Nahum and Habakkuk

During the decline of the kingdom of Judah, God sent prophets to warn the people of their sins and to reveal and explain God’s purposes for the world. Nahum preached from Jerusalem during the reign of King Josiah. Remember that King Josiah was the boy king who became the last godly king of Judah. He was crowned king at age 8, then at age 16 decided to follow the LORD, later in his 20’s he purged the land of the idols and false worship centers set up by his forefathers. Finally he rebuilt and cleansed the temple where in the process they found a hidden book of the law, which he read to the people of Judah, and then they renewed the covenant with the LORD.

It has been approximately 150 years since the prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh the capital of the Assyrian empire to deliver God’s message to that evil nation. Much to Jonah’s dismay the people of Nineveh repented of their sins and God spared Nineveh’s destruction at that time. Eventually the Assyrians reverted to their evil ways, thus God’s judgment was delayed but not cancelled. Israel and Judah suffered under the oppression of the Assyrians; in 722 BC they invaded the northern kingdom of Israel and deported all the people to separate areas throughout the Assyrian empire. Following the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel, Assyria laid siege to Jerusalem, during the reign of Hezekiah, but God miraculously saves Judah and the Assyrians retreat to Nineveh. However, the threat of that violent and evil nation remained persistent to Judah.

Assyria was known for their cruelties, they terrorized the near east for almost 200 years. They encouraged the spread of fear through amplifying stories of their cruelty; they made public examples of those who resisted their rule. Not only did they destroy and burn the cities of the nations they conquered, they also subjected them to humiliation, extreme suffering and did everything to completely wipe out the people groups so they could never regain any sort of tribal or national unity.

Assyria’s control over the conquered nations is crumbling; first the Babylonians gain their independence from Assyria then combine their forces with the Medes and Scythians to destroy Nineveh in 612 BC. The audience for Nahum’s prophecy and prediction of the destruction of Nineveh was Judah, who has suffered for many years under their cruelty and threat. The message is that the rule of the Assyrians is coming to an end, and that end will be by the hand of God. God is the LORD of History; God announces the eminent destruction of Assyria and God will bring it about! The LORD will bring judgement upon Assyria because of their great sin. “The LORD is a zealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and very angry. The LORD takes vengeance against his foes; he sustains his rage against his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will certainly not allow the wicked to go unpunished. He marches out in the whirlwind and the raging storm; dark storm clouds bill like dust under his feet.” Nahum describes God in relation to various impressive and frightening natural phenomena and against this judgment of the LORD no one can stand. The LORD relented during the time of Jonah; nothing can stop this coming judgement.

Compared to the disaster coming to Assyria, Nahum describes the LORD as a fortress in times of distress, that He protects those who seek refuge in Him. The LORD will “break Assyria’s yoke from your neck; I will tear apart the shackles that are on you” The LORD has issued a decree against Assyria, He will destroy your idols, your temples, your dynasty will come to an end. Nahum announces this as good news to people of Jerusalem, it is time to celebrate your festival, because never again will Assyria invade them, they will be completely destroyed.

Nahum then describes the coming defeat of Assyria, the enemy is marching out to burn their chariots, tear down their walls so they will never be able to rebuild again. This will be accomplished by the Babylonians as foretold in Isaiah, but Nahum declares that it is the LORD who commands armies and that it is the LORD who is against Assyria!

When Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC, the city was completely destroyed by a flood that demolished the cities walls as described by Nahum. Later historians’ record that when Alexander the Great fought a battle nearby that he did not know that there had ever been a city there. The fulfillment of Nahum’s prophecy was so widespread that the ruins of Nineveh were not discovered by archeologists until 1850.

Nahum’s name means comfort or consolation; this message would have provided comfort to the people of Judah that the evil of Assyria will be judged by the LORD and that the people of Judah will have relief from their oppression. For us who see the evil of today and the oppression of the innocent, we too find comfort in the sure knowledge that the evils of today will not go unpunished that the LORD God is still the LORD of History!

After the good king Josiah’s death, his son Jehoahaz was anointed as king. When the Babylonians began to attack the Assyrians, Jehoahaz attempted to stop Egypt from going to Assyria’s support. This plan failed and Jehoahaz was captured by the Egyptians, who placed his brother Jehoiakim on the throne of Judah as Egypt’s vassal state. Jehoiakim will reign for 11 years, this was tumultuous time he rebelled against Egypt, allied Judah to Babylon, and then rebelled against Babylon which finally resulted in Nebuchadnezzar and his allies attacking Judah.

