Module 30: The Failure of Human Teaching - God's Activities
Module Guide: Nahum - Vindication of Vengeance; and Habakkuk - The Problems of Faith; and Zephaniah - The Severity and Goodness of God
This pre-read guide is taken from the public domain source "The Analysed Bible in 3 Volumes" by G. Campbell Morgan.
Nothing more is known of the prophet Nahum than is declared in the title. He was a native of Elkosh, but this town cannot be located with any certainty. Some place it in Assyria, and defend this by the traditions, and by his evident acquaintance with local terms. Some place it in Palestine, and quote his reference to Lebanon, Carmel, and Bashan. The location is uncertain and unimportant.
The date of the prophecy must have been after the fall of Thebes, 663 B.C. (see 3:8, where No-amon refers to Thebes), and before the fall of Nineveh, 606 B.C. This is sufficiently definite, and there is practical unanimity concerning the date.
There is suggestiveness in the meaning of the prophet's name, which signifies "the full of exceeding comfort."
At the time of the utterance of the prophecy, the northern kingdom had been destroyed, and the ten tribes dispersed. The prophet's message was to Judah, and it was delivered almost certainly during the days succeeding Hezekiah's reign, and. probably in close connection with Manasseh's return from captivity. The Assyrian power was at its very height, and the descriptions given of it reveal its arrogance and habitual oppression of others. Nahum was not sent to Nineveh, as Jonah was. The time of such opportunity for her was for ever passed. The message of Nahum was that of the full end determined. It was a declaration of the vengeance of God upon Nineveh, and may thus be divided: The Verdict of Vengeance (1); the Vision of Vengeance (2); the Vindication of Vengeance (3).
The Verdict of Vengeance
The prophet preceded the announcement of the verdict by a section dealing wholly with Jehovah Himself. In this we find, first a declaration of His character, then a revelation of His majesty, and finally an aflflrmation of His method. As to His character. He is a God of vengeance and yet the central fact of His nature is that He is slow to anger. Under the figure of a storm the prophet set forth the overwhelming majesty of Jehovah. The description of the storm moves in two sections - a hurricane on the sea, a simoom over the land. He finally described the method of God; as toward His friends He is "good, a strong-hold"; toward His foes "He will make a full end."
Having thus set forth the majesty of Jehovah, the prophet proceeded to declare His verdict concerning Nineveh. Addressing himself to Nineveh, he inquired, "What do ye imagine against the Lord?" This hints at the deepest sin of Nineveh, namely, that she had set herself up wilfully against the power of God. In answer to his own question Nahum affirmed the irresistible nature of the judgment which must fall upon the city, and finally made his central charge against her; "There is one gone forth out of thee, that imagineth evil against the Lord, that counselleth wickedness." This charge in all probability referred to the blasphemous boasts of Sennacherib chronicled in Isaiah 34:18-20 and 37:10-13. As other prophets had summoned the nations to attend to God's controversy with Israel, Nahum addressed himself to the chosen people, declaring that the yoke of Assyria should be broken.
The last word in this first section is one which was addressed to Judah. The verdict of vengeance on Nineveh was an evangel to Judah.
The Vision of Vengeance
Having thus announced the verdict the prophet proceeded to describe the process of yengeance. He declared that the "hammer" had come up against Nineveh, and ironically advised her to prepare. He then gave in detail the process of Nineveh's destruction. The interpretations of this description greatly differ. I suggest that it falls into three clearly defined parts. First the conflict (2:3-5); secondly, the conquest (2:6-9) ; finally the consummation (10). The picture of the conflict is a graphic one. We first see the attacking army outside the walls, then the defending host within the city. The battle itself is next described. The conquest of the city is secured by the act of God: "The gates of the rivers are opened." It is interesting to remember that Diodorus Siculus mentions an old prophecy that the city would never be taken until the river became its enemy. He moreover declared that during an enemy's attack the river burst its banks, and washed away the wall for twenty stadia. Continuing, Nahum described the city under the figure of a woman and her attendants. They flee, and the enemy capture the spoil. Finally the consummation of judgment was announced. Nineveh "is empty, and void, and waste." The utter collapse of the people was set forth in figurative language. "The heart melteth" indicates the failure of inward courage. "The knees smite together" indicates the failure of outward courage; the anguish in the loins the resulting agony; and the faces waxed pale the ultimate death.
