God is good. How do we know? We read it in the book of Nahum. He will destroy his enemies. How do we know? The picture of him destroying the Ninevites is painted for us vividly in Nahum. God is for us. How do we know? We deduce it as we see how he repeatedly declares he is against the Ninevites in Nahum.
In this discussion, Nicholas Reid—associate professor of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern studies and director of the hybrid MDiv program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando—presents the book of Nahum as a message to the Ninevites meant to offer hope and comfort to God’s exiled people. The book, he says, is rooted in real history and not immediately about us, yet has significant application to us. Reid shows how Nahum presents the power of God along with the goodness of God (since there is little comfort in a God who can make mountains quake if he is not good). Reid challenges teachers who might be tempted to focus only on God’s self-revelation as a gracious God, conveniently ignoring his commitment to punish the guilty, showing how both come to ultimate fulfillment in the cross of Christ.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Nicholas Reid: God is gracious and compassionate. And whenever we see God not acting according to our standards against wickedness, against evil, the answer is not God is not doing anything. It’s always an expression consistently in the Bible when God is waiting to bring destruction, it’s always an expression of his compassion, but there are limits to that. God does ultimately make all things right and I think we’re seeing that being fleshed out in the book of Nahum.
Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help me Teach the Bible.” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help me Teach the Bible” is a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway, a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks. Learn more at crossway.org. It’s my joy today to be sitting in the office of Dr. Nicholas Reid. Dr. Reid serves as associate professor of Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. Dr. Reid, thank you so much for being willing to help us teach the Bible.
Reid: My pleasure. Thank you so much for the invitation.
Guthrie: I knew that we were gonna talk about the book of Nahum as I came to Orlando, and I jokingly told a few of my friends, I’m not sure if I’ve even read the book of Nahum. So I’m going to have to get up to speed on it. And so it was great when I got here on Wednesday I got to chapel and you were speaking in chapel on the book of Nahum, so it was a joy to hear you actually teach on it before we talk about how to teach on it.
Reid: Yeah, I was trying to be efficient in my work, but I think it’s also, I like opportunities to try to help people understand that all of the Bible is theirs and how they can relate to it as Christians.
Guthrie: The other thing I loved about that was that as you taught the book of Nahum, it’s this short little book. I think it’s a book that perhaps we might like to avoid because I don’t know, you’ve probably done the percentages of, but the percentage of it about judgment, those aren’t generally our favorite books to teach. But as you taught it the other day, I saw the beauty of God, the beauty of Jesus Christ and what he’s accomplished. And it moved you too.
Reid: Yeah, it did. I think a book that is written by a guy whose name means comforter, we wouldn’t anticipate it being so much about judgment. And I think a lot of times when we come to passages like this in the Old Testament, we skip over them because we don’t understand them. We read them quickly because we’re committed to our Bible reading plan.
Guthrie: I gotta check off Nahum off on this. No, I didn’t understand a word about it, but I can check it off.
Reid: And we kind of just, you know, pretend like it didn’t happen, right? It’s very rich though. And it actually I think addresses many, many questions that we’re wrestling with as Christians but also our culture as well. I mean, what is God doing about injustice? What is God doing about wickedness? What is God doing about evil? And books like this when handled properly, I think can be really, really insightful and encouraging for the Christian.
Guthrie: Absolutely, and I’ve seen that now that I’ve gotten a little bit initiated into the book of Nahum. Why don’t we start this way, Dr. Reid? The book begins, “An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.” So right away we have a few questions that come up. First of all, you know what is an oracle? It’s interesting that it’s concerning Nineveh and if we think about where have we heard of Nineveh before, most of us are likely going to think about Jonah, the book of the vision of Nahum, of Elkosh.
A lot of the prophets begin with talking about who was king in either Israel or Judah at the time of the prophecy. And it doesn’t tell us that, but we know about all prophets. We’ve got to figure out who were they talking to and was this prophecy more for Israel or for Judah? And at what point in terms of exile did this prophet prophesy. So help us with how you might, if you were teaching through the book of Nahum, maybe not writing about it in a commentary like I know you’re doing, but rather teaching an adult Sunday school class. It seems like you’d spend maybe a little bit of time just on verse one.
Reid: Absolutely. I think the first thing I would wanna do is make sure people understand what Nineveh is. It’s right that you connect it with the book of Jonah. And when we think about Jonah, we often think of…you’ll hear these sermons and they’re fine, but it’s how not to be a missionary or what not to do. And it’s really more about us and our relationship to the lost. But the book itself is focused on something much more profound.