It was during this time period that Habakkuk prophesied, his message was not directed to Israel or other nations. Habakkuk records his conversation or argument between the prophet and the LORD. He represents the godly in Judah who are struggling to understand God’s ways and plans. Habakkuk agues with God over his lack of action against the wicked, the lack of justice for the godly and questions why God would use such a wicked nation to punish Israel. Habakkuk addresses God in the form of questions. “God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, Help! Murder! Police! Before you come to the rescue? Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? Anarchy and violence break out, quarrels and fights all over the place. Law and order fall to pieces. Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head.” (The Message)

The questions about evil, injustice and sin in Habakkuk’s day are the same questions about evil that we have today. This is not just about nations or politicians, but about us individually and the church too. How do we confront sin? Do we normalize it? Do we remove the negative consequences, with good intentions, but our efforts result in more evil and condone sin?

God’s answer to Habakkuk is that He is raising up Babylon, “that ruthless and impetuous people”, Habakkuk plea to the LORD about how long does he need to wait will be answered in his lifetime by the evil of Babylon. Habakkuk cannot see the justice in Israel being punished by an even greater evil nation like Babylon; he questions why the Babylonians would be allowed to conquer Judah completely. Habakkuk recognizes that God has ordained the Babylonians to punish Judah for their sins, but questions the use of the unrighteous in God’s plan. “Why do you say nothing when the wicked devour those more righteous than they are?”

Habakkuk refers to Israel as being more righteous than the wicked Babylonians, but we know just how far Israel then Judah has strayed from the LORD. We are like Habakkuk, we often consider ourselves more righteous because we compare ourselves to others; we need to compare ourselves to the Holy God not to other sinful people. In the same way, when confronted with our sins, we compare ourselves to other Christians’ who sin in different ways, then justify or excuse our sins because others sin too. Once more, if we feel compelled to compare ourselves, we should compare ourselves to the Holy God not to other people.

God answers Habakkuk and reveals that He will hold the Babylonians responsible for their evil. “And then God answered: write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming-it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.” (The Message)

We learn several things from Habakkuk lament, that God considers honest questions, that God is concerned for all who suffer, and that God will move in His appointed time, all of history is in God’s hands culminating in the Day of Lord.

Habakkuk concludes his message with a prayer in the form of a Psalm, which remembers all the ways God has acted in the history of Israel. Habakkuk recounts God’s demonstration of power in the Exodus, at Mt. Sinai, in the plagues of Egypt, and in the victories of the conquest of the Promised Land. Habakkuk’s final words express faith in God’s good purposes, “when I heard it, my stomach did flips. I stammered and stuttered. My bones turned to water. I staggered and stumbled. I sit back and wait for Doomsday to descend on our attackers. Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen. Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I am singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength. I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountains!” (The Message)

Some think that people of faith don’t ever question God, but we learn from Habakkuk that this is not true. Those who trust in God can and do question God and wait on a clear message from the LORD to clarify. Also, we learn that we don’t always get the answer that we want or expect. Finally, do we respond in faith like Habakkuk when we get answers we don’t want or understand? Do we still have faith that God is in control of history and that He will protect and preserve His people from the evil that exists today!

2 Kings 23-25

Josiah will be the last godly king of Judah, he instituted reforms in Judah and repaired and cleansed the Temple from all the destruction of his father Manasseh. In the process of repairing the temple the High Priest found a hidden and protected book of the Law. Josiah called all the people of Judah, their leaders, the priests and the prophets to come to the temple where he read the scroll of the covenant to the people gather there. After this he stood on the porch near the pillar where the kings of Judah were crowned and anointed. There he and the people publically renewed their covenant with the LORD. All the people both royal and common person agreed to keep the covenant of the LORD.

Josiah went through the land of Judah and Samaria and removed everything connected to the false worship that his ancestors had set up. He took all items used in false worship, burned them and then sprinkled the ashes on the graves of pagan worshippers. He drove away all the pagan priests, temple prostitutes and female weavers involved in the worship of Asherah. He removed the Levite priests that Assyria placed at the high places in Samaria. He removed the worship sites in the Valley of Ben Hinnon for Molech, this is where they practiced child sacrifice; he burned the statues, chariots and removed the horses used in those practices. He also removed the altars set up on roof tops that were used to worship the stars.

Josiah removed pagan worship everywhere even in the north at Bethel as was prophesied in 1 Kings 13. Remember just when King Jeroboam inaugurated the alternate worship sites a prophet of God arrived to pronounced this prophecy, “O altar, altar! This is what the LORD says; Look a son named Josiah will be born to the Davidic dynasty. He will sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who offer sacrifices on you. Human bones will be burned on you.” This unnamed prophet was told to not eat, drink or stay the night but instead return straight away to Judah. When King Jeroboam offered a meal he faithfully refused, but then he was tricked by another who claimed to have an alternate message from the LORD. After his disobedience he received a true message through the false prophet that he would be killed by lions that same day. After his death the false prophet collected his body and placed it in his own tomb, this became a permanent marker about the LORD’s prophecy against false worship within eyesight of the false altars.

After this King Josiah ordered all the people to observe the Passover of the LORD your God, as prescribed in the Covenant. “None of the kings of Israel had observed a Passover like the one celebrated by Josiah, the priests, the Levites, all the people of Judah and Israel who were there and the residents of Jerusalem”.

