Nahum and Habakkuk

Good morning! Before we get started with the books of today’s passage (Nahum and Habakkuk), I want to take a moment and remember what a daunting and daring project we are part of. Those who have been along this Daily Bible journey for the past nearly-nine months (!) probably share with me the sense that we didn’t really know what we were getting into. Over the past few months especially, I have found myself overwhelmed by the thought of how much of the Bible I really don’t know, even though I’ve read through it before. If you have struggled—like me—to get a deeper sense of Scripture in this format which calls for engagement with others as well as the biblical text, I salute you for accepting the challenge and doing your best day by day. In the midst of what could feel like a daily slog, let’s pause to remember what a remarkable thing we are about, and the ways this common commitment has brought us together. Whether you are a daily reader and commenter, or you’re able to participate very occasionally—thank you for your efforts! Often-overlooked books like Nahum and Habakkuk are some of the texts we take time to consider in this middle part between famous Old Testament and New Testament books.

In reading for background, I discovered that Nahum is something of a companion book to Jonah, at least in the sense that both of them focus on Nineveh. Paired with Jonah, Nahum gives a sense of both the compassion and the righteous judgment of God. Nahum prophecies around the time of Jeremiah, after Israel’s fall but before Judah’s exile. His major claim is that God will make an example of the powerful foreign city of Nineveh in order to demonstrate divine power on behalf of Judah. To this end, Nahum coveys powerful judgment against Nineveh. Some form of the word “vengeance” shows up three times in just the first verse after the introduction of chapter 1. If you find it difficult to read all the terrible things that will come to Nineveh, try to put yourself in the position of occupied and oppressed people. If we were constantly beat down and threatened by foreign powers as Judah was, we’d need to hear of an almighty God who is “no-holds-barred” against enemies, who will assure the freedom to celebrate festivals again in Judah (1:15). For this reason, chapters 2 and 3 focus explicitly on Nineveh. This supremely wealthy and great city (which Jonah exaggeratedly tells us took three days to cross!) will be brought to its knees, destroyed by the God of supreme power and might. It grieves me to read the misogynist and disturbing characterization of Nineveh as a prostitute whom God will humiliate through public exposure. This is just one way Nahum declares that Nineveh can do nothing to stop the impending disaster. A closing reference to Assyria calls them to mind, because their threat is clear to Judah. Nahum suggests that what will happen to Nineveh can also happen to Assyria, which is his way of comforting Judahites. We know that Assyria was defeated by the Babylonians (which wasn’t any better for beleaguered Judah), but Nahum prophesied with the expectation that God would deliver when push came to shove. It turns out that God worked with the people through exile, rather than around it.

My exposure to Habakkuk almost exclusively comes from strategic planning pastoral handbooks, where its verse, “write the vision, make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it” is taken out of context for other reasons. Similarly, “the righteous live by their faith” (2:4b) is used by Christians as support for the theological idea of justification by faith. In context, though, Habakkuk is more of a conversation between the prophet and God about how God is present even in trying times. Habakkuk writes after the Chaldeans (mentioned in chapter 1 for their fearsomeness) have communicated what the prophet suggests is God’s judgment on Judah at the end of the seventh century BCE (before its final overthrow and exile). Habakkuk’s key focus is on God’s ineffable power and strength, unknowable and yet reliable. His confidence rests on God’s strength and not on that of human beings. Therefore, chapter 3 shares a vision of God as conquering warrior, with all the elements of heaven and nature at God’s sole command. Here is Nahum and Habakkuk come together: all God’s power will be deployed to save the people and God’s anointed leaders. Despite every bad thing that might happen, “God, the Lord, is my strength” (3:17-19). Happy reading!

Read Nahum and Habakkuk. (Note that the link here is only for Nahum 1—for copyright reasons you will need to click the button at the bottom of the linked page to read the rest of Nahum and Habakkuk.)

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is the books of Zephaniah and Haggai. Thanks for reading!

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