God Is in Control
An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
We are in the seventh book today of our Minor Prophets sermon series and will be tackling the book of Nahum today. We are starting a new section in the 12 books. The first 6 can be grouped together and labeled as the prophets of sin, where each book focused on sin, judgment, and unfaithfulness. We can see this as a group of 6 because Hosea and Micah have very similar language that suggest they are book ends. These books work through the process of sin, warning, repentance, and mercy. Books 7, 8, and 9 could be grouped together as being the books of punishment. Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah all focus on punishment of various people groups. For us in Nahum today the people group of focus is Nineveh.
In Nahum we have two main people groups that we need to look at. One group is Israel. And the other group is Nineveh which is the capital of the nation of Assyria. The Ninevites repented in the day of Jonah but the nation as a whole was used by God to bring judgment on Israel about 40 years after Jonah. So the Ninevites in effect turn on God by trusting in themselves and choosing to live corrupt and evil lives apart from God. We pick up the story in Nahum where Israel is being oppressed by Nineveh, and the Ninevites are having the time of their life. They think they have everything figured out. They think they are on top. They think they have the control since they are the largest city in the world at this time and they have rivers and water surrounding their city so no one can get them, so they think. In their arrogance they’d say we don’t need God.
I have three parts of the sermon today:
God is in control. He knows what he is doing
The proud don’t like it
- Life isn’t always easy
1. God Is in Control; He Knows What He Is Doing
The first point is really the main point because God stands over the situation of Israel and Nineveh. God is the author and Nineveh and Israel are the characters in the story. So who has the control? God does. Every good story has a problem and what is the problem in this story? The problem is that people don’t trust God’s control. People tend to trust in themselves, yet it is God who is in control, and he knows what he is doing. This is the problem in our story as well – we struggle to trust God. We want to take matters into our own hands and do things our way because we don’t trust God and specifically we don’t like how he does things. We don’t like the specific details of the story. We may trust and like the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but we struggle with how that plays out in our life.
Nahum 1:7-8 displays that God has a plan and he knows what he is doing with these people.
Verse 7 says “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” God will protect and care for those who come to him even in the midst of suffering and intense trials. So judgment will rain down on Nineveh and those who trust in God will find refuge, will find safety.
Verse 8 says “But with an overwhelming flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.” The Ninevites will be dealt with. God will destroy them for their injustice, arrogance, and wickedness. God will put on display that indeed he is the greatest and we should recognize this and ultimately we need to trust that He has things under control whether we understand it or not.
Let’s review what we know about Nineveh. As we talked about in the exhortation, Nineveh was an ancient city that was for about 50 years the largest city in the world. They were the evil and wicked city where God sent Jonah to preach to and for a brief period in time they repented. So, did Nineveh become the good guys and live happily ever after? Well, no not really. In Nahum we learn that Nineveh has returned to its evil ways and is more arrogant than ever.
We can also learn about Nineveh from the book of Micah which is after Jonah. In Micah we see a major lawsuit against the nation of Israel and the result is that judgment and punishment will come upon the nation of Israel. God orchestrated this severe discipline on the people through the hands of the Assyrians, the Ninevites.
So Nineveh, the ancient city that repented, only 40 years later, came in and destroyed Israel, which was orchestrated by God. Then in Nahum we have Nineveh oppressing what is left of Israel. The people that survived the exile are a mere remnant. This remnant up against the power house of Nineveh is the situation we find in Nahum.
The question that Nahum takes on right away in the first chapter is “how will God deal with Nineveh and Israel?” What is God doing here?
The amazing thing to think about is that God was not caught off guard by the Assyrians. He created them. And God moved and orchestrated these Assyrians to bring a trial and to bring hardship to the Israelites because God loved his people. The Israelites as we saw in Micah were in a terrible pattern of unbelief where they did not trust God, did not love God, and did not follow God. They were taking matters into their own hands and saying I don’t want anything to do with this God. They were perfectly happy ignoring God.
So it could be viewed that God’s working with Assyria to bring judgment on Israel was actually an amazing kindness to the faithful ones of Israel. And in Nahum when God crushes Nineveh to save the remnant, God is putting on display an amazing unfolding of how he will save those who trust him.
Have you ever been around a person that was influential and was able to have 15 things happening at once that all seemed in the moment really disjointed and confusing yet that person had a plan that would all of a sudden come together and at that moment when all the seemingly random things came together and the person who you once thought was clueless turned out to be brilliant?
