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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A Warning of War, A Proclamation of Peace
Text:Nahum 1:15-2:1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 117:1                                                                                 

Ps 51:3,4

Reading – Nahum 1; Romans 10:14-21

Ps 73:1,5,6,9       

Sermon – Nahum 1:15-2:1

Ps 46:1,3,5

Hy 54:1,2,6,7,8

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, every game has its rules. If you’ve ever played a competitive sport, you’ve heard the familiar blast of a whistle. The play stops, and the referee points at the offending player: “Foul!” It’s part of any game, to have rules, fouls, and penalties. And they need to be enforced, or it gets chaotic.

There’s also laws in this world. God has established good boundaries for living. And it’s for our benefit that He has. Through his rule, there is stability and order. Yet we also know that people will scorn God’s wisdom. They can be so bent on living their own way that they trample the people around them. We see this kind of disobedience all around us in society. And at times it can seem like the law-breakers are winning—no whistles are blown, no fouls are called. It seems like evil-doers never have to answer for what they’re doing.

But the truth is, our God is a God of justice. What that means is He’ll hand out penalties for sin, and He’ll also reward faithfulness with blessing. We know that rebellion and injustice won’t prevail, but they’ll be handled by the righteous and holy God. As for his people, the church of his Son, we’ll be preserved by God’s almighty power. Not because we’re so good and obedient in ourselves, but because of the LORD’s steadfast mercy.

Beloved, this was the kind of message that the prophet Nahum brought to the people of God. Nahum’s another of these minor prophets that probably get a “minor” place in our Bible-reading activity. It’s short. It’s old. It’s about an ancient city called Nineveh that doesn’t even exist today—what could this book possibly say to us today in the 21st century? Let’s give ear to the Word of God, for this is what we hear,

Nahum speaks comfort to Judah, but distress for Nineveh:

  1. a warning of war for God’s enemy
  2. a proclamation of peace for God’s people


1. a warning of war: It’s always good to begin in the beginning, but this morning we’ll start at the second verse of our text (2:1), instead of the first verse (1:15). Chapter 2:1 is addressed to the city of Nineveh, so we need to journey back in time about 2600 years. Back then, Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, situated along the Tigris River. Already then, it was an ancient city. But it had grown to be the largest city in the world. This was no one stop-light town—Nineveh had walls reaching 100 feet high, and a moat that was 150 feet wide.

This is where the prophet Jonah had gone, about a hundred years before. Jonah had brought his message of repentance when Nineveh and Assyria were still finding their way in the world, learning how to flex her military muscles. But Nahum prophesies while Assyria is at the very height of her strength.

And as a world power, Nineveh was notorious for brutality and violence. We might think of it in terms of the regime in present day Syria over the past couple years, with all their massacres and bloodshed. Nahum 3 is worth reading later on, where the prophet declares about Nineveh, “Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs… There is a multitude of slain, a great number of bodies, and countless corpses” (vv 1,3).

The cruelties of this city and empire were legendary. One of their more infamous skills was how they were able to actually erase nations from the face of the earth. Other empires had tried to do this with the sword, but killing thousands of civilians is actually a labour-intensive project. The Assyrians however, had figured out how: they would take most of the citizens of a country, and instead of killing them, they would resettle them in an entirely different land. As for the land that was now empty, they’d fill it up with peoples from other countries. Then give it a few generations of intermarriage, and a nation as a distinct people would be lost.

This is exactly what happened to the ten tribes, the kingdom of Israel: by exiling and scattering them, the Assyrians had completely removed them from the earth. Israel ceased to exist as a nation. It’s true, God had sent Nineveh to do these things—this was their job. Yet the LORD always holds people responsible for their actions. Even if they were the LORD’s chosen tool for judgment, Assyria had gone too far. They’d been too cruel. So what would be God’s answer to them?

