My Sunday School lesson for March 1, 2015 ...
Sunday we started our three-month study of the minor prophets in the Old Testament, beginning with Nahum ...
*** God has the last word.
--- Do you know someone who always has to have the last word? Is that you? Think it isn't? OK, how about this? White and Gold? Blue and black?
--- When you argue with God you get nothing but frustration.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
*** During the next three months our the study will focus on the Minor Prophets, beginning with the Book of Nahum.
--- The Book of Nahum opens with an affirmation of God’s characteristics, specifically His jealousy, sovereignty, goodness, and justice. Nahum used God’s characteristics to assure the Hebrew people of God’s power to relieve the storms they were experiencing at the hands of their enemies.
--- The Book of Nahum is a poem, written prior to the Babylonian exile, to be a constant reminder of God’s attributes and what God will do to unrepentant sinners.
--- Almost nothing is known of the prophet Nahum. We do know the book was written before 612 B.C. when Ninevah and Assyria were taken over by the Babylonians.
--- We don’t know precisely when or where he lived. Nahum came from the city of Elkosh. No one knows with certainty where ancient Elkosh was located. The city was probably situated somewhere in ancient Judah. However, another possibility is that Elkosh was located in an area of the Assyrian Empire to which Nahum and his family had been deported.
*** Nahum prophesies against the city of Ninevah, the capital of Assyria.
--- Remember, God was going to blot out Nineveh until Jonah (at first unwillingly) sparked a revival there over 100 years before, but clearly the revival was over.
*** The ruins of ancient Nineveh lie beneath the modern city of Mosul, Iraq. (Now under the control of ISIS.)
*** Nineveh and Assyria were the center of paganism and one of history’s cruelest armies, plundering, raping, pillaging, and enslaving enemies. You know the saying “They needed killing?” Well God decided that Nineveh and the empire was ripe for divine judgment.
JEALOUS (Nah. 1:1-3a)
1 The oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. 2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is fierce in wrath. The LORD takes vengeance against His foes; He is furious with His enemies. 3a The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will never leave the guilty unpunished.
*** v. 1 - Nahum's burden.
--- The literal meaning when it says "oracle" is “burden.” It describes the weightiness of the prophet’s message from God in this brief, three-chapter book - dark and terrifying prophecies that depicted the violent overthrow of the superpower in the world of that day. It is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to refer to various kinds of burdens such as a heavy load placed on the back of a donkey (see Ex. 23:5), sacred items of the tabernacle to be transported by a particular family of Israelites (see Num. 4:24), and the weighty responsibilities associated with protecting or caring for another person (see 2 Sam. 15:33).
*** v. 2 - God's jealousy is different than ours.
--- Nahum proclaims four of the greatest truths of the Bible:
1.) The Lord is a jealous God. - To say that God is jealous doesn't make him sound petty or insecure. God is protective. God deeply cherishes His relationships with us and wants nothing to get in the way, just as a spouse cannot pretend to be unconcerned if their marriage vows are broken. Nahum wasn’t the first or last prophet in the Bible to talk about divine jealousy. That message had been circulating since at least the days of Moses (see Ex. 20:5), and it was affirmed by other prophets (see Ezek. 5:13; Joel 2:18; Zeph. 1:18; Zech. 8:2). The message also carried over into the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 10:22).
2.) The Lord is an avenging God. - He punishes wrongdoing. He still does (Romans 12:19 - Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.).
3.) The Lord is fierce in wrath.
4.) He is furious with His enemies. - The truth is, God counts some people as enemies, and sometimes He acts with rage against them. He did so against Ninevites.
*** v. 3a - God uses his powers for good.
--- The Lord is patient. Thankfully. He’s going to let us pout and fume for a bit. It comes with a purpose. In the New Testament, the apostle Peter declared that God is patient toward sinners, because He does not want people to die in their sins. He wants them to repent (see 2 Pet. 3:9 - The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.).
--- God’s display of patience may appear to us at times to allow shamelessly wicked people to escape His justice. But God’s justice will ultimately prevail (see Ex. 34:7).
SOVEREIGN (Nah. 1:3b-6)
3b His path is in the whirlwind and storm, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet. 4 He rebukes the sea so that it dries up, and He makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither; even the flower of Lebanon withers. 5 The mountains quake before Him, and the hills melt; the earth trembles at His presence—the world and all who live in it. 6 Who can withstand His indignation? Who can endure His burning anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, even rocks are shattered before Him.
*** “The greatest single distinguishing feature of the omnipotence of God is that our imagination gets lost when thinking about it.”
--- God can do it all. ALL. Can we fathom that?
*** Respect the polygon.
--- When there's a killer storm bearing down on the Mid-South, where do you go? Do you have a storm shelter or safe room? Do you go to a community shelter? Yet some storms overwhelm even our best efforts to prepare.