The prophet then immediately broke forth into exultation. The den of the lions was gone, all the cruelty of Nineveh was at an end. He moreover recognized this as the righteous act of God. It was His act of vengeance. He was against Nineveh, therefore the overthrow was complete.
The Vindication of Vengeance
This last movement of the prophecy is devoted wholly to the vindication of Jehovah in His action with regard to Nineveh, and is a fitting defence of the introductory declarations concerning His character. Here in detail vice and vengeance are shown in their inter-relation, the first being the reason of the second, and the second, therefore, the inevitable result of the first. There are four movements in this final message.
In the first vice is declared, and vengeance also. The prophet described Nineveh as a "bloody city," evil and cruel. A graphic description of vengeance, consisting of seven illustrations, followed.
In the second movement he more particularly described both the vice and the vengeance. The national method had been that of whoredom, that is, idolatrous practices; and witchcraft, that is, deceptive methods. The national influence had been that of selling nations and families. Jehovah's vengeance was then described, and its unquestioned righteousness in the inquiry, "Who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters for thee?"
In the third movement vice and vengeance were dealt with in yet greater detail. Addrssing himself to Nineveh, Nahum inquired, "Art thou better than No-amon?" The argument being that No-amon, or Thebes, which was not so corrupt as Nineveh, had been destroyed, and that notwithstanding her strength; how much more certain was the destruction of Nineveh, in view of her greater corruption! In the case of Thebes strength had been of no avail. In the case of Nineveh her corruption had cancelled her strength. The vengeance of Jehovah was then set forth as proceeding from the outlying country to the very centres of the national life. First the outer fortresses are captured, then the gates of the land and the approaches to the capital, until finally the city itself is seen in a state of siege, and both the commercial and governing centres are destroyed.
The last section is a weird declaration of the destruction of Assyria. The shepherds, the nobles, and the people are dealt with in judgment. The universal verdict agrees as to the righteousness of the judgment. There is to be no healing, and because of the universal oppression exercised by Assyria, there will be great rejoicing over her downfall.
The message of Nahum was to Judah, and if delivered in the period of the reformation under Manasseh it was singularly appropriate as a message of encouragement and of solemn warning. Coming back from Babylon it was probable that the hearts of the people were fearful lest their old enemy Assyria should trouble them again. This message of Nahum would greatly strengthen and assure them, as it taught that Jehovah was still actively governing, and was on the side of those returning to loyalty.
Coming back from captivity in repentance for past sins a solemn warning was thus uttered against repentance which was evanescent. Nineveh had repented under the preaching of Jonah and had been restored, but having returned to her sins the day of repentance was passed, and doom was determined. Jehovah is slow to anger, but He can by no means clear the guilty.
