Nahum: A Message of God’s Judgment

Standard

            It seems that everyone knows the story of Jonah. He disobeyed God’s call, was swallowed by a whale, and then preached to Nineveh and they repented. The story of Nineveh doesn’t end with Jonah, though. Nahum gives us the rest of the story about Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. Nahum prophesied approximately 150 years after Jonah preached to Nineveh. Although Nineveh had repented under Jonah’s preaching, they had become very powerful and very wicked by the time of Nahum. The Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC and had been oppressing the southern kingdom of Judah. God graciously gave them the opportunity to repent through the preaching of Jonah, but their repentance was short-lived and it is now time for judgment.
           
         In chapter one, God declares His judgment on Assyria. It is important to understand that the term “Nineveh” is used to refer to the entire Assyrian nation since Nineveh is the capital city. Why must God judge Assyria? The same reason He judges any nation or people; God is righteous. We know that God is willing to judge the Assyrians because of His jealous and avenging nature (vs. 2). Verse 3-5 illustrate God’s awesome power and tell us that He is capable of judging the Assyrians. Not only is God willing and able, but God is also ready to judge the Assyrians because Nahum states that His wrath is about to be poured out (vs. 6). In all this, however, God gives Judah reason to rejoice because He is about to punish one of her greatest enemies (vs. 15).
           
       In chapter two, God describes His coming judgment on Assyria. The nation would fall in 612 B.C. under the army of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, but Nahum foretells the event in vivid detail (vs. 1-7). Nineveh was situated near the Tigris River and two other smaller rivers and there were dams built to minimize seasonal flooding. Verse 6 suggests that the Babylonians opened these dams to flood the city and destroy the walls. Verses 8-10 foretell the plundering of Nineveh. Assyria had plundered many other nations, but now the Babylonians would loot the city of Nineveh. Verses 11-13 predict the total desolation of Nineveh. Assyria is about to receive the same destruction they have caused to others; an example of the principle Jesus would teach centuries later, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:2).
           
          Chapter three shows us why Assyria deserved judgment from God. Assyria was a cruel nation that profited from the massacre of other nations (vs. 1-3) and was characterized by moral and spiritual depravity (vs. 4-7). Pagan idolatry and immorality were rampant in Assyria. God then declares that Nineveh will be like Thebes (or No-Amon), a fortified Egyptian city that Assyria had captured (vs. 8-10). If God could allow the Assyrians to capture Thebes, He can cause the Babylonians to destroy Nineveh. Verse 19 states that all that hear of Assyria’s destruction shall “clap their hands” for joy when they hear of the righteous judgment of God.

The book of Nahum bears a message of condemnation for those who disobey God and a message of consolation for those who obey Him. God must judge the wicked because of His righteousness, because of human wickedness, and for the relief of the afflicted. It was in this type of situation that Abraham rhetorically asked, “Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). We can be comforted knowing that the righteousness of God will not permit tyranny and oppression forever. Assyria is just one historical example of God’s judgment on a wicked nation. Eventually, God will bring true justice to every wicked empire, nation, city, and individual. 

This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 2, 2013.

Jesus Our Shepherd

Standard

           Have you ever considered the significance of the different titles for Jesus? There are many names by which Jesus is identified. He is called King and Priest, Lion and Lamb, Lord and Servant to name a few. Many of these titles even seem to conflict with each other. How can a powerful, majestic lion also be a meek and vulnerable lamb? How can a sovereign king also be a suffering servant? These titles do not contradict each other, but rather give us a complete picture of who Jesus was and is. In the Gospel of John, Jesus identifies himself with seven different “I am” statements, with each one providing a different truth about who Jesus is to us and what he does for us (6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1). In this passage we find two of these “I am” statements. Jesus tells us that he is the door and he is the good shepherd. These two titles give us a complete view of our Shepherd’s care for us. 


             Jesus says that he is “the door of the sheep.” Contrasted with the “thieves and robbers” who desire to kill the sheep (vs. 10), Jesus offers abundant life to them. This abundant life is identified by three specific blessings in verse nine. The first blessing provided by the door is entrance into the fold. The only way to be in the fold, is to enter by Jesus, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The second blessing of the door is security. The sheep that enters by the door “will be saved.” Our salvation is not dependent on our performance, but on His protection. The third blessing provided by the door is provision. The sheep “will go in and out and find pasture.” Not only are the sheep safe and secure, but the sheep are satisfied. Jesus is our provider as well as our protector.

            Jesus also says that he is “the good shepherd.” Notice Jesus is not an ordinary shepherd; he is the “good” shepherd. As the good shepherd, Jesus shows his personal care for us. We see this first in the sacrifice of the shepherd. Jesus is the only shepherd who gives his life for the sheep (Heb. 13:20). Unlike the hireling who abandons the sheep at the first sign of danger (vs. 12), Jesus died for us that we might have the abundant life mentioned in verse eleven. Also we see the personal care of Jesus in the fellowship of the shepherd. Jesus said “I know my sheep, and am known by My own.” We have a personal relationship with our Shepherd that is unique and intimate (1 John 1:3). Finally, we see the personal care of Jesus in the leadership of the shepherd. Jesus said he would bring other sheep into this fold and all would be under the leadership of one shepherd (vs. 16). This refers to the salvation of the Gentiles and their inclusion in the Kingdom (Ephesians 2:11-22). The good shepherd leads his sheep with his voice and his example (vs. 3-5). 

