“All you need is love, love, all you need is love.” That is the gospel according to John Lennon. Let’s hear the gospel according to the prophet Nahum.
Yahweh is an avenger,
a passionate God;
Yahweh is an avenger,
expert in wrath.
Yahweh is an avenger against his foes,
he seethes in anger against his enemies.
Yahweh is slow to anger,
but massive in strength:
he will not remit punishment.
Yahweh is in the whirlwind,
his path is in the storm,
clouds are the dust on his feet.
He rebukes the sea, and dried it up,
he made all the rivers dry.
Bashan and Carmel languish,
the bloom of Lebanon languishes.
The mountains quaked before him,
the hills fluidified.
The earth became a waste in his presence,
the expanse, and all who inhabit it.
In the presence of his fury, who can stand?
Who can withstand the heat of his wrath?
His anger is poured out like fire,
rocks are dislodged before him.
Yahweh is good to those who wait for him,
a fortress on a day of distress.
He takes care of those who find shelter in him
in the overwhelming flood.
He makes a full end to opposition,
and pursues his enemies into darkness.
What are you thinking with regard to Yahweh?
He will make a full end.
opposes him twice.
Like a thicket of tangled thorns
and like those liquored up with liquor,
they were consumed like straw
From you has left
the one who designed evil against Yahweh,
the counselor of wickedness.
Thus said Yahweh:
Though they were vigorous and many,
even so they were cut off and have gone away.
I humiliated you [Israel]:
I will humiliate you no more.
I will break his yoke from you,
and burst your bonds asunder.
As Abraham Joshua Heschel (ז״ל) said, “Expositors of the teachings of the prophets are prone to dwell upon passages which seem to conform to their views and predilections. . . . The harsh words, the grave threats, the relentless demands, the shrieks of doom, are usually disregarded.”
Even Christians, who are supposed to believe in the God revealed to them by Jesus, who, in a highly symbolic act, cursed the fig tree which bore no fruit, and drove out the moneychangers from the Temple, declaring it to have become a den of robbers (Mark 11:12-17); in the God proclaimed by Peter, a God who struck dead Ananias and Sapphira after they lied about their possessions (Acts 5:1-11); and in the God proclaimed by Paul, who spoke freely of “the wrath of God revealed from heaven against all ungodliness” (Romans 1:18) - even Christians prefer to the God of the New Testament a cuddly God, a warm fuzzy, a wish projection out of a life of velvet slippers and bunnies, bunnies everywhere, even on Easter.
But what if Heschel got it right when he insisted on the ongoing importance of thinking of God as an angry God? I quote: “the anger of God is not a blind, explosive force, operating without reference to the behavior of man, but rather voluntary and purposeful, motivated by concern for right and wrong.”
Plato, too, recognized that there is a limit to forbearance beyond which it becomes its opposite: a curse rather than a blessing:
The unrighteous and vicious are always to be pitied in any case; and one can afford to forgive as well as to pity him who is curable, and refrain and calm one’s anger, not getting into a passion, like a woman, and nursing ill-feeling. But upon him who is incapable of reformation and wholly evil, the vials of our wrath should be poured out; wherefore, I say, that good men ought, as the occasion demands, to be either gentle or passionate.”
In Heschel’s words again, “The All-Wise and Almighty may change a word that He proclaims. Man has the power to modify His design. Jeremiah had to be taught that God is greater than His decisions. The anger of the Lord is instrumental, hypothetical, conditional, and subject to His will.” If this were not the case, if God were impassible and indifferent to the fate of humans – as indeed Greek philosophers were wont to argue – such a God would indeed be an ogre, an incorrigible wretch, an implacable tyrant.
The Bible is a book of questions, not answers. Even a cursory reading thereof demonstrates that. “Thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel: Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves? . . . Why do you provoke Me to anger?” (Jer 44:7-8).
“There are moments in history when anger alone can conquer evil.”
The gospel according to Nahum is that God had routed the Assyrians according to his steadfast love for the sake of his people, and would go on to destroy their power forever. “Therefore a fierce people must honor you, an outpost of tyrannical nations fear you” (Isa 25:3). They had left the land; soon their yoke would be removed altogether (so also Isa 14:24-27).
Within the framework of the collection we call the Bible, it is true that the gospel according to Nahum is meant to be read in tandem with the gospel according to Jonah, in which even Assyria is given the chance to mend its ways – and does so!
But the “two” gospels are two sides of a single coin. Deface one side, and the other side is also defaced.
 The Hebrew text on which my translation is based differs slightly from MT on a few occasions. I will present the Hebrew text according to an analysis of its poetic structure on another occasion.
 Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets. Part II (New York: Harper & Row, 1975 ) 59.
 Idem, 62.
 Plato, Laws, 731. Cited by Heschel, op.cit., 65, n. 9 (translation slightly adapted). Plato weakens his argument by stereotyping women.
 Idem, 66.
 Cited by idem, 74.
 Idem, 77.