Jonah’s lack of compassion highlights all the more God’s compassion, and it really ends on that note. And so by seeing someone who so reluctantly brings a message that results in forgiveness or not destruction to a people, it highlights all the more the character of God and the goodness of God. What we know from Exodus 34 God is gracious, but we also know that he does not leave the guilty unpunished. And this really ties in then to the book of Nahum. This is the other side. God is gracious and compassionate. And whenever we see God not acting according to our standards against wickedness, against evil, the answer is not God is not doing anything. It’s always an expression consistently in the Bible, when God is waiting to bring destruction, it’s always an expression of his compassion. But there are limits to that.
God does ultimately make all things right. And I think we’re seeing that being fleshed out in the book of Nahum. It’s a book about the Ninevites. The Ninevites are of course, it’s one of the key cities in Assyria. So thinking in Northern Mesopotamia, Mesopotamia is the Greek word for land between the rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. And Nineveh is close to Mosul in Iraq. So right around there, and there are two key excavation sites that have been unearthed there. One they’ve not been able to do much work at it because of an Islamic shrine that’s there. The other key site is Kuyunjik and it’s there that we actually, the British and others found about 30,000 cuneiform tablets and fragments, and where we also have the famous Ashurbanipal’s library.
Guthrie: You lost me there. What are you talking about?
Reid: Ashurbanipal was a king of… an Assyrian king and they found where he had collected literary texts, divination texts, oracles, all of these sort of things for his personal so-called library. As he would go and conquer places like Babylon, he would take their literature, he would take their resources and bring them home and store them. And he would even put like a stamp on it that would include a claim about him being king of the universe and stuff like this. So this material was actually found in the British Museum. And I think that’s one thing I want to do with my students and when I’m teaching the book is help people see, hey, this is a real place. This isn’t some sort of book that’s telling you about something where you need to go find a headline involving some sort of weird event in our current history. We need to go back and look at the resources, excavation reports. And I know not everyone can do that, but a teacher can really bring that in in a few moments and really put some life into this book.
Another thing that’s interesting too is Thebes is mentioned in Chapter 3 verse 8. There’s actually a relief of the Assyrians destroying Thebes in the British Museum. And so when people begin to see this though, they can sort of start to wrap their minds around what kind of people were the Assyrians. And if you spend much time looking at their art, you’ll begin to understand the reliefs. These are the things that they would put in their palaces. So if you think of yourself as a captive, right, you’ve been taken by the Assyrians and you’re being walked into, paraded into this beautiful, huge palace. And there you would see all of their victories on the wall. There’s actually been found, the one that’s dealing with Thebes.
Another one is when.. the siege of Lachish. That’s a Judah town, southern town that’s mentioned in the Bible. When we compare their art or we look at their art, one thing that they really celebrate is violence. Flaying people alive, tearing people’s limbs off, all kinds of torture for these people who have been captive. Some people were just relocated, other people were killed on the spot. Others were taken before the king and killed as well.
Guthrie: So help us with the timeline here. We’ve read Jonah and we read in there that people repented. But we do also know that the day is going to come when the Ninevites, Assyria is going to come and take Israel off into exile or certainly is going to conquer them. And so then we come to Nahum and he is… it’s a vision concerning Ninveh. So help us with the timeline.
Reid: So usually Jonah is dated around, let’s just say eight hundred B.C. The fall of the northern kingdom Samaria, the city actually fell in 722 B.C. This is written to people who are living in exile and also those who are on the brink of exile for the southern kingdom at 587, 586 is when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians though. And we date this book roughly between 663 and 612 for key reasons. When Thebes is mentioned as destroyed, we know that event took place in Chapter 3 verse 8, we know that event took place in 663 and so when it says, “Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile” she was already destroyed at the time this book was written. And yet it predicts that Nineveh will fall. Nineveh falls to the Babylonians and the Medes in 612 B.C.
Guthrie: If I’m following you then we read about Jonah going to Nineveh, preaching to Nineveh, it’s about 80 years later. It’s a next generation of Ninevites, Assyrians who come in and defeat Israel. And then we’re maybe another 80 to 100 years later now when Nahum is prophesying.
Reid: It could be 80 to 100 years with the fall of the northern kingdom to 722 B.C. And then yes, we have about another couple of generations before this book is being written.
Guthrie: So one big question I had as I read through Nahum was I was wondering who is he prophesying to? And one reason I wonder that because I think of most books of prophecy that he’s speaking to the king of Israel or to the king of Judah and to the people of Israel and the people of Judah. But it almost seems like as you read Nahum that he’s talking to the Ninevites. Did prophets prophesy to the broader world and is that what Nahum is doing here?
