Second Wave of Prophecy: Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakk

They struggled to reconcile the words of

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In Zephaniah the aspirations of the Yahweh loyalists in Jerusalem during the waning years of the Assyrian Dark Ages found a voice. Despite the apostasy that surrounded them, and the doubts they themselves might have had about Assyrian control and influence in their region, they were still confident that Yahweh was God and the words of his prophets were true. Assyria's demise, though delayed, was certain, just as Isaiah had predicted. However, fresh insight was needed regarding what would follow that demise. Yet additional terrors would have to befall his city, Zephaniah came to believe, before that new age of righteousness Isaiah had also spoken of would actually dawn.

Nahum--A New Age Coming

Another who represented the Yahweh-believing circles of Jerusalem during the fading away of the Assyrian Dark Ages was the prophet Nahum. His oracles also reflect a familiarity with those of Isaiah, especially his words regarding the demise of Assyria. Isaiah, it will be remembered, had spoken of this as of a yoke that would be lifted one day from Judean shoulders (9:4).

Nahum repeated this prophecy in almost identical terms: ". . . for now I shall break his yoke which presses hard on you, and snap your chains" (1: 13). For him, as for Isaiah, this stupendous event will usher in a new era of peace and righteousness. So real were his expectations in this regard that he could already "see on the mountains the feet of the herald" hurrying to bring news of it:

"Peace!" he proclaims. Judah, celebrate your feasts, carry out your vows, for Beliel [Assyria] will never pass through you again; he has been utterly destroyed (2: 1). 

He is certain that with this event Yahweh's purposes for Israel will have been achieved. Having once been made to suffer, Judah will be made to suffer no more (1: 12). The utter annihilation of Assyria (2:2‑3:19), was thus for him more than a demonstration of the truth that though slow to anger Yahweh is "great in power" and will not let evil go unpunished (1:2‑3). It will also mark a new stage in salvation history. With Assyria's demise a new age will dawn for Judah (2:1). Unlike Zephaniah he did not think that further punishments or judgments would be necessary.

Habakkuk--Grappling with Divine Choices

Habakkuk, who prophesied somewhat later than either Nahum or Zephaniah‑-at a time when the Babylonians were already threatening to replace the Assyrians as the major power of the ancient Near East (1:6; perhaps as late as the fall of Assyria, in 612, or the death of Josiah, in 609) ‑-speaks to these same issues in a somewhat more philosophical manner. It has been conjectured that he may have been a prophet by profession‑‑one who was attached to the Jerusalem temple for the purpose of receiving or "incubating" oracles there--as his words in 2:1 seem to imply:

I will stand at my post,

I shall station myself on my watch‑tower,

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John W. Miller

John W. Miller is the author of books on both Hebrew Scriptures and on New Testament subjects, including works on canon history and biblical interpretation.