There will be no lasting peace on earth until God openly take up the reins of government; in that day He will set up a throne of righteousness on which the Son of Man shall sit and rule over all nations. The present state of the world is not an adequate witness of God's active government; for the moment He remains apparently silent. What would happen to those who give Him no place in their thoughts and ways if He were to make His presence fully known as a judge and ruler? If He were to appear in judgment, He would, deal with the evil so evident on every hand and put it out of the world.
Even now there are certain infallible consequences attached to behaviour as effects follow the cause, “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6: 7). But the day is coming when sin will not be allowed, the hand of divine authority will be seen and recognized, and the evil-doer will be quickly cut (Isaiah 55: 20).
Meanwhile the providential government of God goes on in the world whatever outward appearances may be; every hair of our head is numbered, and not a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father's knowledge. Providence is a concealed form of God's government, but a day is coming when He will govern the world openly and directly by Christ. In the past Israel was the centre of His authority on earth, but because of their failure to walk in the law of Jehovah, which was the expression of the terms of His government, the throne of Jehovah was removed from Jerusalem; and Israel became a captive to the Gentile powers raised up as chastening rods of judgment. In the mind of God Israel ever remains the centre of His public earthly dealings. All Israel will again be restored to the land of their inheritance through the mercy of God, according to His unconditional promise made to Abraham, and confirmed to his Seed, of which Isaac as one given back from death was a type. The Jews will first return, for they, were the people who joined hands with the Gentile power to reject and crucify the Messiah when He came to His own, and to them He will appear that they may be the first to repent and not lose their place amongst the tribes (Zechariah22: 7). Then the ten tribes will be gathered and the LORD will reign in Zion and govern the earth from amidst His people.
Prophecy is not occupied with providence, in which the ordering of the divine will is secretly brought to pass; but it speaks of the direct government of God in His immediate dealings with men on the earth with reference to their conduct, and His direct interference in human affairs revealing His ways on earth. The Jews are the central point of His displayed government on earth, and the Gentiles have their place in connection with God's ways as they have to do with God's people.
God is not now governing the world in a manner that all may learn His ways from the outward course of events. His providence governs everything, but the day is coming when His King will reign in righteousness and He will openly manifest His presence by His judgments, and right will receive its just recompense. At the moment, while Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high, God is gathering out a people for heaven to reign with Christ, and to be joint-heirs with Him; in the meantime they are joint-sufferers.
The Church is not the subject of prophecy; it is given the light of prophecy, so that it will know what is coming upon the world when God rises up in judgment to remove from His sight those whom He judges, and bring His earthly people into full blessing. The Church belongs to heaven; it is the body of Christ while He is seated there. A picture of the Church as a body in its external and active life in the world, covering the whole period of its history down here, is given in the book of Revelation. In divine wisdom seven assemblies are selected, and these serve to present a complete view of the moral character of the state into which the body on earth would successively fall. The moral judgment of the Lord is pressed on them, for what He judges cannot be in any way as His heavenly body. The Church, will never be set up on earth by the government of God to reign in peace. When Christ reigns the Church will sit with Him in His throne and reign with Him from above. Those who make Christ their confession will have to leave all that is in the world or perish with it. Christians must sooner or later give it up, and they may do so as taught by God in the truth, doing it with joy in the sense of His grace in Christ, or they will know the pain of broken ties that hold them bound to the earth. Grace working in the heart will make the feet willing to turn from, and flee the scene of coming judgment; if the heart is not free from the world, judgment will compel the break.
In New Testament prophecy judgment is pronounced against that which has taken the name of the Church, but which has the character of Babylon, and is the power of evil in the world. The Church proper belongs to heaven and will be taken away to heaven to be with Christ before the day of judgment.
