Severe Mercy

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
14 January 2018
Sermon Text: Nahum 2
Second Sunday after the Epiphany

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[ sketch notes ]

Nahum 2 — Severe Mercy

A vision of the desolation and destruction of Nineveh — by the armies of Babylon.

A Brief History of Nineveh

Nimrod — a mighty man — established Nineveh after the flood and it evolved into a great and powerful city over the next several hundred years / Genesis 10:8-11

Last week — compassion and severity of God. This week — more of the same — mercy for God’s people; severity for God’s enemies.

Stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word. Nahum 1:15-2:13. Word of the Lord.

CANONICAL READING

Nahum 1:15
[15]  Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off. (ESV)

Israel divided into two kingdoms after the death of Solomon. Samaria in the north. Judah in the south. By time Nahum writes his vision, Samaria has been wiped out and lost by Assyria. Only Judah remains. This is not a matter of luck or chance but of providence.

In Genesis 49:10 God promised through Jacob that [10] “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

God promised to preserve the tribe of Judah and establish a ruler from Judah. The good news of Nahum’s vision is that God is keeping his promise. By preserving and protecting Judah, God’s promise to send a savior to crush the serpent’s head remains in tact.

Nahum 2 [1] The scatterer [ Hebrew – puwts – Hiphil ptcp — disperser, desolator ] has come up against you. Man the ramparts; watch the road; dress for battle; collect all your strength. [2] For the LORD is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches.

The word scatter refers to the Babylonians. They will disperse and desolate Nineveh.

The reason God is sending the scatterer against Nineveh is because Nineveh has emptied and ravaged his people Judah. God works by means of Babylon to avenge his people.

“for the LORD is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel” — God’s people have been shamed and humiliated, but they will be honored and exalted. Again, this is in keeping with God’s promise and power.

In Genesis 48:3–4
[3] Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, [4] and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ (ESV)

Just when it seemed that all was lost, God reminds his people of his promise. They will be restored and replanted in the promised land. As God once delivered Israel from Egypt, so now he will deliver Judah from Assyria. Only this time he will not weaponize creation against his enemies. He will raise up the Babylonians. He will send swords and spears not plagues.

[3] The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet. The chariots come with flashing metal on the day he musters them; the cypress spears are brandished. [4] The chariots race madly through the streets; they rush to and fro through the squares; they gleam like torches; they dart like lightning.

We know from history that the scatterer was the war machine known as Babylon the Great.

The Babylonians armies, weapons, and chariots are red. This is the color of fire, anger, wrath, blood, judgment, hell. Yahweh is sending Babylon to unleash hell on Nineveh.

The desolation and destruction of Nineveh (and Assyria) will be fast and furious. What took many centuries to build up will only take a few weeks (three months!) to tear down.

[5] He [ the King of Nineveh ] remembers his officers; they stumble as they go, they hasten to the wall; the siege tower is set up. [6] The river gates are opened; the palace melts away; [7] its mistress is stripped; she is carried off, her slave girls lamenting, moaning like doves and beating their breasts. [8] Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. “Halt! Halt!” they cry, but none turns back. [9] Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of the treasure or of the wealth of all precious things.

[10] Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble [ = move to and fro ]; anguish [ = labor pains] is in all loins; all faces grow pale [ = dark ]!

The King of Nineveh stares in shock and awe at the blood-red wave of judgment about to break on his the walls of his city. He turns to see the chaos and pandemonium in the streets, at the wall, on the towers.

A man-made flood breaks through the gates; the river flows through the city, into the palace, and washes away the filth of Nineveh, the City of Man.

Men are cut down. Women are carried off. Cries go out. Soldiers flee.

Hearts melt away. Knees tremble and shake.
Bellies contract and ache.
Faces darken and fade.

Desolation and Desolation = de-creation imagery – Nineveh will become empty and wasted, formless and void. darkness will cover its face.

[11] Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb? [12] The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh.

This speaks to the king and his household. He was the king of the jungle so-to-speak. He had attacked and killed in order to secure the future of his seed-line and kingdom.

But the Lord is against him and the sword will cut them down. This is the end of Nimrod’s project — the end of Nineveh’s pride.