Well, when we read Nahum, we quickly see how this prophecy stands in contrast to the book of Jonah. There God had shown his concern for his enemies. Nineveh had repented from her wickedness, and she was spared. But now comes (what might be called) the sequel, Nineveh Part II. And this time, there’s no happy ending.

For this book reveals the fearful alternative to God’s grace. We read it in 1:3, “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power”—truths we know very well, and in which we’re confident. But see how the same verse continues—“and [He will] not at all acquit the wicked.” Merciful, but just. Isn’t that always the flip-side of the gospel? The LORD offers redemption. He makes possible forgiveness—even gives time for change—but if a nation won’t repent of its pride, if a people persists in sin, there can only be the expectation of judgment.

And beloved, we need to personalize that: if a person will not repent when he’s warned, that sin will be his death. If you or I or anyone just keeps going back to the same evil things, there can only be in store God’s righteous wrath. One day the whistle gets blown…

It’s what John the Baptist said, even when he came announcing the arrival of Jesus. He said, “The kingdom is at hand.” There’s a glorious hope for those who seek God in Christ! But then John also said, “Even now, the ax is laid to the root of the trees” (Luke 3:9). John says that some people are like trees out in the bush, selected for cutting, ready to be chopped up for this winter’s firewood—the ax is sharpened, already leaning against the trunk. All it takes is someone to pick it up and start cutting.

This means that the beautiful opportunity you once had can quickly become a tragedy if you doesn’t respond in time. Those gospel words we hear every Sunday might be the very thing that witness against us if we wait too long. The message of Christ is for today, and we have to respond to that message today!

In this regard, sometimes the Bible talks about sin reaching a “full measure.” We like to say that God’s a long-suffering God, which is another word for his patience. But know this: God’s patience does run out. God can tolerate only so much evil, put up with so much rebellion, and then He takes action. We don’t know God’s timetable for such judgments, but we know this, “[He] will not at all acquit the wicked” (1:3).

So at last, Nineveh’s sin has reached full measure. The heading in most Bibles at 2:1 calls this section, “The Destruction of Nineveh” (or something to that effect). It begins dramatically, “He who scatters has come up before your face. Man the fort! Watch the road! Strengthen your flanks! Fortify your power mightily” (2:1). It’s a scene of frantic military preparations. These are the last minute arrangements before a battle. Everyone’s rushing to get into position. The LORD is telling Nineveh to do her utmost to be ready!

But it’s too little, too late. Because this time the Babylonians are coming, and Nineveh won’t be able to stand. They’ll try to resist, but it’s useless. Not because Babylon was such a military powerhouse. But because none can oppose the LORD! If God sets his will against someone, that person—that nation—cannot stand.

Sure, they’ll always try to hide behind walls of refuge. When judgment threatens or danger looms, people will man the fort, they’ll watch the road, and strengthen the flanks. Today the nations will invest in stealth fighters for their military. They’ll make it a lot harder for certain people to enter a country. The world banks will try to protect their currencies. Also as individuals, we’ll try to fortify ourselves, getting our security in whatever person or thing or idea has earned our trust.

But if you’re not standing with the LORD, you won’t stand at all! He says that however well-conceived the defenses of Nineveh (or any other enemy of God), they’re doomed to failure. Yes, sinners might have great success. There might be days when Christ’s opponents seem to get away with evil. I don’t have to tell you about this… Morality declines. False religions rise up. The church suffers. But the outcome is sure. We sang it in Psalm 73, “Surely you set them in slippery places; you cast them down to destruction” (v 18).

For Nineveh, all this came true. See again 1:8, where Nahum said that “with an overflowing flood, God will make an utter end of its place.” An overflowing flood—that’s not just poetic language, it’s exactly what happened. The history books tell us that in 612 BC, the Tigris River suddenly rose over its banks. Gushing all around Nineveh, it destroyed enough of those thick walls that the Babylonians were able to rush through. As God had said, they could do little to fight back, but with an overflowing flood He made an end to it.

