Hollywood loves sequels. That’s why there are 14 Batman films, 26 James Bond movies, and 21 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sometimes those sequels are really good, like Toy Story 2, 3 and 4. Other times, those sequels are really lousy, like “Jaws: The Revenge”.
But there’s something satisfying about sequels, because whenever a movie ends, we wonder where the story will go next. Maybe you watch a romantic-comedy where the couple falls in love at the end, but as the credits roll, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Will they get married and eventually celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary together, or do they spend the rest of their lives fussing and fighting with either other, eventually getting a divorce? The only way to know is to watch a sequel.
Well, if you like sequels, you’re going to love my lesson this morning because it’s a sequel to the book of Jonah. If you look at the name of this book in your Bible, you will see the word “Nahum”. But this morning, we’re not going to call it Nahum. Instead, we’re going to call it “Jonah: The Sequel, the Wrath of God”.
You remember the story of Jonah, how God called Jonah to go preach to the wicked city of Nineveh. He told them they were going to be destroyed in 40 days, but they repented, everyone from the king all the way down to the lowliest people in the city. And because they repented, God did not destroy Nineveh, which made Jonah extremely angry. So, when the book of Jonah ends, Nineveh appeared to be a righteous city that had God’s blessing.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Fast forward about 100 years and we learn that Nineveh and the Assyrians turned back to the wicked, violent lifestyle that they were living before the days of Jonah. And so, 100 years later, God says, “I’ve had enough. I’m going to destroy the Assyrians.” And after this point, there’s not going to be another sequel because there won’t be a nation left to have a sequel with.
The theme of Nahum is God’s wrath against Assyria. After allowing approximately two hundred years of powerful Assyrian kings and rulers, God announced through Nahum his plans to judge the city of Nineveh. This book shows God’s concern about sin, his intention to punish those who are guilty of wickedness, and his power to carry out his desire for judgment.
In chapter 1, verse 2, we read:
“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
and keeps wrath for his enemies.” (Nahum 1:2)
And in verse 6:
“Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.” (Nahum 1:6)
A few days ago, Tom was telling me that he appreciated my sermon last week on the book of Micah, and he said that he expects every sermon from now on to be just as good. And I told him that last week was easy because I was preaching from Micah. But, this week, I’ll be preaching from Nahum where the theme is, “God is going to destroy Assyria.”
This lesson is going to be a bit more challenging. So, let’s watch this video together from The Bible Project that will give us an overview of the book of Nahum. And it will also give me a little bit of time to think about exactly what I’m going to say about this very difficult book.
So, as I was preparing my lesson, the first thing that struck me is that the word “Nahum” is a Hebrew word that means “comfort” or “consolation”. And I thought about how ironic it is that this book that describes in great detail the destruction of Assyria is written by a guy named “comfort”.
But that’s not really as strange as it may seem, when you realize that Nahum did not deliver this message to the Assyrians. He delivered this message to the Jews. Those Jews who had been conquered by the Assyrians. Those Jews who had been mistreated and abused by the Assyrians. Those Jews who had been killed by Assyria and carried away into captivity.
God says to those Jews, “I know what your enemies have done, and I will make sure that they are punished for the sins they have committed against you. In the end, I will make everything right. The righteous will be rewarded and the wicked will be punished.” And I’m here to tell you this morning that there is great comfort in that message.
In that regard, I think the message of Nahum is very similar to the message of the book of Revelation, where God says to the Christians who are being persecuted by the Roman Empire, “I want you to know how things are going to turn out in the end. I know that things don’t look so good right now. But I want you to know that the Roman Empire will be destroyed. I want you to see that in the end, I will make everything right. The righteous will be rewarded and the wicked will be punished.” And there is great comfort in that message.
Now, it’s important for us to see that God didn’t say to the Jews of Nahum’s day, or to the persecuted Christians in the first century, “I will take away all of your suffering. I will make life easy for you.” God never promised that. But he did say, “I will be with you. I will be your comfort. I will be your strength. And I will make everything right in the end.”
With that in mind, I want us to focus our thoughts this morning on Nahum 1:7,
“The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.” (Nahum 1:7)
It is important for us to see that as God’s people we are not promised immunity from trouble. In fact, Jesus told his disciples, “In the world, you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). Or, as the New Living Translation translates it, “you will have many trials and sorrows.” (John 16:33, NLT).
