Sermon: Blessed Are the Feet, from Nahum


Many of you, I would suspect, may have never heard a sermon from the prophet, Nahum. There are a few reasons for that, most likely, including the fact that it is an incredibly short book as all the minor prophets are, with only three chapters. Secondly, some are confused as to what to do with Nahum or how it applies to our time and context. In a day when preaching is supposed to be instantly practical and every message is to contain – to the hearer’s delight – a number of life lessons for practical application, Nahum seems to fall flat in a purpose-driven church culture.
Nahum, you see, is written to the Covenant people of God, but is written about the empire of Assyria and the capitol city of that empire, Assyria. Given that we are not Assyria, one wonders how the Text applies to us at all. Given a Covenantal hermeneutic, however, understanding that the church is spiritual Israel and that we are the people of God in this very same Covenant of grace, the serious Bible student must apprise ourselves quickly of the lessons therein and digest the book of Nahum as a part of the Canon of Scripture that is, indeed, altogether relevant for the people of God. All that means is that we must work harder to dig deeper to find the reason for us why the Holy Spirit inspired this Text and do the work of exegetes to pull out of this Text God’s meaning for us. And because the Bible and its various books are not subjective to our experience, and because we do have a Covenantal hermeneutic, we can rest assured that the meaning of this Text for the chosen people of God today is the same as its meaning for the people of God who first received it.
Also like certain other of the minor prophets, the biographical information regarding its author is sketchy. As John MacArthur writes, the “significance of the [minor] prophets was not their personal lives; it was their message. Thus, background information about the prophet from within the prophecy is rare.”[1] In other words, the minor prophets were skilled in what modern preachers are deficient. They were apt about not making the message about them, so as to not cloud the message. The message, the minor prophets teach us, should not be overshadowed by the messenger. Given the reality that God can speak through donkeys and cry out through stones, the preacher should remember that their hearers might be better off by hearing either one of those, if they tell jokes and pithy anecdotes from their own life experiences instead of giving the message that was crafted by God.
What we can glean regarding this particular messenger, Nahum, is that he introduces himself as being an Elkoshite, which was probably where he was born or where he preached from. Probably, the town Al Qosh in Northern Iraq, from Capernaum (which means “town of Nahum”) or another location in Southern Judah of a similar name.[2]
Nahum is similar to one other book in the Scripture, in that, he writes exclusively regarding the people of Nineveh. The other prophet to deal exclusively with Nineveh, if you recall from several weeks ago, is the prophet Jonah. There is a startling difference between the two, however. If you recall, Jonah preached to the Ninevehites and they repented, probably – as I laid out for  you – they worshiped a fish god and Jonah was vomited up by a fish to preach to them the One True God, and the message got across to them they should repent of their silly myths and believe the prophet who could survive by God’s power, three days in the belly of a whale. Whereas Jonah prophesied in the 8th Century, however, Nahum preached 100 years later in the 7th Century. In that interim period of time between the two, the inhabitants of Nineveh went from being a part of the greatest national, spiritual awakening in the history of mankind in which hundreds of thousands of people were saved to being again a nation that had forgotten the Lord and who slid back into idolatry. Nahum, as opposed to Jonah, never preaches to people who would repent. They would spurn Nahum’s message, and God’s wrath would soon befall him.
I would be remiss if I did not climb upon this momentary soapbox to point out an important caveat. Although the Ninevehites repented and God’s hand of wrath was staid, within one hundred years they would again dwell under the wrath of God and see their ultimate destruction. This is an Old Testament object lesson for the Reformation mantra of Semper Reformanda – reform and always reforming. Without constant reforming, constant reformation, perpetual gut-checks into our spiritual wellbeing, without constantly readjusting ourselves to the plumbline of Scripture, we too will suffer the same fate as Nineveh as a culture and people. It is not enough that we once repented, but that we repent and keep repenting.
That being said, let’s get a little more context.
After Nineveh repented, they went back to idolatry and also to oppressing God’s people Isaiah 37 records Sennacherib’s defeat in Jerusalem, but Assyria recovered from that and maintained its reign as a superpower for the region. What Nahum prophesied, regarding Nineveh’s destruction, was soon brought to pass through the power of an up and coming empire of Babylon and Babylon’s emperor that you’ve already heard of, Nebuchadnezzar. And that is precisely what Nahum is about – the collapse of Nineveh at the hands of God. John Calvin writes in his commentary…

“The sum of the [the book] is this: When the Assyrians had for some time disturbed the kingdom of Israel, the Prophet arose and exhorted the Israelites to patience, that is, those who continued to be the servants of God; because God had not wholly forsaken them, but would undertake their cause, for they were under his protection. This is the substance of the whole.”[3]

First, I want to demonstrate for you the spiritual state of Nineveh before we get to the first part of Nahum’s oracle, which is where we will see the Gospel theme. And, while I don’t want to eisegete America into this Text about Nineveh, I believe that this land is easily as wicked as that one, poses itself just as much an enemy of God in not all, but many, of the same ways, and would ask you to see the similarities. So, to do justice to the Text, be ye clear; this Text is not about our nation, but Nineveh. And yet, there are some noteworthy applications and comparisons.

