“The Lord is good, a. strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.”
Strange, indeed, is the place this text occupies in the context in which it is found, as well as in this entire book of prophecy.
The prophet had received a vision of the Lord respecting the complete devastation of Nineveh. And of this he unburdens himself as he speaks throughout the book, of the manifestation of Jehovah’s wrath as it shall be displayed over against this ancient kingdom. The reader will remember that at one time, perhaps a hundred and fifty years before this, Nineveh had been spared through the preaching of the prophet Jonah. At that time the people with their king had repented of the evil they had done, much to the chagrin of the Lord’s prophet. They covered themselves with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and He repented of the evil that He threatened to bring upon them. But it was about a century and a half later when this same kingdom made full its cup of iniquity, and the Lord through the prophet Nahum now predicts the consuming devastation that He would bring upon them. The entire prophecy pronounces maledictions upon Nineveh.
In the midst of this sentence of destruction you find the words of our text, standing out as it were as a beacon of light towering over the black clouds of judgment. Or, to describe it a little differently, as a crest in the arc of the rainbow the text stands emblazoned, transcendent above the storm of God’s wrath.
No doubt the significance of the text in the light of the entire prophecy must be understood in the light of the name of the prophet.
Nahum, — means: consolation!
Not, you understand, with a view to the wicked who are about to be consumed in judgment; but for the righteous, who always are delivered from the wrath to come!
To them Jehovah is a strong hold in the day of trouble!
Of Him the prophet declares: Good is Jehovah!
He is that, of course, first of all, in Himself! Negatively this means that never can any evil be found in Him. Were He to be searched out, which of course is forever impossible, never could any imperfection be discovered within His holy Being. Positively this implies that He is the perfect One, in Whom only good resides. Or, as the Word of God describes Him throughout, He is the overflowing fountain of goodness. Shall there be any manifestation of goodness, it must find its source in Him. He is full of infinite perfections!
Jehovah’s goodness is the sum of all His perfections! His goodness is His righteousness and holiness, His love and His mercy and grace.
Nor is there ever any conflict between these virtues, so that His mercy is opposed to His justice, and His love to His wrath. Rather, all His virtues are one in Him, and therefore His righteousness is always a merciful righteousness, while His mercy is always a righteous mercy. And when all His attributes are added up, the sum total is His goodness.
It is this truth that receives the emphasis in the text. The original text expresses it this way:
Good is Jehovah!
That Jehovah is good, means that He is unchangeably good! Jehovah is the I AM THAT I AM! He is never in the process of becoming. He always is what He was. There is no variableness, no shadow cast by turning, in Him. Eternally He stands in the meridian of His own perfect Being. From everlasting to everlasting He is God Who is good. He is eternally the overflowing Fountain of goodness Who, while He overflows with goodness, remains forever full of goodness.
Moreover, in that name Jehovah He is revealed as the God of the everlasting covenant. It is the Name whereby He is particularly revealed to His people as the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. To His chosen people as to none other He is made known in this Name.
Never should this goodness of Jehovah be understood in the sense that it winks at sin. So some have and still do conceive of His goodness. They cannot conceive of a good God Who hates sin and the evil doer. Such a God they castigate as being a tyrant. And though it may seem strange that in the midst of prophecy, that speaks of divine vengeance and storms of judgment, we should read as we do in our text that Jehovah is good; it should be clearly understood that God reveals His wrath over against the wicked only because He is good. Were He to wink at sin, He would give evidence that He is unrighteous and unholy. And such is His goodness also over against the sin of His people. His wrath burns over against their sin and guilt because He is good. The highest manifestation of this goodness revealed in wrath over against their sin we see at the cross. Surely the good God did not wink at our sin, but saw to it that all our sin was paid for when He emptied the vials of His holy wrath on the head of our Redeemer. There at the cross, mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other. There His goodness is displayed in His justice, which demanded that our sins be atoned for; while at the same time His goodness is displayed in His mercy and grace, which prepared such a Saviour Who did atone for our sins.
