7. The Prophet expresses more clearly here what we referred to in our last lecture,—that God is hard and severe toward refractory men, and that he is merciful and kind to the teachable and the obedient,—not that God changes his nature, or that like Proteus he puts on various forms; but because he treats men according to their disposition. As then the Prophet has hitherto taught us, that God’s wrath cannot be sustained by mortals; so now, that no one might complain of extreme rigour, he, on the other hand, shows that God favours what is right and just, that he is gentle and mild to the meek, and therefore ready to bring help to the faithful, and that he leaves none of those who trust in him destitute of his aid.
First, by saying that God is good, he turns aside whatever might be objected on the ground of extreme severity. There is indeed nothing more peculiar to God than goodness. Now when he is so severe, that the very mention of his name terrifies the whole world, he seems to be in a manner different from himself. Hence the Prophet now shows, that whatever he had hitherto said of the dreadful judgment of God, is not inconsistent with his goodness. Though God then is armed with vengeance against his enemies, he yet ceases not to be like himself, nor does he forget his goodness. But the Prophet does here also more fully confirm the Israelites and the Jews in the belief, that God is not only terrible to the ungodly, but that, as he has promised to be the guardian of his Church, he would also succour the faithful, and in time alleviate their miseries. Good then is Jehovah; and it is added, for help. The intention of the Prophet may be hence more clearly understood, when he says that he is for strength in the day of distress; as though he said,—“God is ever ready to bring help to his people:” And he adds, in the day of distress, that the faithful may not think that they are rejected, when God tries their patience by adversities. How much soever then God may subject his people to the cross and to troubles, he still succours them in their distress.
He lastly adds, He knows them who hope in him. This, to know, is no other thing than not to neglect them. Hence God is said to know them who hope in him, because he always watches over them, and takes care of their safety: in short, this knowledge is nothing else but the care of God, or his providence in preserving the faithful. The Prophet, at the same time, distinguishes the godly and sincere worshippers of God from hypocrites: when God leaves many destitute who profess to believe in him, he justly withholds from them his favour, for they do not from the heart call on him or seek him.
We now then understand the Prophet’s meaning. He shows, on the one hand, that God is armed with power to avenge his enemies; and, on the other, he shows that God, as he has promised, is a faithful guardian of his Church. How is this proved? He sets before us what God is, that he is good; and then adds, that he is prepared to bring help. But he does not in vain mention this particular,—that he takes care of the faithful, who truly, and from the heart, hope in him; it is done, that they may understand that they are not neglected by God, and also, that hypocrites may know that they are not assisted, because their profession is nothing else but dissimulation, for they hope not sincerely in God, however they may falsely boast of his name.
7 The goodness of God forms a basic tenet of Israel’s faith, particularly celebrated in the psalmic literature whose language is prominent throughout v. 7 (e.g., 2 Ch 5:13; Pss 25:7–8; 69:16; 118:1, 29; 135:3; 136:1; 145:7–9; Jer 33:11). Also as here, it repeatedly forms the basis for the response of faith, expressed in trusting obedience (e.g., Ezr 8:18, 22; Pss 34:8; 73:1; 100:4–5, 106:1–3; 107:1–2; 109:21, La 3:25). Where the goodness of God is successfully impugned, faith soon crumbles (e.g., Ge 3:1–7; Nu 14:3, 27).
In this context, as an expression of covenantal commitment to defend his people, the Lord himself is a “refuge” or stronghold of protection (māʿôz, “strength”; cf. Ne 8:10; Pss 27:1; 31:2, 4; 37:39; Pr 10:29; Isa 25:4; Jer 16:19). He “cares for” (yādaʿ, lit., “knows”; e.g., Ex 33:12; Pss 31:7; 91:14; Jer 1:5; 12:3) the faithful, acknowledging their relationship to him and the claim on his goodness, which is inherent in that relationship. The “trouble” from which he gives protection is graphically illustrated in Judah’s sufferings at the hands of Assyria. It demands a “trust” that is too often missing or misplaced, but it affords one of Scripture’s most dramatic testimonies to the Lord as a “refuge” for those who indeed put their hope in him (Isa 33:2–4; 37:3, 6–7, 29–38; cf. Isa 12:2; 26:3–4). The note of grace sounded here, highlighted by its juxtaposition to the surrounding verses, is already implicit in v. 3, and it foreshadows the theme of Judah’s vindication in the following sections (vv. 12–13, 14; 2:2).
Judgment in a Context of God’s Care for His Own (1:7)
7 Good is Yahweh,
a refuge in the day of adversity.
And he knows those who seek shelter in him.
The message of Nahum up to this point appears purely in negative terms. Almost nothing but judgment has been discussed. But now it becomes apparent that those who turn to the Lord have nothing to fear. He is good, and his people shall enjoy an abundant salvation. Actually the judgment on Nineveh must be viewed from the perspective of God’s intent to show mercy to his people. He responds to their cry for relief from oppression by sending judgment on their enemies.