Reid: I think yes and no. I think he is doing that, but I think it is also written for the people of God. And so while it is much of it is addressed directly to the Ninevites, the message is key for people living in exile, looking around at their world and going, asking like the psalmist, “why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?” Because even in the northern kingdom, we know that there would have been surely faithful remnant, those who were not bowing the knee to Baal, those who were not committing idolatry and other sins against the Lord. And they would have gone to exile too. And they would have been wrestling through that as they tried to make new lives and they’d seen their families uprooted, their families destroyed, their homes destroyed. They would have been looking out at the landscape in this very powerful, very brilliant really people is, they’re in their culture and in their country. They would have looked around and wondered, “What’s going on God?” And so I think that while it is addressed to the Ninevites, I do think it’s more fundamentally about the people of God.
Guthrie: We’re meant to overhear what he’s saying to the Ninevites and understand that he is promising them judgment. And it’s meant to bring comfort, as you said, to our hearts.
Reid: Absolutely. And I think that this is one of the things where we want to be careful as we think about it, reading it as Christians, right? This is not obviously directed immediately at us. We’re not the immediate intended audience, and yet it has implications. It teaches us much about who God is. I think when people look at the world around them today, you can always find whenever something bad happens, there’s some preacher who gets up and says something massively unhelpful about this is because they did this or they did that. And that’s what I really wanna encourage students to get away from when they’re looking at the prophets is don’t look at it like we’re trying to use this as a grid to understand the world around us in those sort of ways,.
Whenever God’s doing those unique acts of judgment, he always attaches a message to it that very clearly states what he is up to. I’m doing this because you did this. There’s always a message to it. You never find that message attached to it when these people make these claims about the wickedness, the suffering in the world. So the application is not found there. The application is found in the greater eschatological truths that deal with God’s character and deal with God’s kingdom.
Guthrie: So speaking of God’s character, let’s dive into Nahum and certainly Nahum 1. I found it really interesting as I read it, how many sentences in this first group of verses have the little phrase, “The Lord is.” We’ve got, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God.” “The Lord is avenging and wrathful.” “The Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” And then another side of him here a little bit or another aspect of it, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power.” “The Lord will by no means clear the guilty” and we can continue going on. “He rebukes the sea.” “The mountains quake before him.”
So it’s beginning with a picture of who God is. And then we get to verse 7 and here’s this amazing statement in the midst of hearing all about this judgment, which many people and including many modern people today would say a good God would not do some of these things. But we get to this statement in verse 7, “The Lord is good.” That’s where you became emotional as you preached this on Wednesday, to see in the midst of all of this, to see his goodness. So why do you think Nahum begins his book this way with all of these statements about who the Lord is in himself?
Reid: Yes, it’s written and it’s speaking to the Ninevites. Yes, it is for an intended audience that’s immediate and yes, it is relevant for us, but it’s about God. And that is why it takes this, the Lord is this, and the Lord is that because that’s where we… that’s the greatest comfort we can get, is to find out… find God’s character, to understand God’s character in the face of suffering. It doesn’t really help to know that God’s powerful if you don’t know that God is good. Verse 7, “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble. He knows those who take refuge in him.” Without that verse, this whole passage would lack so much. There wouldn’t be much comfort to know that God is powerful, God is mighty, God is great. All of those things are important and they’re good to know, but if he’s not good, if he’s not who he says he is, if he’s not consistently, fundamentally, always and forever good, then there’s little comfort in a God who can make the mountains quake.
Guthrie: You know, I’ve seen this close up, Nicholas. As you may know, my husband and I have lost two children and we deal with a lot of people who are struggling with understanding the sovereignty of God in the middle of loss. And this truth that you’re presenting from this obscure prophet, Nahum is exactly what they need to hear because yes, they need to know that God is sovereign, but if he is all powerful and he’s not good, how do we know he’s gonna use that power for our good? We have no faith in that. And if he’s good, but he doesn’t have any power to carry out that goodness, that’s no good either. So it’s actually a very beautiful and significant picture of God we’re being presented right at the beginning of this book.
Reid: Absolutely. His power is essential as well. His power is essential because we know that he can make good on his promises. His goodness tells us that we can trust him and take him at his word. His power says that he can achieve it. We can all make promises that we intend to keep, but we lack the ability. There’s a problem with that, but the problem is not sort of our intention. And so it’s our lack of strength, our lack of ability. With God, he’s not like that. He is always able to achieve his purposes. And those purposes are always good because we know that he is a good God. And so it is actually a book of very significant comfort.
