The Scroll of the Twelve, or in the Christian tradition, what are referred to as the “Minor Prophets,” are not intended to be read in isolation of one another, but rather as a unified whole. Literary connections within the text of the different prophetic books (or maybe better titled “chapters”) work to weave this anthology together. It’s critically important to remember that none of these prophets stand alone, so as you read Nahum and Habakkuk, you have all the imagery from the rest of the minor prophets ringing in the back of your mind.
You have Joel’s cosmic imagery of the final Day of the Lord when God defeats all human evil once and for all. You also have the preceding book of Micah, which focuses on Israel’s judgment by Assyria, but also notes Assyria and Judah’s eventual downfall at the hands of the Babylonians. The connections between all of these prophets are numerous, but today, we are looking at the interplay between two key books in the Scroll of the Twelve, Nahum and Habakkuk. We want to explore how God uses these prophetic messages to invite us into a conversation about how God actually uses evil to destroy evil, and what we as humans are to make of such, some might say, extreme methods.
The Oracle of Nahum – God is coming for you, Assyria
Nahum 1:1 reads, “An oracle regarding Nineveh, a writing of the vision of Nahum, the Elkoshite.” This is actually the only obvious clue you as the reader are given that you are reading about the fall of Assyria in the entire first chapter of Nahum, as neither Assyria nor Nineveh is mentioned again.
However, Nahum 1:3 does offer a clue as to the message of his Oracle by using part of the same quotation of Exodus 34:6 that we encountered two times in the book of Joel: “The Lord is slow to anger (Joel 2:13) and great in power, And the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (Joel 3:21).” In the book of Joel, these lines refer to the time (the day, or time) when God will bring his justice on all nations. The fact that Nahum opens with these very words makes it clear that the same topic is on the table: divine judgment on Nineveh, the capital city of the ancient Assyrian empire. However, this isn’t just about ancient history. Nahum views the doom facing Nineveh as a localized expression of the future judgment of all corrupt nations. Though the book begins with a superscription indicating that its focus is Nineveh, the shaping of the book to fit within the Twelve opens its scope to concern more than one nation (like most of the prophets!).
Nahum then goes on to explore the violent downfall of Assyria, Nineveh, and the destruction and death of its inhabitants. It concludes by saying, “There is no relief for your breakdown, your wound is incurable. All who hear about you will clap their hands over you, for on whom has not your evil passed continually?” (Nah 3:19).
Assyria was dealt the hand it deserved. It built its empire on destruction, murder, and oppression of other people groups, and this is exactly the fate it suffers at the hands of the Babylonians. But, this raises a new question: Is it really fair and just that God would use one evil empire (Babylon) to topple another (Nineveh)? This legitimate question is taken on by the book of Habakkuk.
Wasn't going to end the cycle of violence, not perpetuate it?**
Habakkuk is a unique prophet, in that he does not focus his attention towards Judah, but on Judah, through a poetic dialogue with Yahweh himself. Habakkuk lived in southern Judah preceding the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and is no stranger to their covenant unfaithfulness, but this is not Habakkuk’s sole focus. Rather than speaking out against Judah, he is questioning God’s methods and timing. He wants to know when and how God is going to judge Judah. God gives him an answer, and he doesn’t like it.