God never promised us that life would always be easy. He never said that if we love people, they will always love us back. He never promised that we would never experience loss, or failure, or death, or pain. He never said that things will always go our way and that our path will be smooth.
But what God did promise is that he will never leave us, that he will forever be standing by our side, strengthening us, comforting us, carrying us through the tough patches. God has promised to be our stronghold, a place of refuge. Someone to whom we can go, and someone in whom we can hide. And once we realize that, it gives us great comfort and peace when things get tough.
But it so often happens in the church that we sing these great hymns about God’s wonderful providence – “God will take care of me, through every day, o’er all the way” — but then our lives are often characterized by nervousness, worry, and fear.
The problem comes when we put our faith in the things we can see. If I put my faith in the money I’ve got in the bank, then I begin to worry when that money gets a bit low. If I put my faith in people, then I begin to worry when people let me down. If I put my faith in all the things that I can do on my own, then I begin to worry when I fail or when I come to a situation that I have no control over.
This world was never meant to be our spiritual refuge. So, when we run to the things of this world for comfort, we only end up with more concern. Because we’re asking creation to do for us what only the Creator can do.
We sometimes sing the hymn, “A Shelter in the Time of Storm”.
Jesus is a Rock in a weary land, a weary land, a weary land.
Jesus is a Rock in a weary land, a shelter in the time of storm.
There are many scriptures, especially in the psalms, that point to the fact that God is indeed our shelter, our refuge in the time of storm.
Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Jeremiah 16:19 (NIV), “Lord, you are my strength and my fortress, my refuge in the day of trouble.”
Psalm 18:2, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Psalm 61:1-3, “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”
As I said, many of these references to God being our refuge appear in the psalms. And most of them were written by David. A man who lived his life with trouble for many years. He was physically worn out from what he went through. As he was running from King Saul, David needed a shelter in the mountains where he could hide. But, more than that, David needed the shelter that only God could provide. He was going through dark times. He was in distress, and he needed God.
David needed a shelter in the time of storm when he was surrounded by his enemies, when his neighbors wanted nothing to do with him, and when his former friends all turned their backs on him.
And, as you read these psalms of David, maybe you can relate to David. Because you know what it’s like to struggle with the pain and the sorrows of life. You know what it’s like to be rejected by the people around you. Criticized, gossiped about, and maybe even people against you to the point of threatening to do you harm.
This morning, I want you to see that God is our shelter in the time of storm. He is the one we can turn to. He is the one who will never let us down. He is the one who will be our comfort and our strength.
There are many mysteries in life that we will never be able to solve. One of the questions we ask more than any other is, “Why?” Why, Lord, did my mother have to suffer with that disease? Why did my friend have to get killed in that auto accident? Why did I lose my job?
There are many mysteries in life that we will never be able to solve. But there are a few things that we know for sure. We know that we live in a broken world. And we haven’t been given a ticket out of the brokenness of this world simply because we are the children of God. What happens to us and to those we love sometimes involves pain and hurt and shock and despair. The world we live in simply is not operating the way God intended.
But there’s a second thing that we know for sure. That there is a God of grace who meets his children in those moments of darkness and difficulty. He is worth running to. He is worth waiting for. He brings rest when it seems like there is no rest to be found. God has always cared about those who need a refuge, those who need a shelter in the time of storm in their lives. And he is a God of great comfort.
But I want to build on that thought to make a third point – God gives us comfort not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those around us. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)
Our God is the God of all comfort. Our God is the father of mercies and he comforts us in our times of trouble. When we walk through the trials of life, God is not far from us. God is with us. And he comforts us in all our troubles.
The beauty here is that as we are comforted by God, then we can be a reflection of his comfort to others. So that we may be able to comfort those who are going through any time of trouble with the comfort which we ourselves have received from God. I think about how gracious God has been in the tough moments of my life. When I see someone else going through a similar difficult time, I want to be a reflection of that comfort from God to them. And that’s the way the body of Christ works. God intends that we care for one another with the same comfort that we have received from God.
