“One who scatters is coming up against you. Man the fortifications! Watch the road! Brace yourself! Summon all your strength!” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What does it look like when God acts? Have you ever thought much about that? We often talk about this or that being something God did, but what does His activity actually look like? I mean, He’s God, so it seems like His activity in our world should be something that no one could miss. It should be completely obvious to anyone who looks. But is that really the case? I’m not so sure, and I think Nahum here helps us see why.
It is an historical reality that the Assyrian Empire was conquered by the Babylonians. It was not completely destroyed and in fact persisted in a much smaller form into the time of Christ, became Christian, and still exists today in the region of Northern Iraq. But as an empire, Assyria and its capital city, Nineveh, fell around 600 B.C.
What’s more, none of this activity had anything to do with Israel and Judah. It was happening hundreds of miles to the east of them. Yes, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians, but they had nothing to do with Babylon’s conquest. The Assyrians and the Babylonians each had their own gods and although they likely knew the name of the God of the Hebrews, they didn’t have anything to do with Him.
And yet, what we see here in Nahum makes it clear that this God they didn’t countenance, the God who the Hebrews claimed was the one true God over the whole world, was the one pulling the strings and directing the events that would play out through their national interactions and histories. Specifically, the fall of Assyria was a judgment from the Lord for their great sins.
From the outside looking in, what happened between the nations of Assyria and Babylon was merely history. Nothing special to it at all. Nations falling and rising has been happening since there were nations. One people gives way to another and the course of human history gradually winds itself forward.
It is a unique claim—one that many historians or even just members of other nations would argue is unduly bold and even silly—that this one tiny nation which has nonetheless managed to persist where none of their contemporaries in any age did means that their God, Yahweh, is really the one pulling the strings behind all these happenings of history. And it would be a silly claim too, except for the fact that they left a record for us to see their claims. And their claims were, by the best historical surmising, made before the events happened. And their claims were right. Every time. So then, were they right?
It isn’t just other nations to which this interesting claim applies. The history of their own nation is a unique one itself. From the outside looking in, the story of Israel winds almost miraculously through the annals of human history in the way they kept surviving one extinction level event after another. They’re the luckiest nation in history. Or, the many claims their historians left about these things all being the activity of God are right.
For those who are still of the mind to see through the lens of God, things look different. Often in the history of Israel, the things directly attributed to God were things that someone unaware of the background could look at at think were just the things that happened to them. No divine attribution necessary. But we know different.
Again and again throughout the history of the ancient world with a special focus on the kingdom of Israel that is detailed in the Hebrew Bible, the things that would normally be seen as the outworking of history are claimed to be the activity of the God who is over all of human history, guiding it to His planned end. This is, again, what Nahum’s prophecy is all about. It is a prophetic claim that the fall of Assyria was the judgment of God. What a secular historian sees as simply history, was really God working out His plans for His people through the nations of His world.
Okay, but what are we supposed to do with this? What does this mean for our own lives? Well, God hasn’t changed. He still works in ways that from the outside looking in don’t necessarily look like Him working at all. It looks like things just happening the way they were going to happen. The eyes of faith, though, can see that it is indeed Him who is doing the guiding. We understand that absent His gentle direction, things would not have turned out the way they did.
Now, this doesn’t mean we start looking for Him under every rock and in every single thing that happens. Not everything is a sign from Him. The fact that a red car drove past your window after three white cars doesn’t mean anything. It just happened. But, God does work in the mundane things of life and we do well to pay attention. We do well to look through eyes of faith into the happenings around us. This is especially true when we have been committing something to prayer. It may be that He moves in some big way, but it may also be that He moves in something as simple as a changed attitude on the part of us or someone else.
The key here is eyes of faith. It is trusting that there is a God who is good and is working behind the scenes to shape the scope and direction of human history to His desired end. It is trusting that He will work on behalf of His people even in the hard things to bring Himself glory and them joy. It is trusting that history itself never simply unfolds on its own. Eyes of faith make all the difference. The question is: How do you see the world?