It’s like… Dumbledore. Think about all the random things that Dumbledore does in Harry Potter that as you read you think are really weird and random. Or you heavily question. Like does Dumbledore know what he is doing? Think about it. Why won’t Dumbledore look Harry in the eye in book 5? Why does Dumbledore make random overnight trips to find weird objects in book 6? Why does Dumbledore trust Snape? And why does Dumbledore have Snape kill him at the end of book 6? Dumbledore is such a great example of a leader who has 15 things happening at once with an amazing climactic purpose and plan which is to end the evil of “he who must not be named” and he dies so that Harry can end the evil. See, even Dumbledore’s death was all part of the plan.
See, in the moment in our lives we don’t have the power to see what God is up to. It’s like we can’t see the forest from the trees. Or it’s like walking through the Afton Orchards corn maze. You can’t see the big picture amongst all the tall corn stalks. See, we often think God is crazy for what he is doing, but the reality is, God is the only one big enough to know the big picture, have a plan for the future, and he is the only one who has a plan that cannot be stopped.
Harry wanted to know what Dumbledore was up to and book 5 is painful because Harry gets so angry at Dumbledore and it appears Dumbledore has zero control over the uprising. Yet, it is indeed Dumbledore who has control of the situation, not Harry.
We too struggle to trust God’s control. And we also struggle with the idea that God is in full control yet we have responsibility.
In Jonah, Micah, and Nahum, God is moving this nation of Assyria wherever he wants and he’s got a plan. In the moment no one can see this. And we are learning today in Nahum that the plan is unfolding that God will crush Nineveh.
So, believing that God is in control of all things yet at the same time Nineveh being responsible for their actions is a difficult concept to believe.
How can God be in control like moving nations wherever he wants and yet how can the Ninevites be held responsible for their actions? This is a common place where we get stuck in trusting God’s control.
Here is how I think about this perceived dilemma of God being in full control and me still having responsibility.
I’m a chemical engineer so I think about this perceived dilemma in terms dimensions. Has anyone taken physics in college? How about quantum mechanics? How about Physical Chemistry? Well, in these classes you will come across the concept of space time. Simply put the concept is that we exist in 4 dimensions. The first three dimensions are spatial: height, width, and depth. We are here in this building, physically. And there is a 4th dimension which is time. So not only are we in this building together we are also sitting through this sermon, which takes time. Together we have space-time. All 4 are true at the same time even though space and time feel very different. Both are independent of one another and yet both are true. They are two different dimensions (space and time) yet they are linked. You cannot get away one away from the other.
Just like space and time are both dimensions that are linked yet are independent of one another, so too God is in full control in and at the same we do have responsibility. We have to be careful that we don’t say and think only one is true and not the other.
Let’s look at Isaiah 10. If space-time and the reality of the 4th dimension hasn’t blown your mind yet, Isaiah 10 will.
Isaiah who prophesied about 100 years before Nahum also spoke of these events concerning Assyria and Nineveh. Isaiah 10:5-7 says “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger (God is angry at Israel); the staff in their hands is my fury (The Assyrians have a staff in their hands and they don’t realize it’s ultimately for God’s purposes). Against a godless nation I SEND him, and against the people of my wrath I COMMAND him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. BUT he does not so intend (the Assyrians don’t intend to be serving God), and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few.”
The Assyrians want to destroy. They want to hurt people. The Assyrians have responsibility in this. They are doing exactly what they want to do, and at the same time God is in full control. Isaiah is perfectly prophesying exactly what God ended up doing with Israel. He brought the Assyrians in to punish Israel.
A few verses later in verse 12 it says “When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.”
The king of Assyria was responsible for his actions. God knows everything about him down to his arrogant heart and boastful looks. Every haughty comment is recorded. The king wants more land and more power yet it is God who has the ultimate control, not the king of Assyria.
Just like we live in both space and time, which are true at the same time, so it goes that both are true at all times, that God is in full control of all things and we are responsible for our actions; and we will have to give an account to God for these actions.
God is in control, he knows what he is doing.
1. The Proud Don’t Like It
Now let’s move on to the second point: Proud and arrogant people don’t like God’s control.
The Ninevites were haughty. They believed no one was good as them and no one could defeat their city. Yet, God had the final say. He came in and won.
When Emily and I were first married she loved this hit TV series called “Reba”. And being the loving supporting husband that I am I watched with her and there was this quote that we both never forget.
Barbara Jean makes a brilliant point, even though her astronomy isn’t very accurate, it’s the point that matters. She told Reba “Reba, did you know that the universe contains millions of planets revolving around millions of suns revolving around millions of galaxies all revolving around one point in the center of the universe, and that point is NOT YOU!”
