judah to keep feasts and fulfill vows? Because, so long as we live in fear of evil ones, we will to some degree try to appease them. So long as the devil has power over us, we are enslaved to evil. But the gospel is that we have been freed from sin, and are now able to follow God rightly, loving what God loves and hating what he hates, and so living as Christ lived. Nahum does not expect Judah to need any further exhortation to do as they ought than that they now can.
Why does Nahum focus on these two actions, feasting and fulfilling vows? Regarding feasts, we know that a feast is a celebration. In Exodus 23:14, the LORD commands the people of Israel to keep a feast to him three times in the year. In Deuteronomy 16:11 and 14 the LORD commands his people to rejoice during the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths. It is remarkable, I think, that in Islam now is a month of fasting to their god, whereas the LORD commands feasting unto him, and nowhere, so far as I have seen, does he command regular fasting. We are to feed on his presence because he is very near to us. We are to rejoice in his gifts, and rest in his goodness, as Leviticus 23 emphasizes. The good news of Jesus Christ is this: that there is no longer any barrier between us and God, and so we have communion with God and one another—and this communion that we celebrate is a feast! So, we rejoice in the presence of the LORD because the evil one is utterly cut off. The removal of evil and the presence of God are connected here.
What, then, of vows? We must note that both feasting and fulfilling vows are encouraged by the fact that the worthless will be gone, and it is likely that this is a form of parallelism, where fulfilling vows and keeping feasts express the same idea. What would that idea be?
Consider that when I vow a vow to God I am making a promise, usually to give something to God. Thus, we are told that it is better not to vow than to vow and not fulfill the vow (Deuteronomy 23:21, Ecclesiastes 5:4). Suppose, now, that I see that I have much wealth, and decide to vow to give some portion of that wealth, but then, after I have so vowed, it appears that a calamity is about to happen—that I will likely soon lose much of my wealth. Seeing this, I may be wary of fulfilling my vow, thinking that I risk not being able to pay the bills, thinking that I need the cushion which I would lose by fulfilling this vow. In this case, I am considering sinning because I am afraid of what might happen to me, knowing that I do not control it. Now, suppose that I am told that I am wrong in worrying in this way, not because the danger is not real, but because someone else will take care of it. The risk is being beaten back, so that I don’t need to worry about it. If I am confident of this report, this good news, then I will have no reason not to go ahead and fulfill my vow.
So Judah is told to keep her vows because those worthless people, who they feared would deprive them of their wealth, are going to be utterly cut off. They do not have even the slightest excuse for sinning in this way, because the LORD their God is protecting them from their adversary. We, too, are in this position. Many of our sins, if not all, are due to the fact that we do not trust God to be God. We fear what may happen to us, and so refrain from doing as we ought, because we do not trust God to do good for us and control the outcome. We are interested in our mortal welfare, rather than our eternal joy because we look about and see how this life matters, but we often lose sight of that day when Christ will make all things new and right, executing justice. If God is for us, who can be against us? This is a very great motive to godly living: that our happiness is provided by the LORD our God, who orders all things according to the counsel of his good will, so that all things work together for good for those who love him. Our sins, then, are counterproductive to our joy, yet we only really see this as we see the glory of God and his power and hope in his goodness, which will be fully manifested on the day of judgment when our faith will be sight.
This same reasoning may be applied to feasting as well. Part of why feasting is celebratory is because it is an enjoyment of extra food. You do not feast when you have little food to spare, but, rather, you ration it out, charting out when you will eat what in order to ensure that you do not starve later. So when the LORD commands feasts, he is requiring Israel to trust that he will provide enough food for them, and to rest in him and enjoy his provision. He also implies that he will provide in abundance for them.
So, as in this verse for Judah, so also for us, feasting and keeping vows are intimately tied up together. The first refers particularly to the presence of God, and our joy in him. The second refers particularly to the good works which we do, which are motivated by God’s power working on our behalf to remove any deterrent and so to secure our happiness in him. We rejoice in God and thereby do good. We do good, and thereby rejoice in God.
Our hope, in which we live and in light of which we are encourage to love and good works, ends the chapter: “never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.” And yet, at the same time, this should fill us with a sense of urgency. This refers not only to the devil and his hosts, but to those who are in his camp, that is, all those who are not in Christ, all those who trust in idols which will be cut off. These, people, whom we know, will be utterly cut off. These, among whom we once were counted, are the ones whose grave the LORD is making. This is justice, for there is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ. And this is good, for no evil may escape God’s wrath. But this is terrible, for we were made to glorify God and enjoy him, and these are headed toward misery because they reject the LORD. And so, in ending, notice that not only did Jesus Christ bring good news in his person, but we, too, are called to bring good news to the nations and all people, that they might be afflicted no more, and that their bonds might be burst apart by the LORD. And this is as I mentioned before: if we understand who God is, then what will stop us from going and doing as we have been called? If we understand the horrors of hell, and if we understand that we were once among these people of Nineveh, headed for destruction, and if we recognize that God is powerful and mighty to save, bursting our bonds apart though the enemy was at full strength, then what could keep us from rejoicing in this call to spread this good news?

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