PART A: VERDICT OF VENGEANCE - Nahum 1:1-1:15
A.1. Subject and Method - Nah. 1:1
A.2. Jehovah - Nah. 1:2-1:8
A.3. The Verdict - Nah. 1:9-1:14
A.4. The Cry to Jerusalem - Nah. 1:15
Part B: VISION OF VENGEANCE - Nahum 2:1-2:13
B.1. Preliminary Declaration - Nah. 2:1-2:2
B.2. The Vision of Vengeance - Nah. 2:3-2:10
B.3. The Prophet's Exultation - Nah. 2:11-2:13
Part C: VINDICATION OF VENGEANCE - Nahum 3:1-3:19
C.1. Vice declared and Vengeance - Nah. 3:1-3:3
C.2. Vice described and Vengeance - Nah. 3:4-3:7
C.3. Vice dissected and Vengeance - Nah. 3:8-3:17
C.4. Vice destroyed - Nah. 3:18-3:19
Of Habakkuk nothing more is known than his name, and that he was in all probability a Levite. There is no serious discrepancy in the opinions concerning the date of his prophesying. Internal evidence brings it into relation with the Chaldean invasion, so that the range is from 635 to 586 B.C. This invasion was punishment for Manasseh's sin, and yet did not occur until after the death of Josiah, in the reign of Jehoiakim. When he delivered his message, the condition of things calling for reformation still existed. The probability, therefore, is that he prophesied during the closing years of Manasseh, or during the reign of Amon, which was earlier than Zephaniah, who prophesied in the days of Josiah. A description of the times of Manasseh, Amon, and the early days of Josiah, is contained in 2 Kings, 21, 22, and the prophet's description (1:2-4) would exactly coincide. The book is a prophecy, and yet its methods differ from any other. The burden of the prophet is that of the problems of permitted evil, and the using of the Chaldeans as the instrument to scourge evil-doers less wicked than themselves.
In this book we have a man of faith asking questions and receiving answers. A comparison of 1:2 with 3:19 will give an indication of the true value of this book. Opening in mystery and questioning, it closes in certainty and affirmation. The contrast is startling. The first is almost a wail of despair, and the last is a shout of confidence. From the affirmation of faith's agnosticism, we come to the confirmation of agnosticism's faith. The book is a movement from one to the other. The door of exit and entrance is 2:4. The former part is a pathway leading thereto, and the latter is the highway leading therefrom. The book falls naturally into two parts: The Prophet's Problems (1:1-2:4); the Prophet's Proclamations (2:5-3:19).
The Prophet's Problems
In this first division we have the prophet's statement of the problems which vexed his soul.
The first was that of the apparent indifference of Jehovah both to his prayer and to the condition of prevailing evil. It is such a problem as could only occur to a man of faith. Take away God, and there is no problem. He indicated the whole condition of affairs by the one word "violence," and then proceeded to describe it in greater detail. To this Jehovah replied that He was at work, but that the prophet would not believe if he were told. He then proceeded to declare explicitly that His method was that of raising up the Chaldeans as a scourge against His people.
This answer of Jehovah, while strengthening the faith of the prophet, immediately created a new problem. This he stated by first affirming his faith, and then expressing his astonishment that Jehovah should use such an instrument, for notwithstanding all Israel's sin, she was more righteous than the Chaldeans. Thus the method of God constituted a new problem. The prophet declared his determination to watch and wait. This was the attitude of faith and honesty. He knew that God had an answer, and would give it; and therefore he determined to wait. The answer came immediately. The prophet was first commanded to write, and to make his writing plain for easy reading. The vision granted to him was stated in the words: "Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith." That is the central revelation of the prophecy. It is a contrast between the "puffed up" and the "just." The former is not upright, and therefore is condemned; the latter acts on faith, and therefore lives. The first is self-centred, and therefore doomed; the second is God-centred, and therefore permanent. This was the declaration of a great principle, which the prophet was left to work out in application to all the problems by which he was surrounded. From this point the prophecy becomes a proclamation of the contrast, and therefore an affirmation of faith in spite of appearances.
The Prophet's Proclamations
These fall into two parts. The first is concerning the "puffed up," the second concerning the righteous.
In the proclamation of the "puffed up," the view-point is that of the sin of such and its consequent judgment. He first described the "puffed up" as haughty, ambitious, conquering, against whom he then proceeded to pronounce woes. In considering these the progress is to be carefully noted. The first was against ambition, which was described. The judgment pronounced against it was that of the revolt of the oppressed, and retribution in kind. The second was against covetousness, that lust for possession which led to the destruction of the peoples for increase of personal strength. Its judgment was to be that of the breaking out against the oppressor of the subjugated people, the stones and beams of the house testifying. The third was against violence, the infliction of cruel sufferings upon the subjugated. Its judgment was that the very cities so built should be destroyed. The fourth was against insolence, the brutal act of making a man drunk and then making sport of him. Its judgment was to be retribution in kind. The fifth was against idolatry, the description of which was wholly satirical. Its judgment was declared to be that of the unanswering gods. The final statement of the prophet in this connection declared that he had found the solution: "The Lord is in His holy temple." The apparent strength of wickedness is false. Jehovah reigns.