Our main problem that we have just like the Ninevites is that we think the world revolves us. And in our natural state we do not like the idea of God being in control instead of us. We do not like the concept of God being in control and not us.
The Ninevites thought they were the center of the universe and in reality at this point they were a force that you didn’t want to mess with. So, when Nahum comes out of nowhere, out of Elkosh as it says in Nahum 1:1, as this back country no named prophet saying that Nineveh would be crushed by God, his message was flat out laughable. Elkosh would’ve been that town that no one knew about. That town that had “unincorporated” on the sign when you came into town instead of a population. Nahum came from that town that was barely on a map. And his message was crazy. There was no way that Nineveh would fall. How could Nineveh lose its power? The one who came from a town that was not on the map was telling the biggest city in the world that soon they would be off the map.
The Ninevites who were perfectly happy ignoring God now would have to deal with God.
Nahum is very clear that Nineveh would fall, would be plundered, would be wiped off the map, and erased from existence by God. And Nahum used vivid descriptions and colorful details and strategic poetry to capture this prophecy of God crushing Nineveh, like the last three verses of the book:
“Your princes are like grasshoppers your scribes like clouds of locusts settling on the fences in a day of cold – when the sun rises, they fly away; no one knows where they are. Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them. There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?”
So, I will ruin the suspense for you if you are wondering if this prophecy ever came true. It did. Nineveh was plundered about 40 years after Nahum’s message and fell to a coalition of Medes and Babylonians in 612 BC. The city was sieged and wiped out and burned to the ground, literally wiped off of the map, and largely unoccupied until archaeologists started exploring it in 1842. True story. The Bible is very true.
You may be thinking, “Why does God have to be so mean?” These Ninevites weren’t that bad were they? Well, first off they were incredibly evil. They went on horrific massacres of nearby nations and tortured people and burned cities to the ground. What about their relationship with God? These people knew about God. They repented in Jonah’s day. And yet the scary part is that they spiritually fell hard even after the days of revival. They rejected God.
But remember Nahum 1:3. “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power.” In the midst of this war poetry of how God will obliterate Nineveh, we see this God who is also passionate for redeeming people.
So again, proud people don’t like God’s control. If you live a daily life where you don’t want anything to do with God, be careful. Stop. Consider that you are rejecting God in your pride and in the end God will win, not you. Don’t be prideful. Read your Bible, get to know Jesus and the salvation that exists only in him.
3. Life Isn’t Always Easy
From the Israelites perspective, they are the chosen people of God. They are the ones who God should be protecting and prospering, yet they are in utter ruin up against Nineveh. Much of Israel has been destroyed. You could say that only spiritual Israel is left, that is a remnant of believers who trust God in their hearts. We saw this coming when we read Micah. The nation of Israel is disbanded. It’s destroyed. And Nineveh did it.
The end of Micah leads us into Nahum and gives us a hint to the answer of what God is up to. Micah 7:18-20 (the last verses of Micah) “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”
Here we see how God is going to love and restore and save and have compassion on the remnant to put on display redeeming love.
Yet, it didn’t feel that way to this remnant of believers. They may be asking: Do you know what you are doing? How can this be good?
The people of God were going through a horrendous time of life and they are being challenged to take refuge in God. They were being asked to trust in God in the midst of suffering.
How could I take refuge in God when I just lived through a brutal take over where my home and my life and my friends and my neighborhood was absolutely destroyed, ripped away from me. I am now living in immense grief at the loss of my best friend and my parents and my kids, my job, my home. Clearly refuge doesn’t mean health, wealth, and prosperity because that is gone. The Assyrians ripped it away and I am to believe that God did this for my good? Why would I go to God for safety?
Nahum 1:7 says “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.”
Nahum means “comforter”. And one of the points of Nahum’s message is to bring hope and comfort to the people of Israel that God will indeed protect those who trust him and love him and follow him. He will be their refuge. He will be their safe place. God will be a warrior on their behalf.
All this pointed to Jesus who would be the ultimate comforter and ultimate refuge for all eternity.
In the midst of hardship and trial this truth from Nahum 1:7 is a rock: The Lord is good even in the midst of pain and suffering. The Lord is good. And the Lord is a stronghold in the day of trouble. God welcomes people back to him to take cover, to seek safety, to be cared for.
In what ways are we to respond in suffering? In what ways should we be walking through trials? Well, first, trusting God does not mean he will snap his finger and take away your pain. We are not promised pain removal. We do have promises that says God is worthy to be trusted.
But God, how can I trust you and your control and your power when my son dies?
I want to offer you a scene that I played in my head that helped me trust God while walking through suffering, as my son died.
