7 The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.
I think that one of the more fascinating books I have ever read is the publication of historian Larry Hurtado’s lecture entitled Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries?In it, Hurtado unpacks that question by considering the high costs one paid for becoming a Christian in the first three centuries of the movement and then by asking what it was about Christianity that made it so unique and attractive when compared to the many religious offerings of the paganism of the time. Among his many interesting conclusions, he proposes that Christianity presented a view of God that the pagans had never encountered before and that love was at the root of that strange image. He writes:
In high pagan piety to be sure, particular gods could be praised as benign and generous, but it is hard to find references to any deities either loving humans or being loved by them in Roman-era pagan discourse (setting aside the myths of the erotic adventures of various male deities with human females). As MacMullen noted, loving gods or love for gods simply did not figure in pagan piety.
So is it too much to suggest that the early Christian portrayal of “God” was an attractive and affecting factor for converts? From the frequency of references to the Christian deity as both all-powerful and powerfully loving, it seems to me entirely plausible. In a world of many deities, early Christianity proclaimed one almighty deity in absolute sovereignty over all, beneath whom all other beings were mere creatures, unworthy of cultic reverence. And this all-powerful sovereign deity was moved by a powerful love, so Christian teaching claimed, and so sought and offered a direct relationship with people. I suspect that this was heady stuff, and certainly very different from notions about the gods in the wider religious environment of the time. It was incredible to some, and, I suggest, powerfully winsome for some others.
It was the Christian proclamation of the love of God and specifically of God as one who would lay down His life to save people from their sins that most dumbfounded the pagans of the time. But the love of God, while it finds its full flowering in the cross of Jesus Christ, finds its earlier expression in the Old Testament. In fact, in Nahum 1:7 we find a beautiful expression of God’s love in the midst of an oracle of judgement. In this one little verse, we find a theology of hope and a profound argument as to why we should not despair in the midst of difficult times.
We can trust in God’s character.
Nahum begins by making a statement about the goodness of God.
7a The Lord is good
The scriptures are saturated with proclamations of the goodness of God. In Genesis 32, for instance, Jacob speaks of God doing good to Him.
9 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good’
In 1 Chronicles 16 we find a basic theological assertion of the goodness of God, much like that which we find in Nahum.
34 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
That phrase appears more than once in the Old Testament. In 2 Chronicles 7 the goodness of God moves the children of Israel to worship.
3When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
In Psalm 16 the psalmist proclaims that the only good he has comes from God!
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
And in Psalm 25 we find God’s goodness linked directly to His love and mercy.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
The psalmist combines the goodness of God with the protection of God in Psalm 34.
8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
And on and on and on it goes! The goodness of God is fundamental theology, foundational theology. There can be no true relationship if you fear that the one with whom you are in relationship wishes you ill. But this is not so with God! He is good and is kindly disposed to lost humanity! For this reason, He offers us His mercy, His forgiveness, and His sheltering protection. To reject this is to invite the wrath of God and to push away all of the good He intends for us. But let us make no mistake: our great God is good!
We can trust in God’s ability.
Not only is God good, He is able! He is able to protect us! Nahum next says:
7b The Lord is…a stronghold in the day of trouble
This was a word that God’s children needed to hear. After years of oppression at the hands of Assyria, they needed to know that God could indeed right these wrongs and protect His people. Nahum responded with a resounding “Yes!” God, he prophesied, was “a stronghold in the day of trouble.” This was a popular image in the book of Psalms. Consider:
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.(9:9)
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.(18:2)
The Lordis my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?(27:1)
The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.(37:39)
But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.(94:22)
he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.(144:2)
Jesus, while using an image from the world of animals, also spoke of the protection that was offered to and rejected by rebellious Israel at His coming in Matthew 23.
37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
While the metaphors differ, the point is the same. God is a protecting, covering God.
The image of God as a God of protection and safety has ever comforted His children throughout difficult times and in difficult days. It was, of course, the central image of Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
A mighty Fortress is our God,
Did we in our own strength confide,
And though this world, with devils filled,
That word above all earthly powers,
This word is as needed by us today as it was needed by Judah in the days when Nahum spoke it. The hurting heart, the frightened heart, the trembling heart, the wounded heart—the heart, that is, of humanity—needs to know that God is able to save, that God is a fortress, that God, as Nahum put it, is “a stronghold in the day of trouble.” And He is! He is!Nestled here in the middle of a terrifying declaration of God’s wrath is a beautiful expression of God’s protective love!
We can trust in God’s love.
God’s love, of course, is the ultimate foundation for our theology of God. His love is known and received in relationship with Him. In the final stanza of this beautiful little verse, Nahum proclaims:
7c The Lord…knows those who take refuge in him.
He knowsus! This is not casual. This is not careless. God loves us with deliberate and exhaustive intent. His love is strong! His love is secure! His love seeks our good to His glory! In John 10 Jesus said:
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Here is Jesus’ articulation of Nahum’s great truth, “The Lord…knows those who take refuge in him.” Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me.” He then makes a startling statement about the intensity of the knowledge that He has of His own: “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” That is, Jesus knows you perfectly, completely, inside and out. He knows you! How is this possible? It is possible because He is God and He “lay[s] down [His] life for the sheep.”
You are knownand you are purchased…and great was the price that was paid!
Can you trust in God? Can you know that He is with you? Yes! Yes you can! Nahum said it beautifully. Nahum was pointing to Jesus without even knowing it at the time! For Jesus is the ultimate expression of the goodness of God, of the ability of God, and of the love of God.
Our God is good!
Our God is able!
Our God is love!
And these attributes find their most wonderful and surprising manifestation in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Hope in Him. Rest in Him. Take comfort in Him!
Larry W. Hurtado, Why On Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2016), p.125-126.