The apostle Paul was given the revelation of the Church in its heavenly relationship with Christ in present spiritual union, and he does not speak of believers going to heaven, but of going to be with Christ. He speaks of the Church's heavenly calling; and by the Spirit says that believers are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ; and adds that their present conflict is against spiritual wickednesses in the heavenlies. He lived morally in the new creation, and waited “to be clothed upon with our house from heaven”: so much did his mind already live in heaven.
The scene of God’s government is the earth, and prophecy is the expression of God's politics with regard to it. Israel is the pivot on which revolves His whole earthly system of government. When God begins to separate His people from among the nations, and judge them for their departure from Him, and also for their allegiance which they give to the Antichrist-the false Christ who will arise amount them in the last days-He then looks on all the nations and brings them into the land for judgment.
Christians have grown familiar with the prophecies which speak of the times of the Gentiles, which began when Jerusalem ceased to be the centre of Jehovah's government as it was in Old Testament times. After the failure of the house of David, the glory left Jerusalem ( Ezekiel 11), and God ceased to exercise sovereign power on earth; He gave it into the hands of the Gentiles, king Nebuchadnezzar being raised up by God to hold the world in subjection. The imperial system was to run its course, and God, who knows the end from the beginning, foretells its breakdown and ultimate apostate state, which brings down upon the whole system the wrath, and judgment of heaven. The Roman Empire was the last of the four empires of which Daniel speaks; and both Daniel in the Old Testament, and the book of Revelation in the New, give details of the rise and fall of the last form of Rome in its apostate character, allied with the Antichrist who leads Jewry at the end. The Church began its history on earth in the early days of Rome’s imperial power, and it will be taken away from the scene of coming judgment just a few years before the final destruction of “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17: 18), and which has earned for itself the name of Babylon because of its religious corruption.
There are two divisions of prophecy, one that deals with Israel when owned of God, and the other when Israel is no longer owned as “My people”, and even the last tribe-Judah with its capital Jerusalem is in captivity to a Gentile power. There are two classes of enemies of Israel mentioned in these two divisions of prophecy. The prophecies addressed to Israel when owned of God, speak of one class of enemies; those spoken by the prophets of Judah, prophesying of the time when Jerusalem would be taken, and God's government no longer for the present be seen in the midst of the Jews, indicate quite another enemy.
Daniel in the Old Testament, and the book of Revelation in the New, together give the complete history in prophecy of the Gentile empires, to which was confided sovereign power during the period known as “the times of the Gentiles”, when Israel, including those called Jews, are not owned by God as “My people”. (See Hosea chapters 1 and 2). They will not again be publicly owned until the last form of Gentile imperial power is broken and destroyed for ever. Providentially the Jews have been preserved and are to-day coming into the forefront of world news; the nation is stirring, but nothing that is taking place to-day is a witness to the open government of God on earth. Much that is going on is godless and destructive. Only when His people are repentant through grace, and the enemies of Christ are made His footstool, will He introduce His reign of righteousness and peace will pervade the earth.
When Israel was owned of God, and their cries for help found a response from Him, there was another Gentile power which was their enemy' and used by Him as a chastening rod when they were backsliding. Assyria was the rod of His anger, and the ten tribes of Israel were carried into captivity by the Assyrians. The two tribes Judah and Benjamin, protected by Jehovah, withstood the Assyrian attacks; but later, because they turned to idolatry, God gave them into the; hands of the Babylonians.
The larger part of prophecy that speaks of these two great enemies of Israel and of Judah is taken up with the Assyrian, the foe from the north country. But it is impossible to apply all that is said merely to the assaults of ancient Assyria against Israel. Isaiah chapter 8 says that the king of Assyria will take Jerusalem; never in the past did the Jewish capital fall to Assyria. In prophecy, Assyria falls after Babylon; but in history, the Babylonians and Medes combined destroyed Nineveh - the Assyrian capital-and broke the power of that city for all time.