Guthrie: This week when you taught on this or preached through this, your section you took was Nahum, Chapter 1 verses 1 through 15. So just help us as we try to think about if we were going to teach through this book, would we most often just try to do it in one whack and have one point or if you were going to divide it up to teach through it, how would we do it?
Reid: That’s a really great question. You know, I’ve heard presentations on all the minor prophets, boom, boom, boom and one-offs summarizing the whole message.
Guthrie: Be careful what you say next because I’ve done that.
Reid: And those are very valuable, but one I think has to be careful not to get caught in the trap of everybody’s sinful, they get judged, God works things out and. Like you don’t want it to become the same message week after week after week where the people kind of feel beat up and the comfort starts to lose its effect. So I generally think of, as helpful as that is for orientation, I do think, you know, taking them in chunks, you know, maybe spend a little bit time on the minor prophets and then go somewhere else and then spend some time in the minor prophets and go somewhere else rather than just going through it.
The way I teach prophets, I teach Isaiah to Malachi is I rearrange them according to, not into their canonical order, but their historical order as far as we know. So we deal with the Neo-Assyrian prophets together. We deal with the Babylonian prophets together, the post exilic prophets together. And the reason why I do that is I feel like they…when we read them, they seem like a bunch of books that were just kind of dropped in there and we don’t know what to do with them. So the historical context and to think, okay, Nahum is prophesying not too far removed from Zephaniah. You know, these books belong together. Which is about the day of the Lord tying in very much with what we’re seeing in Chapter 1. There’s a lot of references to Isaiah in here. So studying in Isaiah and looking at Nahum together, those are very valuable exercises as well.
In terms of actually teaching through the book, you know, you could do three lessons on it. I would kind of maybe think, you know, 2 and 3 could also go together. They really tie nicely together, the idea that the Lord is against you in Chapter 2 and in Chapter 3 being tied together nicely. So I think 1 is foundational and I like to keep it separate so that you get God’s character, God’s actions and God’s kingdom or his victory. And then we see that being fleshed out in time and space with the Ninevites in Chapters 2 and 3.
Guthrie: So we mentioned this one statement that the Lord is good. That stands out to us in Chapter 1. If we’re teaching through this book, we’re probably going to make much of that. A little bit later, as Chapter 1 comes to a close, we read something that all of a sudden sounds familiar to us and perhaps you can share with us what opportunity that gives us to present the gospel through the book of Nahum. The very last verse says, “Behold upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news.” And all of a sudden we think, wait a minute, I’ve heard this before. “who publishes peace. Keep your feasts, oh Judah. Fulfill your vows for never again shall the worthless pass through you. He is utterly cut off.” So tell us what Nahum is trying to communicate here and then how this gets used elsewhere in the scriptures.
Reid: This is really a reference to, or an echo of Isaiah 52 just before the Suffering Servant song in Isaiah Chapter end of 52 and through 53. And the part that Paul doesn’t mention but I’m sure is in view when he quotes it in Romans Chapter 10 about the need to send preachers. People must hear the message. If they’re gonna hear the message, someone has to tell them the message. And it’s about sending people to proclaim the good news. And what Isaiah 52 describes the good news, it’s the good news of salvation and all of these great things attached to that. But it’s that your God reigns is the sort of the key note of that.
And I think that that then really ties nicely together with what Nahum is saying. In the ancient world, they didn’t flip open their phones, of course, they didn’t get a phone call, they didn’t get a text message or see it on Twitter that this world event or current event happened. Messengers would travel around and give news. And this is describing that process where it’s like you’re waiting to hear of the battle. Everyone that you love has gone out and you’re waiting for the news to come home. Will they come home? What has happened? Did we win?
And when a messenger comes and brings a good news here, it’s describing their feet as beautiful. That’s what Paul’s talking about. That’s what Isaiah 52 is talking about. And really, surprisingly, that’s what this is talking about here in Nahum is that the gospel is not just that you and I get a pass on our sin. It’s that our God reigns and he invites us into his kingdom and all of the sin, all of the suffering, all of the sorrow will one day be done away with in God’s good kingdom.
And so I tried to describe it like this. It’s not just God’s defeat of the sin that’s out there in the evil that’s out there, but it’s also the sin that’s in here in our hearts because we all struggle with that as well. We want to grow in our faith. And as we’re growing in our faith, we often realize how little we’re growing in our faith. In our sanctification, we’re struggling and we continue to be beset by pattern sins. And this message about the good news that God is victorious over all things, brings us hope that he’s not just bringing us into his kingdom and giving us a pass on our sins, but he has a goal, a destination where we will receive the fullness of what Christ died to give to us.