            The “thieves and robbers” Jesus mentioned did not care for the well-being of the sheep, but rather had selfish motives and desired to steal and slaughter the sheep. The “hireling” cared for the sheep as long as it was in his best interests to do so, but when the wolves appeared he disappeared because he had no personal connection with the sheep. Jesus used these titles to describe the false teachers and religious leaders of his day. Jesus stands in bright contrast to them. He gave his very life for our salvation. He is our Sovereign, our Savior, and our Shepherd. 
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, December 24, 2012.

Yahweh Our Righteousness

Standard

            In the midst of his trials, Job asked a question that ought to resonate within the heart of every individual, “…how can a man be righteous before God?” (Job 9:2). Job was a godly man and had defended himself against the false accusations of his friends, but he knew that his righteousness was nothing compared to the righteousness of God. All of our works and morality may be impressive when compared to other fallen men and women, but cannot begin to meet the standards of Yahweh our God. The good news, however, is that God doesn’t simply leave us in our fallen, guilty state. The same God who demands righteousness also provides righteousness through Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:21-22 teaches us that God revealed His righteousness in Jesus Christ. Jesus displayed this perfect righteousness by fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. Jesus fulfilled the moral demands of the Law with His sinless life, He fulfilled the judicial demands of the Law by his sacrificial death, and He fulfilled the ceremonial demands of the Law by his supreme nature; Jesus is the high priest, the perfect sacrifice, and the true temple. Where men had failed to keep God’s Law, Jesus prevailed and now provides His righteousness for us. No wonder the Messiah is called “Yahweh our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:5-6); He is our God and our Savior!
            In Romans 3:22-23 we discover that anyone can receive this gift of righteousness and everyone needs it, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No matter how clean our lives may appear to other people, each and every one of us has “missed the mark” of God’s righteousness. Like the Babylonian ruler, Belshazzar, we “have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting” (Dan. 6:27). Paul had a shining record according to the law prior to his conversion, but he recognized that he was spiritually and eternally bankrupt without the righteousness that Christ gives (Philippians 3:4-9). No person is so good that he doesn’t need Christ, and none is so wicked that he can’t receive Him.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the gift of righteousness to sinners is the way it is provided. Jesus is the possessor of righteousness and He is the provider of righteousness, but He is also the propitiation for our sins. The fact that Jesus is our propitiation means that He is the means through which we are forgiven. Salvation and righteousness did not come without a cost; in order for us to receive His righteousness, Christ had to receive the punishment for our sins. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). There could be no justification for us without the sinless sacrifice of Jesus in our place.
In our busy, task-oriented society we are often evaluated by other people for our works and productivity, but we need to remember that while God rewards us for our performance, He accepts us based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Many of the Israelites rejected Christ because they were depending on a works-based righteousness which is totally incapable of justifying us before God (Rom. 10:1-4). In contrast, Abraham, the father of the Israelites was justified by his faith and not by works (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3). Although we are called to live in obedience to God’s commands, we find righteousness and salvation through faith in Christ, not by the incomplete, fallen works that we have to offer. 
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, December 11, 2012.

Yahweh Our God

Standard

            Have you ever been discouraged? Has it ever seemed that God hasn’t kept a promise? Have you ever suffered for following God’s plan? You aren’t the first to feel this way. In Exodus 6:2-8, we find God confronting a discouraged Moses. Moses has just appeared before Pharaoh and not only did he not succeed in gaining Israel’s freedom, he actually made their working conditions worse! They now have to gather their own straw for bricks and continue the same level of productivity. Moses has upset both Pharaoh and the Israelite foremen. Moses is understandably discouraged, but God encourages Moses with divine promises of deliverance.

            God first reminds Moses who He is: “I am Yahweh.” God is revealing Himself to Moses with His personal, covenant name. This is the name that represents God’s personal dealings in the affairs of the Israelites. The divine name, Yahweh, is closely related to the Hebrew word “hawyah”, meaning “to be.” He is “I AM,” the only self-existent God whose promises are bound up in His true and eternal nature. God then recalls the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give them a great nation of descendants and the land of Canaan as a possession. God tells Moses to remind the Israelites that He is Yahweh, then He gives Abraham seven “I will” promises to give to the Israelites: I will deliver you, I will free you, I will redeem you, I will take you as my people, I will be your God, I will bring you to the land, and I will give it to you (vs. 6-8). God gives His people two, short statements for comfort “I AM” and “I will.” He is saying “I am God, and I will keep my promises!”