To illustrate this, I want to go back for a few minutes to the Law of Moses where God instructed the Jewish leaders to set apart six cities to be a place of refuge for a person who had accidentally killed someone. This was necessary because relatives of a murdered person often took justice into their own hands. The city of refuge made it possible for a person to be safe from losing their own life if they had accidentally taken the life of someone else.
I have heard that, in order to assist the fugitive, it was the responsibility of the Sanhedrin to keep the roads leading up to those cities in good repair. Hills were made smooth, rivers were bridged, and low spots were filled in. And, at every turn, there were guide posts which directed the fugitive bearing the word “Refuge.”
In Joshua 20:4, “He shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and explain his case to the elders of that city. Then they shall take him into the city and give him a place, and he shall remain with them.”
Those cities of refuge were places where people could run to when they had made a tragic mistake, or some unforeseen event caused them to be guilty of the taking of human life. Axe heads have been known to come off of their handles at a bad time. Walls have been known to collapse as they were being built. Objects have been dropped from heights. Sometimes fatal accidents simply happen.
And when they do, those who were responsible were often emotionally distraught. They would have liked to have erased the memories. They were frightened as they faced the possibility of harsh consequences over what happened. And so, they need a place of refuge, a place where someone would welcome them in and make them feel safe.
So, I wonder. Who is willing to provide that place of refuge to others today? Who will be there for the person who has had the bottom drop out of their life? Who will care enough to listen while someone cries? Who will be there when someone is feeling awful about life? Who will care when someone is hurting? Who will try to understand? A place of refuge is needed. A shelter in the time of their storm.
As Christians who have been the recipient of God’s comfort so many times in our own lives, we need to stand ready to be that place of refuge. What if it was your wife who was an alcoholic? What if it was your husband who just walked out? What if you were the one who just lost their job? What if it was your unmarried daughter who just announced she was pregnant? What if it was your house that was being foreclosed? What if it was you who just had an autistic child? What if it was you who just buried a spouse or child? What if it was you who was fighting identity theft? What if you were the one who was being abused physically, sexually, or emotionally? What if it was your car that got stolen? What if it was your child who was placed in prison?
Every church and every Christian ought to be a storm shelter. We ought to all be willing to help that person who is hurting and in trouble. We should all have loving compassion for the needy, and be available to help in a practical way.
Those cities of refuge have much to teach us about what is needed when the storms of life come. The cities of refuge were located close to everyone. Those cities were arranged so that no matter where you were in the land, a city of refuge could be reached by traveling half of a day. We need to be easily accessible to those who are in need.
The cities of refuge were all cities where Levites lived. That means the community was made up of those who served God. That community was able to teach the things of God to those who joined up with them. We are all priests according to the Bible, and we should all be able to share God’s Word when people come to us with different needs.
Keep in mind that the cities of refuge weren’t man’s idea. That was God’s idea. God said to the Jews, “When somebody has had something terrible happen in their life and there is nowhere else they can go and be safe, I want you to provide them a safe place.
“The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.” (Nahum 1:7)
And because he is “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
This morning, even as I speak, there are some of you listening who are walking through affliction, of all kinds. I wouldn’t begin to presume to know all the ways that people are experiencing troubles right now. But we serve a God who knows all those ways. He knows every one of them. And not only does he know the affliction you’re walking through, but he is the God of all comfort. He is the Father of mercy. So, I pray that God would shower his mercy down, that he would bring comfort to you in the time of your affliction.
But it is also my desire that God would help those of us who have been comforted by him to show his comfort to others, to be there for others in their time of affliction, to care for others, to uphold one another, to pray for one another, to be with one another, to provide for one another in ways that would show the comfort of God.
And we are so very thankful that God sent Jesus into a world of suffering and sin, to pay the price for our sin that we might have eternal life. That we might have the hope that one day there will be no more affliction. Because that is our greatest comfort. We know that suffering will not have the last word. As Nahum made clear, the day is coming when God will make all things right. The righteous will be rewarded and the wicked will be punished. And there is great comfort in knowing that.
We are so very thankful for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of that resurrection, we have hope. We may live in a world where we have tribulation and affliction. But there is coming a day when it will be over, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. This is our greatest comfort and we praise him for it. We praise God for the hope we have in Jesus Christ, not just in the future, for the comfort we have from him even today.