The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. Nahum 1:2
Did God let his anger get the better of him? Did He flail about in a vengeful, ‘I’ll-get-even-with-them-if-it’s-the-last-thing-I-do‘ rage? Is retribution attributable to God or have we misread the truth?
In Aristotle’s Rhetoric, he philosophized:
“All anger has a certain pleasure in the expectation of retribution.”
Did God feel “good” to get even with a city He once forgave?
I argue, “No!”
How might a God of love, then, explain His decision to destroy the city?
His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. Nahum 1:6-7
Perhaps, many Christians share David’s sentiment: Any enemy of God is an enemy of mine. Our zeal to see sin come to an end is only a reflection of God’s greater zeal to do so.
Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Ps 139:21-22
Theologically we may have disregarded the heart of God while showing a greater interest in what His counsel deemed necessary to end the evil that separated us from Him.
In Ezekiel, vengeance correctly includes “comfort” (Not Aristotle’s “pleasure” but a compassion for one that requires justice to be administered as judgment on another). [The Hebrew word from which the prophet Nahum gets his name, all commentators agree means “comfort.”]
“Then my anger will cease … and I will be avenged [comforted]. … they will know that I the LORD have spoken in my zeal….” Ezekiel 5:13
The word “zeal” in Ezekiel 5:13 is elsewhere translated “jealous.” The unfaithfulness of God’s creation has stirred the great heart to action! God has been “zealous” for renewing the relationship with us He shared with Adam in the beginning. God’s creation through idolatrous practices had abandoned the God who gave them life and His pain has been outside our imagination.
In Nahum [Nahum 1:3], God is not “losing it” in rage as much He is “zealous” to come to the aid of His people, Israel. And this also puts His great heart at ease. There is a sense in which anger comforts when it is administered as a form of justice.
God’s jealousy, His unrequited love for His creation, drove Him to so much grief that He could not do nothing. His sole source of comfort was self-comfort. In Nahum’s prophecy we have in microcosm God moving against such evil to bring to an end the atrocities inflicted on His people by Nineveh. In the larger context, this is the spirit in which God brings salvation and eradicates all evil.
He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; … so my own arm achieved salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. Isaiah 59:16; 63:5
Another less talked about point is how much grief God endures before He has had “enough”
I am tired of holding back. Of having compassion Jere 15:6
God’s compassion does not have a short fuse but inevitably He must address sin. [Psalms 86:15; Lamentations 3:22]
The LORD is slow to anger [but eventually, He must have] His way is in the whirlwind and the storm Nahum 1:3
The Apostle Paul, in referring to this word vengeance in Isaiah 63:4 translated it to mean “justice.” [Hebrews 10:30] What gives it an avenging character is not because God is getting even. (There is no such connotation with this word.) It is vengeful because it is intense. It is full of a pathos, a zeal, that needs to see sin finally dealt with. It is a matter of justice not rage. Sharon Baker in her book, “Executing God” (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press) explaining Calvary calls Jesus’ death a “… restoration without retaliation [which] demonstrates the most profound level of justice.” [p. 95]
On the Cross God’s throbbing heart tore at the world with every beat—the guard at the cross saw the earthquake [Matthew 27:54]—not out of vengeance but the co-lateral effect of how intensely God was in the moment. Sharon Baker wants us along with the centurion to look up at Jesus and exclaim, “Surely, God does love His creation!”