In the proclamation concerning the righteous the view-point is that of the majesty of Jehovah, and the consequent triumph of His people. It consists of a psalm which is a prayer. In the first movement the prophet declared his recognition of the Divine interference, and his consequent fear. He then proceeded to celebrate the greatness of Jehovah as manifest in His dealings with His ancient people. The last section of the psalm expressed the fear and the faith of the just. The contemplation of the judgment of the "puffed up" had filled him with fear, yet he triumphed in God. Describing the circumstances of utter desolation, he declared his determination in the midst of them to rejoice, and announced his reason for this determination.
PART A: THE PROPHET'S PROBLEMS - Habakkuk 1:1-2:4
Title Page - 1:1
A.1. The First Problem and Answer - Hab. 1:2-1:11
- The Problem - 1:2-1:4
- The Answer - 1:5-1:11
A.2. The Second Problem and Answer - Hab. 1:12-2:4
- The Problem - 1:12-1:17
- The Prophet's Attitude - 2:1
- The Answer - 2:2-2:4
Part B: THE PROPHET'S PROCLAMATIONS - Habakkuk 2:5-3:19
B.1. Of the Puffed-up - Hab. 2:5-2:20
- Description - 2:5
- Woes - 2:6-2:19
- Final Statement - 2:20
B.2. Of the Righteous - Hab. 3:1-3:19
The prophecy is clearly dated in the reign of Josiah. From the genealogy of Zephaniah it is evident that he was a prince of the royal house, and about the same age as Josiah. In all probability, therefore, he uttered his prophecy when the reformation of Josiah was in progress. It is remarkable that he makes no reference thereto, speaking only of the sin of the people, and the consequent swift judgment of God upon them; finally describing a restoration, the details of which had no counterpart in the work of Josiah. This omission is to be accounted for by a reference to the story of the finding of the book of the law by Hilkiah, and the word which Huldah the prophetess uttered in answer to the messengers sent by Josiah. She declared that because the king was sincere, God would spare him, and that he should not share in nor even see the judgment; but she empathically declared that the curses written in the book of the law were certain to fall upon the sinning people. The people took part in the reforms initiated by Josiah, simply because the king led, and not out of any real heart-repentance. Zephaniah, speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit, and perfectly understanding that the outward appearance of reform was not indicative of a true change of heart, ignored it. He therefore, more definitely perhaps than any other prophet, declared the terrors of the Divine judgment against sin. Yet to him fell the lot of uttering the very sweetest love-song in the Old Testament.
The great burden of the prophecy is that of the Day of Wrath. It may be divided into two parts: The Day of Wrath, with an Appeal (1-2); the Day of Wrath, and its Issue (3).
The Day of Wrath, with an Appeal
The first movement of this section is that of the prophet's declaration of the coming judgment of Jehovah. This he first announced in general terms, then described more particularly as to procedure, and finally as to character. This description opened with a comprehensive announcement: "I will utterly consume all things from off the face of the ground, saith Jehovah." Zephaniah then showed that to be a description of the creation in so far as it had become evil; man and the sphere of his dominion, the stumbling-blocks with the wicked and the race, were to be consumed. The local application was that judgment would descend upon Judah and Jerusalem, falling upon those who had practised idolatry, those who had indulged in mixed worship, those who had back-slidden from following the Lord, and those who had never sought or inquired after Him. Proceeding to describe more particularly the judgment, the prophet announced the presence of Jehovah for the purpose of judgment. The stroke of that judgment would fall first upon the princes, then upon the extortioners, also upon the merchantmen, and finally upon those who were "settled on their lees," that is, those who were living on their wealth in idleness and indifference. He finally gave a graphic description of the day in which men should walk as blind, none being able to deliver them because Jehovah would make "an end, ... a terrible end, of all them that dwell in the land."
