The prophet Jonah was sent to the great city of Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria. The city was massive and powerful and very wealthy. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because God promised to spare the city if they would repent of their sins and believe in the God of Israel. Nothing can stop God in his pursuit of those he intends to save so Jonah found himself in that great city after being transported there by a great fish.
Jonah’s message was simple: in 40 days this city will be overthrown. The king of Nineveh heard this message from God and responded by issuing a proclamation that the people should fast and that all should “turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands” (Jonah 3:1–9). This was the response God intended:
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.Jonah 3:10 ESV
However, this repentance and faith would not last. Jonah preached in the city of Nineveh sometime before 750BC. Though the city was spared at that time, the following generations did not believe in the God of Israel but quickly returned to their wickedness and violence. Less than 150 years later God sent the prophet Nahum to announce judgment against Nineveh—judgment from which they would not escape. Nahum warns,
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. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it.Nahum 1:2–6 ESV
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.
In 745BC Tiglath-pileser became king of Assyria. He took over a nation that was already wealthy and powerful and made it even wealthier and more powerful. Through terrible violence and torture and cruelty and destruction and bloodshed he made Assyria the most powerful nation in the Ancient Near East. The cruelty of this army was unfathomable. While all nations cowered in fear before them, God was unfazed. He warned Assyria by asking a direct and simple question: who can stand before God’s indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? While the wrath and violence of Assyria was frightening, it paled in comparison to the wrath and judgment of the God of Israel.
The story does not end well for Assyria. In 612BC the city of Nineveh was destroyed, and the kingdom of Assyria was no more. It was never rebuilt.
The sheer power and might of God is frightening. When he moves in judgment, no one can stand before him. No nation, no army, no weapon can slow him. No amount of effort can stop him. No coalition of forces stands a chance. The question is a profound question: who can stand before God’s indignation?
In the midst of his prophetic word against Nineveh and all of Assyria, Nahum actually answers the question immediately after asking it;
The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.Nahum 1:7 ESV
Who can stand before the Lord’s indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger against sin? All those who take refuge in him!
We do not know if COVID-19 is God’s judgment against the world. We do not know whether the rise and fall of individual nations is God’s judgment, at least not with certainty like we have for ancient Assyria. We do know, however, that God made Jesus to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). We rejoice today because God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9). We know that he has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his Son (Colossians 1:13).
Let’s pray today for those who remain in the domain of darkness. Pray for Jonathan and Noella in Italy. Pray for those who are questioning and longing for answers. Pray for Jonathan and Noella to faithfully point them to Jesus. Pray for Kizombo and Wababili in Congo. Pray for the gospel of Jesus to be proclaimed. Pray for many in the villages surrounding Kitindi to hear that the Lord is good, and that he knows those who take refuge in him. Pray for those God places into our spheres of influence, that they might hear the proclamation of the victory of Jesus over sin and death. Pray for one another, that we might seek refuge in him and only in him in times of trouble. Pray for New City Church to be a beacon of hope in a world that is in darkness and facing the wrath of God. There is grace and mercy to all who will come to him in faith. Those who come to him in faith discover that on the cross Jesus stood before his Father in our place, that we might stand in his presence forever.