 [1] Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder— no end to the prey! [2] The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! [3] Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end— they stumble over the bodies!

Nineveh had become a bloody city. Nineveh’s was a culture of death. It was full of lies and plundering. If Nineveh had a soundtrack it would be the sound of the rumbling of war, Nahum draws an explicit picture, the sounds of a cracking whip, the rumbling of the wheel, galloping war horse, bundling chariot. He paints a picture of flashing swords and glittering spears and many dead bodies and heaps of dead bodies. And as wicked as Nineveh might be, it would be hard to imagine it was so wicked as to traffic the organs of babies murdered by their parents and subsidized by taxpayer expense, but it was still wicked indeed. These were a bloodthirsty people.

 [4] And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms.

Babylon is a whore, both spiritually (forsaking the God that called her to repentance) and literally, sexually. Nahum describes her whoring as “countless.” There are too many sexual crimes to count. They are multitudinous and accepted, no doubt celebrated in that culture. And yet, Nineveh is betraying nations with her whorings and people with her charms. Nineveh has convinced other nations that she is the greatest. She’s made her whoredom look appealing to others and has reveled what God detests. It is doubtful that Nineveh’s chief export to the nations was pornography, as is America’s, but it was no doubt extensive. It’s doubtful there was the legal protection for sodomy and a legal redefinition of marriage that had been canonized in Nineveh’s laws, but it was no doubt wicked.

 [5] Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame.

Now, listen to this. This, beloved, is intriguing. This is, as I call it, top-shelf knowledge. So let me chase this exegetical rabbit for just a moment, although it’s not the main point of this message. Public nudity is a sign of God’s judgment upon a nation. Public nudity is not only deserving of God’s judgment, it is God’s judgment. To show that the Ninevehites are under judgment, God will hike up their skirts over their faces and he will cause the nations to gawk at their nakedness and the kingdoms at their shame. I covered this verse, briefly, in a message within the “Who Killed Holiness” sermon series on the topic of modesty. For a fuller explanation, consult that sermon, but let it suffice now to merely remind you – the godlier a nation is, the more modest that nation is. This is because, the more godly a nation is, the more humble it is. The more humbled we are, the more we recognize our shame before God and fellow man. Because we recognize our shame, we have an instinctual reaction, going back to the Garden of Eden, to cover ourselves. The phrase I gave you then is, “Modesty is humility in cloth form.” Those who are not godly have no shame because they have little understanding of their sin. Because they are not cognizant of their sin, they have no shame. Because they have no shame, they have no modesty. The “burn your brazier” feminist would say, “I have nothing to be ashamed of,” to which point the Christian young lady responds, “Yes. You do. It’s called sin. And having shame prevents you from being ashamed.
Well, because the Ninevehites are not humbled by their sin, they’re running around naked, and because they have not shame, God is making them ashamed by having the world gaze at their nudity. We see God’s judgment on this nation every time we turn on the television or see the amount of skin that acceptable for public viewing every time we leave our home. What we’re seeing, in fact, is not evolving fashion, but growing judgment under God.

 [6] I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. [7] And all who look at you will shrink from you and say, “Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?” Where shall I seek comforters for you? [8] Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her wall? [9] Cush was her strength; Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers.

In other words, she was once great. But now, the mighty nation has fallen.

 [10] Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity; her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; for her honored men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in chains.

As a consequence of judgment, Nineveh’s infants are not held in high regard. Her infants were being killed as though they were not worthy of life, their heads dashed in pieces. Not by the forceps of the abortionist, as in our culture, but nonetheless dead because of the sins of their parents. Likewise, the brightest and best men were enslaved – this was God making it so that Nineveh’s Atlas Shrugged. The best and brightest and most promising were made unproductive and useless to help the downslide of Nineveh.

 [11] You also will be drunken; you will go into hiding; you will seek a refuge from the enemy.

Nineveh will turn to addiction of substances in order to hide from the reality of its imminent collapse. Now, what comes next is also very interesting.

[12] All your fortresses are like fig trees with first-ripe figs— if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater.