--- QUESTION - Have you ever spent time in a shelter or safe room during a storm? If so, what did you think and feel before reaching the shelter? What did you think and feel while sitting in the shelter?
--- The people of Bible times were no strangers to the destructive power of nature. The same thunderstorm that brought rain for parched fields could also produce a flood that washed away houses and drowned livestock. Whirlwinds, earthquakes, droughts, and pestilence often struck without warning, leaving the land decimated and survivors in distress.
--- In Scripture, the fury of nature is often described as nothing less than the power of Almighty God on display. God's power to enforce His commands is staggering.
--- v. 4 - Bashan and Carmel were symbols of agricultural prosperity in ancient Israel (see Jer. 50:19; Ezek. 39:18; Zech. 11:2). Lebanon, a fertile land situated to the north of Israel along the Mediterranean Sea, was also idealized as a place of great forests and fields (see 2 Kings 19:23; Ps. 72:16).
--- When Jesus died God showed His power and control as "darkness came over all the land for three hours," and in Matthew 27:51-53 - At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
*** QUESTION - In what ways do the sovereign acts of God cause fear today?
GOOD (Nah. 1:7)
7 The LORD is good, a stronghold in a day of distress; He cares for those who take refuge in Him.
*** Acts of God cause fear, so Nahum shifts to focus on the Lord's radiant qualities:
1.) The Lord is good. - This truth was so valued by the ancient Israelites that it was mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament (see Pss. 25:8; 34:8; 100:5; 135:3; 145:9; Jer. 33:11; Lam. 3:25).
2.) The Lord is a stronghold in a day of distress. - Earthly fortresses may fail to protect those who hide in them, but God’s strong presence will not fail in times of trouble. God never promised to put some kind of magical dome over believers that protects them from every sort of physical, financial, and emotional trouble. However, just as an ancient rock fortress was large, strong and protective of the one who stayed in it, so we who are believers will find God to be an unfailing source of strength and confidence as we live in faith.
3.) The Lord genuinely cares for those who take refuge in Him. - He knows every detail of our lives, inside and out, past, present, and future (see Ps. 139:1-12). More than that, with the utmost of sensitivity He takes all of who we are or will be into account as He works out His will in our lives.
*** He does all this even though He doesn't have to do anything to prove Himself to us or to be worthy of our worship. His promise is not that we will have riches in this world, but that if we believe in Jesus and glorify Him that we will spend eternity in heaven.
--- God is aware of those who trust Him.
*** God's goodness to those who are repentant is evident in Joel 2:12-14 -
12 “Even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the LORD your God.
--- QUESTION - How has the Lord been good to you? How has He cared for you in a time of distress?
JUST (Nah. 1:8)
8 But He will completely destroy Nineveh with an overwhelming flood, and He will chase His enemies into darkness.
*** God doesn’t bluff.
You know those Grizzlies growl towels that say “We don’t bluff?” Well, God doesn’t bluff.
--- Verse 8 presents a harsh ending for the Ninevites, as well as for unbelievers who turn away from God. More complete and accurate than any security camera’s videotape, God keeps a record of every person’s words, actions, and thoughts. Everyone is accountable (see Eccl. 12:14; Matt. 12:36; Luke 12:2).
--- It wasn’t long after that God the Babylonians in bringing the capital city of the Assyrian empire to a catastrophic end in 612 B.C.
TAKE AWAY POINTS
We talked about chapter 1 today, but chapters 2 and 3 of Nahum remind me of "The Princess Bride." Do you remember when the Dred Pirate Westley insults Prince Humperdink? The prince says that no one has dared to talk to him that way, like when Westley says, "I'll explain and I'll use small words so that you'll be sure to understand, you warthog faced buffoon" and "It's possible, Pig, I might be bluffing. It's conceivable, you miserable, vomitous mass, that I'm only lying here because I lack the strength to stand. But, then again... perhaps I have the strength after all."
Check out Nahum 3:5-6 when God speaks against Ninevah, he tells the Assyrians in terms they aren’t used to hearing:
“I am against you,” declares the LORD Almighty.
“I will lift your skirts over your face.
I will show the nations your nakedness
and the kingdoms your shame.
6 I will pelt you with filth,
I will treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle."
*** God doesn’t bluff. Today we learned that God has revealed His characteristics so that we can know Him and trust that He is in control.
*** What are some ways that you and we can serve as a God-given place of refuge for someone experiencing a storm?
*** To be against God is to be damned, and yet for those who seek Him we read in 1 John 4:8 - Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. God is holy and He is love, but not in the sense that we are holy and loving. His holiness and love are perfect. Because of His perfect love, God has provided a way for the sinful world that He loves to escape His vengeance and wrath. That way is through His Son, Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus can we find refuge from the storms of life.