Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. -Nahum 3:5-6

The prophet Jonah longed for one thing: to see the Assyrian city of Nineveh utterly destroyed by the wrath of God. His wish eventually came true. The later prophet, Nahum, describes in terrible and graphic detail the fall of the city. Nahum is a book almost entirely devoted to the horrors of the wrath of God.

Perhaps that is why churches do not often read Nahum, chose it for Bible studies, or quote it on inspirational material (can you imagine Nah. 3b on an inspirational poster? “…Hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies!”). Nahum does more to attract our disgust than our hearts. But the book is often too hastily judged. Taken into account with the rest of Holy Scripture, Nahum brings God’s grace into sharp relief, spotlighting the riches of God’s love through an extended meditation on God’s wrath. Have eyes to see, and you'll watch the grace of God explode over the dark skies of Nahum’s condemnation.

We can enter the story by focusing on a horrific title Nahum uses to describe God. Nahum calls him “The Scatterer.”[1] This Scatterer is utterly efficient and exhaustive in His task, “He will make a complete end [and] trouble will not rise up a second time.” When the Scatterer comes, “who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger?” [2] Answer: absolutely no one.

Nahum’s choice to call God the Scatterer is not arbitrary. Earlier in the book of Genesis, we get a history of the origins of Nineveh. Apparently, it was built in the empire of Nimrod, the world’s first warrior. The city was always a city of warriors, strong, imperialistic and desperate to make a name for itself. You can read the history of the city in Genesis 10-11. But what is most interesting is Genesis 11:8 where God breaks apart Nimrod’s empire because the people have united to make a name for themselves: “So the Lord scattered them from there over the face of the earth, and they left off building the city.” [3]

God’s wrath reveals itself as a scattering, as a breaking apart, an exercise in power where God triumphs over human achievement. In what may be one of the most chilling passages in all Scripture, Nahum says, “But with an overwhelming flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries and will pursue his enemies into darkness.” [4] This doesn’t sound too unlike other passages of God’s anger until you understand what Nahum is saying. “Darkness” is a common euphemism for hell in the ancient Middle East. This remains true up into the New Testament, an example of which is seen in Jesus’ description of hell: “The king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [5] So what Nahum is saying is that God’s wrath is so terrible and disastrous that the strong warriors of Nineveh will be utterly terrified! And in their desperate attempt to flee the Scatterer, they will run to the only place they think is safe—hell. And ever there, God will pursue them and bring them to utter ruin! How bad is it if you have to run to hell for safety?!

But if God is going to put an end to Nineveh, he will not make it quick. Nahum describes the terrible ordeal that will lead to their fall; God will shame them before the nations, exposing their nakedness and robbing them of dignity. In a scatological rant, God will sling dung (filth) at them, covering them in excrement before pursuing them into hell where they will meet their end.

Such are the graphic images used by Nahum to describe the wrath of God. And such images raise problems. How is this the God of love? Why does God appear so out of control and sadistic? How can this be the same God who tells us to pray for our enemies, forgive them, and offer our cheeks for maddening hands of our oppressors?

An answer begins to emerge when you grasp the gravity of what Nahum is saying. In short, you can sum up all those graphic pictures into one simple message: The wrath of God means one and thing and one thing only: hopelessness. That’s it. If God is against you, you are done. You have nowhere to go, no power to stop Him, and no shelter. If God is against you, your prayers don’t matter, and your behavior can’t change His mind, your repentance will never sway Him. In His hands, He holds all the power, in His judgment all things are found out and punished. There are no loopholes, no safe houses, and no weapons that work against Him. No tears, however great, will change His verdict, no plea however genuine will alter His purpose, and no amount of good deeds, however sincere, will get you off for you and I must answer for our crimes. This is what it means to live before a holy God—God can never say, "never mind” to sin. Never.

Nahum tells you this, and God says, “I will make your grave, for you are vile!” [6] God will put a “complete end“ to sin and sinners. He will pursue them into darkness, He will blot them out, and you will cry, “Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all lions; all faces grow pale!” [7]

God’s wrath is hopelessness, plain and simple; if God is against you, you have absolutely no hope.

To people in such a situation, there is only one wish. The God of wrath must turn and become the God of grace. But how can He do this if He can never say, “never mind?” What hope could sinners have? If only we could cry that God was for us and not against us, then we would have cause to praise God and run to him instead of into hell.

Amazingly, that is the whole story of the Gospel. The Scatterer is revealed to be Gatherer. God’s own Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, takes on flesh. He does not scatter the sheep but goes out to find them and bring them into his fold. [8] He is the Master who sends angels out to harvest his people to salvation, and He is the Prince of Peace who gathers into Himself the sins of the whole world and endures the very wrath that Nahum speaks. Because the wrath of God gatherers itself completely at Jesus, in Christ, the sinner finds refuge and God reveals Himself to be the God of grace!

Nahum’s contrast helps us see the real predicament we are in and the need for God to take drastic action. It reminds us that because of Christ we can say that God is for us not against us! It shows the dung-slinging God, heaving the dung of a sin-spent world on His spotless Lamb. At that cross, we see the Lord pinned between heaven and earth, between a wrathful God and ungrateful sinners, a no man's land of utter desolation and abandonment. His cry of forsakenness is given its full weight in heavy despondency, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani!”

All that, so that the God of wrath becomes revealed as the God of grace, for sinners. Now, here’s a serious and important question: If God did all this to make sure that you and He were reunited from sin’s curse, and if He has revealed Himself most clearly as the God for you and not against you, if the cross firmly establishes the without any doubt that God will gather you to Himself and never leave or forsake you….then don’t you think God will hear your prayers, come to your aid, be your Father, and walk with you through suffering? Doesn’t that all go without saying?

So, next time you feel God doesn’t love you, or is out to get you, or has forgotten about you, remind yourself that these thoughts are not from God. His view of you is through the cross. Any thoughts not through the cross are from the Enemy. And he is the one under God’s wrath, not those gathered to the cross. When he accuses you, feel free to pick up some scatological "dung" and hurl it his way: "Away from me Satan! My God has died for me. He has paid my debt. He has washed me clean and drawn me near... I am His, and He is mine. Flee to hell and wait—for He is coming for you, and even the darkness will not protect you. Of you, Devil, He will make a complete end.”

[1] Nah. 2:1

[2] Nah. 1:1:9

[3] Italics mine for emphasis

[4] Nah. 1:8. Italics mine

[5] Matt. 22:13

[6] Nah. 1:14

[7] Nah. 2:10

[8] John 10:11-18