Good News for the Oppressed

Scripture: Nahum 1:11-15

 

Title: Good news for the oppressed

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • The message to Nineveh (and its king)
  • The message to Judah
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Today we continue our series on the city of Nineveh

–         First we looked at Nineveh through the eyes of Jonah

–         Now we look at Nineveh through the eyes of another prophet, Nahum

–         Nahum is sort of like the Brussel sprouts of the Bible

–         You know it’s good for you but that doesn’t make it taste any better

 

In the book of Jonah, the people of Nineveh repented of their violent ways and God had compassion on them – He relented and did not destroy their city

–         Sadly Nineveh’s repentance did not last

–         Some decades later the Assyrians went back to their old ways of terrorism and torture

–         Fast forward 100 years or so from the time of Jonah and God has another message concerning Nineveh

–         This time Nahum is given a vision of Nineveh’s destruction

–         While Nahum’s message is bad news for Nineveh, it is good news for the people of Judah

 

We pick up the prophecy from verse 11 of Nahum chapter 1…

 

From you, [O Nineveh], has one come forth who plots evil against the Lord and counsels wickedness. This is what the Lord says:

“Although they [Assyria] have allies and are numerous, they will be cut off and pass away. Although I have afflicted you, [O Judah], I will afflict you no more. Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away.”

 

The Lord has given a command concerning you, [O king of Assyria]:

“You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the carved images and cast idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave for you are vile.”

 

Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace. Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, and fulfil your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed.    

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the name Nahum means comforter

–         Although it might not seem like it to us (because of the strong language used in this book) Nahum’s message was essentially a message of comfort to the people of Judah who had suffered much at the hands of the Assyrians, for more than a century

–         It was a comfort to the oppressed to know that God was going to bring an end to the terror and violence of Assyrian rule

 

Today’s verses contain a message for two audiences – that is: Nineveh (in particular the king of Assyria who lived in Nineveh) and Judah (the Jews)

–         First, let us consider Nahum’s word to Nineveh and it’s king

 

The message to Nineveh (and its king):

One of the truly impressive things about Nahum, we believe, is that he predicted the downfall of Nineveh at a time when Assyria was at the height of its powers

–         I expect it would have taken a great deal of faith and courage for Nahum to say what he said against Nineveh

–         Violent dictators tend to take exception to individuals (like Nahum) who criticise their regime

–         Not only that but Nahum’s own people (the Jews) did not take kindly to false prophets or to false hope

–         To most people Nahum’s prediction that Nineveh would be destroyed would have seemed highly unlikely in the context

 

In the next Jack Reacher movie there is a scene where Jack Reacher is sitting in a diner (a café) and he gets arrested by a Sherriff

–         While he is in cuffs and still in the diner Jack says to the Sherriff

–         “In the next 90 seconds two things are going to happen. First the phone is going to ring and then you will be in these hand cuffs on your way to jail”

–         The Sherriff laughs at him and says, “That’s a hang of a prophecy”

–         Then the phone rings – next thing you see the Sherriff in cuffs and being taken away in a patrol car

–         Apparently the Sherriff was dirty and Jack Reacher had proven him guilty

 

Nahum’s prediction was a bit like Jack Reacher’s prediction

–         Just as the sheriff’s situation would soon be reversed so that he was wearing the handcuffs and not Jack Reacher, so too Nineveh’s situation of relative power would soon be reversed, even though it seemed highly unlikely in the context

 

In verse 12 the Lord says…

–         “Although they [Assyria] have allies and are numerous, they will be cut off and pass away…”

 

Nahum’s prediction (that the most powerful nation in the world would be ended) seemed unlikely, but that’s exactly what happened

–         In 612 BC – some years after Nahum’s prophecy – the Babylonians completely destroyed Nineveh

 

God’s message here isn’t just for Nineveh generally – the Lord has a personal message for the king of Assyria in particular

 

In verse 11, Nahum talks about one who plots evil against the Lord and counsels wickedness

–         This is a reference to the king of Assyria who was planning and scheming to destroy Jerusalem

–         God knew what the king was thinking and took personal offence at the king’s plans

–         To give you an idea of the evil character of the kings of Assyria, this is what one of them wrote about himself

–         These words were discovered by archaeologists – content may disturb…

 

I flayed [the skin from] as many nobles as had rebelled against me [and] draped their skins over the pile [of corpses]… I cut off the heads of their fighters [and used their heads to] build a tower before their city. I burnt their adolescent boys [and] girls… I captured many troops alive: I cut off, of some, their arms [and] hands; I cut off, of others, their noses, ears, [and] other extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made one pile of the living [and] one of the heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city. [1]  

 

That gives you an idea of the kind of person the king of Assyria was

–         Not only did he torture & terrify people – he was proud of it

–         God is patient and slow to anger – but he’s also just, he won’t tolerate that sort of behaviour for too long

–         Given the terrible things the king has been doing the Lord says to the Assyrian leader…

 

“You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the carved images and cast idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave for you are vile.”

