Thursday, August 02, 2012
DESOLATION, DECIMATION, DEVASTATION
“Desolation, decimation, devastation! Hearts melt, knees tremble, loins shake, every face grows pale!” (Nahum 2:10 HCSB)
One of the most precious promises is, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31b). On the other hand, if God is against us, does it matter who is for us? God said to the people of Nineveh, “Beware, I am against you.” (Nahum 2:13a) All the vaunted military power of the Assyrian Empire could not save them from God’s wrath. Their armies had marched over the Middle East, trampling out the nations who opposed them. They had even assailed the fortress of Samaria and brought the Northern Kingdom of Israel into captivity.
Who could oppose them? Who could stop them? God would show them—and the result would be desolation, decimation, devastation—and that is the inexorable doom of those who defy God.
It isn’t that they had not had their chances. God had graciously spared them previously. Jonah was sent to that wicked city of Nineveh, to preach a message of judgment to the cruel Assyrians and warned, “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!" (Jonah 3:4)
Then the God who never changes, seems to change His mind—but, not really. What happened is that those who should have received wrath changed. The people of Nineveh repented, in brokenness they begged God to forgive them, and spare them—then the unchanging nature of God responded in compassion. The Nineveh which deserved destruction ceased to be, and, thus God did not pour out His fury on them.
Eventually, the Assyrians turned away from God. They rejected the merciful Lord and resumed their idolatry—and the Doomsday Clock began to tick once more. The judgment that was intended for that evil people would now be meted out: desolation, decimation, devastation.
While Jonah’s prophecy records Nineveh’s reprieve, Nahum reveals Nineveh’s retribution. Descriptive terms of complete destruction are heaped up one on top of another: “Desolation, decimation, devastation!”
In the first chapter of Nahum, we have THE DECREE OF NINEVEH’S DESTRUCTION. The prophet immediately identifies himself and his subject:
“The oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.” (Nahum 1:1). We know nothing about this man other than what it listed in this verse. But, the vital matter is the message—it is never about the messenger. No one should ever leave the church saying, “What a great preacher,” but “What a great Savior!” Everything—absolutely everything is about the glory of God. Nineveh thought otherwise, and sought their own glory—failing to grasp that it was God who raised up their kingdom and He could just as easily raise up another to supplant them.
This is a message of PATIENCE AND POWER (1:1-6).
‘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.” (Nahum 1:3)
God had been so merciful in granting Nineveh an opportunity to be delivered. They were a nation that was blessed with a powerful military, and a prosperous economy—all the grace of God. But, they decided to bite the hand that fed them and they would find God’s patience exhausted and His power exercised against them. “Who can withstand His indignation? Who can endure His burning anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, even rocks are shattered before Him.” (v.6)
It is a message of PROTECTION AND PERDITION (1:7-15).
“The Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of distress; He cares for those who take refuge in Him. But He will completely destroy Nineveh with an overwhelming flood, and He will chase His enemies into darkness.” (Nahum 1:7-8)
God is not cruel; He is compassionate. He doesn’t want to destroy us, but to deliver us. We can flee to Him in faith and find a refuge. But, if we do not, then there is no hope. If we forsake Him in folly we find retribution instead. A nation can experience God’s protective hedge around them or His punitive hand against them—our submission to His standard or stubbornness in our sin being the determining factor of our destiny as a nation. It has always been the case. It will always be until the end when every knee will bow to Him.
The second chapter of Nahum presents THE DESCRIPTION OF NINEVEH’S DESTRUCTION. In graphic terms, Nahum describes the doom that will fall on Nineveh.
“The river gates are opened, and the palace erodes away.
Beauty is stripped, she is carried away; her ladies-in-waiting moan like the sound of doves, and beat their breasts. Nineveh has been like a pool of water from her [first] days, but they are fleeing. ‘Stop! Stop!’ [they cry,] but no one turns back. ‘Plunder the silver! Plunder the gold!’ There is no end to the treasure, an abundance of every precious thing.
Desolation, decimation, devastation! Hearts melt, knees tremble, loins shake, every face grows pale!” (Nahum 2:6-10)
The Word of God was literally fulfilled. History relates how the rulers of Nineveh held a feast, and were drunk—deluded in thinking their defenses were impenetrable. Although the Babylonian army enveloped the city, they felt secure. But, God unleashed a sudden storm that swept away the floodgates of the city by the surging waters of the Tigris River. The foundations of the palace were eroded, the fortifications breached, and the Babylonians seized the opportunity to rush in and burn the city—to pillage and to plunder. The very river that the Assyrians thought provided a natural barrier of protection against invaders became the battering ram that opened the door to their enemy.
The lion was the national symbol Assyria had chosen to communicate their power to the world. Here was what God said about that:
“Where is the lions' lair, or the feeding ground of the young lions, where the lion and lioness prowled, and the lion's cub, with nothing to frighten them away? The lion mauled whatever its cubs needed and strangled [prey] for its lionesses. It filled up its dens with the kill, and its lairs with mauled prey.