Guthrie: When I read that verse, I can’t help but think also that he’s saying this is good news. And part of the good news is the destruction of his enemies. And I think for a lot of Bible teachers, this can be hard for us sometimes. We’re really happy to pluck out the parts of prophets and everywhere else in the Bible that celebrates a salvation. But the other side of the coin that God is in fact going to destroy his enemies is harder for us. And it’s also hard for us if we think about, okay, if he’s going to destroy evil, well all I have to do is look in the mirror and I see evil in myself. But I think that’s what makes this little passage in Nahum such a great opportunity. Because we can say for God’s people who are getting this good news, it’s not that they didn’t deserve to be, as the word says, “utterly cut off.” It’s not because they were undeserving of that and we look forward and we realize there is one who’s going to experience all of the judgment that you and I, for our evil deserve, and he is going to be cut off in our place upon the cross. He’s gonna experience all the judgment we deserve. So it’s not like we haven’t done anything worthy of that judgment. It’s just we’re seeing a picture here of judgment either falls on those who’ve committed the evil or it falls on Christ.
Reid: Absolutely. And I think, you know, even as you get to the books and in Chapters 2 and 3, “I am against you.” “My God.” Okay. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And I do love your point. What you’re saying here is we don’t wanna have the posture of they’re bad, we’re good and God’s on our side. He’s gonna fight our battles. It is seeing that we deserve it and yet Christ’s redemption is so full and free that it’s as if those things are no longer true of you anymore. And when the new heavens and the new earth, they will cease to be. I mean you think of Revelation 21 and 22 “nothing unclean,” “no liars,” none of these… you know, lists all these sins and if you start raising your hand, you’re gonna raise your hand at pretty much all of them if not all of them if you know yourself well. And none of those people will get to inherit the life.
And it’s, I think the reason why it expresses it in that way is because the redemption is so full and so complete in the new heavens and the new earth, that those things are no longer true of us anymore because we are in Christ and he is in us. So, yeah, you don’t ever want to take the posture of the world’s bad and we’re good. We deserve it and they don’t. And I think that this gives us a lot of hope because we do know that God will make all things right. And I think this makes it in a culture, in a context that is asking questions about God’s supposed inaction. I think this is one of our best answers is even when we don’t see it, God is at work and we know he’ll make all things right.
Guthrie: And I think those we’re teaching today need that. Don’t you think? I’m thinking about right now we’re going through a time in which so much more awareness and action regarding things like sexual abuse even in the church and in institutions, oppression, sexual, both sexual violence and just sexual, we might call it oppression by the powerful is coming to light and being dealt with. Maybe we look around and we think but is justice really being done? Or I think about Wednesday when I was on my way to Orlando, I was reading a Facebook post by a friend and it was just giving an account of a person of color in my county and her experience of going to court and how she was treated compared to the person who is not a person of color and how that person was treated in court. And, you know, of course, I don’t know all the facts but as you read it you just think this is not right and you wonder, we cry out with the Bible how long, how long until everything is set right? It seems to me that Nahum has an answer for the people we’re teaching who have those very same questions.
Reid: Absolutely. And it’s actually a consistent thing we see in the prophets and elsewhere in the Bible. Whenever God’s kingdom is coming, it’s coming and bringing justice. Now, the concern for justice is not above the gospel. It doesn’t supplant the good news of the gospel. We think, you know, we think of what is the role of the church. All of those things are important, but you don’t wanna put social justice or things like that ahead of the gospel and the proclamation of the gospel. But we do also wanna see the fullness of what the gospel means and how it speaks to all of these issues and how God will one day…his kingdom will endure forever and ever. We’re not told all the why about why God chose for sin to enter into the world, to allow these things to take place. We’re not told all the answers about that, but we are told the end, you get to sort of peek at the last chapter and know that it’s all going to work out for his goodness and for his glory. And so our task is now to learn to trust as we wait and as we look and we ask how long.
Another key part of this chapter is the echo of Exodus 34 in verse 3 of Chapter 1 in particular. “The Lord is slow to anger and great and power.” Normally we expect to hear the Lord is gracious and slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. But here Nahum skips over the abounding in steadfast love and instead says great in power and then highlights and focuses the last part of Exodus 34 where he says, “The Lord will by no means clear the guilty.” And I think he’s doing this because it’s rooted in God’s character that God will judge, but that God is also gracious. And this goes back to the point you were making earlier. That’s all sin as judged. It’s either judged in us or it’s judged in Christ.
