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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Words of Judgment and Words of Comfort

                                                        a murel from ancient Nineveh

Words of Judgment and Words of Comfort

Visions from Nahun

The main message in the short little book of Nahun is that God has judged the evil city of Nineveh and that it would soon be completely destroyed! Mighty Nineveh was the most powerful city in the ancient world in 600-700B.C. and it was the capital of the nation of Assyria. The Bible calls Nineveh a “bloody city, full of lies and robbery, where its’ victims never depart.” (Nahun 3:1) Again Nineveh is mentioned as “The mistress of sorceries, who sells nations through her harlotries, and families through her sorceries.” (Nahun 3:4a) Not a nice picture would you say? The ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh were discovered by archeologists just beyond the Tigris River across from the modern day city of Mosel in Iraq.

For centuries Assyria had been the strongest and cruelest nation in the ancient world. But then in approximately 630 B.C., Nahun, a Jewish prophet, arose and prophesied Gods’ message of doom against her. The surrounding nations hated and feared Assyria, and for good reasons! Ancient documents attest to the cruelty of the Assyrians against their neighbors. Assyrian kings boasted of their savagery, celebrating the abuse and torture they inflicted on their conquered peoples.

In 722-721 B.C., the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel – ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. We now call them the ten lost tribes because these Jewish people were captured and scattered by the invading Assyrians and they were never heard from again. Most people believe that their identity as Jews has been forever lost. It has now been 2,722 years since the ten tribes were carried off to Assyria, and they never returned! Did these captured tribes of Israel intermarry with the Assyrians and lose their Jewish identity forever! Or were they all tortured and killed?

Nineveh was regarded as an invincible fortress. Beyond its massive walls, a system of canals, moats, outworks, and armed guards provided strong defenses. No one in the ancient world believed that Nineveh could fall. Nineveh was founded and maintained on murder, bloodshed, and constant warfare. But as strong and mighty as Nineveh was, God is always our real stronghold. Real strength stands on righteousness and never on evil. So Nineveh was doomed since God is a God of righteousness and justice. And there is a limit to how long He will allow evil to continue before judgment is meted out.

The end for Nineveh came just as Nahun predicted it would in 612 B.C. The Medes and Babylonians came against Nineveh killing the citizens and burning the city.

The powerful Assyrians were scattered to the mountains north of their land with no one to reassemble them. And the prophecies of Nahun were fulfilled to the letter. Nineveh disappeared from the scene of history and was no more. The great city was leveled, burned and completely destroyed. No one could even find the site where the great city had been until 1842 when French and English archeologists finally uncovered ruins they believe might have been the ancient Nineveh.

Nahun writes of her doom while Nineveh is still a powerful stronghold. And the book of Nahun ends with these words. “Your injury has no healing. Your wound is severe. All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not your wickedness passed over continually?” (Nahun 3:19)

The ten lost tribes of Israel- those tribes taken away by the evil Assyrians in 722-721 B.C.- are briefly mentioned in the book of Nahun. Other Bible passages foretell that those northern tribes will one day be restored. Ezekiel tells of the restoration of Israel in the amazing story of the valley of scattered dry bones. The story continues with God bringing the scattered bones back together into a skeleton. And then He adds flesh over the skeleton making it look human., but it is still lifeless. And then God breathes into this lifeless form and restores it again into a living person! Gods’ message in this story is that the scattered pieces of the tribes of lost Israel will be reassembled and given new life someday. This will be a true miracle from God just for Israel. It will most likely blow their minds!

But don’t some of the rest of us need a miracle from God too? We have children who have gone wrong or health issues that drag us down. Money problems that never stop or betrayals that we never expected. We’ve waited a long time for answers and finally all our dreams have dried up and have scattered and all our hope is dead. We have our own personal valley of dry bones!

But God has made us some promises too! He has promised to breathe new life into the dry bones and valleys of our lives. Let’s listen to just a few of His many promises to us. “And all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer believing, you shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22) “Exceeding great and precious promises have been given to us that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) and “Whatever you ask in My Name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13) God tells us to pray over our problems and then He will answer. Sometimes we keep praying and believing and praying and believing and nothing seems to happen. Years pass by and still the answer doesn’t come. The dry bones in our valleys are scattered and dead.

Let’s remember that the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley aren’t living yet, even though Ezekiel and Nahun saw the miracle ahead of time. That promise to Israel may not be fulfilled until the end of the age. That may be a long time to wait. And some of our prayers may not be answered until after we die. But our prayers will be answered. God will breathe new life into our dry bones. We just need to keep believing Gods’ promises.

And here in Nahun this promise of a restored Israel shows up even again. “For the Lord will restore the excellence of Jacob (the southern kingdom) just like the excellence of Israel (the northern kingdom). For the ones who empty have emptied them out and ruined their vine branches.” (Nahun 2:2) It does seem impossible to us that those ten lost tribes could be put together again after more than two thousand years. But we know that nothing is impossible with God. If He promises He will restore the northern kingdom of Israel, the kingdom which was lost so long ago, then He will do it.

The name “Nahun” means “comfort”. But how could Nahun bring words of comfort when his short message was mainly that of the foretelling of destruction? The truth is that Gods’ words through Nahun were words of comfort and also words of condemnation. Condemnation proclaimed to the evil city of Nineveh, and comfort proclaimed to Gods’ faithful people, Judah. Nahun 1: 7-9a gives this double message. “The Lord is good. A stronghold in the day of trouble: And He knows those who trust in Him. But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place(Nineveh). And darkness will pursue His enemies. You who conspire against the Lord? He will make an utter end of it.”

Gods’ people, the two tribes of Judah, were comforted when Nineveh was destroyed -when they no longer had to worry about being attacked, tortured and killed by these warring people. If God had not judged Nineveh and stopped them in their tracks, there would have been no peace, no comfort for Gods’ people.

I have known fellow Christians who can not believe that God is not only the loving Savior of the world but also the Judge of the world who condemns. They ask how a loving God could judge and punish people? The answer is that God condemns evil because He is loving! God loves us too much to leave us in our sin. Our world cannot have real peace or real wholeness as long as evil remains, just as a human body cannot be healthy as long as a disease remains. Jesus our Savior takes away sin (disease) and makes us righteous (healthy). But for those who reject the Savior, who rebel against good and choose evil, there will be a day of judgment.

When that final Day arrives we will be there. And it will be both a Day of Judgment and a Day of Comfort, just like it was back when Nahun, whose name means “comfort” foretold of both Gods’ judgment and of His comfort. Judgment and comfort – do they really go together?

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