October 11, 2020
The Rising and Falling of Governments – The Book of Nahum
This morning we have come to the Old Testament book of Nahum in our journey through the Bible. This book is only three chapters long.
To help you understand Nahum, I’m going to start in a very odd place.
I’m going to take you on a brief tour through part of 20th Century Europe’s leadership to show you how that continent was littered with tyrants.
Spain was ruled by Francisco Franco with the help of Nazi
In Italy, it was the dictator, Benito Mussolini, who established dictatorial authority by legal and illegal means. (1922-1943) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benito_Mussolini
Of course, in Germany, it was Adolf Hitler (1933-1945) who was the leader of the Nazi Party, who initiated World War II by invading Poland and was responsible for the Holocaust and the extermination of millions of Jews.
In Romania, it was Nicolae Ceausescu (1965-1989).
In East Germany, it was Erich Honecker (1971-1989.)
He “went from being a politician of the Socialist Union Party to a hunted, jailed, and exiled man at the end of his life.”https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:FtIw-KGQGyUJ:https://www.euronews.com/2018/06/21/europe-s-20th-century-tyrants-where-are-they-buried-+&cd=13&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari
In Hungary, it was Mátyás Rákos, (1945-1956), known as Stalin’s best Hungarian disciple. (Ibid)
In Poland, it was Wojciech Jaruzelski, (1981-1989), famous for his brutal crackdown on the Solidarity labor union when he declared martial law in 1981. (Ibid)
In Bulgaria, it was Todor Zhivkov, (1954-1989), a Communist leader who oversaw a heavy crackdown on political dissidents and human rights groups.
What do all these regimes have in common? They all fell. Their governments dissolved.
Granted, many of them lasted until the deaths of their leaders, but the ideology, philosophy, the brutal hold on the people, the genocide, and the injustices done in the name of power gave way to a different way of governing.
Many of you are old enough that you have seen governments rise and fall in your lifetime.
How many of you remember the “Tear down this wall,” speech of President Ronald Reagan in 1987, when he stood in West Berlin and challenged Mikhail Gorbachev,
the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to open the Berlin Wall which separated West and East Berlin?
The speech became famous after the Berlin Wall came down and the government of East Germany began to show signs of change.
The book of Nahum is about the rising and falling of governments.
But it’s more than that. Nahum is concerned with God’s knowledge of the rising and falling of governments.
Nothing happens on the world stage without God’s knowledge.
While God is not a stage director guiding every government around like chess pieces on a chessboard,
God is in the background and there is evidence that God
is working to bring about justice in this world.
People are left to doubt that on many occasions, especially those who find justice to always be just out of reach and always to be a struggle.
But the world would have already collapsed upon itself and evil would have won the day if God were not working to bring about justice.
The only thing ever holding evil back is the Light of the World. The only thing that keeps the darkness away is the light.
Light trumps darkness. While there will always be darkness and evil, where it not for God working in this world, there would be no hope.
I must tell you though, Nahum is not a hopeful book. I’m always looking for the word of hope from the prophet.
But Nahum does not begin or end with hope. Instead, this little book is a reminder that God will give us over to our destructive ways if we never turn from away them.
I would say that is just as true for individuals and it is true for a nation. Let me say it again. God will give us over to our destructive ways if we do not turn from them.
Nahum has a very broad perspective of how God is working within history and he has a very focused perspective on how God was specifically working in the history of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel.
I gave you a little history of 20th Century Europe to show us how little most of us know what happened on that continent just a century ago.
So, it should not surprise us that we don’t know the history of a book like Nahum, or what was taking place over two thousand years ago when this book was written.
How many sermons have you heard from Nahum? Maybe none. Certainly, very few.
What message does this prophet have that matters to us?
Well, let’s begin with the message he had for the people of his day.
He tells the readers right away that what he is writing a prophecy about Nineveh.
Nineveh? Where have you heard about Nineveh? From the Jonah story.
Do you remember how much Jonah hated the Ninevites?
Remember, God asked Jonah to go preach to the
Ninevites, but Jonah hated them so much that he got into a boat and went in the opposite direction.
When a storm developed which the sailors believed was sent by someone’s angry god, Jonah was willing to offer himself up to the sea rather than ask God to calm the raging storm. He wasn’t about to return to preach to those stinking Ninevites. So, the sailors threw him into the sea, only to be awed by God as the sea became calm.
Well, doesn’t God have a sense of humor? Jonah ends up in Nineveh anyway when God sent a great fish to swallow him and then spits him out on the beach in Nineveh.
The rest of the book is about how the people repented after a short message Jonah preached. Jonah then became angry because he really wanted God to annihilate them all.
This story, which many scholars see as a parable, does not even strike an emotional chord with us because we don’t feel the same hatred for the Ninevites that the Jews felt.
What if this were written to Americans about cities like Berlin and Tokyo during World War II? What if this were written to Americans during the Cold War about Moscow or Havana?
What if this were written during the Vietnam era about Hanoi?
Does that help?
