The Vain Imaginations Of God’s Enemies

Studies from the book of Nahum by Pastor Linus Chua

The book of Nahum is entirely taken up with God’s judgment upon the Assyrians and in particular, their capital city of Nineveh. The whole book may be considered war poetry. Chapter 1 is a prelude to the battle while chapters 2-3 move from prelude or preview to the actual battle, which is pictured as a series of judgment oracles and vivid pictures of her destruction.

But interestingly, the book opens not with a description of the wickedness of Assyria or the terrible judgment that was soon to fall on it. Rather, the book opens with a glorious description of God Himself. 

At least three attributes or characteristics of our God may be found in the opening verses of Nahum. God is just, powerful and good. Then having given a general description of God, the prophet moves on to focus more specifically on God’s dealings with both Nineveh and Judah.

In this section from verses 9-15, Nahum alternates or shifts between the Lord’s coming judgment on Nineveh and His deliverance of Judah. These two concepts of judgment and deliverance are closely related to each other. Indeed, the deliverance of God’s people will come through the judgment and destruction of God’s enemies.  

I’ll like us to consider this section in three parts. First, there is the vain imaginations of God’s enemies. Second, there is the word of the Lord against His enemies. And finally, there is the word of hope and comfort for God’s people.

In this article, we’ll look at the first of these three parts, namely, the vain imaginations of God’s enemies.

Verse 9 says, “What do ye imagine against the LORD?” And then in verse 11, we read, “There is one come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the LORD, a wicked counsellor.”

The word “imagine” can be translated “plot” or “think” or “conceive.” Let me give three other Old Testament examples in which this word “imagine” is used so that we can have a better sense of what it means.

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said to his brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Both the words “thought” and “meant” in that verse are the same as the word “imagine” in our text. His brothers imagined or thought or intended to do evil to Joseph but God thought or intended to do good.

Another verse is Nehemiah 6:2, which reads, “That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief.” These enemies of Nehemiah wanted to frustrate the work by luring him out, but Nehemiah saw through their plot or conspiracy, and so he refused to go. “They thought (or imagined) to do me mischief,” said Nehemiah.

Finally in Esther 8:3, we read, “And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman the Agagite, and his devise that he had devised against the Jews.” Here we find yet another plot against God’s people in history. Haman devised or imagined or thought to do evil against the Jews, but his plot was discovered and Esther pleaded with the king to put a stop to it.

Here in Nahum, we read about the evil planning and plotting of the Assyrians. But notice that it does not say that they imagined or thought to do evil against the Jews. Rather, Nahum says that they imagined to do evil against the Lord. “What do ye imagine against the LORD?” And again, “There is one come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the LORD.”

We are reminded that plots against God’s people to bring evil or harm upon them are ultimately plots against the LORD Himself.  Zechariah 1:14 says, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.” And again in Zechariah 8:2, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury.”

The Lord has a great jealousy over and care for His people. To plot or devise evil against them is no less to plot against the Lord.

A famous New Testament example of this is Acts 9:4-5, when the Lord said to Saul of Tarsus, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” The Lord Jesus identifies Himself so closely with His people that any act of hostility towards His people is viewed by Him as an act of hostility towards Him.

This truth should bring great comfort to the people of God but at the same time, it should also strike great terror in the hearts of any who seek to harm them. The Lord is not unaware or unconcerned about what is going on in the lives of His people. He is deeply concerned. He is jealous for Zion and Jerusalem with a great jealousy.

The Assyrians, of course, did not see things that way. All they could see was a weak and tiny nation named Judah. She would be no different from the rest of the other nations that they had already defeated and conquered.

In fact, Judah’s larger sister in the North, Samaria, had already been totally destroyed by them. How different would Judah be? Even the mighty Egyptians could not withstand the power of the Assyrians. Many of the cities of Egypt had already fallen to Assyria by that time.

But the truth of the matter was that the Assyrians were not dealing with or plotting against just any nation. They were dealing with a people whose God was all powerful.

Perhaps an illustration here might help. Imagine a big bully who is picking on a tiny little boy who has no strength or ability whatsoever to withstand him. However, what this big bully does not notice is that standing just behind the little boy is a massive giant many times his size against whom he stands absolutely no chance.

The analogy is a poor one of course. The Lord is not merely a massive giant who is many times more powerful than the big bully. The Lord’s power is infinite, unsearchable, and far greater than this whole universe combined. 

I call this section the vain imaginations of God’s enemies because all their plotting and planning against Him and His people are futile and useless and vain. The word “wicked” in verse 11 is the word “Belial,” which originally means worthless or possessing no value. The plans of the Assyrians against Judah will not be fruitful or successful because the Lord will utterly defeat and overthrow them.

But this word “belial” in scripture is used to refer not just to good-for-nothing or unprofitable people, it is also used to speak of those who are very depraved and despicable. The “thee” of verse 11 probably refers to the city of Nineveh while the wicked counsellor that she gives birth to refers to the leader or king of this wicked people.

Who this wicked king was, we are not told. It could refer to Sennacherib, the wicked Assyrian king who troubled Judah during the days of Hezekiah or it could refer to Ashurbanipal who was the last great Assyrian emperor. Or it could simply refer to all the wicked kings and leaders who have come forth from that evil empire.

These Belial counsellors, these wicked and worthless leaders, stand in sharp contrast to the wonderful counsellor of Isaiah 9:6, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul contrasts Christ with Belial. He writes in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?”

In the midst of that fivefold contrast, Paul mentions Christ and Belial. Most commentators understand the term Belial here as a designation of Satan himself. Christ and Belial are kings or rulers of two totally different and opposed kingdoms.

This conflict that Nahum writes about between the Belial or wicked Assyrian kings and the people of God comes to a climax in the conflict between Christ and the evil one. Satan stands behind all wicked opposition to God’s people throughout the ages but Christ, the anointed King of kings, stands against him, defends His own, and establishes His kingdom.

“Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” asks the Psalmist.

“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.”

“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.”

“Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.”  

The Psalmist then goes on to say, “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little…”

So from the vain and wicked imaginations of God’s enemies, we need to turn our attention to the word of the Lord against His enemies, which we’ll look at next time.

—Linus Chua