God doesn't chain us to salvation.
Oh, Nineveh. Back in the Biblical headlines, nearly a century after Jonah was upchucked by a whale and sparked a repentance revolution in the city. You’ll remember that Jonah ended up highly distressed that God was, in fact, the gracious forgiver He had always claimed to be. Nineveh repented, and so God relented.
But Nineveh didn’t continue to embrace their new-found spirituality. Instead of sticking with the religious road less traveled, over the course of several decades, they slid away from all their reforms and returned again to their wicked ways. If Nineveh is the Old Testament’s Prodigal Son, the son decided to return to the pig sty.
And what would be the consequences of this decision? “The Lord is good, a refuge and stronghold in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.” (vs 7-8)
Hmmm . . . sounds like God will be out to get you if you don’t obey Him, doesn’t it? But is that what this really means? Let’s take a peek at the historical fall of Nineveh. The Amplified Bible contains this footnote to verse 8: “Countless authorities confirm the literal accuracy of this reference. Arbaces the Scythian had besieged the city in vain for two years, but in the third year, the river Khoser during a flood season washed away a considerable section of the very great wall, and through this opening the besiegers gained entrance.”
Just as Nahum prophesied in verse 8, Nineveh fell because of an overwhelming flood that destroyed the walls of their city. That’s why Nahum said, in contrast, that the Lord is a refuge and stronghold (vs 7). The Ninevites had the option to trust God to be their fortress; instead, they put their trust in their own city walls and in their idols—all of which were swept away by the river Khoser.
God is reject-able. When we tell Him to “get lost,” He will leave us to reap the consequences of our choice. He won’t force us to stay with Him, but neither will He keep us from reaping the consequences of our actions.
God doesn’t chain us to salvation. There is no such thing as “once saved, always saved.” As we see with the example of Nineveh, the choices we make really do matter. If we insist on wickedness, we will reap the consequences. If we repent and turn to God, He can heal us.
But God values freedom so much that He always gives us the option of leaving Him. And that also means that, as far as He is concerned, we also always have the option of coming home. With Him, there are no chains attached.
God declares the impossible.
It doesn’t seem like it to us (reading this some 2600 years after the fact), but for Nahum to say this in his day was a big deal: “Nineveh is like a pool whose water is draining away. ‘Stop! Stop!’ they cry, but no one turns back. Plunder the silver! Plunder the gold! The supply is endless, the wealth from all its treasures! She is pillaged, plundered, stripped! Hearts melt, knees give way, bodies tremble, every face grows pale.” (vs 8-10)
When Nahum spoke these words, the Assyrians were the reigning superpower and a seemingly-unstoppable force in his area of the world. The gold and silver Nahum references as being plundered were from all the nations the Assyrians had conquered. To say that Nineveh was going to be destroyed would be like saying that Donald Trump is going to file for bankruptcy next year or that the Canadians will conquer and take over America.
It would have sounded preposterous—impossible!—to his audience.
But God could see what others couldn’t: that the greed, wickedness, and sin of the Assyrians were eating out the heart of the nation. He could see that, through their pride and insolence, they would make choices and take steps that would lead to their eventual destruction. It was only a matter of time.
Everything God said about Nineveh came true. And that’s an important lesson for us to learn—that what may seem so inconceivable to us may not actually be impossible at all. Our vision may be limited, but God’s is not, and examples like this one in the Bible help us to trust that He will tell us the truth about the things we can’t yet see.
No matter what you are facing, no matter if you think a solution is outside the realm of feasibility, talk to God about it. When it seems like there’s no way your circumstances could ever change, remember that God declares the impossible. He has insight into your situation that you can’t possibly have, and He will always tell you the truth.
God eventually gives up.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the prophecy of Nahum is about Nineveh, but it isn’t preached to Nineveh? As you know, Jonah was previously sent by God directly to the capital city of Assyria more than a hundred years earlier, and his evangelistic efforts resulted in widespread repentance.
But now, God is no longer addressing the Ninevites. Instead, Nahum’s messages about their Assyrian enemies are preached to the Israelites. The news that Nineveh would fall wasn’t a warning given to Assyria, but a prophetic promise given to Israel.
It’s no wonder that, in verse 3, Nahum sees carnage: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses.” Bible commentator W. J. Deane wrote about the insatiable cruelty of the Assyrians, which was memorialized on monuments around the ancient city: “On their monuments, we may see prisoners impaled alive, flayed, beheaded, dragged to death with ropes passed through rings in their lips, blinded by the king’s own hand, hung up by hands or feet to die in slow torture. Others had their brains beaten out, their tongues torn out by the roots, while the bleeding heads of the slain were tied round the necks of the living who were reserved for further torture. The royal inscriptions boast with exultation of the number of enemies slain, and of captives carried away, and of cities leveled with the ground.”
God wasn’t exaggerating when He explained why He had given up on the Ninevites: “Nothing can heal you; your wound is fatal. All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?” (vs 19)
That’s right. As a nation, the Assyrians had passed the point of no return. They had repented of their repentance, and they went right over the “evil cliff” into truly unspeakable wickedness.
That’s why God was no longer sending messages to the Ninevites—not because He didn’t love them anymore, but because they couldn’t hear Him anymore. It was no longer possible to heal them; their condition had become terminal.
It’s amazing to think that we can force God—the Almighty Creator and Sustainer of the universe—to do something. But we can. If we persist in our wickedness and rebellion, shutting out the voice of the Holy Spirit, we can actually place ourselves beyond God’s healing reach and cause Him to do something He never wants to do—give us up.
It is foreign to God’s loving nature to give up His children, just as foreign as it is for any loving human parent to bury one of their own children. But if we choose to place ourselves beyond His healing reach, we will eventually come to a place where God can do no more for us, and if we get to that place, God will give us up to our wickedness.
May nobody who is reading this blog today ever put themselves in that place! May we continue to cling to the God who revealed Himself as the One who would rather die than spend an eternity without us.