Saturday, January 07, 2017

Reading Through Nahum and Habakkuk

Ham HahlenNahum and Habakkuk are two short prophecies that deal with God’s judgment and justice. We will read through them accompanied by The Minor Prophets vol. 2, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Clay Ham and Mark Hahlen. Nahum predicts the fall of Nineveh the capitol of the violent Assyrian empire and sees it as a comfort to the oppressed people of Jerusalem. Habakkuk dialogs with God about the issue of delayed judgment and the justice of using a more evil nation as the instrument of justice against Jerusalem. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…


Nahum is a prophecy of comfort to Jerusalem, who was in constant peril from Assyria, and a warning to the oppressor that their judgment was coming soon. Nahum assures the oppressed that their oppressor will not last forever and that justice will be served. It serves as a warning to anyone who tries to benefit from taking advantage of the weak and a comfort to those suffering under injustice, that God will eventually remove those who hurt them.

The joy of those who have suffered under the hands of Assyria (3:19) reveals the wickedness of Nineveh rather than any faulty attitudes within the oppressed peoples. One could no more expect them to mourn over Nineveh’s fall than one could regret the fall of a Hitler, Stalin, or Idi Amin. The book reminds the reader that the God of Israel is just, and evil will not have the final word. Nahum, 43

Nahum uses ancient near Eastern imagery to portray YHWH as being in charge of the tornado, thunder, lightning, drought and fire. No human nation can stand up to these destructive forces, including Assyria. God will bring on them devastating, appropriate and complete judgment for what they have done to the other nations, especially Israel. Jerusalem should take comfort and trust in God's declaration of the anticipated deliverance and peace.

The section presents a theological description of Yahweh, drawing on language from Exodus and images of Yahweh as warrior, and poses a kind of prophetic confrontation. Based on the implications of Yahweh’s nature, the readers are asked to remember that opposing Yahweh is futile, to reconsider what constitutes an enemy of Yahweh, to reaffirm their trust in Yahweh, and to rejoice at the defeat of Nineveh. Nahum 1.1-15, 50

Theologically vengeance relates to Yahweh’s holiness, which cannot allow sin and rebellion to go unpunished. In this sense, vengeance is the action that measures out justice. Without divine justice, divine mercy would lose its meaning. Nahum 1.2, 53

In the next section Nahum is a "prophetic sentinel" describing and explaining the destruction and devastation of Nineveh as though it has already happened. Chapter 2 describes the attack on Nineveh while chapter 3 gives the reasons for it. Nineveh seduced the nations with their wealth and intimidated them with their military. Now their military is destroyed and their wealth becomes booty for their attackers. The Assyrian "lions" become prey. Nahum also reminds them that Jerusalem and Judah will continue far beyond them. Nahum serves as a warning to all oppressive empires, whether they are financial or national, that a time of reckoning is coming and the humiliation they served to others will be justly served to them.

Yahweh will consume Nineveh’s military might and vigorous army. The picture here of the young lions being devoured reverses one of the favorite metaphors the Assyrians use to portray themselves; they no longer prey on others, but they are prey themselves. No more will the Assyrian messengers threaten, as the field commander threatens king Hezekiah of Judah; their voices will no longer be heard. Four uses of “no more” (1:12, 14–15; 2:13) point to a coming, decisive deliverance for Judah. Nahum 2, 76

Both Nahum and Jonah draw upon Exodus 34:6–7 to comment on the character of God. Jonah is troubled by Yahweh’s compassion (Jonah 4:2), but Nahum is comforted by Yahweh’s justice (1:3). Yahweh now reverses the Assyrian domination originally intended to punish the people of Yahweh. The image of clapping hands is an act of derision (Job 27:21–23; 34:37; Lam 2:15; Ezek 25:6). Those who hear about the destruction of Nineveh rejoice that Yahweh has made an end of that great city. Nahum 3.19, 92


Habakkuk is a unique book among the prophets as it contains 2 dialogues with God about His justice and a prayer of Habakkuk acknowledging God's ability bring justice to this world. Habakkuk complains to God about His apparent lack of commitment to covenant justice in allowing the evil of Jehioakim's reign. God surprisingly announces that God will judge the whole region through Babylon which concerns Habakkuk even more. God assures him that covenant justice will come but judgment must come before salvation.

The worshiper of Yahweh must wait in faithfulness for the time Yahweh has appointed for the judgment of the wicked and the deliverance of the righteous. This appointed time may not come as rapidly as the righteous would prefer, and the righteous may suffer in the interim, but Yahweh is to be trusted since deliverance is sure.  Habakkuk, 109

In the first dialogue God's lack of judgment on Israel is questioned, but in the second God's means of judgment is questioned. How can God use evil idolaters to judge his people? Habakkuk is concerned that Marduk will be glorified rather than YHWH. God reassures Him that God will insure that He receives the glory due to him. Habakkuk's role is to actively wait, by actively keeping the covenant, through the judgment for God's salvation.

But the righteous will live by his faith. The noun “righteous” (צַדִּיק, ṣaddîq) refers to one who conforms to an ethical standard (Gen 6:9; 15:6; Ezek 3:21); accordingly, the “righteous” is one who serves Yahweh (Mal 3:18), obeys the commands of Yahweh (Deut 6:25; Ps 1:1–6; Ezek 18:9; Hos 14:9), remembers the covenant with Yahweh (Isa 51:1–8), cares for the poor and needy (Job 29:12–15; Ps 37:21; Prov 29:7), and lives according to the spirit of Yahweh (Isa 32:15–17; Ezek 36:25–27. Habakkuk 2.4, 144

The glory of Yahweh entails the reality of Yahweh’s presence and the manifestation of Yahweh’s character (Exod 29:43; 40:34–35; 1 Kgs 8:11; 2 Chr 5:14; 7:1–3; Ezek 11:23; 43:4–5). Therefore, the entire earth will acknowledge the reputation for greatness that belongs to Yahweh (Hab 3:3). That the knowledge of Yahweh’s glory fills the earth counters the Babylonian claim that Marduk, the god of their city, rules over creation. The phrase as the waters cover the sea amplifies both the certainty and the extent of this display. Habakkuk 2.14, 150

The close of chapter 2 contains several key contrasts with the opening of the chapter. Whereas verse 1 portrays the prophet at his post upon a rampart waiting, verse 20 depicts Yahweh in the heavenly temple poised to enact justice (Ps 11:4–7). In 2:1, the prophet prepares himself to give answer to Yahweh when Yahweh responds to his concerns and complaints. However, in 2:20, all the earth remains silent; the time for questions or rebuttals has ended.

Habakkuk closes with a prayer in which he pictures God as the Divine Warrior at Sinai giving the covenant and driving out Israel's enemies, and in battle with the forces of chaos bring his order and beauty as he defeats the forces of evil. Habakkuk resolves to continue trusting God as he experiences the devastation of Jerusalem's judgment, knowing that God will keep his promises and set things right when the times comes.

The vision for the “appointed time” then anticipates the “day of calamity.” The confidence displayed in anticipation of the day of calamity corresponds to the assurance that the vision will certainly come in 2:3 and to the declaration in 2:4 that the righteous will live by faithfulness. Habakkuk 3.16, 167

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