Trusting God when it appears that His promises have failed is the key challenge of faith. How do we respond when, despite God’s promises, it feels as though He has left and forsaken us? How do we respond, when it appears that He is not in control? How do we respond, when we cry to Him and He does not answer us in our time of need? These are serious challenges and come with both theological and emotional complexity. The book of Nahum provides a framework for faith in the midst of devastating circumstances.
As one of the so-called Writing Prophets, Nahum serves in the context of Israel’s exile from the land of promise. The land was more than just merely a place to live, it represented the fulfillment of God’s redemptive promises to Abraham. It’s loss, then, was significant and world-shaking. Who were they if God had driven them from the land? Who was God if His promises had failed? The writing prophets are the “God-inspired interpreters of the breakup of nations” (Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, 1). As such they offered Israel a way to understand what was happening and an encouragement to trust God in the midst of the chaos. This same encouragement exists for us as we read the book of Nahum.
The original audience the book would have heard the prophet’s strong words of condemnation against Assyria. Their captors are condemned and forewarned of God’s read judgment. Of particular focus is the capital city of Nineveh. Nineveh had, of course, received a similar warning and call to repentance before. Nahum serves as a counterpart to the book of Jonah. Within Jonah, God had used the reluctant prophet to call the wicked city to repentance and they had responded. God, therefore, relented of His judgment. But their repentance, it appears, had not lasted long and by this time they are again at the height of wickedness.
The Lord had used Nineveh to judge rebellious Israel, but they were not innocent. Their usefulness in that role had run its course, and for their continued idolatry and wickedness God was now going to judge them and deliver His people. God was going to keep His promises, even if it was not in the way and on the time-table that Israel had thought. The prophet is calling on God’s people, then, to trust Him. To believe that God can and will do what He says, but when He is ready. They must have faith, and to ground this faith Nahum points to two major characteristics of God that dominate the book: (1) His justice, and (2) His faithfulness. He is wrathful towards His enemies, but He is a “stronghold” to those who take refuge in Him.
It is significant to note the complete absence of Messianism within the book of Nahum. While his predecessors had spent many words proclaiming the coming messianic King who would rule on David’s throne and redeem God’s people, there is no mention of such a savior in this book. Surely the depravity of the kings of these times had led many people to be disenchanted with kingship. One need only to reflect on the atrocities of Manasseh to understand their disillusionment. O. Palmer Robertson suggests that the best way to read the Writing Prophets is as those like Samuel, who saw a need for a redeemer king, but who saw none fit to take up that role except God Himself. Robertson writes:
Who but God alone could provide a propitiatory sacrifice worthy of removing the deep, dark stain of Israel’s sin? Who but God alone had the force at his disposal to repulse his people’s mighty enemies? Who but God alone had the wisdom essential for governing a people such as Israel? So these prophets of the time of deterioration return to the original scheme of things. The Lord himself is the one who takes vengeance on his enemies (Nah. 1:2). The Lord himself is the one coming in splendor, with rays flashing from his hands, moving swiftly from Sinai to the conquest of the land (Hab. 3:3-7). The Lord himself is “the King of Israel in your midst” (Zeph. 3:15), a “Mighty Hero who saves” (Zeph. 3:17). Those very functions that once had been assigned to the scion of the line of David now revert to the person of God the Lord Himself. (18-19).
There is still hope, in other words, because there is still God! Redemption can be found even in the midst o this devastation, but not because of the line of David. Rather, it is hope because God is redeemer!
For those of us struggling with life and circumstances that seem to shield God’s goodness and faithfulness from our eyes, Nahum provides encouragement. There is a way to frame faith in the midst of devastation. This framework focuses on the person of God himself! We ought to read Nahum, then, to be reminded of the justice and faithfulness of the God we love and serve. We need to see afresh that our God is redeemer! We can trust God even when life doesn’t make sense, even when He seems far from us. Nahum will show us how.