 

Three consequences for the king of Assyria here…

–         He will have no descendants

–         His religion (everything he had sacrificed for & believed in) will be destroyed – which essentially means his life will have no meaning

–         And he will die – God will bury him

 

Now some people might think – gee that’s bit harsh of God

–         But in actual fact what we notice here is God’s mercy in punishment

–         God does not threaten to torture the king, as the king had tortured others

–         God takes no pleasure in the suffering of his enemies

–         His punishment, in this context, is annihilation – which is a relatively merciful outcome

–         The other kindness God shows the Assyrian king is to dig a grave for him – this is more than the Assyrians had done for their enemies

 

So that’s God’s message for the people of Nineveh and for their king personally

–         What then does the Lord have to say to the people of Judah?

–         Well it’s (mostly) good news for them

 

God’s message to the people of Judah:

Last week we were fortunate enough to spend some time in the South Island

–         One of the places we stayed at was affordable but a little bit dodgey

–         We woke up one morning to find that we were locked in our room

–         The door wouldn’t open from the inside so we had to phone someone to come and unlock the door from the outside

–         That was fine except the same thing happened the next morning, which was a bit more frustrating, not to mention dangerous

–         (Especially when the phone didn’t work at first)

–         Not sure what would have happened if the building had caught on fire

–         Having just spent the previous few days walking through some wide open spaces, I didn’t appreciate feeling trapped & powerless in a tiny room

–         Fortunately our incarceration wasn’t long

 

Judah were a trapped nation

–         “Decades earlier the Assyrians had subjugated and exiled the peoples of the northern kingdom [Israel] (2 Kings 17). They did not overthrow the [southern] kingdom of Judah at that time, but for almost a century… the Assyrians controlled Judah as a kind of puppet kingdom” [2]

–         In other words, Judah were essentially locked in their room, unable to escape Assyrian control

–         They were powerless to free themselves and needed someone to release them from the outside

–         This is essentially what God was promising to do for Judah in verse 13 where he says…

 

“…Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away.”

 

Shackles are like hand cuffs and, in this context, the yoke is a metaphor of oppression

–         A yoke is a wooden cross bar that fits over the neck of the ox

–         The farmer uses the yoke to control the ox

–         The Assyrian yoke (their means of controlling Judah) was going to be broken – this was good news for the captives

–         But the good news came with a little sting because just before this, in the second part of verse 12, the Lord says…

 

“Although I have afflicted you, [O Judah], I will afflict you no more.”

 

God is basically taking responsibility for Judah’s suffering

–         It was God who put the Assyrian yoke on Judah’s shoulders in the first place

–         On the one hand this is a difficult truth to face – God has had a hand in Judah’s affliction

–         But on a more positive note it does reassure us that God is in control of the situation

–         Just as he had the power to put the yoke on them, so too he has the power to remove the yoke

 

To give you some context the people of Judah had behaved badly themselves

–         They had been disloyal to the Lord and cheated on him by worshipping other gods

–         Consequently God tried to bring his people back into line using the yoke of Assyrian oppression

–         Unfortunately the Assyrians had gone too far and so God had to break the Assyrians’ power

 

The day would come when the Lord would give his people an easy yoke

–         As Jesus said…

–         Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light

–         Jesus’ yoke is not one of fear or oppression – it is one of wisdom and freedom to do right

 

The message of good news for Judah continues in verse 15…

 

Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace…

 

Here Nahum imagines the future with a messenger running through the mountains carrying the message of good news that Nineveh has fallen

–         Nineveh’s destruction will mean peace for the people of Judah

 

This word would give light to the people living in darkness

–         It would be like being in a prison camp during the Second World War and receiving word that the Allied soldiers had recaptured Paris and were on their way to Berlin

–         Or it would be like living in Syria and hearing the news that the war was finally over (for good this time) and life could return to normal

–         To those who believed Nahum’s message it would have the power of giving people hope to carry on

–         There was light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t a train coming

 

Nahum’s verse finds an echo in Isaiah 52, verse 7…

–         How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns”

 

This is the crux of faith really – believing that God reigns (that the Lord is in control of events) even when everything appears to be in chaos

 

Nahum 1 verse 15 continues with the words…

–         Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, and fulfil your vows.