Or think of what Nahum says in 3:11. Of the city of Nineveh he declared, “You will be hidden,” covered over by the enemy. And indeed, after Nineveh fell, there was no trace left of this mighty kingdom. She was “hidden.” So total was her destruction, it was as though Nineveh had never existed. The ruins of ancient Nineveh weren’t discovered until 1842, buried under sand dunes. You see, Nahum wasn’t just making hopeful statements for the future. The Word of God came exactly true!

Sometimes we think of prophecy only in connection with our Saviour, that in his life and death He brought so many things to fulfillment. But when prophets like Isaiah and Obadiah and Daniel and Nahum announced their oracles against foreign nations, God brought also these things about. Assyria, or Egypt, or Greece, or Rome—they all rose and fell, just as God said, in the way that God said!

For us, this can be one more confirmation of how the Bible is so trustworthy. We confess it in Article 5 of the Belgic Confession, “Even the blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in [the Scriptures] are being fulfilled.” They’re being fulfilled, a proof of the sureness of God’s Word. And it’s the same Word that warns, comforts, and guides us today. This gives us confidence in the Word. We read it at our meal times, in our devotions, and we know that God’s Word is true. It’s not going to fail. He won’t forget his promise.

No, just as God said of Nineveh, she’d never rise again. And the lesson in that is how even the biggest city on earth today, or the mightiest army, is no match for God’s strength. The most deceptive ideology, the cruelest religion, is no match for God’s truth. Doesn’t even come close. They can man the fort and strengthen the flanks, but one day the Lord’s enemies will fall. The Scripture tells us we have enemies, great and fearsome. But all who oppose God will be routed. So in this warning of war, there’s also a proclamation of peace.


2. a proclamation of peace: Like with many names in the Bible, there’s a richness in Nahum’s name. Simply, his name means “comfort.” And that’s exactly the message that the prophet brings to the people. To see that comfort, let’s go back to first verse of our text, “Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace!” (1:15).

Picture this wonderful scene. Imagine a miserable people, hunkered down in a deep valley. They’re captives—refugees maybe—they’re tired and hungry, their heads are downcast, their hearts heavy. But then someone points and yells. There’s someone coming! There’s a man running on the hills toward them! Everyone looks up, and sees a messenger on the mountains. As he gets closer, they can see that he’s got a smile spread across on his dusty face. They can see he’s got a message that he can hardly wait to share. What is it?

Nahum pictures himself “on the mountains,” running on the mountains of Judah toward Jerusalem. These are “the feet of him who brings good tidings,” these are the feet of a herald. And what is his word, carried from afar? “[He] proclaims peace!”

In a time of war, peace is all that people can think about. And if you’d suffered as many invasions as the people of Judah, peace would seem like a distant dream. But God has something to say to his people; He’s got glad tidings of peace. In the original, this is probably one of the few Hebrew words that everyone knows: shalom. And it’s one of the richest Hebrew words, because it describes a peace that is profound, multi-dimensional. Peace in 4D. God’s shalom isn’t just the end of hostilities. It’s not just deliverance from trouble. It’s more than that: a peace that speaks of wholeness and health and security. It’s when relationships are put right—and when especially with God there’s a new harmony.

This is what God is announcing to his beleaguered people. “There’s hope! There’s restoration! You don’t have stay there in the valley, tired and hungry, heads downcast and hearts heavy. Because I bring you glad tidings!” And now see how the two verses of our text are so closely linked together. Because can you have peace without having war? Can there be salvation without first some confrontation? Which makes sense: when Nineveh was succeeding, bad news went everywhere. There was no glad tidings, as long as Israel’s enemies had their way.

So the gospel that Nahum brings is about the destruction of the wicked king of Assyria and his empire. It’s the good news in 1:15, “For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off.” Nahum doesn’t tell God’s people to be happy because they signed a peace treaty. No, they rejoice in the destruction of the wicked. The penalty has been called, and it’s time for a just punishment to be handed down.

