“The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will never leave the guilty unpunished. His path is in the whirlwind and storm, and clouds are the dust beneath his feet.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
How well do you know who God is? That’s kind of a big question right out of the gate. Let’s back off from that one for a minute. Think of someone you’ve known for a long time. Maybe a sibling or spouse or parent or friend. How well do you really know them? Perhaps you know a whole variety of good things about them, but do you know any of the hard things? I would argue that until you know at least some of the hard things, you really don’t know someone as well as you think you do. The same goes with God.
The last couple of days we have been talking about God’s character. With the end of Micah and the beginning of Nahum here, we have been given the opportunity to do some thinking about who God is. And, it’s been a pretty encouraging journey, hasn’t it?
We’ve talked about the fact that God is merciful and gracious. We’ve talked about the extent of His forgiveness of sins. We’ve covered just how amazing is His love. There are a lot of great things to talk about when it comes to our God. And we could spend a lot of time on those and come away thinking we really know Him well.
But can I suggest that if all we know about God are those good and easy things, then we do not perhaps have as complete a picture of Him as we should? There are a lot of good things to know about God, but the fact is that there are some hard ones as well. What we see here near the beginning of Nahum’s collection of prophecy is a reminder of one of the harder things we need to know about Him.
Let me frame it like this: You have heard before that we should fear the Lord. In fact, that idea is found all over the Scriptures. It’s a frequent enough exhortation that we have to talk about it when talking about the Bible. We really can’t avoid it. But, the concept of fear isn’t a popular one these days. People shouldn’t be encouraged to fear anything or anyone. We should be fearless.
When we talk about fearing the Lord, then, we most often do so in the context of having a healthy respect for Him. We should understand who He is and what He’s done for us and that should lead us to respect Him. We certainly shouldn’t be afraid of Him. Right? After all, perfect love casts out fear. John told us that, and He was Jesus’ best friend. He had to be right.
Yes, we shouldn’t be afraid of God. And yes, He wants to be our friend in Christ. But think for a minute about the few times someone had a genuine encounter with God the Father in the Scriptures. With one exception that I can think of, and that was Moses who was pretty exceptional, how did the person react? With fear, and I don’t just mean they respected Him. They were terrified.
Okay, but does this mean we should be afraid of God? Not necessarily, but neither should we jettison that emotion altogether.
God wants a relationship with us. He made us to be in a relationship with Him. You can’t be in a deep, meaningful relationship with someone if you are terrified of them. But, depending on the context of the relationship and the kind of relationship it is, a little fear isn’t a bad. If, for example, the relationship is one where one person has authority of some kind over the other, a bit of fear makes sure the one over whom the authority is held doesn’t forget the nature of the relationship and act in such as way as to lose it.
Consider the relationship between a father and his son. A son should not be terrified of his father, no, but a little bit of fear of the power his father has over him—power that father must always exercise with great gentleness and humility—will help him remember to behave in ways that allow the strong bond between them to remain as it should. When he grows into manhood himself their relationship will change, but as a child, a healthy fear—and I do mean fear—is not a bad thing.
Come back to our relationship with God and what we see in this verse here. Whether you are in a good place with God or not, if you saw someone coming toward you who was big enough that the biggest storm clouds were little more than like dust coming off his shoes, your first reaction is going to be one of terror. And it should be. Someone that big could squash you and not even realize you had been squashed. Any time you were in His presence, even once you got accustomed enough to his size that your heart didn’t nearly stop every time you saw him, still your heart should race just a bit at the sheer size and scope of his power. If this giant were ever angry, even if that anger wasn’t directed at you, it would be a fearsome occasion.
And if God were like us, He would indeed be terrifying. But He’s not. Instead, He’s good. He is just and His wrath against sin is surely fearsome. A couple of verses after this one he writes: “Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his burning anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; even rocks are shattered before him.” That’s an intimidating picture to say the least.
But look at how this verse begins. God may be great in power and He may not leave the guilty unpunished, but He is slow to anger. There is a gentleness to the Lord such that only the guilty really need fear Him.
What’s more, in Christ, while none of this power and glory has changed, we have one who stands between the Father and us who intercedes on our behalf such that we may approach Him when we are covered by Christ. Jesus, the only one who was never guilty, took the punishment for our sin so that we can have the relationship with Him we were always intended to have.
So then, should we fear the Lord or not? Yes. The point here is that while we can approach the Father through the Son, we should never lose sight of just how great a God He is. We should never lose sight of the sheer weight of His majesty. He is big beyond all imagination, powerful beyond all reckoning, glorious beyond all else. He is worthy of our worship, Him and no one or nothing else. Let us remember that and with hearts filled to overflowing with gratitude to Jesus for making a relationship with Him possible, set out with His help to live lives worthy of His love.