And so he’s highlighting that other part that the Lord is great in power, the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. And you’re kind of asking this. When you read it in Exodus, I think the way we deal with an Exodus is we go, okay, I like the first part. I can ignore the second part and we’ll just memorize the first part, right? And not talk about the second. Isn’t this great? God is gracious. You’re not really allowed to do that here in Nahum. Nahum says, “No, not so fast. I’m not going to let you do that.” And you have to sort of then grapple with what does it mean that he is, “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” I get a little scared, right? And rightly so.
And I think what we see here is if we take a step back, we remember what was the context where this was originally given with Exodus 34 this revelation, Moses, this is post the golden calf. It’s post Sinai, post the golden calf, 33 God says, “I’m not gonna go up with you, but I’ll send my presence, an angel, I’ll send with you.” Moses is like, I’d rather rot in the desert with you than go up with an angel to the promised land. And in Chapter 34, he’s wrestling with God and he’s asking God, “Please show me your glory.” And I think we tend to fixate on, well, what did he see? God said, you know, “you can’t see my face, but you can see my backside” and we’re all…we’re fixated on, well, what was this vision like? And I’m sure that was amazing as Moses was hid in the cleft of the rock and God’s glory, God’s goodness passes by. I’m sure that was amazing, but I really think the focus of God’s glory, there is the message that we have a God who is gracious and slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. But who by no means leaves the guilty and punished. And if you’re thinking through that, well how do you square that? How does he remain just and gracious? And there you have the cross. Romans 3, God show me your glory and you get a description of the cross, a God who is just and the justifier. And so really I think that this is…there are numerous ways you can get to the gospel just in the first few verses.
Guthrie: Absolutely. Well, let’s move to Chapter 2. In Chapter 2 in my ESV, it’s headlined the destruction of Nineveh and it’s a very vivid, you almost feel like Nahum was transferred into the future to actually see it because it’s such a vivid description. It’s like, like in verse 3, “The shield of his mighty men is red. His soldiers are clothed in scarlet. His chariots come with flashing metal on the day he musters them.” “Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. “Halt! Halt!” they cry.” And then later you’ve got these declarations, “Desolate! Desolation and ruin!” So just talk with us a little bit about what’s happening in Nahum Chapter 2.
Reid: Well, you’re given a vivid, as you’re saying, a very vivid picture of the destruction of Nineveh and then a woe that follows after that in Chapter 3. And I think what it’s expressing here is really on the one hand, it tells what’s going to happen to Nineveh. But we can also look at these passages and see something too about the greater judgment. There’s always this restoration and judgment being blended together in the prophets, where on the one level, there is the immediate sort of audience that it’s speaking to. You’re gonna come back into the kingdom. This is the restoration aspect. You’re gonna come back into the kingdom, you’re gonna come back into the land. Well, that’s true and they do come back into land. If you keep reading, there are all these glorious things about the lion laying down with the lamb. And those things aren’t realized yet in time and space. They’re still waiting for that. They look at the rebuilt temple and they weep because it’s kind of pathetic compared to the one they used to know.
So while it speaks…. the restoration speaks to them returning to the land, you’re still waiting for more. And I think too, here when we see these judgment passages as well, the same sort of principle’s going on. It’s speaking to the destruction of Nineveh in very vivid terms. And yet it also is giving us something of a picture of an eschatological judgment that has taken place rooted in God’s character. So you can think of it like this, Meredith Kline talked about intrusions where you kind of have these eschatological moments that are key. They’re weighted with significance, where you see judgment coming in time and space in a way that we don’t normally experience.
You could think of the Old Testament with the going into the land. You could think of even in Ananias and Sapphira in Acts. How many of us would have been struck down in a similar scenario? But God doesn’t always cause us to see the judgment that our sin deserves in time and space. And I think that here we are given a picture of the judgment on wickedness that should in one way encourage us because we know that God will defeat wickedness, but in another way, it’s sort of, it should stir us to action, to cause us to realize what we deserve, to realize what Christ suffered. “I am against you.” That’s gospel language right there. You think of the blessing to cause his face to shine upon you when he’s crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s as if God has turned his back upon him. God is against him in his anger. And so I think that these passages speak to how we received our redemption, but also to these eschatological realities of judgment.
