Nahum was a seventh century B.C. prophet who was contemporary with prophets such as Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah. The subject of Nahum's prophecy was the judgment upon Nineveh, the metropolis and head of the Assyrian Empire. Nineveh was famous for the strength and thickness of its walls and for its towers of defense. This was the second time that the people of Nineveh had been given a message concerning the coming judgment from God. They had repented after the preaching of Jonah, but apparently had slipped back into sin. God had allowed the Assyrians to punish and destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Perhaps this was the cause for God's vengeance mentioned three times in chapter 1 verse 2. Then comes the awesome reminder in verse 3, "The LORD is slow to anger". In this lesson we shall study the Patience of God, an attribute with great comfort and application for us.
I. The Portrayal of Patience
First let us consider the fact that God is truly slow to wrath, which signifies that God desires to defer His justice upon man and is willing to forbear His vengeance. He restrains His arm from punishing man according to the merit of sin. This attribute is many times referred to by the term longsuffering. God does not often punish man after the first provocation, but is longsuffering before consenting to give vent to His wrath. He keeps His sword in the sheath for a long while before executing judgment.
Consider following ways that the patience of God has been manifested:
1. Delay of Judgment
We see the patience of God in His delaying of punishment. God would have been just if He had immediately cast Adam into the lake of fire, but He was patient and His longsuffering has lasted for some 6,000 years extending His mercy toward us as well. He was patient with the Canaanites for well over 400 years before executing justice (Genesis 15:13-16). He allowed the Kingdom of Israel to practice idolatry through nineteen kings for just over two centuries. He had been patient with Nineveh putting off their destruction for some 150 years after Jonah's message.
2. Multitude of Warnings
Not only does God often delay His wrath, He almost always precedes His judgment with a multitude of warnings. Noah preached on the coming flood for 120 years before the rain came (Genesis 6:3). God sent His prophets often to the Israelites warning them of coming judgment. God had sent Jonah and instructed Nahum to prophesy of the destruction of Nineveh. This aspect of patience is wonderfully illustrated in the parable given by Jesus in Matthew 21:33 - 39.
3. Unwillingness to Execute Judgment
God's patience is further shown in His unwillingness to punish man when He can delay no longer. His judgments are often sent in degrees as seen in the period of the Judges where the oppression by various adversaries became progressively worse. Nor does God repay our sin with equal severity (Ezra 9:13).
One of the greatest manifestations of the patience of God can be seen in His contest with Pharaoh. It is a wonder that God did not instantly thunder His wrath against Pharaoh when he responded to Moses with, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice" (Exodus 5:2). Yet God was longsuffering in that He sent 10 plagues of progressive severity each preceded by a warning from Moses over several months. Even in the final plague, Pharaoh was given an opportunity for deliverance. Though God completely wiped out Pharaoh's army at the Red Sea, He did not annihilate the entire nation.
Praise God for His patience towards us! How often have we backslidden, and yet He did not punish us with the severity that we deserved? How often has He deferred His judgment and replaced it first with a warning? How often has He delayed in punishing us even knowing that we would sin or fail to keep our word? We ought to be ever so thankful that God is a patient God.
II. The Power in Patience
It takes great power to be patient. Imagine how many thousands of times an hour God is cursed and slandered, yet He restrains His wrath. As Charnock says, "It is above the reach of any man's understanding to conceive all the blasphemies, oaths, thefts, adulteries, murders, oppressions, contempt of religion … Add to those the ingratitude of those that profess his name, their pride, earthliness, carelessness, sluggishness to divine duties, and in every one of those a multitude of provocations." Only a person possessing great power could restrain from anger over the greatness and abundance of sin. Paul said in Romans 9:22, "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction". The patience of God is a display of His power.
We ought to be patient with others as God is patient with us. If God is longsuffering toward us when we sin, what right do we have to be quick to anger when others sin against us (see 1 Peter 3:8-17)? Yet, how quick are we to get angry with others? We can scarce put up with someone saying something critical to us without returning immediately with angry words. It takes power to be patient: power which we need from God. Longsuffering is one of the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. If we are going to exhibit the patience of God, we need to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
III. The Purpose in Patience
Let us also understand the purpose behind the patience of God. Peter tells us that the reason God is longsuffering is because He is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). The only reason for God to defer punishment is that He desires for us to repent. In fact, patience is reserved only for those who have an opportunity to repent. Longsuffering is something that is never mentioned with regard to angels, for those that have fallen have no opportunity as we have of being redeemed. The patience of God could not remain if it were not for the redemption provided in Jesus Christ. The patience of God ought to be a source of great comfort to us. Just think that our loved ones who are still lost may get another chance to hear the gospel, that God's desire is for them to repent and be saved. What a comfort to know that He is putting off His wrath and pleading with the lost! So many Christians view God as one who enjoys judgment - just waiting for us to mess up before He strikes. Yet it is quite the contrary, for He is patient and slow to anger. His desire is not to punish but for us to get right.
Let us meditate on the patience of God, for the contemplation of His longsuffering will make us frequent and serious in the exercise of repentance. If we considered the times we provoked God to His face and yet He drew not His sword against us, would this not lead us to heart-broken repentance? As Paul said in Romans 2:4, "despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?"
IV. The Period of Patience
Though God is slow to anger, we must be careful not to forget that His wrath does eventually come. Nahum mentions in our text that God is "great in power" and that He will "not at all acquit the wicked". Slowness to anger does not mean that wrath has been eliminated. God's patience is not due to a weakness on His part. He has not kept silent because of ignorance, because He condones sin (Psalm 50:21), or because He has forgotten (Psalm 10:11). No, the sword may stay sheathed for some time, but eventually it will be wielded!
A. The Whirlwind
In our text, Nahum reminds us that "the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm". Is there a more awesome display of power than a hurricane or tornado? A whirlwind can come up suddenly when least expected and completely wipe out an entire city. A whirlwind can take order and turn it into confusion by completely rearranging or rolling objects out of their place. The whirlwind represents God's judgment upon man through providence: that God often uses natural causes to order our punishment. God would use the Medes and Persians to deliver His judgment against Nineveh.
Let the unbeliever be warned. Now is the time to be saved, for you do not know how long the patience of God will last before you are sent to the eternal flames of hell (2 Corinthian 6:2).
For the saints of God, are you involved in some sin at this very moment? Do not think that it has been overlooked just because no punishment has yet come. Think not that God approves of your sin. There will come a time when the longsuffering of God will end and the whirlwind will come. Get right now before you are overtaken in the fury of God's wrath! Is there something that God has spoken to you about and you have put off doing? Don't abuse the patience of God. Why not take care of it now before the whirlwind comes!