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Nahum / Habakkuk

Both Nahum and Habakkuk are unusual in that they spoke primarily about the foreign nations of Assyria and Babylonia (Chaldeans) and how God would both use and deal with these empires.
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We now move to study the prophets who lived and prophesied before the fall of the Southern Kingdom in 587 B.C.

I. The Prophet – Nahum

  1. The name Nahum means "consolation" or "comfort. The message he proclaimed was one of consolation to the oppressed people of Judah in that it spoke of God's vengeance upon the enemies of his people.
  2. Nahum was from the city of Elkosh, whose location is unknown to us. We know nothing of his parents, occupation, or life history.
  3. We are able to give the ministry of Nahum an approximate date from the information found in two events referred to in his book. We know that the city of Thebes (or No-amon) had already fallen when he prophesied (3:8), and he fall of Nineveh was yet to come (2:13; 3:5, 7, 15). Since the former occurred in 661 BC and the latter in 612 BC, his ministry must be dated between these two events. However, most scholars narrow the date to the period between 630-612 BC. He was a contemporary of Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah.

II. The Prophet's Time

  1. Approximately 150 years before Nahum's pronouncement of doom on Nineveh, Jonah had been sent to the same city. Jonah's preaching brought about its repentance at a time of despair in her history. But in Nahum's day, Nineveh was at the height of her power and glory as Assyria's capital city. It was wealthy, haughty and impenitent. It's as if Nahum's book is the sequel to Jonah's book.
  2. When Nahum prophesied, Nineveh's day of grace was past. Repentance is not mentioned and no prospect of deliverance from God's wrath is foreseen.
  3. The overthrow of Nineveh was accomplished at the hands of the Medes and Chaldeans, who formed a coalition against the mutual enemy. Nahum's accurate prediction of Ninevah's fall took place in 612 B.C. adds credibility to God's work through the prophets who spoke His word. This was a fulfillment completed on the world stage of history and couldn't easily be diminished.

III. The Prophet's Message

A. Whereas the book of Jonah demonstrates the mercy of God, Nahum demonstrates his vengeance upon the impenitent.

2bThe Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries,
And He reserves wrath for His enemies.
3The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
And the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
In whirlwind and storm is His way,
- Nahum 1:2b-3

As one reads this book, he must bear in mind that he is not reading of Nahum's personal hatred for and joy in the overthrow of Nineveh. The outrage of Nahum is righteous indignation against a wicked and impenitent people.

B. Some critical scholars say this book is untrustworthy because it presents God as vengeful. However, a closer look at great leaders show that they posses one or more of the following characteristics.

  1. The capacity for a great love
  2. The capacity for a great enthusiasm and
  3. The capacity for a great indignation.
"The point for the prophet Nahum is that he symbolizes the last of these, and it is Nahum who is so often missed in contemporary and conventional Christianity. We are so good-natured, so fastidious, so complacent, so dainty, so nice. But if we had 1/10 of Nahum's passionate love of truth and righteousness, we would at times be filled with a passionate hatred of evil and corruption."
(From a Book by Raymond Calkins -
Modern Message of the Minor Prophets, pp. 86-87).

My point here is that there are times when we as individual Christians, or as the church, need to speak out and warn the world of the judgement to come because of sin and disbelief.

IV. Analysis of the Book

The book of Nahum may be outlined briefly as follows:

1. The God of Vengeance (1:1-15)

  1. The prophet and his theme (1:1)
  2. God's wrath against sin (1:2-6)
  3. God's mercy towards the faithful (1:7)
  4. God's pursuit of His enemies (1:8)

The first chapter is an alphabetical acrostic which is a Hebrew literary device where each verse begins with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (an acrostic doesn't have to include all the letters of the alphabet – the purposeful arrangement is what constitutes the device).

2. Nineveh's Distress (1:9-2:13)

  1. Her overthrow to be complete (1:9-15)
  2. A prophetic vision of the coming siege (2:1-7)
    1. Preparation for battle (2:1-4)
    2. The futility of it all (2:5-7)

The plundering of the city (2:8-13)

  1. The confused flight of the people (2:8-10)
  2. The completeness of destruction (2:11-13)

3. Reasons for Nineveh's Doom (3:1-19)

  1. Her sins (3:1-7)
    1. Description of the battle (3:1-3)
    2. The cause of doom specified (3:4)
    3. Her shame uncovered by God (3:5-7)
  2. The impossibility of her survival (3:8-19)
    1. Nineveh to share the fate of Thebes (3:8-11)
    2. Her resources will not avail to save her (3:12-19)

Unlike other prophets, there is no section of Nahum's book that promised better days or a time of redemption. Nahum pronounces the final judgement and destruction of Nineveh.

