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A Major Lesson from a Minor Prophet

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The LORD is slow to anger but great in power;
    the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. 
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
    and clouds are the dust of his feet.” — Nahum 1:3

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other African-American leaders began their heroic march for civil rights and fight for justice, the Jewish community stood side-by-side on the frontlines of faith. As we honor Dr. King’s legacy this month, let Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s reflections on justice inspire and encourage you.

For more on the historic and spiritual bonds between the African-American and Jewish community, download our complimentary booklet here.

The book of Nahum is all about the destruction that was about to befall the evil city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. The prophet described an angry God and utter desolation. The people of Nineveh were unusually wicked, and so were singled out for an unusually harsh end.

Does Nineveh sound familiar? It should. We’ve already heard about this city in the more well-known book of Jonah. About 150 years earlier, God was ready to destroy Nineveh because, already then, it was so evil that the city deserved to be demolished. But God told the prophet Jonah to preach to Nineveh, and the people repented. God accepted their repentance, and Nineveh was spared. 

Now, many years later, Nineveh was worse than ever. Nahum described it as a place, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!” (Nahum 3:1). He demonstrated the magnitude of their destructiveness: “piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses” (Nahum 3:3). Nineveh was evil personified. 

This time around, God did not send a prophet to the doomed city because the people there were no longer capable of repentance. That’s how low they have fallen. Nineveh’s destruction was inevitable. The city had gone too far and crossed too many boundaries. The time for mercy was over, and the time for justice had begun.  

Nahum tells us that God is “slow to anger.” Indeed, God is patient and waits for us to repent. But make no mistake: God doesn’t wait around forever. God isn’t like a wishy-washy parent who makes threats, but never follows through with action. As Nahum reminds us, “The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.”

Though God desires repentance and prefers life over death, sometimes punishment is the only option. Justice will be served, and the guilty will reap the seeds that they themselves have sown.

The book of Nahum isn’t sugar-coated. The prophet tells it truthfully, and he drives home one of the most important and fundamental lessons about life: There are consequences for our actions. We are fortunate enough that our God is patient, merciful, and forgiving. But that doesn’t mean that we can — and will — get away with our sins. In the end, the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked will be punished.

Justice will be served. This truth should dictate how we live our lives.

Download your complimentary copy of our booklet, On the Frontlines of Faith, which explores the historic and spiritual bond between the African-American and Jewish communities during the Civil Rights Movement.

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