When Nahum said “Nineveh,” the Israelites immediately felt the hate rise. Nineveh was their greatest enemy.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. At the time Nahum wrote his prophecy, Nineveh was the largest city in the world.
The book of Jonah says that it took three days to walk across the city. Whether that’s literal or an exaggeration, the point is that Nineveh was huge with a population of 120,000 people.
Jonah 4:2 says that Jonah knew that God was “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2 ESV).
He didn’t want Nineveh to have any part of God’s loving-kindness. That’s how much he hated them.
So when Nineveh repented, Jonah was distraught that God relented and did not destroy the city.
In Jonah, we are taught that God cares and loves our greatest enemies.
We are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy that our Savior “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4 NIV).
But in Nahum, we hear that God’s mercy has limits.
When Nahum arrived on the scene, over 125 years have
passed since Jonah preached to the people and they repented.
Over a century after Jonah went there, their passion for God was gone.
Assyria was the biggest and most powerful nation on earth. You can get cocky thinking you don’t need God and that you will never be deposed by any other world power.
That was Nineveh. That was Assyria, and if we are not careful that could be the United States.
In 701, under King Sennacherib of Assyria devastated Judah, the home of Jerusalem.
King Sennacherib turned back Babylon and destroyed their forces in 689.
His successor, King Esarhaddon, then turned his attention to the conquest of Egypt.
They invaded Egypt in 671, but this turned out to be a fatal decision because when Assyria moved their forces over into Egypt, it moved them away from their real enemy, which was Babylon. (p. 594)
While their attention was turned to Egypt, Babylon gained strength.
God allowed Nahum to see this overreach of power and prophesy the downfall of Nineveh.
You might not be interested in this history but apart from history, Nahum makes little sense.
It’s helpful to us as we try to put our news in context every day.
You and I are a part of history. History is in constant flux.
It’s just difficult to see it happening when we are in the midst of it. We are a part of history. More importantly, we are a part of His Story.
We are a part of the unfolding story of God who continues to interact with the people of this world.
The Bible tells us part of that story as it gives us important information about how God has interacted with us throughout the centuries and how He continues to interact with us in our daily lives.
Throughout history, there has always been a struggle between darkness and light, good and evil.
While armies march, leaders rule, and the nations attempt to dominate one another, it seems that we are always in a flesh and blood battle.
Even within our own country, we have our own struggles with evil, right and wrong, trying to figure out what constitutes justice, equality, and the constitutional rights for every man, woman, and child.
It looks like a flesh and blood battle because blood is spilled, lives are lost, people suffer, and for years and sometimes decades things seem as if they don’t change, but then they do.
But Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Because we are fighting against authorities and powers of another world and against spiritual forces of evil that impose themselves on this world, we better listen to a prophet like Nahum.
Nahum reminds us that history has always been filled with authoritarian figures that use violence, fear, division, injustice, and death to stay in power and to conquer weaker foes.
In the Bible, we see a history of the rising and falling of kings and nations and how Israel, God’s people were a part of all of that.
God was Israel’s king until they asked for a king like all the other nations.
The prophet Samuel tried to tell them what all the other nations were like – nations like Nineveh.
There will always be nations like Nineveh.
Nineveh is always a metaphor for the evil that wants to consume us, abuse us, and us for personal gain and pleasure.
If there is good news to be found in Nahum it is this, as history rolls on, evil will not stand.
Eventually, it will be stamped out.
In God’s time, he will bring down the oppressors of every time and place. (The Bible Project)
Assyria was eventually consumed by Babylon because they were trying to consume Egypt.
Babylon eventually fell as well, as did Rome.
At the end of chapter three, we read that there is no hope for Nineveh.
This time, God did not send a prophet to preach a message of repentance.
The book ends with these words, “Nothing can heal your wound; your injury is fatal. Everyone who hears the news about you claps his hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?” (3:1)
It’s a reminder that there is a limit to God’s grace. There are some things that need to die and come to an end.
I began by reminding you of the dictatorships, some brutal, of governments of 20 century Europe.
While there have been many, many governments that have risen and fallen during the 244 years of our nation’s history, we mustn’t think that our nation can’t fall.
Today, I’d like to end our time together by praying for our nation, for our government, our leaders, our election, and for the health of our democracy.
You have blessed our nation. Your blessings upon our nation are undeniable, despite our shortcomings.
We have known some dark days. We have enslaved other people for our own profit. We have survived a civil war, killing hundreds of thousands of our own people. We have denied people their civil rights, killed the unborn, and lost sight of the meaning of the Sabbath.
Yet you have remained our God. We have made progress as people in many areas and in many areas we continue to struggle.
We need you now Lord as much as ever. We are a country that’s filled with anger, division, hate, and anxiety.
We see strains in our democracy, leadership, and government.
We pray for our leaders, our President, Congress, governors, mayors, for our police departments. Give them wisdom and help them set the right tone for our nation.
We pray for peaceful elections. Help us to show the world that our democracy is strong and that the freedoms we hold dear as a people are more precious to us that whoever we elect as president.
Help us to remember Lord that through all of these things, you are Sovereign. Nothing happens without your knowledge.