Summary of the Content of Nahum's Book

  1. Chapter one presents Jehovah as a jealous and avenging God who punishes evil. Wicked Nineveh will be destroyed while those who trust in God will be spared. The divine wrath would be like fire, like an overwhelming flood. The Assyrian yoke on the people of Judah would be broken and the once-proud oppressors would go to the grave!
  2. Chapter two pictures the sending of a powerful army against Nineveh. The city was to be conquered. It would be utterly destroyed. Judah would rejoice. (Note: So Thorough was the devastation of Nineveh that it was not until 1845 that the site was identified, and the ruins uncovered. Archaeology has confirmed the Biblical account of its destruction. (Zephaniah 2:13-15).
  3. Chapter three informs men that Nineveh has brought this terrible fate upon herself. Like a harlot who uses her charms to seduce men, so had Nineveh used her prestige, power, and other enticements to trap, plunder, and destroy whole nations. God's destruction would soon come upon this evil city. No power would be able to prevent his wrath!

Lessons for Learning

  1. For a nation to survive, it must be founded upon and guided by the principle of righteousness. Otherwise, God will dig a grave for that people and deliver them into it (1:14). God is still sovereign over the nations today.
  2. Humility and penitence do not necessarily perpetuate themselves in a family or nation. Nineveh repented with sincerity in Jonah's day only to have become totally depraved by the time Nahum came on the scene. The truth must be taught anew to every successive generation. This includes us today in the church and in the nation.
  3. Faithfulness during turmoil. The book assures that God is a refuge to those who trust in Him, even in the midst of troubling circumstances (I.e. political unrest, economic uncertainty, conflict between nations, natural disaster etc).

These type of things are a given for life in a sinful world. The only true protection, comfort, and hope is faith in God and His promises.

The Prophet – Habakkuk

We now move on to the prophet Habakkuk who lived in the Southern Kingdom and warned of its eventual destruction.

1. The name Habakkuk means "clasp" or "embrace". Martin Luther applied the meaning of this prophet's name to the task he performed among the people of Judah. He wrote:

"He embraces his people, and takes them to his arms, i.e. he comforts them and holds them up, as one embraces a weeping child or person to quiet it with the assurance that if God will, it shall be better soon"
(quoted in Keil and Delitzsch,
The Commentary on the Old Testament, II, 49).

The prophet's name appears nowhere in Scripture except in this book. His home is unknown. We know nothing of his occupation.

The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw.
- Habakkuk 1:1

2. Unlike many of the other Minor Prophets, Habakkuk does not date his prophecy by referring to the king or kings during whose reign he ministered. But 1:6 appears to throw some light on this problem. Assyria had fallen and Chaldea (Babylon) was not yet the world power. This change of power occurred in 612 B.C. Yet the Chaldeans had not, at the time of Habakkuk's ministry, invaded Judah (3:16). This invasion did come in 605 B.C. Thus, the book is dated somewhere between 612 and 605 B.C.

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah and came on the scene only shortly after Nahum.

Babylon's conquest of the Southern Kingdom took place in phases between 605 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar II made the first of many attacks against the Southern Kingdom, these culminated in 586 B.C. when he finally conquered and destroyed Jerusalem and carried the people into captivity for 70 years.

II. The Prophet's Time

Habakkuk lived at the time of Chaldean supremacy in history. This new power had defeated the Assyrians and would soon conquer Egypt. It was inevitable that Judah would also feel the force of the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar.

The prophet foretold the catastrophe which was about to come and lived to see it happen. However, we don't know if he was killed, carried off or remained in Judah.

In spite of the warnings of impending disaster from Jeremiah and Habakkuk, the hearts of the Jews were still set on sin. Social injustice and moral corruption were widespread. Idolatry was rampant in the land. The time was ripe for judgment upon these wicked people whom God had blessed so richly. The Chaldeans were to serve as instruments of God's wrath upon his people!

III. The Prophet's Message

The fact that God was about to use a pagan people who were even more wicked than the Jews they were being used to punish, forms the basis for the book of Habakkuk. Where is the justice in such a situation? How can it be right for these pagans to prosper at the expense of God's own people?

The form of the book of Habakkuk is unique. The other Minor Prophets plead with the people on behalf of God. But this prophet pleads with God on behalf of the people! Habakkuk dialogues with God over this inability to understand what is happening in the land.

