One of the greatest ironies of the Bible is the relationship between salvation and judgment. We see this expressed in the book of Nahum. While we don’t know much about the prophet whose name is attached to the book, we do know his name means “comfort.” And that’s fitting because his prophecy is one of comfort for the people of God. But standing so close to this word Nahum, or comfort, is another. It’s the word “burden.” “The burden of Nineveh” (1:1). The very message that speaks comfort to God’s people is a burdensome message of judgment against his enemies. In other words, the comfort of Zion is the burden of Nineveh.
In verses 2-8 Nahum describes the character of the Divine Warrior with seven attributes:
- He is Jealous (v 2): We often don’t think of jealousy as being a good characteristic. But Jehovah’s jealousy is of a different kind. It’s his zeal, passion, or delight to protect and guard and his own honor, glory, and reputation. Can you imagine an indifferent God? A God who created all things, a God who stooped to redeem sinful man, and yet remained indifferent. Maligned by sinners, but who cares. Mocked by sinners, no matter. Blasphemed by the ungodly, oh well. Such a god would be no God at all. The burden for Nineveh is that because he is jealous, he will defend his name. The comfort for Zion is that since they bear his name, he won’t always suffer his people to be destroyed.
- He is Avenging (v 2): This is closely connected with his jealousy. Because Jehovah is jealous, he is also avenging and will repay the wicked for all their wicked deeds. In Scripture God’s people are continually reminded that vengeance belongs only to the Lord. The burden of Nineveh is that they have an Almighty God who will seek revenge against them. The comfort for Zion is that we can rest in the hands of God, knowing that he will take vengeance against our enemies (see Romans 12:9).
- He is Master of Wrath (v 2): Many English translations read “is furious” or “is exceedingly angry.” But the actual idiom is that Jehovah is the “master of wrath.” When a man gets exceedingly angry he often blows his top, and that uncontrolled anger spills over unto everyone around him. Jehovah is different. He is master or lord of wrath, he’s got a calculated control over the exercise of his anger and those, and those alone, who are deserving of his wrath will receive it. The burden of Nineveh is that Jehovah “reserves his wrath for his enemies” and they will be made to feel the calculated and controlled wrath of God forever. The comfort of Zion is that on Calvary’s Hill all of that wrath was concerned on Jesus Christ for the sake of his people. He drank the full cup of the fury of God’s wrath, and it will never touch one of God’s children.
- He is Patient (v 3): This is a verse that is often hailed as a word of mercy. No doubt mercy is not absent, but it is first a word of judgment. Nahum is declaring to the citizens of Nineveh that their lives hang by a thread of divine patience. The burden of Nineveh is that God can at any moment sever that patience, which is the only thing that keeps them from certain destruction. The comfort of Zion is that even as God is patient towards us, below us is not damnation, but everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).
- He is Powerful (v 3): Scripture speaks of the exercise of God’s power in primarily three ways. The first two are creation and new creation, both which are acts that require omnipotent power. The third display of God’s power is in the judgment of the ungodly. The burden for Nineveh is that God’s omnipotent power is against them-kings, horses, armies, and weapons are useless. The comfort of Zion is that this omnipotent power is engaged and exercised for their benefit.
- He is Just (v 3): In earthly courts the innocent are sometimes convicted and the guilty go free. But this isn’t the case in Jehovah’s court, “he will by no means clear the guilty.” The burden of Nineveh is that they will be called into an account by a Judge who will always do right. The comfort of Zion is that in Christ they are acquitted and so are no longer, in God’s eyes, guilty. He has become the Just and the justifier of ungodly men.
- He is Good (v 7): It’s a golden sentence at the end of this whole section, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and he knows those that trust in him.” Above all, this Divine Warrior is good and he protects his people.
And of course, this Divine Warrior is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ who is the visible image of the invisible God. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians:
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (vv 5-10).