The kings of ancient Assyria were particularly brutal and violent. In the 9th century BC Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II bragged about defeating his enemies, flaying them, and then covering his walls. He bragged about cutting off hands and feet, noses and ears, lips and fingers. He bragged about the garland of heads he strung around his entire city. He was one king in a long line of violent and brutal Assyrian kings.
Imagine being a king in the Ancient Near East when Assyria is in expansion mode! If you resist and lose, you are treated far worse than if you simply capitulated and bowed before the Assyrian king when he invaded. And who could hope to defeat the mighty Assyrian army!
God sent the prophet Nahum to prophesy against Assyria in general, and Assyria’s capital Nineveh in particular. The warning is clear:
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.Nahum 1:3a ESV
Those who are guilty before the Lord should not interpret his apparent slowness to act as his unwillingness or inability to act. Nahum continues:
The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. 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 1:5–6 ESV
Nahum boldly prophesies against Nineveh, and declares that God’s wrath is coming for them. This was during the height of Assyria’s strength. The southern kingdom of Judah was under Assyria’s thumb. The northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed and its people taken into exile several decades earlier. Surrounding nations had been invaded and conquered and also treated with brutality by Assyria. Nahum was sent by God to announce the impending judgment for Nineveh’s rebellion against God, for all its brutality and violence and evil. Long gone are the days when the city had repented under the preaching of the prophet Jonah. God declares that the city and all of Assyria would soon be destroyed.
The LORD has given commandment about you: “No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile.”Nahum 1:14 ESV
These are not words one wishes to hear from the Lord. What Nahum proclaims next, however, are the very words one wishes to hear!
Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.Nahum 1:15 ESV
Nahum calls the people of Judah to look for the feet of the one bringing good news. In the Greek version of Nahum, the one bringing the good news is proclaiming the gospel, the proclamation of victory. The response to this proclamation of the defeat of Assyria is for Judah to keep her feasts and to fulfill her vows.
God required three major annual feasts each year: the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths. In Passover they celebrated God’s passing over his people in judgment when he rescued them from Egypt. In the Feast of Weeks they celebrated God’s constant provision through their annual harvest. In the Feast of Booths they celebrated how God provided for them in the wilderness before he led them into the land. These were celebrations of God and his faithfulness.
In the midst of Nahum’s dire predictions concerning Nineveh, Judah was commanded to celebrate by worshiping God and they could worship God by remembering what he had done and continued to do. They would soon be delivered from Assyrian oppression. In less than 30 years Assyria would simply cease to exist as a nation. Think of that! From the height of her power to a non-existent nation in just a few decades, such is the power of God.
As followers of Jesus we also celebrate these three feasts, though they have been transformed by Jesus. We celebrate the truer and greater Passover through the Lord’s Supper, for he is the sacrifice that causes God to pass over us in judgment. He stood in our place that we would be reconciled to God. We celebrate the Feast of Weeks, which is also called Pentecost. (The feast lasted seven weeks after the feast of firstfruits. It ended on Pentecost, which means “fiftieth,” as in the 50th day.) We do this as we celebrate the outpouring of God’s Spirit and the richness of his fruit in our lives. We celebrate the Feast of Booths as we continue to praise God for the fullness of his great harvest as he continues to gather his people into his church.
As we worship God and spend time in prayer today, let us do so in light of what we see in Nahum. We must not trust in military or economic strength, for even the most powerful of nations can simply cease to exist in no time at all. We must not trust in our own ability to accomplish our salvation, for the one who proclaims the good news is proclaiming the news of Christ’s victory, not of something we have accomplished. Though Judah was still suffering under oppression and pain and difficulty, she was reminded that God is still living and active and powerful as he works out his incredible purposes for this world. Let us keep our feasts and let us celebrate the goodness of God in Jesus.