Even though the repentance and reforms of Josiah’s reign were very great, this did not remove the previously pronounced judgment from the LORD. The LORD announced, “I will also spurn Judah, just as I spurned Israel. I will reject this city that I chose – both Jerusalem and the temple, about which I said, I will there.” God revealed that He will be removing His presence from the people of Judah and Israel. There is an important spiritual message here, when we continue to reject God’s commands and go our own way, we separate ourselves from God’s presence.

All of Josiah’s reforms were made possible because Assyria was suffering internal problems and Babylon was threatening them. Judah and Egypt were vassal states of Assyria, so Egypt marched out to assist Assyria in their defense from Babylon. However Josiah didn’t want Egypt to give Assyria support, they wanted to retain their independent status by a weakened Assyria. So Josiah marches out to confront Egypt, Egypt doesn’t want to fight Judah. Pharaoh warns Josiah to back off but Josiah doesn’t take his threat seriously. Josiah dies in this battle, but his confrontation with Egypt prevents them from assisting Assyria in time. Nineveh will fall to Babylon in 612 BC; the mighty and cruel Assyrian Empire is no more.

After Josiah’s death in battle the people of Judah anointed his son Jehoahaz as king in his father’s place, he will only reign for 3 months. Pharoah Necho imprisoned Jehoahaz and replaced him with his brother Eliakim as king in his place; then changed his name to Jehoiakim. This practice of renaming the king was considered the prerogative of the conquering king; by doing this he was demonstrating that he, Pharaoh, controlled Judah. After this victory Egypt imposed a heavy tax on the people of Judah and took Jehoahaz with him to Egypt, Jehoiakim will reign for 11 years as the puppet king of Egypt.

During Jehoiakim’s reign Nebuchadnezzar invades the land and Judah becomes the vassal state of Babylon. After three years Jehoiakim decided to join Egypt in another rebellion against Babylonian rule. So Nebuchadnezzar sends a combined force Babylon, Aram, Moab and Ammon against Judah. King Nebuchadnezzar leads this campaign against Egypt and captures all the land from the Wadi of Egypt to the Euphrates River, then all of Egypt’s vassals passed into Babylonian control. Sometime during the invasion of Judah, the king dies and his son Jehoiachin becomes king, he will reign for just 3 months. King Jehoiachin of Judah surrenders Jerusalem to King Nebuchadnezzar who deports the king, the queen mother, the royal household, all of the officials and 10,000 people to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar makes Mattaniah, another son of Josiah king; changing his name to Zedekiah he will rule for 11 years as a puppet king of Babylon.

Zedekiah submitted for several years, then joined another rebellion against Babylon once again allying Judah with Egypt, ignoring all the warnings of the prophets in particular the prophet Jeremiah. So King Nebuchadnezzar comes against Judah again, this time putting Jerusalem under siege for three years, the people of Judah suffered greatly from famine and fear. As the Babylonians broke through the walls of the city, Zedekiah attempts an escape heading towards the Jordan River; he is captured by Jericho and brought to Nebuchadnezzar. King Nebuchadnezzar killed all of Zedekiah’s sons in front of his eyes, then blinded the king and transported him to Babylon.

After this the Babylonian army burned down the Temple, the royal palace and all the houses in Jerusalem. They tore down every important building in Jerusalem and broke down all the walls of Jerusalem leaving the city completely destroyed. They deported all the people of Jerusalem leaving only the poorest people to farm the land to tend the vineyards and fields for Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar appoints Gedaliah as governor over the people in the land, he was a descendant of Josiah’s secretary who implemented the reforms in Judah, and he followed the advice of the prophet Jeremiah who said to cooperate with the Babylonians.

Sometime later a group of men who had escaped the Babylonian destruction and were of royal descent conspired against Gedaliah and killed him. Then all the people left in the land were afraid of what the Babylonians would do, so they fled to Egypt for safety and forced the prophet Jeremiah to go with them.

It would seem that Judah was gone forever, that the descendants of King David were no more. But in the 37th year of his exile, King Jehoiachin of Judah is pardoned by the new king of Babylon; he is released from prison and lives out his days in Babylon eating at the table of King Evil-Merodach. This change in policy sets the stage for more freedom for the captives in the Babylonian Empire, when Cyrus overthrows the Babylonian Empire he will allow the Jews to return to Judah. The prophet Jeremiah told the people of Judah that God will have compassion on them, “keep in mind the road you took when you were carried off. Mark off in your minds the landmarks. Make a mental note of telltale signs marking the way back. Return, my dear children of Israel. Return to these cities of yours. The LORD God of Israel who rules overall says, I will restore the people of Judah to their land and to their towns.” The people of Judah will live for 70 years in exile in Babylon before God raises up another king who will allow them to return to the Promised Land.