Second Wave of Prophecy: Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakk

They struggled to reconcile the words of

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watching to see what he will say to me,

what answer he will make to my complaints.

The problem that perturbs him is the divine rationale behind the raising up of a people as fierce and amoral as the Babylonians (see his critique of them in 2:5‑20) as an instrument of punishment and justice against a people better than they (1:12‑13). This alerts us to the fact that already in this period the prophetic slant on history as the arena of divine action in judgment was beginning to pose problems. Later on intellectuals in Israel would grapple with such questions more and more (see Job and Ecclesiastes, for example).

It appears that Habakkuk could not find an intellectually satisfying solution to the issue he posed, but concluded, nevertheless, that the "upright" need not lose faith, but should persevere and wait patiently for the outworking of Yahweh's purposes (2:1‑4). However, his book has very little concretely to say about what that "outworking" might look like eventually. In this regard, one might say, Habakkuk appears to have been much more tentative about the future than were Nahum and Zephaniah.

Obadiah--Pulling Down Edom

The message of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible, is again more in line with Isaiah and Nahum, in that he believed fervently in the survival of a righteous remnant in Jerusalem‑‑one that would become the nucleus of a new and powerful people in a restored Zion (verses 17‑18). The historical context of this prophecy appears to have been the aftermath of Jerusalem's destruction by Babylon, in 586 (see verse 11), when the Edomites to the south took advantage of the plight of their "brother Jacob" and mistreated him (verses 10‑14).

Obadiah is vehement about the ruin that will befall the Edomites because of this (vv. 16, 18), and envisions the triumph of the "House of Jacob" (and hence the triumph of Yahweh from Mount Zion‑ verse 21) as a reconquest of the land of Canaan (verses 19‑21).

Applying of Isaiah's Words to Israel's Future

These more or less minor prophetic voices give testimony to the seriousness with which certain circles in Jerusalem were attending to the words of the eighth century prophets a century later (and to the words of Isaiah in particular). At the same time they also indicate the extent to which that legacy had proven to be problematical. All shared Isaiah's certainty of Assyria's eventual demise and of the promise of a new era beyond that demise. But precisely when this would occur and what, exactly, would then happen--regarding this there appears to have been considerable confusion.

Some (notably Habakkuk) were frankly perplexed at the way events were unfolding. They were sure that God was still working things out, but that was about all. Others (notably Zephaniah) foresee yet additional catastrophes of cosmic proportions coming upon Judah, before a brighter future will dawn for the inhabitants of Judah‑Jerusalem. The thoughts of still others (notably Nahum and Obadiah) are much more hopeful. They believed that a (renewed) Davidic state would soon arise, and when it did, God's sovereignty and peace would be manifest in history as never before.

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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.