Beware, I am against you. [This is] the declaration of the Lord of Hosts. I will make your chariots go up in smoke and the sword will devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the sound of your messengers will never be heard again.” (Nahum 2:11-13)
The lion’s roar would be silenced by the Lord’s rage. It will be the same for the Russian bear, the Chinese dragon—and lest we think otherwise, the American eagle—any nation that thinks it can live contrary to God’s precepts and without God’s protection.
How quickly things can change! Did we learn nothing from Pearl Harbor; have we forgotten 9/11? Those were harbingers to humble us. Will there be another, more severe? The next blow might mean, “Three strikes and you’re out!” A sunny morning can bring the dark smoke from the explosion of falling bombs wrecking a naval fleet or flying jets wrecking two towering buildings. What if tomorrow’s dawn brings a nuclear explosion that wipes out all the electronics and electrical grid of the United States? It would only take a small device—an airburst overhead—from North Korea to our west, Iran to our east, Russia from the north or Cuba from the south—and we would have “Desolation, decimation, devastation!” It would be catastrophic.
Nahum answers those who would question God with THE DEFENSE OF NINEVEH’S DESTRUCTION in the third chapter of his book.
The sentence is just. God indicts them for their crimes.
They were judged for the WICKEDNESS OF THEIR WARFARE.
“Woe to the city of blood, totally deceitful, full of plunder, never without prey. The crack of the whip and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and jolting chariot! Charging horseman, flashing sword, shining spear; heaps of slain, mounds of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over their dead.” (Nahum 3:1-3)
This wasn’t about defending themselves, which every nation has a right to do. Rather, it was naked aggression. They wanted to expand their empire. They were especially cruel—finding pleasure in the pain they inflicted. The Assyrians had an insatiable appetite for torture and treasure—no matter the horror they caused. God was collecting the evidence of their crimes.
They were judged for the WANTONESS OF THEIR WITCHCRAFT.
“Because of the continual prostitution of the prostitute, the attractive mistress of sorcery, who betrays nations by her prostitution and clans by her witchcraft, I am against you. [This is] the declaration of the Lord of Hosts. I will lift your skirts over your face and display your nakedness to nations, your shame to kingdoms. I will throw filth on you and treat you with contempt; I will make a spectacle of you.” (Nahum 3:4-6 HCSB)
They wanted to worship demons rather than the Deity—and that with such filthy and perverse spectacles in their occult practices. So, God will pour filth on them and make them a spectacle. They wanted to “raise their skirts”—or as we would say, “drop their pants” by engaging in orgies in their religious rites, and so God would see to it that they were “caught with their pants down.”
They were judged for the WILLFULNESS DESPITE THEIR WARNING.
The Assyrians knew that other powerful nations had fallen before them.
“Are you better than Thebes that sat along the Nile with water surrounding her, whose rampart was the sea, the river her wall? Cush and Egypt were her endless source of strength; Put and Libya were among her allies. Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity. Her children were also dashed to pieces at the head of every street. They cast lots for her dignitaries, and all her nobles were bound in chains.” (Nahum 3:8-10)
Yet, they willfully disregarded this warning and thought, “It won’t happen to us!” God said otherwise.
“You also will become drunk; you will hide yourself. You also will seek refuge from the enemy.
All your fortresses are fig trees with figs that ripened first; when shaken, they fall—right into the mouth of the eater!
Look, your troops are [like] women among you; the gates of your land are wide open to your enemies. Fire will devour the bars [of your gates].
Draw water for the siege; strengthen your fortresses. Step into the clay and tread the mortar; take hold of the brick-mold! The fire will devour you there; the sword will cut you down. It will devour you like the young locust. Multiply yourselves like the young locust, multiply like the swarming locust! You have made your merchants more numerous than the stars of the sky. The young locust strips [the land] and flies away.
Your court officials are like the swarming locust, and your scribes like clouds of locusts, which settle on the walls on a cold day; when the sun rises, they take off, and no one knows where they are.
King of Assyria, your shepherds slumber; your officers sleep. Your people are scattered across the mountains with no one to gather [them] together. There is no remedy for your injury; your wound is severe. All who hear the news about you will clap their hands because of you, for who has not experienced your constant cruelty?” (Nahum 3:11-19)
Surely, America will be the exception—true, the Nile didn’t protect the Egyptians, the Tigris didn’t protect the Assyrians, but the Atlantic and Pacific will surely be an insurmountable barrier to our foes!
Japan came farther than anyone expected on December 7, 1941. For the ships anchored there it became “Desolation, decimation, devastation!”
Islamic terrorists reached farther than anyone expected on September 11, 2001. For the skyscrapers standing there it became ““Desolation, decimation, devastation!”
Here is the immutable principle, “The wicked will return to Sheol—all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17) What forgetful fools we are to think we will be the exception. God has given us ample warning. To ignore it is to join Nineveh in, “Desolation, decimation, devastation!”