At the time of the end, when God gathers all nations around Jerusalem for judgment, He will use the power that stands in Assyria's land to chasten apostate Jewry. He will preserve a godly and faithful remnant of Jews through the days of trial; and then He will destroy the rod which He used to chasten His people. The Assyrian is constantly called the rod of Jehovah by Isaiah: but he has no thought of God and seeks in his hatred of God's people to exterminate them utterly. No one, unless wholly self-centred and blinded by pride, would attempt to defy God in such arrogant terms as those of Rabshakeh [2 Kings 18 & 19, Isaiah 36], the general of the Assyrian army, when Jerusalem was besieged; it brought a fearful judgment from God on his army.
Assyria was destroyed in the past, but the language of prophecy carries the mind on to a future day when the power of the Assyrian will be broken for ever. Russia will be the power behind the Assyrian of the last days. (See Ezekiel chapters 38 & 39). When the power of the revived Roman Empire with which Jewry will he allied, is broken by the Lord coming from heaven, the Russian hordes will invade Palestine, and they will be broken on the mountains of Israel by the hand of the LORD. From that time on Israel will enter into blessing (Ezekiel 39:22).
Before God judges a people, even though they are not connected directly with Him by a covenant, He warns them. The prophet Jonah was sent to warn Nineveh more than two hundred years before the judgment fell on the city. For the moment the king of Nineveh heeded the warning and repented, so God withheld the judgment. But the pride of the Ninevites, their notorious cruelty to their victims of conquest, and the wicked imaginations of their hearts, brought down on Nineveh the wrath of heaven.
What befell Nineveh is a matter of history. The city was completely destroyed by the joint armies of the Medes and Babylonians after a two years' siege. The prophet Nahum pronounced the judgment of God on Nineveh a hundred years before its destruction, and before Babylon, rose to the height of its power.
Each of the prophets, with divine intelligence, throws a beam, of light on some particular aspect of human conduct; and in the prophecy of Nahum concerning the great capital city of the warlike Assyrians, the arrogant pride of the world glorying in its military prowess is portrayed and judged. The haughty spirit of man treats with disdain the people of God whom it hates. Though God is long-suffering and patient, He will not always remain silent, but will “pour contempt” on all man's pride, and will judge the world for the way it has treated the people of God, for they are the apple of Has eye. The prophecy of Nahum is a pledge of this judgment, and it also shows that the relief of the godly Jewish remnant will come by the judgment of their enemies (chapter 1: 12,13,15).
The prophecy opens with a declaration of what God is His character as Governor in the midst of the world, which has departed from Him and grown up in the pride of man's achievements, but in which He acts in grace, at the same time as He searches the ways of men in His governmental dealings.
The text is so plain it requires little explanation. Jehovah is a jealous God. He brooks no rival to His claims, though He is slow to anger in spite of provocation from the pride and self-willed of men. If He must punish and take vengeance of His adversaries with great fury, it is only after long patient endurance with evil, and until it is useless to wait longer for them to repent. When His warnings are ignored and His grace despised, and the world shows its scorn of Him by its treatment of those whom He favours, not fearing to raise its hand against His inheritance, then He will recompense tribulation on those who trouble and “'take vengeance on them that know not God” (2 Thessalonians 1: 6-9). His power is infinite, and He will use it to assert His right to His own workmanship, which Satan, who has the power of death, has spoiled by introducing lust and self-will, so bringing the world under His power.
God will not call evil good, nor acquit the guilty; though He may redeem those who have come under the power of sin, by judging it absolutely in the person of His own Son, who alone could offer Himself as an adequate sacrifice to clear the guilty and glorify God. He cannot act as though sin does not exist.
The display of the power of God so that men may see His might and fear His presence (verses 3-6), is illustrated in many parts of scripture. Job heard Him from the whirlwind; Elijah went up in a whirlwind. Israel saw His power at the Red Sea and the Jordan (verse 4). Canaan fainted before Him. Sinai burned and quaked. The mind of the prophet is carried away, and is lost in the greatness of God and the extent of His power; he sees that everything must give way before His presence right on to the end of the ages. None can stand before the indignation of the LORD which is aroused against the pride of the self-exalted creature.