Indeed, it must be recognized that God’s “own,” his favored ones who find him to be merciful, cannot be identified merely as “Israel” after the flesh. As a matter of fact, precisely the historical context of Nahum’s declaration of the goodness of God to those whom he knows indicates that a simplistic or purely ethnic definition of “Israel” cannot apply. Earlier in God’s dealing with the inhabitants of Nineveh through the ministry of the prophet Jonah, God indicated that he could be just as merciful to the heathen Ninevites as he had been to his own people. The fact that Nineveh in Nahum’s day was targeted for devastation could not blot out the reality of the earlier mercy shown to the inhabitants of Nineveh in response to their faith and repentance. For Israel too would bear the brunt of devastations by the same Babylon that was to bring judgment on Assyria. The Lord is good—but only to those who seek shelter in him. This phrase suggests not merely faith, entrustment to the Lord. It recognizes an imminent danger from which the person who trusts must seek deliverance. The ultimate source of this danger is in the Lord himself as he manifests his righteous judgments. But the repentant sinner seeks for help in none other than him.
According to the prophet, God knows those who seek shelter in him. This “knowing” of the Lord must be understood in the full biblical sense of “loving” with the most intense care. When the prophet Amos declares that God has “known” Israel alone among all the nations of the earth, he cannot mean that God possesses cognitive information about only one nation in the world (cf. Amos 3:2). Instead, he means that this people alone as a nation has received the special love of God.
The Lord knows those who seek shelter in him, meaning that he loves them, cares for them, cherishes their well-being. This concept belongs precisely in this context because it provides a proper framework for understanding God’s coming judgment that will devastate the earth. For the sake of his people, as a step toward the full realization of their salvation, God shall judge Nineveh and the Assyrians.“Goodness” in God is most frequently associated with covenant fidelity (ṭeseḏ; cf. 2 Chr. 5:13; 7:3; Ezra 3:11; Ps. 106:1; 136:1; etc.). Particularly in association with the glory of God manifested in his dwelling among his people it is declared that the Lord is good. Those who seek shelter in the temple of God will find out just how good and merciful he is.
God is with his people (v. 7)
The great nineteenth-century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, said, ‘Have you read this chapter through? It is a very terrible one; it is like the rushing of a mighty river when it is nearing a cataract. It boils and seethes and flows with overwhelming force, bearing everything before it; yet right in the middle of the surging flood, stands out, like a green island, this most cheering, comforting and delightful text.’
What an oasis of peace it is for the uniqueness of God is revealed here. All people are good some of the time, but he, the Lord Almighty, is good all of the time, as the hymn writer said:
How good is the God we adore,
Our faithful, unchangeable friend,
Whose love is as great as his power
and knows neither measure nor end.
God’s people were rightly fearful. But, in the past, the city of Nineveh had seen the goodness of God on display when he sent the reluctant preacher, Jonah, to them. So none of them could ever accuse him of being unfair now because he had been gracious in the past. The Ninevites had responded to Jonah’s message with repentance and that had brought salvation and blessing to them because God did not destroy them. Tragically, they had forgotten his mercy. Trouble was coming their way and the only way of escape was by seeking safety in the presence of the one true God.
Reminding the people of past events, Nahum says, ‘The Lord is good’, and many people should be able to acknowledge that fact. He then goes on to describe the positive benefit from a living relationship with God.
A refuge required
God is referred to here in a way that the ancient people could readily understand as a ‘refuge in times of trouble’. There were no early warning systems, or ground-to-air missiles to give protection to the population at large. They needed to be in a safe place. Safe cities were specifically designed to cater for large numbers who could take refuge when an enemy was advancing on their land. Here, God is compared by Nahum to a refuge. When people come to him, they find that he is the one who cares for them, not just in their lifetime, but also through death and on into eternity.
The ultimate example of this is the Lord Jesus who, on one occasion, was challenged by the Jews to prove that he really was the Christ. He used a simple, but profound, illustration to impress upon them that he is God. He said about his people, ‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.’ Then he probably brought his hands together in a firm clench and said, ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:28–30). That is the ultimate refuge, locked into God’s hands, safe and secure, never to slip or fall.
It was as if Nahum were saying, ‘Nineveh, to the world at large, you may appear big brash and brave, but nothing compares to having God as Lord and Saviour, and his covenant people are to rejoice in this great fact.’
The result of faith
Nineveh is reminded that God is the ultimate carer: ‘He cares for those who trust in him.’ He shows grace to all people but especially to those who have put their trust in him. (For a more in-depth study of this great subject see Grace—amazing grace by Brian Edwards.) But there is a great warning issued here for his love will not overlook sin; and to be true to himself, God must punish sin. This is what Nahum sets alongside the grace of God.
Ver. 7.—The Lord is good. The Targum adds unnecessarily, “for Israel” (Ps. 25:8). He is “good,” in that he is a strong hold in the day of trouble, as in the perilous time when the Assyrians attacked Judæa (comp. Ps. 27:1; Jer. 16:19). He knoweth; loves and cares for (Ps. 1:6; 37:18; comp. 2 Tim. 2:19; and see note on Amos 3:2).
1:7. The Lord’s people are reminded that the Lord is good. He will provide a stronghold, a place of safety and protection in the day of their trouble. And God has a personal knowledge of His people who flee to Him for protection: He knows those who take refuge in Him.