Majoring in the Minors: Nahum
At our once-rural (now-suburban) church, we have two weekly prayer meetings. On Wednesday nights, we gather to pray for an hour, structuring our time around praise, confession of sin, and supplication. On Lord’s Day afternoons, we gather for just twenty minutes to pray for the extension of Christ’s kingdom of grace and its triumph over the kingdom of sin and Satan as Christ ushers in the kingdom of glory. Our children frequently pray for the protection of the persecuted church, and they add profound petitions for the conversion of the church’s persecutors at home and abroad.
These are noble prayers! As they drop from the lips of our little ones, it is not uncommon for tears to well up in our eyes. These are heart-moving prayers! Without a doubt, it is always appropriate and God-honoring to pray for the conversion of our persecutors. Oh, that churches around the world would be filled by those who bear a testimony akin to that of the Apostle Paul (Acts 22:3-21)! But is it acceptable to pray for the destruction of the enemies of the church? As we read Nahum in the light of Christ, we will consider an answer which will guide our prayers for Christ’s Kingdom.
Nahum’s opening verse describes what follows as an ‘oracle’ or ‘burden’ concerning the murderous city of Ninevah, the capitol of Assyria. Though this great city had once repented en masse to the God of Israel (see Jonah 3), a subsequent generation of Ninevites had reverted to the violence which had made the nation infamous. God’s declaration concerning this city (and nation) is one of utter destruction, grounded in the absolute and unchanging justice of God (1:2-14).
Can an irrevocable death sentence upon a nation ever be considered good news, even when that nation is as wicked as Assyria? The short answer is ‘yes.’ God declares His judgment against Ninevah – and by extension, Assyria – in terms that are at once stunning and familiar in 1:15. “Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace! Celebrate your feasts, O Judah; pay your vows. For never again will the wicked one pass through you; He is cut off completely.” Nahum announces the destruction of Israel’s most ferocious foe as ‘good news’ or ‘gospel.’
In Isaiah 52:7, the same terminology is used to introduce the gospel of peace in Isaiah’s words of consolation and peace. “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” So trenchant is Isaiah’s prophetic association between blessed feet and the gospel of peace that the Apostle Paul makes direct reference to it in two places in the New Testament: Romans 10:15 and Ephesians 6:15. But why would such similar language be used for the violent oracle of Nahum?
With this question, we turn to Christ. In Christ, we have our heavenly King who brings peace through both reconciliation and restraint of His and our enemies. The Westminster Shorter Catechism memorably describes Christ’s work as King in the following terms: “Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to Himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all His and our enemies” (WSC 26). The Larger Catechism expands on Christ’s power over His enemies in confessing that He executes the office of King by “restraining and overcoming” the enemies of His people, and by “taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel” (WLC 45). As intimidating as these words may look at first glance, these descriptions of Christ’s work are central to the gospel of His Kingdom.
In Christ’s gospel, the salvation of God’s people is paired with the destruction of all His and our enemies. Isaiah and Nahum combine to publish a global gospel of good news for the followers of Christ. Nahum’s prophecy of the Ninevah’s demise anticipates for us the defeat of the kingdom of darkness, which is pictured in the book of Revelation as the destruction of Babylon the Great and her demonic allies (Rev. 17-18; 19:20-21). For the followers of Christ, this prophesied victory of Christ and His church is good news indeed, a cause for much rejoicing, and a wholly appropriate subject for the prayers of His people. As we pray for Christ’s kingdom, we do so with confidence that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
Zachary Groff (MDiv, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodruff, SC, and he serves as Managing Editor of The Confessional Journal and as Editor-in-Chief of the Presbyterian Polity website.