Guthrie: You’re mentioning verse 13 in Chapter 2 where you read, “Behold I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts.” When I was reading through Nahum and came to that, you know, I had two initial responses. First of all, I tried to allow myself to feel what it would be like if that’s what were being said to me. And I kind of think that as a teacher, if I was teaching Nahum, I think I’d… you know, sometimes we rush very quick to peace, rush very quick to grace, forgiveness. It seems like it might be effective as a teacher to allow people to at least imagine what this means, what it would be like to have the God of the universe against you.
Of course, that is the reality for so many that we know and love, this terrifying reality that God is against them because of their rejection of the salvation that he has offered to them through his son. So it seems to me in teaching this week we could let them feel that, but then we would want to resolve it. And of course, I just couldn’t help but think you mentioned going to the cross of Jesus saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken..” Or in a sense, God, the father has turned away from him. But I also can’t help but think about Romans 8, when you get to the Romans 8 and we get this incredible promise, if God is for you who can be against you. So I just wonder what you would do with this in teaching it.
Reid: One of the reasons why we don’t like judgment passages is because it kinda checks our pulse. Do I really believe that there is judgment beyond this life? And that’s a hard thing. If you believe what the Bible says about eternal judgment, that’s a very hard thing to grasp and think about. And especially when you start thinking about people you know. It’s one thing to think, okay, there’s gonna be judgment out there. When you start thinking about people you love and care for all around us, it’s almost overwhelming.
But I do think that these are in the Bible for a reason. And we should pause and we should stop and we should reflect and we should share the gospel all the more and we should pray all the more because of these truths. But then like you said, it’s beautiful. We see the examples of that on the cross with God’s rejection of Christ on the cross. But also I love you bringing out Romans Chapter 8, “If God is for us who could be against us?” And really that’s Nahum. Nahum is fleshing out God defeating the enemies of the people of God. And if God is for you, then who can be against you?
But it’s a key thing I think that ties together 2 and 3 and this is probably how I would try to teach it. As you see it in 13, “I am against you.” And then in Chapter 2 verse 13, “I am against you.” And then Chapter 3 verse 5, “Behold I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts.” That really I think could be an anchor to tie these two chapters together. Walk through the tragedy, walk through the judgment, walk through the wickedness that is being dealt with. But then getting to the gospel and remembering that if we’re in Christ, no one can ever cause God to be against us.
Guthrie: You went to verse 5 in Chapter 3, which says, “Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts,” and he continues, “And I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt. Make you a spectacle. All who look at you will shrink from you and say, “Wasted is Nineveh. Who will grieve for her?”” As I read some of those things, some words jump out at me. Think about nakedness, shame, a spectacle. I mean, what is a greater spectacle than a naked Messiah taking all of our shame upon himself hanging on a Roman cross.
Reid: These were realities for war in the ancient Near East. We know that they would have been taken to captivity and naked. So you think of not only you’re standing there with all of the destruction around you, also you’re naked. You have no clothes on. In the ancient Near East, there would’ve been sexual abuse related to these situations. War was as it is today, brutal. And so it’s getting at this shame, the spectacle. But these are also the same things that God told to his people. These are similar, it’s not exact same wording, but it’s the same similar ideas when he was talking to Israel, to the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom. And I think that that’s also a helpful thing for us to realize, this isn’t about race, this isn’t about ethnicity, this is about sin.
It also helps make sense of the conquest of the land. The same judgment that the people living in the land and Joshua received is the same judgment that the people of God received. If it was ethnic, it wouldn’t have worked that way. It would have been different. And so again, I think this speaks to something in our culture. These are the same judgments that the people of God faced when they were living in the land and were sinful. They were thrust out and yet there was a hope, a restoration for them available. It talks about it in Chapter 1, “Though I afflicted you…” this is Chapter 1 verse 12, “Though I afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.” So they’re experiencing the consequences of their sin in time and space in life, but there’s hope, comfort and restoration. Here they’re experiencing the consequences of their sin in time and space, but there isn’t any hope or comfort being left.
Guthrie: So in Chapter 3, the headline is Woe to Nineveh. I guess I often think about some of these woe passages throughout the Bible being intended to call someone to repentance. But we certainly, I think, get the sense in Chapter 3 here, that while it might be a call to repentance, it seems clear that Nineveh is not going to repent. Is that how we read Chapter 3?
Reid: We don’t know. In God’s providence, some individuals might have responded, might have repented, we don’t know. So there’s certainly the possibility that there would’ve been a remnant, but on the whole, we’re not gonna see a national repentance like Jonah. We’re not going to see a whole city turn to the Lord like Jonah. The time has passed for that. And so that’s why when you look through Chapters 1, 2 and 3, there’s a consistence message of lack of hope. But yet, the hope was attached of course to Jonah, he’s like, “In 40 days the city is gonna be destroyed.” It’s the worst sermon ever. And yet it was effective.