That gives a real staying power to Nahum’s words, “Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings.” These good tidings are really good! It’s a refrain we hear more often in Scripture. Nahum’s saying it about Assyria. But then listen to how the prophet Isaiah says it about the next world power on the scene, Babylon. To the people stuck in exile, Isaiah echoes these very words, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (52:7). For those who walk in darkness, there shines a beautiful light.

And then these same words are echoed by Christ. When we turn to the New Testament, there’s the theme of glad tidings of peace resounding loudly, resounding often. Like in Luke 4, when Jesus opens the scroll of Isaiah, and He says, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (v 18). Jesus came to preach the gospel, to announce liberation for those locked in the chains of sin. He came to bring shalom.

And Christ brings peace through fighting our war! There’s still no salvation without some confrontation, no deliverance without hostility. All the wickedness of Nineveh finds its worst expression in the powers of Satan, who still resists God’s kingdom and who still finds all kinds of ways to attack God’s people.

But Christ came to destroy him. And again God’s Word was proven true. For Christ has “disarmed the principalities and powers” of the evil one. In Colossians it says “He made a public spectacle of them.” It says He “triumphed over them [in the cross]” (2:15). His cross dispelled all the powers of darkness. This was Christ’s greatest triumph, then gloriously confirmed three days later, as “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54).

We’re not surprised then, when Paul in Romans 10:15 quotes the words of Nahum and Isaiah once again, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” There is deliverance from sin through the gospel of Christ. There is victory in the cross and in his empty tomb. Beloved, God says this to his people in every age: “There is peace.” There’s victory not just over Nineveh, but victory over Satan, and over his temptations. There is victory over all his accusations of guilt, and all his attempts to make you doubt. “Behold, on the mountains, the feet of him who brings good tidings!”

So hear this message, beloved! Listen to Christ’s message of peace, when you’re being enticed into sin. Listen to it, when you’re guilty. When you’re anxious. When you’re confused. When you’re grieving. Know that Christ has come, and He has destroyed all the works of the devil: “The wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off.”

And finally, don’t miss what comes next: “O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows” (1:15). During siege and war, the people were prevented from going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual feasts like the Passover and Tabernacles and Pentecost. Now however, with peace restored, Nahum calls on Judah to celebrate her feasts with new enthusiasm.

Those Old Testament feasts are fulfilled in Christ, so we don’t celebrate them anymore. Yet every Sunday we have opportunity to rejoice in what God has done in Jesus his Son. Isn’t every Lord’s day a feast day? Isn’t every Lord’s day another chance to hear the glad tidings of salvation, to sing praise, and to give our gifts in thanksgiving? Our text shows how the one flows directly into the other: there is peace in Christ, there are glad tidings for all who believe, so “Keep your appointed feasts.” Don’t be lax in your zeal. Don’t neglect the meeting together of believers, but be where you can hear that gospel, again and again. Be where you can listen to the glad tidings. Believe these glad tidings, and let them refresh you.

And Nahum also calls on the people, “Perform your vows.” In the Old Testament, vows were often made in difficult times. A person would be in some kind of trouble, be getting desperate for deliverance, so he’d make a vow to God: “Lord, if you get me out this, I’ll give you five of my best goats.” We can imagine the people of Judah making such vows during a siege or invasion. But God reminds them that if they promised something, they had to be faithful, and deliver on it. So now that there’s peace, a restoration of security, the prophet calls the people to make good on their thanksgiving. “O Judah… perform your vows.”

So it is for us. Maybe we don’t make vows in the same way as Judah, but the spirit is still there. It is, when we say: “God has delivered me in Christ, so let me give constant thanks. In all that I do, let me show my thanks to God.” Yes, God has shown you a rich mercy, so let your life be filled with his praise. Now that the war is won, and there’s shalom in the cross, make your daily resolve to be serving the Lord! Make it your daily purpose and constant delight.

Rejoice to do so, for his Word is peace, and his glad tidings are sure! Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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