For 6 summers of my life, spanning high school and college, I spent many a late night running returned videos back to their proper location and arguing with customers over astronomical late fees (why someone would ever keep a Brendan Frasier movie 1 night, let alone 3 weeks is beyond me). Yes, this was the glorious lifestyle of an employee at Family Video, at the time, the third largest video rental business in the Midwest. I loved it. Free movie rentals and the chance to voice my movie recommendations to masses. As far as I was concerned, I was practically “in the industry.” And in the video rental business, the biggest competitor for us was unquestionably Blockbuster. I didn’t personally have anything against Blockbuster (nor do I now), but at the time, they were the clear juggernaut bully competitor. At Family Video, our whole sales strategy revolved around beating whatever Blockbuster was doing. For us, that meant cheaper prices, which also meant a needed higher volume of sales to stay competitive, which also meant more VHS tapes & dvds for a young movie boy to have to return around the store. Incidentally, I believe my pronounced slouching problem is a result of carrying around double-tape stacks like Titanic all summer. I’d likely be a good 2 inches taller if it wasn’t for James Cameron films alone.
Anyways, times have changed. Businesses like Netflix and Redbox have changed the way America watches movies. Blockbuster simply failed to keep up. Their 2005 innovation of “NO LATE FEES” ended up being a complete debacle. The rules were confusing and Blockbuster was sued repeated times. All toll, Blockbuster was estimated to have lost $1/2 billion dollars on the plan. Recently, the company has reinstated late fees, but it might be too little too late. As of latest word, Blockbuster is on the verge of filing for bankruptcy.
If, in 2000, you would have told me that the most dominant video rental chain in the country would have been draining money and losing everything within the next 10 years I would’ve laughed and said, “No way!” But, alas, even the dominant stumble. The mighty enemy eventually always falls.
Nothing in this world is permanent. More specifically comforting – nothing in this life can hold you down forever. Every evil giant must eventually fall. What about in your life? No doubt there exist “giants” or oppressing forces in all of our lives. It could be the bully on the playground when you’re a child. It could be the boss that cares more about business than his/her employees when you’re an adult. Maybe your bully is more abstract than that. Maybe it’s the cancer you’ve been fighting for years. Maybe it’s the broken home in which you grew up in childhood that is still haunting you. Maybe it’s you (yourself) – a self-loathing that manifests itself in perfectionism or an eating disorder or depression. At the very least, we all experience giant spiritual enemies. The Lutheran Catechism would state this as the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Satan is the unmitigating bully who tries to deceive us into believing that God is an unjust, unloving, and unmerciful ogre who just wants to shake us till we worship him (Who wouldn’t want to rebel against such a god?). The world preaches a message of relativism and tolerance that actually condemns us as close-minded if we suggest that there might actually be true standards of “good” or “right” as opposed to making up our own perception of what is right on the basis of the way we feel. And our sinful flesh…….well, this is exactly what the Apostle Paul talks about in Romans 7 when he says how he wants to do the right thing, but for a variety of reasons, often he doesn’t. And the bad things he resolves not to do, those things he keeps slipping into.
In our own way, we’ve all been bullied in life by a force that seems bigger than us. And we’d like it to stop.
God’s Old Testament people, the Israelites, faced their fair share of mighty bullies as well. Granted, it was predominantly their own fault the majority of the time, but nonetheless, they were “God’s children”, why should they ever be pushed around? One of the largest opposing powers that the Israelites consistently feared (and fiercest the world has ever seen) was a bloodthirsty group called the Assyrians. The Assyrians, whose national mascot was a lion because they were the unquestioned “king of the jungle”, regularly oppressed the Israelites and surrounding neighboring countries and would devour nations with no concept of the sanctity of human life. I’m not going to get into the unconscionable ways they would torture opponents, but when they would defeat countries, they’d often take their heads and stack them into sculptures to serve as trophies in their own city. This was a wicked bully to say the least.
Around 650 B.C. God sent a prophet to the Israelites in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. His name was Nahum. And Nahum delivers a beautiful message to Judah that reminds them that although their bully looks strong, God is stronger. God is still the one who is in control. God promises through Nahum that soon Ninevah (the capital city of Assyria) would fall. Ninevah was fortified by a wall that was 100 feet tall and wide enough to drive 3 chariots side by side on. It had a moat surrounding it that was 150 feet wide. It had 1500 lookout towers for enemies and thousands of soldiers waiting for someone to challenge them. It didn’t matter. God made good on his promise. In 612 BC, God’s specific promises in the book of Nahum were fulfilled. The city was flooded, the Medes and Chaldeans came in and destroyed the “undestroyable”. This Israelite enemy was defeated in humiliating fashion. Just look at this quote from Nahum 3:5-6 “I am against you,” declares the LORD Almighty. “I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame. I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.” Sound bad? It sounds worse in Hebrew. But, truthfully, this is the justice the Assyrians deserved – Stripped naked and pelted with feces in front of everyone. Disgusting. This is what awaits the enemies of God’s people.
Alright, so what does the book of Nahum mean then for us today? First of all I’d encourage you to check it out – http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Nahum&version=NIV. It’s only a quick 3 chapters. Nahum’s message to God’s people today is simple: whatever in life is bugging you, oppressing you, bullying you, holding you back in any way, shape, or form, it won’t hold you down forever. God is still in control.
It sometimes seems like the forces of this world or even evil itself is what is truly calling the shots in life. It’s simply not the case though. Yes, we do live in a sinful world and that involves the consequences of sin. Yes, God may even choose to allow temporary pain or oppression for his own divine reasons – always with the goal of strengthening us in faith. But the time is coming for believers when our bullies get publicly shamed and can’t hurt us any longer. The start of that was when Jesus triumphed over our spiritual enemies with the unlikely weapon of a blood-stained cross. Christ gave us the victory. The spoils we see in heaven. In the meantime, God promises to not give us more than we can handle, to provide for all our needs, and that he’ll be with us every step of the way. Soon enough, every last one of our enemies will fall. No need to fear. They can’t hold us down much longer.