After this declaration he uttered his great appeal, first to the nation as a whole, calling upon it to pull itself together before the opportunity for repentance should pass, before the hour of judgment should arrive. As though conscious that that larger appeal would be unavailing, he turned to the remnant, to such as were the "meek of the earth," and urged them to renewed devotion. This appeal he enforced by argument, in which he again set forth the fact of the coming judgment upon the nations, interspersing his declaration with words of hope concerning the remnant. He first addressed the nations on the west, declaring that they should be utterly destroyed, and in their place the remnant of the house of Judah should feed their flocks. He next turned to the nations on the east, declaring that they should become a perpetual desolation, and that the remnant should inhabit their lands. He then turned to those on the south, declaring that they should be slain by the sword. Finally he declared that those on the north should be destroyed, and their cities made a desolation.
The Day of Wrath and its Issue
In this section the prophet yet more clearly set forth the sin of the people, and uttered the hopelessness of the case from the human standpoint. This gave him his opportunity to announce the victory of God, Who, notwithstanding the utter failure of His people, would ultimately accomplish the purpose of His love concerning them. The address opened with a declaration of woe against Jerusalem, which the prophet described as rebellious, polluted, and oppressing. The reason of the woe he then set forth with great care, first describing the city as a whole as one which "obeyed not ... received not correction, ... trusted not in Jehovah, ... drew not near to her God." The reason of the sin of the city was that of the corruption of the rulers, who are all referred to. Princes, judges, prophets, and priests alike had failed, each in their distinctive office. In the midst of the city, Jehovah the Righteous One had brought forth His judgment, but His presence had been insulted. He had, moreover, delivered the people, but their answer to His deliverance had been that of increased and persistent corruption. In the presence of this utter hopelessness the prophet cried, "Therefore wait ye for Me, saith Jehovah." This was the first gleam of hope. The very hopelessness and sin of the people made Divine action necessary, and that action would be that of judgment. The judgment, however, would be but the prelude, for immediately the prophet had declared it to be inevitable, he proceeded to describe the ultimate restoration.
From this point the prophecy is clearly Messianic. Zephaniah gave no picture of the suffering Servant, nor any hint of His method. He only dealt with the ultimate result to Israel. This he first described as the turning "to the peoples a pure language" by Jehovah gathering again all His dispersed ones. In that gathering the "proudly exulting ones," that is, the false rulers, would be deposed, while in the midst of the city the afflicted people who trust in the name of Jehovah would be established. Zephaniah then addressed himself to the remnant, charging them to sing and rejoice because their enemy should be cast out, and their true King Jehovah be established in the midst of them. He next called them to true courage and to service. The prophecy reached its highest level as Zephaniah described the attitude of God in poetic language under the figure of motherhood. Jehovah in the midst of His people will rejoice, and from the silence of love will proceed to the song of His own satisfaction.
PART A: THE DAY OF WRATH WITH AN APPEAL - Zephaniah 1:1-2:15
Title Page - 1:1
A.1. The Day of Wrath - Zeph. 1:2-1:18
- Announced in General Terms - 1:2-1:6
- Described Particularly - 1:7-1:13
- Described as to Character - 1:14-1:18
A.2. The Appeal - Zeph. 2:1-2:15
- The Cry of the Nations - 2:1-2:2
- The Call to the Remnant - 2:3
- The Argument - 2:4-2:15
Part B: THE DAY OF WRATH AND ITS ISSUE - Zephaniah 3:1-3:20
B.1. The Day of Wrath - Zeph. 3:1-3:8
- The Woe Declared - 3:1
- The Reasons Declared - 3:2-3:7
- The Final Word - 3:8
B.2. The Issue of the Day - Zeph. 3:9-3:20
Note: To the best of our knowledge we are of the understanding that the above material, being published in 1907 and freely available elsewhere on the internet in various formats, is in the public domain.