But if the anger of the LORD is fierce against evil, He is absolutely good and a stronghold in the day of trouble; He is the strength of those who trust Him. His nature is love, and when a loving nature is compelled to put on the robe of vengeance; how terrible it would be to meet Him! The mighty God is very gracious to take account of those who find their only resource and seek their refuge in Him as their fortress and deliverer.
The prophet begins to speak with more detail from verse 8. There is no doubt that the invasion of Sennacherib in the days of Hezekiah was the occasion of the prophecy. The words of the prophet pursue the host of Assyria retreating from the walls of Jerusalem (verse 8, 9).
One amongst them imagines evil against the LORD (verse 11). Rabshakeh's boastful and insulting words aroused the indignation of the prophet [See 2 Kings 18 & 19].
The obscurity of verse 12 is cleared by the light of other prophecies. The verse applies to Judah, and Isaiah who prophesied at the same time throws light on the matter in question. (Compare Isaiah 28: 18, 19 & 10: 12, 25). When the Assyrian comes into Immanuel’s land (Isaiah 8) in the last days, he will be cut down and no more afflict Judah. Assyria will be used to chasten unbelieving Jewry, so that the verse may be read to apply to either Judah or to Assyria. Verse 13 rather confirms the application of verse 12 to Judah. (See Isaiah 10: 5, 24 & 25). In the day of Assyria's final destruction the Jews will rejoice and Judah will keep her solemn feasts.
The Antichrist will have been taken away (Revelation 14: 20), the great apostate western confederacy broken, and now also the overflowing scourge of God, which He used to judge His rebellious people, will no more pass through; the way for rest and peace in all the earth will be prepared.
Even though the prophet pronounces judgment, when he has the object of God's mercy in view, his mind is carried over to the great day of blessing when all evil will be removed, and the blessings of God flow in mercy and in righteousness.
The LORD turned away the excellency of Jacob. The failing man had to be disciplined and emptied, and this is God's way always with those whom He blesses. Man has been given his opportunity to use his natural inheritance, but every blessing though God-given, has been used to minister to his pride. God must act according to His own nature, and if any man is to be brought into the blessedness of that which God has revealed of Himself in purity and goodness, he must first be emptied of all that would shut out God. Nature takes its own way without a thought of God; He is the sole source of all good and must be so known. If this is His way with those who are the objects of His favour, so that they will have no confidence in themselves, but find in Him all their strength and blessing, what will He do to those who are His enemies, and in the pride of their hearts raise their hands against His people to make them serve their proud ambitions?
Verses 3-5 describe the confusion of an army of defence restless with fear. When catastrophes occur through natural causes superstitious fears take possession of people and rob them of strength to resist. The way in which the city was overthrown is told in verse 6-the gates of the river were opened. Tradition says that an unprecedented flood, caused by the Tigris and irrigation channels overflowing, melted away the walls of sun-dried bricks and laid the city open to the attacks of the Medes and Babylonians. So fell the mighty city Nineveh which covered an area of 582 square kilometres [225 square miles], surrounded by 96 kilometres [60 miles] of walls, 30 metres [100 feet] high and on the top of which three chariots could drive abreast, and 1,500 towers each 200 feet high stood sentinel over the city.
The king, possibly Saracos, though there is some doubt about the name, gathered his courtiers around himself, set fire to the palace and they all perished in the flames. The charred relics found in the ruins of Nineveh prove that fire helped in the destruction.
Verse 7 is thought by some to refer to Queen Huzzab taken captive with her maids. Others think Huzzab which means “established” applies to Nineveh “which was thought to be impregnable.
Every male Assyrian was trained for war, their military prowess was notorious, their pride and glory great. Nineveh was full of spoil taken in many wars, and was likened to a lion's den filled with prey. The cruelty with which they treated their captives is referred to in verse 12. They gloried in their conquests and tortured their prisoners, and have left the record of their deeds engraven on monuments of stone. But the government of God is unerring; to those who have shown no mercy He will show no mercy, and Assyria is a most striding example of this principle.
