A quick read through the book of Nahum leaves us struck with a sense of the overwhelming nature of judgement. And yet, such a quick read might easily miss the importance of the beginning of Nahum’s prophecy.
Nahum begins, like any builder worth his salt, by constructing a firm foundation. And building the foundation is essential, fundamental, even… foundational. No amount of talk about judgement will make sense without the context within which Nahum sets it in his introduction. And that foundation, that introduction? It is who God is and what God is like; It is God’s character:
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 vents his wrath against his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. (Nahum 1v2-3)
We might go further as we explore Nahum’s method. God’s character is not simply the foundation that makes sense of judgement; it is the foundation which makes sense of every aspect of life and worship in this world and the next. No element of the Christian faith makes any sense at all if it is divorced from the character of God. We might add that the nature of God (as One God who is Father, Son and Spirit) is just as essential to every Christian doctrine, every Christian ethic. [As an aside, this is why most evangelical, reformed creeds and confessions begin with statements about God as Trinity and His Character, rather than the Bible. But that is to be the subject of a later post.]
Exploring such thoughts confronts us with the reality that the Christian faith and God’s Word is fundamentally about God. We come second. And it challenges us to keep in check the powerful contemporary drive for God’s Word to be applied to ‘me’. Whilst good and helpful if understood properly, nevertheless the modern emphasis on application can create at least the potential danger of wanting God’s Word to be primarily about us; to be man-centred rather than God-centred.
Take, for example, the young Christian man who is frustrated at God’s instructions not to drink to the point of drunkenness. He wants to spend time with non-Christian friends who enjoy being drunk together. This young Christian must comes to understand what God is like and why therefore God forbids such behaviour. God is not a kill-joy, He is not a spoil-sport. To come to such conclusions is to have started in the wrong place. It is to have started with the instruction rather than the Person and Character of God who gives it.
And similarly for the young Christian woman who sees contemporary society’s views of manhood and womanhood as more enlightened, more progressive than the Bible’s. She concludes God must be against equality, perhaps even against women. She has failed to get to know God first of all; to know his love and concern for all his creatures, to understand the wisdom and love by which he directs our lives according to his will. She concludes God is a misogynist only because she has started with the instruction rather than the Character of the One who instructs.
Nahum with his particular concern for the judgement of God begins with a contemplation on who God is. He is convinced that this is the context, the only context, within which God’s words of judgement might make sense. We would do well to learn from Nahum for his method is true of all areas of life and faith.
If you have a little spare time in the coming days, why not sit down and dig deep into the Scriptures and ask yourself this question: what is God like? And if you would appreciate a little direction, you couldn’t do much better than reading through Jim Packer’s supremely helpful book, ‘Knowing God’ (available from Amazon and other bookshops).