The first comparison of the sins of Nineveh to the Garden of Eden was nudity bringing them shame, as happened with our parents in the Garden. But the next reference, I believe, to the Garden, is illustration of Nineveh’s fortesses to fig trees. Whereas Adam and Eve sought to run from God’s judgment through the use of fig leaves to cover themselves, the Ninevehites were turning to their fortresses. But Nahum says, “Your fortresses are like fig trees with ripe figs – as soon as it gets shook by the enemy, you will fall into the mouths of your enemy. In other words, “What you are finding solace in, will not spare you on the day of God’s judgment. Your solutions to flee from the wrath upon you will work no better than Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover their shame with that same fig tree.
Now, this next one will sound terribly politically incorrect, but it deserves to be pointed out.

[13] Behold, your troops are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars.

The fact that Nineveh was using their women to fight in their armies was again an indication of God’s judgment. Like Deborah in the book of Judges, the necessity of female fighters is a repudiation and condemnation upon the men of that country and a sign of God’s judgment upon a nation. Now, let me be clear. I praise God for all the honorable women who have served bravely and faithfully in the United States Armed Services, but God has ordained gender-specific roles in his economy, reinforced throughout Scripture, that indicate for us the ideal and the honoring to the reality that he made them both male and female. Within the military, the role of fighting, IE combat and the sometimes necessary use of violence is for men – not because women are dishonorable but because they are honorable and to be treasured and prized and protected from all harm and at all cost. That a nation turns to women to is a sign of judgment upon the men of that nation. Women on the front lines of battle is not something to be celebrated, but rather mourned. Not only is it not ideal, it is indeed tragic. If there is anything that is a “war on women” it would be putting women in war.

 [16] You increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away.

Nineveh has an incredible booming commercial sector. Merchants and producers. But the problem is, the locust is eating it up. No matter how much wealth that nation builds, it is eaten up into debt and poverty. No matter how much it makes or produces, it spends more.

[17] 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. [18] Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles slumber.

Where are your leaders? They’re like little insects. They’re worthless. They’re not bold. They’re not brave. They’re wicked little boys letting women fight in their stead, who flee from trouble. They’re asleep. Or in our culture, perhaps, playing another round of golf at Camp David.

 [19] 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? (Nahum 3 ESV)

When calamity falls upon Nineveh, the nations applaud and have parades in the street. Does…any…of…that…sound…familiar? So then, this is the moral state of Nineveh, to which and in which Nahum gives his prophecy.

[1] An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. God’s Wrath Against Nineveh [2] 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.

Now, in case you didn’t catch it, in Nahum’s first set of assertions he says three times that God is avenging. “The Lord is a…avenging God; the Lord is avenging…; the Lord takes vengeance.”
I am so very thankful, beloved, that I preach to a catechized people to whom I need provide no defense for wrathful vengeance of God, for we understand altogether wholly the verse from Romans 9, “Who are you, oh man, to answer back to God.” Our God, who is love, is also wrath, and they are not contradictory and neither does one attribute of God cancel out the other. I need not belabor the point here, not only because you are catechized in the attributes of God, but because that is the overall point of this message that you will see soon enough.
Of this three-fold description of God, the Pulpit Commentary says “God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth. The threefold repetition of the name of Jehovah and the attribute ‘avenging’ gives a wonderful force to this sublime description of the Divine character…[God is called] furious; literally, master of fury.”[4]
And, of course, I do not need to explain to you, beloved, that God is immutable and He does not change. God does not somehow exchange his wrath for love between the two Testaments. It is in the New Testament that Paul warns us in Romans 1:18 of the wrath of God poured out because of the unrighteousness of men. It is in the New Testament in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Colossians 6:4) that the wrath of God is coming upon the children of disobedience. It is in 1 Thessalonians 2:16 Paul writes of God’s wrath coming upon sinners to the uttermost. It is Jesus who spoke of the coming wrath to the Pharisees in Luke 3:7 like an indisputable, universally understood fact. But then again, beloved, I need not explain that to you, because by God’s grace we are not weak-willed tender-hearted idolaters who have crafted a God of sunshine and rainbows in our heart, but we are believers who know of what the prophet speaks, that it is a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of a living God.
For the rest of this, time is greatly fleeting and I haven’t the time to exegete this, so please – as I read it – let the words wash over you, and let us rely upon divine illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit to supernaturally comprehend it without further exposition…
[3] 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. [4] He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. [5] The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. [6] Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
It’s here that the evangelist hears something so very familiar. The evangelist shares the Law of God and asks the sinner, “Dear sinner, on that day of judgment, will you be found innocent or guilty?” And knowing the Law of God, knowing they have transgressed, having been apprised as to God’s moral commandments, “Will you be innocent or guilty on that day of judgment” and their response is, almost without fail, “I will be innocent.” “Why,” you ask? “Because” – they will tell you – “God will forgive me. God loves me.”
You see, what they do not know is that the Scripture speaks to our condemnation when the prophet writes, “the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.” If you have guilt, you will not be cleared. Who, oh sinner, can stand before his indignation? Who, oh sinner, can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken into pieces by him!
No one, who is guilty, can face the wrath of God. And yet, a glimmer of good news.

