The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies.
Nahum 1:2 | NIV (1984) | Other Versions | Context
Remember Nineveh? It was generally a sinful city and perhaps most known and remembered as the city that Jonah so famously ran away from when God told him to go and prophesy to them [Jonah 1]. The book of Nahum, as obscure as it is and hidden right in the middle of the books of the minor prophets, carries on the tale of the city Nineveh where the book of Jonah so abruptly left off. In this short book we are shown, through the example of the sinful Nineveh, God’s jealous nature. Right from the beginning of the book we’re given a stunning, if not scary description of God – jealous and avenging, who takes vengeance and is filled with wrath – specifically, vengeance on his foes, wrath against his enemies. Through this verse, we’ll examine the case study of post-Jonah Nineveh, focusing on the one aspect of God’s personality that we often overlook – the jealous God whose wrath is terrifying.
First, let us look into the history of the city of Nineveh. It was first mentioned in Gen 10:11 – From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah – built by Nimrod, or in some versions it might be Ashur. The book of Jonah described Nineveh as a sinful and evil city on the verge of destruction – worthy of destruction, and God sent Jonah to preach to them [Jonah 1:2], which he eventually did [Jonah 3:4] even though he ran away in between – and in Jonah’s time, the Ninevites actually fasted and repented [Jonah 3:5]. The Lord forgave them, and they were spared from destruction [Jonah 3:10]. At the time of Isaiah, Nineveh was also the home of King Sennacherib, king of Assyria, the chief antagonist to King Hezekiah’s Judah [2 Kings 19:36]. Not many people are aware that the entire book of Nahum focuses on the sins of the Ninevites, and this time, the prophesy that was made all those years ago by Jonah was finally fulfilled – the Ninevites were unrepentant, and they were finally destroyed [Nahum 3:19].
The Lord is a jealous and avenging God – This description doesn’t sound like the God we commonly know, does it? If this sounds unfamiliar to you, that’s probably a trend of modern Christianity. We talk about God’s grace a lot more than we talk about God’s justice and laws. Our God is a jealous God. Our God is a vengeful God. Just as much as he is forgiving and he is love, he is jealous too. It was something that was already apparent right from the very beginning, and eventually made into the first commandment in Moses’ time – You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me [Exo 20:4].
the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath – what does the term ‘wrath’ means to you? Perhaps an image of God lashing out in uncontrollable anger would rise due to the degree of this term. But I would like to think that the biblical wrath, godly wrath, isn’t an uncontrollable rage. Yet sin has absolutely no place in his kingdom and our Lord does not tolerate sin. His attitude to sin is akin to what we humans know as uncontrollable rage – an anger so fierce that it would be beyond our imagination. His vengeance is so real and so easily attainable – it is a vengeance we cannot hide from.God cannot overlook his detest of sin. God cannot overlook sin, unless it has been accounted for by a repentant heart. Often it may seem as though God stands not for our justice – but God works in his own time – It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them [Deu 32:25].
The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies – This sentence is largely similar to the previous, and can be seen as a repetition or an emphasis to it – with an added focus – the target of God’s wrath. We’re told clearly who’s at the receiving end of God’s wrath – his foes, his enemies. Is this wrath scary? Yes. Is it frightening? I would think so. We are left in no doubt of the degree and extent of it. But it is by no means blind rage or uncontrollable anger – it really is reserved for his foes, for those unrepentant hearts, for those who are against the Lord. It is a wrath not meant to be tasted by us, who are his sons and daughters. But be careful not to turn against God and make him your enemy, for what awaits you will be simply, God’s own wrath.
Nineveh was said by God himself to be a great city [Jonah 3:2]. It was so large it took Jonah 3 days to get through it [Jonah 3:3]. Historically speaking, we know it to be a great and prosperous city, and perhaps the greatest of its time. The prophesies made by Jonah, Nahum, and even Zephaniah [Zeph 2:13] were fulfilled. Along with the end of Assyria, its capital, Nineveh, also fell. It wasn’t claimed by another king or empire – great it once was, but it was utterly destroyed. The prophets made no secret that the reason for the destruction of this city was due to their evil ways and their blasphemous sins against God. The repentance of a generation of Ninevites redeemed them in God’s eyes – but only for a while. Past glory matters not, for God’s wrath and vengeance will strike in due time.
Throughout the times that the Bible was set in, certainly many cities have come and gone, as civilisation advanced and wars erupted. Even Jerusalem – the one city that God never abandoned – faced destruction again and again. We’re not guaranteed to escape God’s wrath just because we claim to believe in God. Let us be alert and not turn against God. Let us not make him our enemy, for this is one enemy that is far too great for us.