I will stand on my guard post
And station myself on the rampart;
And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me,
And how I may reply when I am reproved.
- Habakkuk 2:1

The crucial answer given to Habakkuk is found in 2:4b:

"Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.
- Habakkuk 2:4

Surely the nature of this book makes it one of immediate concern to men today. Do we not ask why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? Do we not puzzle over the ways of God? Habakkuk, the Job of the Minor Prophets, is interesting for this reason alone. He questions God, not for what is happening to himself, but rather how God is dealing with his own people – Why use a wicked, ungodly people to discipline the actual people of God?

IV. Outline of the Book

The book of Habakkuk may be outlined briefly as follows:

1. Habakkuk's First Question and God's Reply (1:1-11)

  1. Title of the book (1:1)
  2. Question: Why does God tolerate sin among his people? (1:2-4)
  3. Reply: God is raising up the Chaldeans to punish the wrongdoers (1:5-11)

2. Habakkuk's Second Question and God's Reply (1:12-2:20)

  1. A. Question: How can God use the ungodly Chaldeans to punish his own people? (1:12-2:1)
  2. Reply: The Chaldeans shall be punished in turn (2:2-20)
    1. The contrast between pride and faith (2:2-5)
    2. Five woes pronounced on Chaldea (2:6-20)
      1. Woe upon the lust for conquest (2:6-8)
      2. Woe upon covetousness (2:9-11)
      3. Woe upon the building of cities with blood (2:12-14)
      4. Woe upon intoxication and violence (2:15-17)
      5. Woe upon idolatry (2:18-20)

3. Habakkuk's Prayer (3:1-19)

  1. A petition for mercy (3:1-2)
  2. Confidence based on the past (3:3-15)
  3. The prophet's faith expressed (3:16-19)
    1. Confidence amid fear (3:16)
    2. Rejoicing in God's integrity (3:17-19)

IV. Content of the Book

  1. Chapter one raises the problem of sin and violence in Judah. The prophet cries, "How long?" God answers by informing Habakkuk that he knows of this awful condition and is preparing to bring the Chaldeans against these people to punish them. This, in turn, causes the prophet to ask how God can punish Judah with a nation more wicked than itself.
  2. Chapter two answers the second question by revealing that the Chaldeans shall also be punished and sets forth the fundamental principle of God's dealing with men, proud men who refuse to trust God must suffer whereas those who are righteous because of their faith in God will live.
  3. Chapter three is a psalm of confident trust. Having raised the difficult problems of chapters one and two, Habakkuk declares that he has enough evidence of God's integrity to trust him in the face of the great adversity which was coming.

VI. Habakkuk's Message Today

1. Despite change in time, God still requires the same things. Also, perspective affects our worship to God in various ways.

2. It is difficult to worship God when we see him through the perspective of trouble, illness, etc. - Some think that God is their "deliverer, this is their perspective. However, what happens when God doesn't deliver? How to worship Him then? How Do You see Him then? Habakkuk deals with these questions.

A. Chapter 1 - The prophet questions God because the God he perceived as a deliverer was not delivering the people.

  • God responds that He is working a plan that the prophet cannot understand (I.e. that God is using an evil nation to discipline His own people).
  • The prophet and God dialogue back and forth over this issue. The prophet does not understand this action on God's part - this is not in His character (from Habakkuk's perspective).

B. Chapter 2 - The prophet stops the dialogue and chooses to wait for God's answer.

  • God reassures him that He is working a plan and tells the prophet to tell the people that He has a plan and regardless of the problem, the righteous must live by faith (this is true in every generation). This is the believer's "zone" regardless of the circumstance.
  • God asks Habakkuk to get the proper "perspective" on God and the situation (2:20) - God is in control, do not judge Him by events only. When you know this, you have the proper perspective. (He is in control, and we should respond with worship and praise, and respect.)
  • David in Psalm 46:10 summarizes this with few words, "Be still and know that I am God."
  • Job thought he had the proper perspective on God until God actually spoke and explained what the proper perspective should be for him as a human being.

C. Chapter 3 - Habakkuk explains his new perspective - vs. 17.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
- Habakkuk 3:17

Even though there is no deliverance, the prophet will continue trusting, praising and obeying God. We refer to this perspective or attitude as perseverance.

Lessons for our Learning

  1. All men and all nations are in the power of God. He may tolerate their sin for a time but He will eventually render them their just reward. – This is certain!
  2. Habakkuk shows that men can/must hold fast to their faith in the goodness and power of God even/especially in the midst of great trials (cf. Job).
  3. Chapter three emphasizes that evil is eventually self-destructive. A nation so wicked as Babylon carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction.
  4. If we understand who God is (not a Being fitted to our perspective) but rather who He really is and who we truly are, we will be brought to silence because of His majesty. This is the correct balance when we have an accurate perspective of God.

We can then be still and know that He is God.