Thursday, July 28, 2016

Nahum: Good Theology from a Book of God's Judgment

In a recent post--Nahum: The Word of God or the Imagination of Man?--I looked at an essay which, in the final analysis, denigrates the vision of God contained in the book of Nahum.  Another essay by Aron Pinker--Nahum's Theological Perspectives Jewish Bible Quarterly 32 (2004), 148-157--provides a good counter-point as he accurately unfolds the deep theology of Nahum.

Pinker begins by stating the purpose of his paper:
The purpose of this paper is to show that Nahum's small book contains an unusually rich theological perspective, and a prophetic message of eternal validity, which is in line with the best prophetic traditions. (p. 149)
Pinker lists out and briefly explains sixteen "specific beliefs that can be discerned in the Book of Nahum."  I will list out these sixteen statement and add a few extra quotations from Pinker for some of them.

1.  God demands universal adherence to His moral code.
God's jealousy presupposes an accepted moral fabric.  It is the basis for man's hope that a just cause would be recognized.  Moreover, God's jealousy implies the existence of a purpose.  The achievement of this purpose involves His chosen people.  Those who pose a threat to His people become His enemies, because they obstruct the attainment of His purpose.
2.  God punishes transgressions.
An avenging God gives hope and comfort that justice will be done.
3.  God is "temperamentally" involved.
God possesses anger (1:2), which is a consequence of the discrepancy between the reality of the human condition and God's expectation from man.  God is not apathetic, nor is He distanced and uninterested.  Being in possession of anger means that He is involved, interested, and near to man and historical events.
4.  Trangressors of God's moral code are His enemies.

5.  God bears a grudge.
God's bearing a grudge guarantees that every act has to be accounted for.
6.  God is slow to anger.
Time allowed for the sinner to reform is usually also an extension of the suffering of the righteous... How the Lord harmonizes between "being slow to anger" and "timely justice" is not altogether clear... While Nahum describes a "furious" and "avenging" God, it is clear that this is a state reached only after all the "patience" has been exhausted.
7.  God is great in power.

8.  God does not remit all punishment.

9.  God's majesty is exhibited in nature's reaction to His appearance.
His appearance causes a cataclysm of nature, indicating His supremacy over the forces of nature and His ability to reverse long-standing features (1:4-6).  This is the basis for his argument that God can undo the Assyrian Empire, a lasting phenomenon of might and subjugation.
10.  God is good.

11. Belief in God is a source of strength in time of duress.

12.  Deliverance as a consequence of the other's punishment.

13.  God's verdict can not countervailed.

14.  There is a moral code by which God judges nations.

15.  God is in charge.

16.  Restoration of the special relationship with God
When the messenger brings the tidings of peace (2:1), Nahum urges Judah joyfully to celebrate its feasts and fulfill its vows.  The directive implies a new start without any resentments or recriminations.  Such "new beginnings" are possible with the Lord.
After listing and discussing these sixteen beliefs Pinker has these apt words:
Nahum's book appears to be imbued with a strong sense of God's sovereignty and clearly portrays His lordship over history.  This serves as the principal element of Nahum's comforting message, transcending the specific historical situation that was the cause for its announcement.  Nahum's eternal message is one of hope, which gives comfort to anyone oppressed by seemingly invulnerable tyranny.  He clearly presents the normative theological position held by the biblical prophets: The Lord is powerful, applies His power to counter evil and protect the righteous.  There is nothing shallow in Nahum's theological perspectives.  His theocentric view of history would not have permitted a position of an opportunistic national propagandist.  For it was clear to him that Judah's salvation is not one that it deserves but rather is a consequence of Assyria's fall.  Nahum rejoices, firstly, because the sanctuary will be cleansed and sacrifices brought (2:1), enabling a recovery of religious norms.  (p. 155)
This is a good and proper perspective on the book of Nahum.  May we listen afresh to God's word--yes, even Nahum--with faith, humility, and worship.