In her book The Crucifixion, Fleming Rutledge says we are usually “queasy” to talk about the wrath of God: “If we are resistant to the idea of the wrath of God, we might pause to reflect the next time we are outraged at something.” Rutledge goes on to describe how God’s wrath (always against sin and evil) is different than human outrage (usually related to personal affront or inconvenience). “[The wrath of God] is a way of describing his absolute enmity against all wrong and his coming to set matters right.”
Can it be good news to talk about God’s wrath? Yes, just as we see in the book of Nahum. We remember from the book of Jonah that Nineveh repented of sin, turned to God, and experienced His forgiveness. In today’s reading, however, we discover that whatever revival came to Nineveh was short-lived. The Assyrian turn from their evil ways was only temporary. Now, Nahum was pronouncing the judgment that Jonah had so longed to hear. Nineveh would, in fact, be destroyed (v. 8).
We might find it hard to reconcile the ringing words of conclusion to the book of Micah—“What God is like you . . . who does not stay angry forever, but delights to show mercy?” (Micah 7:18)—with the opening words of the book of Nahum: “The Lord is a jealous God and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath” (v. 2).
Is this God a split personality? No! The two halves of this theological picture (God as merciful, God as wrathful) is the whole of Exodus 34:6–7, the major tune on which all the Minor Prophets seem to riff. God forgives, but He does not ignore the devastation of sin or reject consequences for the guilty.
Isaiah, Nahum, and the apostle Paul all speak of the blessed feet that bring good news, and we must remember that the good news of the gospel is that God punished and forgave sin at the cross. He has never minimized sin’s seriousness; instead, He laid our guilt on His innocent Son in order to make it possible for us to have forgiveness through Him.