Nineveh was a city of blood, fighting and warlike sport was its life. The Ninevites were enriched by the spoil of others; they themselves would be brought to nothing and become a gazing-stock. The language is clear and concise, no comment is necessary to explain the text; but our attention is held by the contrasts that rapidly spring up in the mind of the prophet; first the glory of the city, then what God was about to make it, and this is often seen in the same verse.
Nahum with prophetic vision foresaw the enemies of Nineveh already in the city and the streets full of her dead. The glory of Nineveh with which she had covered herself was but a loose covering, not an endowment of God; she would be shamed.
No-Amon in Egypt, a like great city, had been wasted, probably by Sargon King of Assyria, and so Nineveh would be desolated. Egypt and Assyria had long been rivals, each fought for world-supremacy and Assyria defeated Egypt, but Assyria itself would be destroyed. Neither of these powers attained to imperial status. Absolute authority on earth was put into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, after Assyria was destroyed B.C. 606.
Verses 13 and 15 speak of the gates being left open to the enemy and of the fire which would devour the city. Fire and sword would do their work as completely as the cankerworm and locust consume the vegetation in a field and leave it bare. A more desolate picture could not be depicted of the total and final destruction of the prosperous metropolis that had multiplied its merchants above the stars of heaven. There is not a note of pity or sorrow in the whole recitation; all who hear of Nineveh's desolation would only rejoice.
Such is God's way when He deals with pride that excludes all thought of Him, which, shows no pity for the sufferings of others, and boasts in everything that exalts the work of man. The world raises its monument’s to its victories in battle, it glories in the tombs of its dead; but in the day when God makes His presence known to the world, and puts down the pride of man by His greater strength, destroying man's strong defences, all who through grace and mercy know Him will rejoice. There will be no sorrow when wars cease, and great will be the relief when war efforts are no longer an occasion of pride.
God will meet violence with violence, war with war, and He is the stronger. Until the day comes when wars shall cease, in secret He governs amongst His own people, those who are truly His by faith; and a spiritual conflict is waged between good and evil.
Redemption of the believer is perfect and complete; but God has not brought into full result all its effects. It is part of the government of God, while He leads His people into their rest, to try them in their walk and teach them His ways. They learn what they are, and what the Lord is. Unless they constantly lean on Him there will be failure; but He sustains in His faithfulness those whom He has redeemed.
There is another character of experience into which the believer enters now which is connected with his spiritual conflict. Redeemed and accepted in the Beloved, having received the Holy Spirit as the seal of redemption and earnest [guarantee 2 Corinthians 1:22] of the inheritance to come, he enters into warfare with the powers of darkness. These evil powers seek to cast him down and prevent him from taking possession, in spirit now, of the spiritual blessings which are his through the victory of the true Joshua. This war is not fought on earth with weapons the flesh may use, but it is carried on in the heavenlies in the power of the Spirit, and the Word of God is the divinely prepared weapon; it is the sword of the Spirit, to combat all heresies and superstitions. God has Himself provided the armour for this conflict and the battle can only be successfully waged in the power of an ungrieved Spirit; the flesh, if it intrudes, will show its weakness everywhere. But this war ceases when the believer is with Christ, for then he is beyond the reach of the darts of the adversary and out of the scene of his present activity.
The day will come when the Son of God will be manifested in all His own power and glory, and all that opposed Him when He came in humiliation will be subdued; and all creation be humbled. But such will be the triumph of His grace and mercy that everything with breath will sing His praises, for He is the Saviour of the world. He has proved His love to man in His death to redeem men; He will use His power to subdue His enemies and to set up His Kingdom of peace.
Meanwhile the providence of God is carried on for the discipline and instruction of His people that they may learn to wait on Him.