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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, March 30, 2019              

Today’s Scripture Reading | Nahum 3:8–13

Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, water her wall? Ethiopia was her strength, Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers. Yet she became an exile, she went into captivity; even her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; lots were cast for her nobles, all her dignitaries were bound in fetters. You also will be drunken, you will go into hiding; you will seek a refuge from the enemy. All your fortresses are like fig trees with first-ripe figs— if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater. Look at your troops: they are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your foes; fire has devoured the bars of your gates. (NRSV)

Today’s text is new territory for me. While I have read and reflected on the neighboring prophetic books, Nahum and I have never become acquainted. What are we to make of this powerful, prophetic poem?

The Assyrian empire, whose dominance had been felt for centuries, had finally been overthrown by nearby nations in the early 600s B.C. From Nahum’s perspective, the demise of the unscrupulous, defiant empire reflected God’s judgment. Nahum’s writing is passionate and partisan. Ancient images abound. The downfall of the city of Nineveh is taunted by the prophet.

I struggle with the overriding theme of God’s vengeance and the related violence. Verse 10 echoes Psalm 137 with the most vulnerable little ones being dashed to pieces. Then there is the belittling image of troops so weak that they are “women in your midst.”

Yet these words reflect the thought patterns and perspectives of centuries long ago. What might be the message for us in the twenty-first century? No human empire with its oppressive, violent ways can have the last word. Our God is passionately involved in history. Our God does take sides, standing with the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed.

We are called to look at our current societal and worldly circumstances through prophetic spectacles. Where is the just, loving, peaceable Holy One at work? And how might I, how might we, use our lives to further God’s purposes?

God of the prophets, awaken me, awaken us from our too-frequent indifference. Open our eyes to your presence midst the deep shadows of our world. Embolden our words and our actions, seeking your compassion, justice, and peace. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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