 

Just as we have Christian festivals like Easter & Christmas so too the Jews have their religious festivals – community rituals for remembering their history & identity

–         By saying, ‘celebrate your festivals O Judah’, Nahum is encouraging the people to remain faithful to Yahweh

–         Remember who you are, stay solid in your faith, by continuing your normal patterns of worship

 

Most of the Christian life comes down to faithfulness

–         What we generally get in the Bible is the highlights of God’s dealings with humanity throughout history

–         We don’t get the whole 5 day test match

–         For example, we hear how Joseph went to Egypt and saved his family from starvation and then 400 years pass without much comment until Moses comes along

–         What happened in that 400 years between Joseph & Moses?

–         God had promised to give Jacob’s descendants the land of Canaan and yet there they were faithfully waiting in the land of Egypt, believing in the promise and passing on their faith to their children – simply trusting God to make good on his promise one day, somehow

–         Nothing spectacular – just remembering who they were and abiding in God’s promise – Being the people of God together

 

There’s a wonderful article in the latest edition of the Baptist magazine by Dr Greg Liston [3]

–         His article addresses the issue that while the Christian church is growing rapidly in places like Asia, Africa and South America, it is (generally speaking) declining in size, status and significance in western countries like ours

–         Some people respond to this decline by saying we need to do more and do it better – be more relevant, more polished, more innovative, etc.

–         The problem with this is that we end up taking the responsibility (and the stress) for the success of the church on our own shoulders – big mistake

 

Greg says the church’s deepest challenge actually lies – not in working out what we can do better, but in remembering who we are…

–         We need to remember that the church is not principally a human organisation, but one foundationally constituted by God’s Spirit

–         This means the church is not primarily a responsibility

–         Rather the church is a gift

–         So our job is not to make stuff happen

–         Our job is to join in with what God is already doing

 

As Mother Teresa is often quoted as saying…

–         ‘God has not called me to be successful, he has called me to be faithful’

 

Or, as Jesus says…

–         Apart from me you can do nothing

–         Abide in me and you will bear much fruit

 

Celebrate your festivals and fulfil your vows

–         We shouldn’t try to be something we’re not

–         Remember who you are and remain faithful in your worship as you wait for God to fulfil his promises

 

Chapter 1 of Nahum concludes with the words…

–         No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed.   

 

This is the good news which makes it possible for Judah to wait faithfully

–         “The wicked” most likely refers specifically to the Assyrians

–         God is not making an unconditional promise here that Judah will never be invaded by anyone ever again

–         He is saying they won’t be invaded by Assyria

 

Sadly the people of Judah were not able to remain faithful to the Lord for long

–         And because of their unfaithfulness Jerusalem eventually fell to the Babylonians, as well, and the survivors were carried off into exile

 

Conclusion:

This part of Israel’s history is a bit sad really

–         Fortunately it doesn’t end there

–         In a kind of muted way Nahum’s prophecy points beyond the politics of his day to Jesus

 

In Luke 4, Jesus gives his job description – quoting from the prophet Isaiah he outlines what he came to do…

–         The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor

–         He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind

–         To release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour

 

The people of Jesus’ day, who lived under Roman occupation (which was similar but perhaps not quite as bad as Assyrian oppression) naturally thought Jesus had come to destroy Rome, as Nineveh had been destroyed

–         But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world

–         He didn’t come for political revolution

–         Jesus weapons were not swords or spears

–         His weapons were grace & truth

–         Jesus didn’t come to wage war against flesh and blood

–         He came to destroy sin & death

 

Jesus set the captives free by healing people of their diseases

–         By casting out evil spirits

–         And through forgiveness

 

Jesus’ greatest victory was won by laying down his life and dying on a cross

–         Jesus’ resurrection is the sign of his victory over death

–         Our job is to be faithful in trusting Jesus and his resurrection

 

Let us pray…

 

 

[1] Quoted in James Bruckner’s NIVAC on Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah,  page 29

[2] Tremper Longman III – page 798 of ‘The minor prophets’ (Nahum).

[3] Greg Liston, Baptist Magazine (NZ), ‘I believe in the Church, pages 4-6.

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