Nor should it ever be said that Jehovah’s goodness is common. Though He shows unto all men the truth that He is good, when He causes His rain and sunshine to fall on the evil and the good, never should the wicked nor we conclude that Jehovah is good to the wicked. He gives the wicked the good gifts of rain and sunshine in His wrath. As the Scriptures plentifully declare when the wicked prosper, it is that they may be destroyed forever. And His wrath is the manifestation of His holy self-love, whereby He destroys all that is not in complete harmony with His holy Being. Verily, His goodness is always particular! It is shown only unto His covenant people whom He has chosen in Christ, known in love, and whom He purposes to make His covenant friend-servants.
That this goodness of Jehovah is particular is clearly expressed throughout the Word of God, but also in this prophecy. As suggested above, that goodness is negatively expressed in the fact that God is righteous when He is about to destroy the wicked. This tone is set forth in the opening verses of this prophecy. “God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.” And again, “Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts; and I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame.” And the wickedness of Nineveh and the guilt of Assyria rests in the fact that this kingdom merited Jehovah’s wrath when they emptied Jacob, and marred the vine branches of Israel. (Chap. 2:2).
But the particular nature of Jehovah’s goodness is positively expressed not only in the text, but also in the ultimate deliverance of Jehovah’s people from the hand of the wicked. “Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off,” (Chap. 1:15).
Jehovah is to them a strong defense!
A strong hold in the day of trouble!
That there is a day of trouble for the wicked is evident from the entire prophecy as well as from all of Scripture. When the wicked shall call to the mountains to cover them, when they could wish for annihilation so that they would not have to do with Jehovah Who shall consume them in His wrath.
But there is also a day of trouble for the righteous! It is not so that they are immune to trouble. Not so is it that they ride serenely above the storms of life. God does not immediately whisk them out of the world to heaven when He saves them. Fact is, He brings them to heaven only after they walk a while as strangers and pilgrims in the earth, and after they have been tried and tested in the crucible of affliction. Because they are righteous in Christ, not with their own righteousness, which is as filthy rags, they are reproached and maligned, persecuted and killed all the day long. Also they, as well as the wicked, are often enveloped in the judgments God sends upon the world, as righteous Lot was witness to the destruction of wicked Sodom. And when God could send upon Nineveh the storm of His wrath, the children of Jacob and Judah would see it. But here is the good tidings upon the mountains that publisheth peace — O Judah, you must hear it. Jehovah our good God is a strong hold in the day of trouble! In the midst of the storm Jehovah will prove to be a hiding place, a sheltered garrison, into which the righteous may flee and be safe; while the oppressor shall be vanquished. The day of trouble He makes to be the day of His people’s salvation. Surely, also then, it shall become evident that all things work together for good unto them that love Him, who are called according to His purpose.
For He knoweth them that trust in Him!
O, yes, He knows them!
Not, you understand, because He saw beforehand that we would put our trust in Him. Such Arminianism is as wicked as the sin of Nineveh. Rather, He knows us in eternal, elective love. And that love He demonstrates most clearly in the death and resurrection of our Saviour. That love He sheds abroad in our hearts by the Spirit of Christ. And in response to that love, we, who are His people, love Him, and put our trust in Him. One will not put his trust and confidence in one whom he does not know in love, and of whom he is not sure that that one knows him in love.
So it is also in the text, — they that put their trust in Jehovah, Who is good, have tasted His goodness. His love has been shed abroad in their hearts. And this love fills their hearts with assurance that He knows them in distinction from the wicked, and that He will save them unto the uttermost.
When the indignation of the Lord shall come as a storm of judgment upon Nineveh, they whom good Jehovah knows in love will flee unto Him, — the Strong Hold in the day of trouble.
In Him they, that trust in Him, have a safe retreat!
Indeed, He is our defense in distress!