[13] Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off [ = used three other times in Nahum 1:14, 15, 3:15 ] your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard. (ESV)

If God is against you, who can be for you? If God sets fire to your world, who will put it out?

The moral of this story is that “there’s always a bigger fish.” (Qui-Gon Jinn / Star Wars).

[Nineveh was a great fish, but Babylon is a greater fish. And Jesus is the greatest “fish” of all.]

Transition

In this first reading we see the vision of the destruction of Nineveh by the Babylonians. The prophets give us a theology of history. They show us how and why God judges the nations.

This vision of Nineveh’s destruction is a symbolic representation of the end of the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is a picture of what God does to his enemies — and to the enemies of his people.

Here, we also see that Judah has been plundered by Nineveh, but now he will be replenished; he has been emptied but now he will be fulfilled; he has been shamed but now he will be glorified; he has died but now he will live again.

But what does this vision and burden have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ and with us?

CHRISTOTELIC READING

On the one hand, the vision of Nahum was fulfilled in space-time history at the destruction of Nineveh and the deliverance of Israel hundreds of years before Christ came into the world.

On the other hand, the vision was fulfilled more fully when God became flesh in the person and work of Jesus.

It is likely that what we are about to see was never seen by Nahum the prophet. Why?

As the apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 1, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or timethe Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 

It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

Believe it or not, we have something that Nahum the prophet did not have — the word of the prophets made more sure and the morning star of the Lord Jesus Christ shining in our hearts.

So — we get to see what they only wished to see. We get to hear what they only wished to hear.

They were trying to put the puzzle together without the box top. But we get to put it together with the box top. In other words, we see in whole what they only saw in part.

Last week we saw how the Good News, feasts, and vows of Nahum 1:15 all foreshadow the gospel, communion, and offerings/tithes.

This week I want you to see how the references to Judah in Nahum 1:15 and the lion cubs in 2:11 echoe the prophecy of Jacob and point to their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

In Nahum 1:15, the prophet mentions Judah. In Nahum 2:11 the prophet mentions lions and lions cubs.

As we just heard, when the patriarch Jacob was about to pass from this life, he blessed each of his sons. In Genesis 49:8-10, he said this:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
    your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
    your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
    from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
    and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

When we read Nahum 2 in light of the gospel, with the lenses of Christ, we see clearly that Jesus is the true and better Lion of the tribe of Judah,

once he was plundered, but now he is replenished;

once he was emptied, but now he is restored;

once he was humiliated, but now he is exalted;

once he was dead, but now he is alive forever and ever.

once he was a slave, but now he is the King. (Phil. 2:5-11; 2 Cor. 8:9)

Jesus is the true and better Lion of the tribe of Judah who comes with the clouds to judge the living and the dead, who judges and makes war with justice. (Rev. 1:7; 19:11)

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will shepherd them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev. 19:15-16)

The scepter shall not depart from Jesus our Savior,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute [praise and honor and glory and power] comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. (Genesis 49:10).

He will sit at the right hand of God the Father until all his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. (Psalm 110:1-2)

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:24-27) 

Not just physical death, but spiritual-existential death.

The curse of Adam’s sin will be totally reversed once and for all. No more separation from God. No more exile from his presence. No more banishment from his face. No more alienation from God.

Jesus is the true and better Judah.

God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of the Savior every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess “Jesus Christ is Lord!” to the glory of God the Father.

In other words, his brothers shall praise him;
    his hand shall be on the neck of his enemies;
    and his father’s sons shall bow down before him,
just as his Father promised a long, long time ago.

Things fall apart, cities are ruined, nations collapse, the world fades away, but the word of our God stands forever.

So “weep no more; for behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered” the world of sin, flesh, and the devil. (Rev 5:7)

He comes to scatter his enemies and to gather his friends. He comes to destroy the works of the devil and to deliver his people from evil.

What God did to Nineveh he will do to the world. What God did for Judah he will do for you.

So how shall we live in response to these truths? What must we do?

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you.

Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, stand firm in your faith.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11)

 

 

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