When Punishment and Peace Meet

The book of Nahum forms a sequel to the book of Jonah.  In Jonah, the people of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, repented of their sin and turned to God.  The sequel of Nahum, about 100 years after Jonah, shows that the Assyrians eventually turned away from God and back to idolatry.  This time, there would be no repentance, and God would punish their sin.  Nahum 1:3a shows two sides of God’s character when it says, “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked . . .”  The Lord will not acquit the wicked; all sin will be punished.  But He is also slow to anger; He is patient and long-suffering.  For years, God had delayed punishment on Assyria, just as He delayed punishment on the Canaanites until the time of Joshua and delayed punishment on Israel and Judah for their unfaithfulness.  But God will punish sin.

Nahum focuses primarily on that punishment in the case of the Assyrian Empire, including Nineveh.  The Assyrian Empire was a powerful empire that God had used to conquer and punish Israel for Israel’s unfaithfulness.  They also had oppressed Judah, although God had not allowed them to fully conquer Judah.  The people of Assyria were wicked and oppressive conquerors who tortured and murdered the people of their conquests.  As their sin grew, so did their oppression of those around them.  Their sin oppressed those that they conquered.  But now the time of their punishment has come.  Nahum 1:14 says, “And the Lord hath given a commandment concerning thee, that no more of thy name be sown: out of the house of thy gods will I cut off the graven image and the molten image: I will make thy grave; for thou art vile.”  God had been patient with them, but the time of their punishment had finally come.  God would punish their sin.

But the punishment on the oppressors brought peace and hope to the oppressed.  Judah had suffered oppression under the sin of Assyria, and the defeat of Assyria brought peace and hope to Judah.  Nahum 1:15 says, “Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off.”  In that day, messengers would carry news of battle to their surrounding cities and countries.  Watchmen stationed on the towers of these cities would always be watching for the messengers to bring news.  The messengers either brought news of defeat in battle, warning the city to prepare for attack, or they would bring news of victory, preparing the city for celebration.  For Assyria, the message was one of defeat and destruction.  But that same message brought peace and hope to Judah.  The messengers returning to Judah who announced the defeat of Assyria were bringing a message of good tidings and peace to Judah.  The punishment on the oppressors brought peace and hope to the oppressed.

When we turn to the New Testament, we find that we are the ones who both deserve punishment and are oppressed by sin.  The Bible clearly teaches that each one of us has sinned, and that sin must be punished.  But paradoxically, the news of the punishment of our sin can also bring us news of peace and hope.  Romans 10:9 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”  If we accept Christ as our Savior, then our sin has been punished in Christ.  God will punish our sin, but we do not bear that punishment ourselves.  Christ bore it for us.  The message of punishment also brings us the message of peace and hope.  News that Christ has been punished in place of us means peace and hope for us.  Romans 10:14-15 says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”  Primarily citing Isaiah 52:7, but also referencing Nahum 1:15, Paul uses this illustration of a messenger bringing news of peace and good things.  The message of the Gospel is that our sin has been punished, but that same message brings peace and hope for us as we were oppressed by sin.  That paradox can only come true in Christ, who bore our sin in our place.  As Isaiah 53:11b says, “ . . . by his knowledge shall my righteous servant [Christ] justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.”  In Christ, punishment and peace meet.

–Pastor Tim

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