            We now fast-forward to chapter 15. God has just given Israel victory over the Egyptians who had enslaved them for 400 years. The Israelites are now standing on the shore of the Red Sea after walking through on dry ground. Pharaoh and the Egyptian army are drowned in the sea. Israel is free for the first time in 400 years. This generation had never known anything but slavery and oppression and God has just delivered them. God has kept His promises! It is time to celebrate and that is exactly what the Israelites are doing. Chapter 15 records their victory song.

            In verse 15:1, Moses and the Israelites give the reason for their praise (vs. 1); they are singing because of the victory that God has given them. Israel also recognizes that God is their salvation (vs. 2). They were not delivered by an army or their own strength, but by a miraculous act of God. Israel also does something very significant in this passage; they acknowledge Yahweh not only as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but also as their personal Lord and God. Israel is making a public, personal, and national commitment to God! In 15:11, Israel publicly acknowledges that Yahweh is unique and exclusive: there is none other like Him. The false gods of the Egyptians are seen as weak and powerless against the backdrop of Yahweh’s majesty and holiness.
Perhaps you have been discouraged like Moses when it seemed that your best efforts had failed. Or perhaps you’ve been angry like the Israelite foremen when following God’s plan seemed to land you in more trouble than you were in to start with. These are not times to give up, but rather they are times we should recall God’s promises and remember those two phrases “I AM” and “I will.” God never changes and God never breaks a promise. 

This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, November 27, 2012.

Keep Out of the Red This Christmas

Standard

The Christmas season is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but do we really honor Jesus when we bring unnecessary stress on ourselves? Jesus himself tells us to be free from worry and anxiety (Matt. 6:24-34), yet we seem to celebrate his birth by bringing these things upon us. Jesus acknowledged that the greatest of our worries are financial and this is never more true than during the Christmas season. Here are five ways you can avoid financial stress this holiday season.
1.             Appreciate the blessings you already have
Proverbs 15:16 (NKJV) Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, Than great treasure with trouble.
Did you know the Bible offers a get-rich-quick plan? It’s called CONTENTMENT. 1 Timothy 6:6-8 says that godliness and contentment is “great gain.”  Charles Spurgeon said that small shoes tend to hurt our feet unless we have small feet, likewise, if we have small means we ought to have small desires or else we will be uncomfortable. One of the Puritans wrote, ‘Contentment works not by adding to our circumstances, but by subtracting from our desires.’ 
Contentment should be at the top of our Christmas list! God will provide for our needs (Proverbs 10:3a), but not necessarily all our wants. If God has not promised to provide our wants, should we really be bending over backwards every Christmas to ensure that we have EVERYTHING we want? 
2.             Keep your priorities straight – money isn’t everything!
Proverbs 23:4 (NKJV)  Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease!
We are to gain wealth through hard work (10:4–5; 6:6–11), but some pursue wealth at the expense of family, worship, and rest. This is against God’s plan for us (Psalm 127:2). Moreover, the person who has a strong desire to be rich will be tempted to sin (Proverbs 28:20; 28:22). The wrong attitude toward money can wreck friendships and even destroy a home. “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house…” (15:27, NKJV).
3.             Create a spending plan – BEFORE you go shopping!
“The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty” (21:5, NKJV).
The wise man lives by a budget or a spending plan. Such a person develops sales resistance: ‘The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps’ (14:15). A spending plan will help you say “NO” to pushy salesmen. Don’t let all the shiny, bright plastic stuff distract you! Stick to your plan!
4.             Don’t go in debt for Christmas
Proverbs 22:7 (NKJV) The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender.
The average American has 13 credit cards, spends nearly $1,200 at Christmas, and at least 23% is put on a credit card. In March, a whopping one-third of bankruptcy filings cite overspending at Christmas as a major contributor to their financial troubles! Dave Ramsey says, “You don’t have to buy into the commercial hype that says you must go shopping and come home with a dozen shopping bags and $1,000 in debt. That’s not smart. Or merry. Or festive. Or jolly. It’s just an all-around bad idea.”
In the Bible, debt is regarded as a curse (Deut. 28:44). Debt produces bondage to men. As the familiar adage puts it, “When your outgo exceeds your income, then your upkeep is your downfall.” Most of the things we buy at Christmas are knick-knackery and consumable products. These are not the kinds of things worth going in debt for!
5.             Give to those with actual needs
‘The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered’ (11:25).
It is no sin to give Christmas gifts, but it is a sin to overlook our duty to tithe to the Lord’s work and give to those with genuine needs. Giving to the Lord’s work is the first priority in your budget (3:9–10). Proverbs also exhorts the wise man to be generous towards the deserving poor. ‘One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed’ (19:17). Do you know a family that has legitimate needs? Put them in your Christmas budget and bless them this year, instead of only giving lavish and expensive items to those who really don’t need it. 
In all the hustle and bustle and noise and lights of Christmas, the essence of Jesus somehow gets easily lost. “The real measure of our wealth,” said John Henry Jowett, “is how much we’d be worth if we lost all our money.” Character is more important than position, and wisdom than possessions. The angels heralded Jesus’ birth by proclaiming “peace on earth” let us not rob ourselves of the peace that belongs to this time of year by making disastrous decisions!