In our final look at the book of Nahum we heard Nahum’s evangelistic address to the Assyrian people. And we examined his words, God’s words, to see what we may learn in our own evangelism.
The passage is a sombre conclusion to the book and yet even within this message of judgement before God, Nahum encourages us with the implicit message that God speaks of judgement as a means of calling us to repentance and so as a means to salvation.
This particularly OT approach to evangelism is not without precedent. In fact, some centuries before, the Assyrian people in the capital of Nineveh had heard a very similar message; not from the lips of Nahum, but from the prophet Jonah.
Some 150 years previously (give or take), Jonah headed to Nineveh and warned the people of impending judgement.
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming,“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3v3-4)
What followed was a wonderful period of Revival. See the response of the Assyrians:
The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (Jonah 3v5)
God witnessed their response and acted accordingly:
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destructionhe had threatened. (Jonah 3v10)
What is interesting here is that Jonah did not call the people to repentance before God – not explicitly anyway. His message was simply one of impending judgement before God. And yet the Ninevites recognised within the message an implicit call to salvation through repentance and faith in God. What’s more, they were right to. That’s exactly what God was doing (3v10), and it precisely what Jonah himself feared would happen:
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (Jonah 4v1-2)
Now is not the time for reflection on Jonah’s reaction. It simply is to demonstrate that in the OT, calls of impending judgement come with an implicit call to repentance and to faith in God and so of salvation.
And so, in this last section of Nahum’s prophecy, we see Nahum preach a searching evangelistic sermon to the Assyrian people, proclaiming to them the coming judgement of God and so calling them to turn in repentance and faith.
As an aside, it is interesting to ponder why Nahum’s sermon was necessary at all in light of Jonah’s previous visit. Here, the great theologian of the Reformation period, Jean Calvin, offers a helpful insight:
Jonah, as we have already seen, pronounced a threatening on the city Nineveh; but the punishment was remitted, because the Ninevites humbled themselves, and suppliantly deprecated the punishment which had been announced. They afterwards returned to their old ways, as it is usually the case. Hence it was, that God became less disposed to spare them. Though indeed they were aliens, yet God was pleased to show them favor by teaching them through the ministry and labors of Jonah: and their repentance was not altogether feigned. Since then they were already endued with some knowledge of the true God, the less excusable was their cruelty, when they sought to oppress the kingdom of Israel. They indeed knew, that that nation was sacred to God: what they did then was in a manner an outrage against God himself. (Taken from Calvin’s commentary on Nahum, available at the CCEL website)
To aid study in our homegroups, the PowerPoint slides are below: