Devastation, desolation, and destruction!
Hearts faint and knees tremble,
all loins quake,
all faces grow pale!
This week it’s Nahum for my Bible readings with the excellent BRF Guidelines. I have to confess my need for index to find this book in the Old Testament – it’s just after Micah, although I’m not that sure which that is either.
It’s not just that Nahum gives us only three chapters. The reason we never hear much of this prophet from Elkosh is that his focus is exclusively on the imminent fall of Nineveh, the magnificent capital of the utterly ruthless Assyrian empire. That’s all.
So why read this ancient oracle spoken to his dispossessed people? The prophet clearly relishes the devastation, desolation, and destruction of the Assyrians in 2:10. Vivid word play but hardly family reading. A lot of blood and guts.
But that is the whole point – the Bible is not for family reading, it’s about the real world, reality as it is with all its terrors and traumas. As in Syria this day.
Certainly the people of the ten tribes of Israel suffered cruelly at the hands of the Assyrians, a byword for extreme violence and lust for bloodshed. It must have been utterly traumatic to lose everything, even your homeland and culture, your community and family. Above all the God of Israel is mocked and rendered impotent.
“There’s a lot of bitterness, there’s a lot of anger out there,” observes Congressman Allen Body. There seems to be a deep well of anger in our society. It doesn’t take much to get us going on the Bulgarians and Romanians (especially the Roma) flooding the streets of Ormskirk. Or the M6.
Just read the Daily Mail. This morning we have Raymond Hull, from Springkell, Cumbria, to get us going. “Father of 22 children by 11 women is spared jail to look after baby.” Or the reaction of Myleene Klass after her mother and sister were mugged: ‘I hope you get hit by a bus and die. Slowly’.
I can see this in me. On a regular basis I plot to blow up the headquarters of some organisation which has crossed me in a particular way. Sometimes I wonder where it comes from.
God knows this, he knows what lurks beneath. Nothing is ever gained by denying reality – it’s knowing what to do with our anger, how to handle our rage.
And the answer is to give it to him. This is the heritage of the Hebrew scriptures, in facing up to the unpleasant, the terrible motivations in us. At its most extreme it may mean wanting to see the loved ones of our enemy cruelly suffer.
“O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! (Psalm 137:8). Horrible words but that is how the exiles actually felt!
But the whole point is that these words can be directed to God, the God who knows us through and through. For the truth is that so many people are angry with God. He can take it. He loves us.
It is this security which allows prophets like Nahum to be real with God. And in doing so he is able to encourage God’s people by articulating their feelings and taking these to their Lord.
For the truth is – despite all appearances – that God is in charge.
In 612 BC Nineveh suddenly fell. Nahum’s vivid descriptions are actually realized in real life. Meanwhile, he tells us: hold on, keep trusting, stay faithful. Let God deal with your anger. Hence the cross.