We are told that Jesus is the good shepherd, and we are the sheep. And the sheep follow the shepherd. There are times on the journey where the sun is out and there is plenty to eat and there are no wolves. It’s just the sheep hanging out with the shepherd. And those times are sweet. And then a few days later, the shepherd says it’s time to move it along. We are going out for a journey. Being just sheep, we don’t know what the journey holds for us. So Jesus the great shepherd leads us on this journey. And it’s not long until the sun goes down and it gets dark. And we start going through some real thick brush and trees. And we hear wolves, which love to eat sheep. There are mountains on each side of us and it’s clear we are in a dark scary valley. It feels like death. We tend to forget so quickly where we came from, and we forget who we are following. We simply look at our surroundings and our situation and we get scared. We may also get frustrated and doubt whether or not the shepherd knows what he is doing. We are tempted to run off and try to get ourselves out of the mess. In this darkness we also feel like Jesus is gone because we can’t see even a foot in front of us. If I can’t see Jesus then he must be gone.
We also don’t know how long the path is. It may be a long path to get out, or it may be right around the corner. In that moment Jesus had a rod and a staff and the trials hurt, yet his rod and his staff are a comfort because it hits us to keep going.
This imagery helped me because I knew that Jesus had to take me through this trial and pain and suffering in order to get to a greener pasture. Jesus takes us through trials and walks with us through the darkness to get to a greener pasture. Jesus knows what he is doing and we often cannot see it, but he is in control, and he does know where he is taking us. We need to trust him on the journey even through dark valleys.
So this is what’s going on with Israel. God is taking them through a massive trial and hardship to help them deepen their in faith in Him, to repent, to turn away from idols, to listen to God, and follow his words.
God is in control, he knows what he is doing. You can be arrogant and reject his control or you can trust him and listen to him and read your Bible and follow Jesus, even through the trials and hard times.
To close I want to look at Nahum 1:15. Nahum 1:15 is a really sweet verse. The Israelites are in trouble. Nineveh is brutally harsh on them. And in their little peasant town as they are going about their business they hear this person coming from the mountains. And the person is yelling and running to them saying “I have good news I have good news! The oppression is over. Nineveh is being destroyed and we will have peace! Peace is on its way. God is coming to rescue us!”
When your child is dying or when you are in the pit of depression or when your spouse battles cancer or your friend turns their back on you or your sister screams and swears at you or you have a heart attack and you feel like life is falling down around you and you feel like you have no hope, someone coming to tell you that peace is on the way and the war is over is so sweet and so hopeful.
So what is the good news? It’s Jesus coming to rescue us from our oppression, which in the ultimate sense is our sin, our pride, our rejecting God.
The other night Lily and I were doing our Bible study in bed and I read to her Zechariah’s prophecy of his son John the Baptist from the first chapter in Luke. Let me read this and add some thoughts along the way, starting in Luke 1:68…
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (Zechariah is talking about Jesus being the one who will come and fully redeem his people).
As he (God) spoke by the mouth of the prophets of old (like Nahum) THAT we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us (the picture of Israel being saved from Nineveh pointed to this)
(God is sending Jesus to save) (verse 72) to show mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant. (All of the mercy talked about in these minor prophets is pointing to Jesus being the one who would save in a complete way).
Skip to verse 76, And you child (meaning John the Baptist) will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins BECAUSE of the tender mercy of our God (remember Nahum 1:3, the Lord is slow to anger and great in power; we are seeing this power as Jesus is coming on the scene)
Whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness (remember Nahum 1:8 where God said that he will pursue his enemies into the darkness and in that context it was destroy him; now with Jesus, he is pursuing his enemies into the darkness to save them and shine light into their dark hearts. We deserved God’s punishment and now we see that he plans to save his enemies and change their hearts!)
And the last part of Luke 1:79 says “to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And Nahum 1:15 says “Behold, upon the mountains the feet of him who brings good news who publishes peace!”
God saving his people from the Ninevites points us to how Jesus is the one who came and fully delivered us from the hand of the enemy.
God is in control and he knows what he is doing.
I’ve been referring to Nahum 1:3 a lot today and I haven’t mentioned the second part of the verse. The full verse says “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.”
This table shows us what it takes to clear the guilty. Apart from this table and what it represents which is that Jesus broke his body and shed his blood to clear our sin, apart from this, God does not clear the guilty. We must see that and turn to Jesus and trust him for the forgiveness of our sins if we want to be able to stand before someday.
Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin so that our guilt would be cleared. Jesus clears your guilt. Nothing else can wash away our sin, and guilt.