[7] The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.

Their refuge, Nineveh’s refuge are fortresses that are like fig trees. When they get shook, their bounty will fall into the mouths of their oppressors. But God’ is the refuge of his people, and he offers them safety in the cleft of his rock.
But now, we see contrasted with this what will happen to the enemies of God. And this, beloved, is what you must understand; God’s grace to His people is demonstrated by wrath toward His enemies.

[8] But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness. [9] What do you plot against the LORD? He will make a complete end; trouble will not rise up a second time. [10] For they are like entangled thorns, like drunkards as they drink; they are consumed like stubble fully dried. [11] From you came one who plotted evil against the LORD, a worthless counselor. [12] Thus says the LORD, “Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. [13] And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.” [14] The LORD has given commandment about you: “No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile.”

Again, let me say – God’s grace for His people is demonstrated by His wrath for His enemies. Who do you think you are, to rise up against the people of God? Do you think that God will sit by while His people are attacked and His name defamed? Does Paul not write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirt, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Does the Holy Spirit not write to the church in Thessalonica in the first chapter of his second letter, “God considers it just to repay those who afflict you.” Does God not speak to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 32, “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.”
We have assurance, as the chosen people of God, that He is jealous for his people’s protection and care, and that He will protect His flock and destroy the bear and lion that seek to devour it? Doeth God not speak through the prophet, Isaiah…

no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.”

Well now, how far will God go to defend his people? Do you remember little boys making fun of Elisha’s bald head? They’re just making fun of his baldness. Just a little schoolyard jesting, just a little school boy fun. Yeah, but no. God brought a she-bear forth from the woods and mauled 42 of the boys. Lay neither your hand nor your tongue upon the man of God or the sheep of his pasture.
I tell you, beloved, there has been more than one occasion I’ve stood back in great trepidation and fear to see God’s providential hand utterly cut off those who would seek me harm and I’ve watched it enough times to know this – what they have received from God on my behalf, is more times than not much, much more severe than what I would ever have personally given them and yet I’ve seen God level people and families and homes and wealth to bring vengeance to those who’ve sought my destruction. He is not a God to test by harming his children. And I tell you something else, there have been times when I’ve not been perfectly innocent in all my dealings and had very real enemies for what amounts to good reasons, seek to do me evil and in spite of my complicitness, I’ve seen God bring vengeance against them. HE will chasten his children, not you. It is his place, and if you touch your finger against God’s anointed, He’ll devour you. Such is the relationship between God and the people with whom He is in covenant.
So then, in Nahum we see – get this – God’s grace for His people is demonstrated in his judgment, vengeance and wrath for His enemies. Do you understand that? God’s love for Israel will be evidenced in God’s destruction of Nineveh. So then, where’s the Gospel in all of that?

[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. (Nahum 1 ESV)

Upon the mountains, no doubt the mountains of Moriah around Jerusalem, where Christ was crucified, shall be the feet of him who bring good news and publishes peace.
Well…that’s odd. In the midst of this bad news, from where comes the good news? This verse eluded to in Romans 10:14-15, which of course is also similar to the phrase in Isaiah 52. Paul writes, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the Good News.” This follows his explanation, following Romans 9 which explains God’s election, why Christians must be engaged in evangelism even though God will save those whom He wills.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Now, this Gospel (Good News) message is eluded to right in the midst of this passage about God destroying His enemies. What do the two have in common?
This is the Good News, beloved. God has always displayed His grace for His chosen people by showing wrath toward His enemies. Here is Amazing Grace – God, through the Gospel, showed grace for His enemies by demonstrating wrath toward His beloved.
While we were yet still sinners and enemies of God, God placed our sins upon His own Son and killed his beloved in our place. Can you imagine? Can you imagine? God’s love is demonstrated for us in this, that Christ Jesus died for the ungodly. He who had no sin, was made sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God.
In the Gospel, we preach the message that God has given us reprieve by making Jesus a curse and making Him like Nineveh, so that we – spiritual Ninevehites, might be made right with Him. It was sentencing His most loved to death, to save His enemies. This is why it is Amazing Grace.
Blessed be the feet of those that preach the Good News.
[1] http://www.gty.org/resources/bible-introductions/MSB34/nahum
[2] Ibid
[3] Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XIV, p 414
[4] The Pulpit Commentary, Volume XIV, p1 under heading, The Book of Nahum
 
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