The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. Nahum 1:3
Unpunished – What does compassion have to do with punishment? What does mercy have to do with judgment? Nahum tells us that these are related. With God, one comes with the other. There is no compassion without the possibility of punishment. There is no mercy without the potential for judgment. But God takes His time.
Time is the problem. We know that God is merciful, and we know He is just. We want to believe that He will not let the wicked prosper forever, that He will not let them get away with their crimes, that He will not set them free. But time goes on and nothing happens. God doesn’t seem to pay attention to the right to a speedy trial. He waits . . and waits . . . and waits some more. The righteous cry for justice. What they often get is “slow to anger,” the long-nostrils (literally) of God. He waits. He draws breath s-l-o-w-l-y.
Nahum comes with a reassuring word. YHWH will not (lo – the strongest Hebrew negative) acquit the wicked. The word is naqah – to be free, to be clean, to be pure, to be released from obligation and judgment. Nahum tells the righteous what they must hear. God will not forebear forever. There are term limits. He promises to bring justice. But not yet.
This is good news. Those who cry out for justice must know that God will deliver. Of course, it is bad news that God may not deliver while the righteous are alive. But He will deliver! At the same time, this is wonderful news for the wicked. God waits. He waits for the wicked to realize the inevitability of punishment and change their ways before the term limit arrives. In fact, this is the world’s best news – for me! You see, I know that I am not righteous. I know that if God upheld the right to a speedy trial, I would have been punished long ago. I would not have survived. The best news I have ever heard is that God has a very long nose. He breathes slowly. What wonderful words! It’s not over yet. I still have time. But then it is also bad news. That I yet have time may seduce me to delay, and my delay ignores the end of the term limit.
Nahum provides good news and bad news to both the righteous and the wicked. It’s entirely up to me whether I take the news as good or bad. Yeshua comments on Nahum in his parables about the return of the Son of Man. The end may come at any moment, unexpectedly, without warning. When it does, those who routinely do Kingdom works will find refreshing relief. But those who have delayed, believing that there is still time for realignment, will discover it’s too late. In some of the strongest language of the New Testament, Yeshua proclaims that these recalcitrant, presumptive ones will be cast out with gnashing of teeth. To delay is a serious mistake. God promises to make things right. Today mercy outweighs wrath. But maybe not tomorrow.
Topical Index: lo naqah, not go unpunished, Nahum 1:3, Matthew 25:30, 46