So there is always a historical contingency attached to these prophecies that the Lord is gracious. And if you do repent, if you do turn to him by faith, then there is restoration and hope. But from the passages you read of Nahum, the sense is the time of compassion, the time of mercy and grace has passed and destruction is coming. And that’s exactly what we saw, 612 the city was destroyed and they never really were the willpower after that, that they were up until this point.
Guthrie: So for the person who is thinking about teaching Nahum, are there any particular resources that you would recommend to us to get a good handle on it?
Reid: I usually recommend people start through the usual suspects of some of the good commentaries. So you might think of The New International Commentary on the Old Testament and that’s… O. Palmer Robertson wrote on Nahum. I think that’s a fine work. World Biblical, I would usually kind of start checking those around. And then as I have questions, I would try to find recent commentaries, recent academic works that have a good bibliography.
Whenever you wanna do research, the best way to build a bibliography is to read something current and see what they’re reading and then just keep chasing down the footnotes in the bibliographies. There are a number of books that are helpful on the prophets overall. “[inaudible 00:43:15] Introducing the Prophets,” I think is the title. “The Christ of the Prophets” by O. Palmer Robertson. He’s got the long version and then the slightly shorter version. The abridged version is still very, very large. So those are some good resources. And trying to think about how to responsibly contextualize Nahum as Christian scripture, I think is one of the key things and one of the most difficult tasks. But the beauty of doing that is once you begin to wrap your mind around how to handle one prophet like this one, for example, as Christian scripture, the same principles are applicable to other books in the Bible and other sections in the Bible.
Guthrie: I think probably most of our listeners will know what you mean when you say that in terms of applying Nahum as Christian scripture, but could you spell it out for us a little bit clearly?
Reid: Yeah. As we said before, it was written to a different audience originally and yet it still belongs in our Bible. And so how do we as Christians see Christ in this? How do we see warnings in this that teach us about our sin, reveal who we are. How do we find hope? How do we sort of find some of the answers to the questions we’re asking in day to day life? As like we were saying earlier, when you’re looking around and you’re going, “God, I’m praying, I’m doing everything I can. I think. Trying and yet I’m not seeing the needle being moved very much.” And I think that this book, when considered as a Christian book, gives us a lot of hope. We’re called not to go cause God’s kingdom to come. We’re given the opportunity to be instruments in it’s coming, but also to proclaim it.
He doesn’t say, “Go, hey my people, I’m gonna muster you. I’m gonna bring you along and you go achieve my purposes in and of yourselves.” Instead he says, “Behold upon the mountains, the feet of those who brings good news.” And Paul picks this up and sees this as the call to send people to the nations to take the gospel, the good news that our God reigns. And that is obviously very applicable to Christians.
Guthrie: Would you close this way? Would you speak directly to those who might be preparing to teach Nahum and give them a word of instruction or encouragement?
Reid: I think that one thing I would encourage you to do is keep trying and keep working at it and wrestling with it. Try to feel the weight of what the passage is saying like you were saying, dwell on it. Sometimes it’s good to sort of soften and say, “we’re gonna go through a hard passage, but we’re gonna see hope in this.” Sometimes it’s good to sort of suffer through it a little bit and to sort of be hemmed in from every direction. I think another encouragement that I would have is some of the details are hard to understand, especially if you’re newer to this.
My encouragement would be is that the big picture is very obvious and contextualize that big picture in the context of what we know in the rest of the Bible. And that then gives us an anchor to really teach the Bible, teach Nahum in particular, responsibly and hopefully effectively to the glory of God. So I would say if you’re looking at something and it’s a little bit odd, it’s okay to say, “I don’t fully understand this, but here’s the bigger picture and this is what’s going on.”
I think people appreciate that intellectual honesty, that humility, which is a model for our children, for our students and for anybody that we’re serving is for us to say, “I don’t know. I don’t quite understand what’s going on in this verse. Here are some possibilities, but what I do see is how it fits into this bigger picture of what God’s doing.” I think that would be my greatest encouragement.
Guthrie: That’s a great word for all of us as teachers. Thank you, Dr. Reid for helping us teach the book of Nahum. I’m grateful to you.
Reid: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great fun.
Guthrie: You’ve been listening to “Help me Teach the Bible,” a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks, including the expository commentary volume seven which includes a very helpful section on the book of Nahum. Learn more about Crossway’s gospel-centered resources at crossway.org.