7 Reasons You Should Preach through Nahum

Article
04.19.2019

Although it weighs in at only three chapters and punches well above its weight, Nahum ranks as one of the least preached books of the Bible. Wherever I preach Nahum, I ask people to raise their hands if they’ve heard a sermon series on it, or if they’ve read it recently. My experience—in addition to a recent trawl through preaching websites—reveals a dearth of sermons on Nahum. The sad reality is that hardly anyone is thinking about or preaching this book, and when we read it, it’s not difficult to see why.

However, here are seven reasons why you should preach this wonderful book of the Bible.

1. Preach Nahum so people hear the sequel to Jonah.

Nahum is the Bible’s sequel to that awful exposé of how a proud prophet refused God’s call to preach to Nineveh, the capital city of the fearsome empire of Assyria. Why did Jonah reject God’s command to preach to Nineveh? Because he knew that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Jonah 4:1–2), and he feared God would relent from judging the awful Assyrians. He knew it was typical of God to have mercy on people like them.

Nahum is set 100 years later, after Assyrian generations had come and gone and an apparently genuine repentance (Jonah 3) had been exposed as short-lived. Nineveh had repented of her repentance and resorted back to the brutal conquest and plundering oppression of her enemies. She attacked and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel before her chariots then invaded the southern kingdom of Judah. She overwhelmed the outlying towns and laid siege to Jerusalem. At this time of affliction, Nahum is sent with a message of divine retribution.

If Jonah reminds us that the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in covenant mercy, Nahum reminds us that he will by no means acquit the guilty (Exod. 34:6–7).

2. Preach Nahum to sharpen people’s understanding of God.

Nahum 1:9 literally reads, “What do you think concerning the Lord?” Unfortunately, it’s often translated as “What do you plot against the Lord” because it’s assumed to be addressing God’s enemies. However, this verse comes in a passage where God addresses both his people and his enemies, and in a book where the ideas of God being for his people and against his enemies are as intertwined as the entangled thorns of 1:10. Nahum wants to correct our understanding about God in ways that challenge our culture’s and our Christian sub-culture’s assumptions about God.

3. Preach Nahum to help people appreciate God’s jealous anger.

Many people think that if God exists at all, then he must be a soft and cuddly celestial slot machine. Nahum reminds us that God is a jealous avenger (1:2–3). Far from being the green-eyed monster, the Lord is rightly jealous for what is his as Creator.

As Judah quaked in her boots while the military juggernaut of Assyria marched relentlessly south, she may well have wondered if God was willing or able to do anything. However, God’s jealousy compels him always to act to protect his name and his people, even if it meant taking on the world’s most powerful empire. God may be slow to anger, but Nineveh must not mistake God’s patience for powerlessness. He may have stayed his hand, but Nahum warns us of the just anger of a jealous avenger. The shadows are lengthening over Assyria and, in vivid imagery from the jungle and the battlefield, Nahum 2–3 assures us that the patient God will definitely punish her with complete defeat and total exposure.

4. Preach Nahum to persuade people God cares powerfully about justice.

Our world asks where God was on 9/11 or during the Holocaust; many Christians ask why God allows the brutal suffering faced by their brothers and sisters around the world. Nahum reminds us that God does care about justice. It reminds us that God’s just anger is powerful, like a stormy, tempestuous wind that wreaks havoc, blasting the sea, drying up the most fertile landscapes, and causing the hills and mountains to quake (1:3–5).

But that leaves us with a few million-dollar questions: who can stand before the sovereign Creator’s just judgement? Who can endure his fierce anger (1:6)? The answers are obvious: nobody can stand because Assyria isn’t the one who is invincible and unstoppable. God is. Indeed, Nineveh should have known that human strength, security, and success cannot save empires (3:8–10). Appearances often prove to be deceptive (3:12–17) if God is determined to defeat evil (3:18–19).

5. Preach Nahum because it offers solid comfort from an uncomfortable God.

Nahum is less a warning of calamity for God’s enemies and more a word of comfort for God’s people. In Hebrew, “Nahum” means comfort. It may not have even been the writer’s name; it may have been part of the book’s poetry—a vision of comfort, albeit from an unlikely source. It’s even possible that Elkosh could also be a pun on a Hebrew way of referring to a severe God; this book indeed offers comfort from an uncomfortable God!

Far from assuming that God is oblivious to the persecution experienced by Christians in the Middle East, or the pressure from a workplace’s mandatory diversity culture, or the opposition we know in our own gospel ministry, Nahum reminds us that God cares about the suffering of his people. He’s not surprised by the strength of our enemies, and he doesn’t doubt the certainty of his victory (1:7–2:9).

Nahum illustrates all this in eye-catchingly rich passages that will preach if we don’t get in the way. Only a powerful God who knows and cares for his people can be a stronghold when suffering strikes; only this God can be a refuge in the face of an overflowing flood like Assyria.

6. Preach Nahum because it encourages us to be more grateful for Jesus.

Of course, as the New Testament reminds us, there was only one man who could stand before God’s judicial scrutiny; only Jesus perfectly obeyed his heavenly Father. And our only hope is to turn from our rebellion and take refuge in Christ’s death on the cross in our place.

As we see the reality of having such a sovereign God for us, we’ll trust that Christ cares and will act to bring justice. We’ll rejoice at his promise to be with us always by his Spirit even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). We ought to marvel at the momentous news that Christ has conquered our greatest enemies: Satan, sin, and death, and we ought to look forward to the day when Jesus’ victory will be seen by all.

As we grasp the enormity of Nineveh having the Lord of hosts against his enemies (2:13, 3:5), it should deepen our appreciation of all Christ endured when he bore God’s wrath for us—what he endured as he cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). By rubbing our noses in the horror and humiliation of God’s enemies, Nahum helps us see the wonder of our salvation. And it should make us plead with God to have mercy on those facing his final judgement without the safe refuge that Jesus provides.

7. Preach Nahum to help people press on for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 612 BC, within twenty years of Nahum’s writing, the Babylonian empire came and wiped Assyria off the face of the earth. And Nineveh, her apparently impregnable capital, passed into obscurity until 1842 when archaeologists discovered her remains north of Mosul in Iraq.

The reaction to Nineveh’s demise would be applause, as in Revelation 19 when Babylon is finally destroyed and God’s people respond by rejoicing in God’s just judgement. Nahum reminds us that the end will come—for everyone. Jesus will win. So we mustn’t give up.

COMMENTARIES

Consider these commentaries as you prepare:

  • Palmer Robertson’s NICOT volume on Nahum, Habakkuk, & Zephaniah
  • Tremper Longman III’s commentary on Nahum in the T.E. McComiskey vol on The Minor Prophets
  • David. W. Baker’s commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk & Zephaniah in the TOTC series

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You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.

By:
Mark O’Donoghue

Mark O’Donoghue is the vicar of Christ Church Kensington in London.